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Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City + Los Angeles dining scenes through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

Just consider me your one-stop NYC - and, most recently, Los Angeles - shop!

xoxo, 

Lindsay

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Entries in Round-ups & restaurant-hopping (25)

Friday
Feb132015

My first visit back to NYC…as a tourist: Homecoming 2015

Sometimes, you have to leave to come back...


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Friday, February 6th

How fitting: My NYC-bound flight number was "212."  It absolutely had to be a sign, right? 

Upon checking in for my crappy row 30/middle seat at the United Airlines kiosk, a prompt asked me if I would be interested in upgrading to First Class for $250.   Since I was flying on "miles," all I paid for my round trip ticket was $11.20, a tax fee of some sort.  $250 for a First Class upgrade on a 6-hour flight meant: Free access to the airport lounge, a humongous seat that doubled as a "flat bed," a warm meal, extra space, comfort, and free flowing champagne.  Sounds kind of like a rap video, right?   I couldn't click "yes" to the cabin upgrade quickly enough...

From security, I was ushered to United Airlines' airport lounge.  Spacious, clean, and comfortable, the only thing missing was bar service.  But, then again, it was only 6 AM...

United Airlines' Lounge at LAXAnd once onboard, breakfast was served...

United Airlines' First Class breakfast service: Sausage links, steamed spinach, broccoli + cheese souffle, scrambled eggs with red pepper sauceWhat's a long journey without some shut-eye?  I slept like a baby atop my "flat bed!"  It was more comfortable than I could have ever hoped for or imagined!  After all, I wouldn't be getting much sleep in the city that never sleeps...

Can you spot my toes?View of the Atlantic, about 5-minutes from landing in NYC...

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I feel like the cab drivers in NYC are either silent/have the personality of a fruit fly - or they're exceptionally talkative, engaging, and funny.  From JFK to Manhattan, my cabbie was the latter.  "(In his heavy Urdu accent) I live in a Jamaican neighborhood.  That is such sexy English, Mon.  Sexy!  Sometimes, I try to talk like them.  They call all of the ladies 'Ma,' you know?  I've said that to a couple of my customers.  Like, 'hey Ma!'"  What an entertaining - and totally 'New York' - way to re-enter New York!

In a twist of fate, or just sheer convenience to the wedding venue, one of the reserved room blocks for Yan's nuptials was at a Hilton located on my old block.  I couldn't not stay there!

The tall, reddish building in the background was where I hung my hat for 7 years!.

En-route to my "makeup-over" at the Caravan Style Studio, I popped by Maysville for a quick glass of vino.  Just like old times...

Wineo'clock with an urban landscape.

After my drink-and-dash, I proceeded to The Carlton Hotel, where Caravan has a fabulous, hidden "stylist studio."    

Caravan Stylist Studio, is an innovative wardrobe and beauty studio that pairs actresses, tastemakers and media influencers with top fashion designers and beauty experts located at the Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Each week, Claudine DeSola, owner of Caravan, partners with hundreds of fashion designers to select clothing and accessories for Caravan’s guests. In addition, a full-time beauty expert provides clients with a host of other complimentary services, including hair styling, makeup application, mini skincare-spa treatments and nail design.

Upon my visit, I had beauty expert, Valerie Star, give me a "makeup-over."

She did an incredibly amazing job, if I do say so myself!  For a lazy gal who only wears "full makeup" on special occasions, this was the ultimate in pampering.  I wish Valerie could work her magic on me everyday!

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For dinner, I met up with two of my girlfriends for some delicious Greek fare at Ethos Galleria.

Greek salad

Caravan Stylist Studio, is an innovative wardrobe and beauty studio that pairs actresses, tastemakers and media influencers with top fashion designers and beauty experts located at the Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Each week, Claudine DeSola, owner of Caravan, partners with hundreds of fashion designers to select clothing and accessories for Caravan’s guests. In addition, a full-time beauty expert provides clients with a host of other complimentary services, including hair styling, makeup application, mini skincare-spa treatments and nail design.

- See more at: http://www.caravanstyliststudio.com/#sthash.RQJjQSSh.dpuf

Caravan Stylist Studio, is an innovative wardrobe and beauty studio that pairs actresses, tastemakers and media influencers with top fashion designers and beauty experts located at the Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Each week, Claudine DeSola, owner of Caravan, partners with hundreds of fashion designers to select clothing and accessories for Caravan’s guests. In addition, a full-time beauty expert provides clients with a host of other complimentary services, including hair styling, makeup application, mini skincare-spa treatments and nail design.

- See more at: http://www.caravanstyliststudio.com/#sthash.RQJjQSSh.dpuf

Caravan Stylist Studio, is an innovative wardrobe and beauty studio that pairs actresses, tastemakers and media influencers with top fashion designers and beauty experts located at the Carlton Hotel in New York City.

Each week, Claudine DeSola, owner of Caravan, partners with hundreds of fashion designers to select clothing and accessories for Caravan’s guests. In addition, a full-time beauty expert provides clients with a host of other complimentary services, including hair styling, makeup application, mini skincare-spa treatments and nail design.

- See more at: http://www.caravanstyliststudio.com/#sthash.RQJjQSSh.dpuf..

Good night, NYC!

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Saturday, February 7th

Saturday morning came much quicker than I could have anticipated.  I met my cousin, Larry, and friend, Jeremy, for a quick bite before spinning off the carb-calories at SoulCycle.

Good Stuff Diner: Breakfast bagel'wich.

For brunch, I headed uptown to meet some girlfriends at one of my favorites, The Smith.  

We raised a toast and clinked our glasses...

The Smith: Blood Orange MargaritaAnd I made sure to indulge in two of the Atlantic's greatest gifts to humans: "Montauk Pearl" oysters and lobster (in the form of a traditional lobster roll).

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After visiting with two more friends and sneaking in a quick post-brunch snooze, I made my way over to Little Sal's for an informal tasting. 

Situated in the former Chat 'N' Chew space, Little Sal's takes full advantage of the interior's low ceilings, checkered floors, shiny red banquettes, and sizeable bar - thus creating the perfect atmosphere/back drop for a traditional "red sauce" Italian joint. 

Little Sal's: A look insideAfter ponying up to the bar, I asked the staff a roster of questions.  One of the most important being, "Do you have a happy hour?"  I learned that, although having only been open for a few weeks, Little Sal's did, in fact, have happy hour (menu coming soon!):

  • 4-6 PM
  • $20 bottles of wine
  • Food and drink specials

While awaiting the arrival of my entree, I noshed on buttery, grilled toast points that were accompanied by Sicilian-fig caponata and basil pesto (for dipping and dunking).  

Little Sal's: Grilled and buttered toast points with Sicilian-fig caponata, basil pestoI chose the Linguine alle Vongole (pasta with clams) for my main course.  In addition to being topped with manila clams, the noodles were intertwined with a generous amount of briny bits!

There were so many items I didn't get to sample on Little Sal's dinner menu that stood out, namely the Branzino Oreganata with Pickled Grapes & Fennel and the Meatballs with Red Sauce. Looks like I'll just have to return upon my next visit NYC! 

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As if one Italian dinner wasn't enough, I met ten of my girlfriends for 'round two' just 45-minutes post my tasting at Little Sal's!  We enjoyed a bountiful, family-style supper at newish downtown favorite, Bar Primi, followed by cocktails at Saxon + Parole.

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Sunday, February 8th

On Sunday night, I was thrilled to get to celebrate the wedding of a dear friend of mine and his beautiful bride.  The ceremony and reception took place at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, which is a fantastic venue overlooking the glacial Hudson River.  And the icing on the cake?  Famed caterer, Abigail Kirsch, handles the food/beverage for the event space!  Win win.

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Monday, February 9th

Monday was busy; I spent the first half catching up with friends and colleagues, and the second half with the NYPD.  That's right, my ATM card was stolen and I had to file a police report per my bank's request.  I was shuffled between two precincts in completely different parts of town and, because of this, was not able to visit my old coworkers/office.  Thankfully, dinner at Root & Bone with two of my besties helped brighten up my crappy day.

Just like any other Southern supper, we kicked off our meal with scratch-made biscuits.  This version was served with delectable, warm honey-roasted chicken jus for dipping, plus sesame seeds and Maldon salt to taste/season.

Root & Bone: Biscuits + chicken jusDeviled Eggs and Grilled Butternut Squash promptly followed...

We split our three entrees, which included: Shrimp & Grits, Fried Chicken & Waffles, and the most amazing mussels I've had, to date.

This meal was, without a doubt, one of the best that I've had in recent memory.  Everything, from start to finish, was outstanding.  What a delicious way to end a vacation!

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Tuesday, February 10th

And just as quickly as my weekend jaunt flew by, it abruply came to an end.  

Before I left for the airport, I made a pitstop at my favorite bagel spot, The Corner Cafe, to grab my final breakfast and snag 2-dozen for my coworkers in LA.  What a treat that would be!

It was really hard to get in to my JFK-bound cab and watch NYC get smaller and smaller as we drove further away, not knowing the next time I'd be back...   

My homecoming was as amazing, scary, sad, exilerating, and torturing as I had imagined.  It proved to me that I love NYC more than ever and, whenever that time may be, I cannot wait to come back for more!

...

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Monday
Feb022015

January: The best things I ate last month

Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class food + beverage services

My first meal of this "New Year" was kicked off in London.  Technically, I was returning to the US on January 1st but, still, I woke up in the UK.  So that counts! 

Save for that one time in 9th grade when my friend and I flew "First Class" with her father to Orlando, I have never experienced anything fancier than "Economy Plus."  So, as you can only imagine, I had no idea what I was in for when I snagged a last-minute upgrade to Virgin Atlantic's "Upper Class" cabin...

Pre-wheel's up, I enjoyed a delicious full-service English breakfast at Virgin Atlantic's The Clubhouse at London Heathrow:

English breakfast at Heathrow's Virgin Atlantic lounge: Toast, a poached egg, baked beans, grilled tomato half, bacon, and sausage

And once onboard, lunch went a little something like this:

Gnocchi to start...

For my entree, I chose the Indian meal: Yellow curry with paneer, saag with mushrooms and corn, basmati rice.

And for dessert, the Sticky Toffee Cake...

After taking a 2-hour nap on my fabulous "lie flat" bed, I was pleasantly awakened by the clinking sounds from the mugs and saucers during afternoon English tea service.  And you know I wasn't about to go back to sleep and miss out!

English tea, assorted finger sandwiches and sweet bites, jam and clotted creamCall me a yokel, but I was very impressed with the food and beverage services that I enjoyed in Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class cabins and lounges.  Well done, Mr. Branson!  Well done! 

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Capo's Rigatoni with Truffle Meat Sauce

OMFG.  This was, without a doubt, one of the best pasta dishes I've eaten.  Ever.  From those toothsome, perfectly al-dente rigatoni noodles, to that rich and creamy tomato gravy specked with salty pork nibs, this pasta makes Capo "destination worthy" in and of itself.

The only thing not sexy about this dish?  Its $26 price tag.  Le sigh...

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Dinner at Pago

Despite Utah's liquor laws, I really enjoyed my quick jaunt to Salt Lake City.  The scenery was gorgeous (snow-capped mountains), the locals were incredibly friendly and helpful, and the food was fantastic. 

On our last night in town, we dined at local favorite, Pago.  While everything we ordered was delicious, I particularly enjoyed:

Braised pork shoulder cake Served atop a bed of sauteed and fried Brussels sprouts were two deep-fried cakes/patties filled with tender braised pork shoulder.  Think along the lines of a crab cake.

Pago Burger Locally-raised beef, cooked to a perfect medium-rare, was topped with thick-cut bacon, Gouda, pickled onion, and black garlic aioli.  Truffle frites served as an accompaniment.

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Mexican combination plate, Gilbert's El Indio

Rice, beans, a cheese enchilada, and the most perfect shredded-beef taco.  Gilbert's kills it. 

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Spicy ahi poke (via the poke/ceviche bar), Bristol Farms

As if a raw bar featuring ceviche and ahi poke wasn't awesome enough, Bristol Farms offers all of the accoutrement to make your own chirashi bowl: White AND brown sushi rice, seaweed salad, chunks of fresh mango, soy sauce, etc.

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Almond croissant, Belwood Bakery

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"Lake Tahoe" sandwich (with a pork link instead of chicken), LINK

Looking back on my trip to Berlin, I realized that, not once did I indulge in Germany's most famous edible: Sausage!  Having made up for my international faux-pas last Friday night, I would be willing to bet that LINK's "Lake Tahoe" sandwich could easily hold its own against any Deutschland rival. 

Since I'm not a big poultry fan, I subbed the chicken link with pork (...good Jewish girl that I am).  Enveloped within a freshly-baked roll, the juicy wiener was topped with applewood-smoked bacon, crispy onion rings, and a ridiculously delicious apricot mustard.

Photo courtesy of LINK...

Homemade horchata finished with a shot of Stumptown's cold brew (coffee), Guisados

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My winning Super Bowl submission: Dump Cake (a.k.a. Cherry + Pineapple Cobbler)

 

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Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Friday
Apr122013

Life of late - in words, pictures, and forkfuls

Enjoy some exciting snippets from my life of late...in words, pictures, and forkfuls.  TGIF, y'all! 

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The Closing Belle

One of my baller coworkers was able to get our team floor access at the NYSE (NY Stock Exchange) to watch the closing bell.  Live! 

New York Stock ExchangeWhile I found our 'field trip' exhilarating and awe-inspiring, the highlight, at least for me, was seeing her majesty, Maria Bartiromo, in person.  And she smiled at me!

Maria Bartiromo!...

NYU

So, I didn't tell anyone besides my family and the two folks whom I asked to write letters of recommendations on my behalf but, in January, I applied to the Food Studies Masters program at NYU.  And, after almost two months of awaiting my application's fate, I learned that I was accepted! 

A big "thanks" to my family for sending me this NYU hoodie!Beginning this fall, I will be a part-time co-ed (night classes)!

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Kaffe 1668

Aside from the fact that they serve some pretty decent coffee, this Tribeca juicer/coffee house/restaurant also hand-makes an assortment of artisanal chocolates.  Think varieties like Earl Grey, pineapple + rum, and, my personal favorite, the peanut butter + honey + salt. 

Note:  Kaffe 1668, especially the location across the street from the Citigroup buildings (388 and 390 Greenwich Street), is a FABULOUS place to meet hot finance dudes.  It's swarming! 

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Locanda Verde

Carbo-loading.  It's the only way to go at Locanda Verde.  At least for me.  On a recent visit, I was reminded of how incredibly delicious the gratis, house-made focaccia (served after the table has ordered), Sheep's Milk Ricotta appetizer, and Lamb Meatball sliders are.  We're talking "destination-worthy" here, folks.  

Locanda Verde: Lamb Meatball sliders...

Terroir

And, speaking of meatballs, I ordered Terroir's version between glasses of red wine.  Large, moist, and almost perfectly seasoned (I had to add salt), the meaty trio was served in an earthenware soup-like crock amidst a pool of robust marinara.  Melted parmesan cheese blanketed each 'ball like the early winter's first dusting of snow.

What would have made the meatballs even more perfect would have been a warm side of bread for dipping and dunking.

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Escape from Camp 14

Ever since I was a child, I went through phases where I became incredibly obsessed with one specific topic/religion/person/nationality.  This typically lasted anywhere from 6-months to a few years.  From desperately wanting my name to be changed to "Amanda" - to Catholicism, Russia, Pearl Jam, Tool (the band, people!), and NYC...I definitely have/had a broad range of interests/fascinations.  I'll never forget, at about 10 or 11 years old, when I fell in love with a ski lift operator named "Winston" at Ski Apache, a ski resort that is run by the Mescalero Indians.  My parents still remind me about my $25 donation to a Native American Indian fund, who later sent me a "dream catcher" as a token of their thanks.  It hangs in my closet to this day!

Right now, I'm completely fascinated/mystified/horrified by North Korea.  A few weeks ago, I purchased a riveting book called "Escape from Camp 14," which details one man's remarkable odyssey from North Korea to freedom in the West.  There really are no words to describe the fluctuating range of emotions I experience as I eagerly - and suspensefully - turn each page.  I cannot put the thing down!

Read this now!! "Escape from Camp 14"...

Shanghai Asian Cuisine

With Seamless Web's 15%-off deal yesterday, some coworkers and I took advantage of the discount and ordered Chinese food from Shanghai Asian Cuisine.  Being that the colleagues who suggested this restaurant hail from Shanghai, I more than trusted their selection.  

In an effort to sample as much as I could in one sitting, I ordered three items:

Xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings)

Shanghai Asian Cuisine: Xiao long baoQuite possibly, the best xiao long bao that I've had outside of China...minus the fact that no vinegar sauce was served on the side.  Otherwise, the dumpling skins were thin - the broth was salty and flavorful - and the pork meatballs were juicy and decadent.

Shanghai-style rice cakes (fried)

Shanghai Asian Cuisine: Shanghai-style rice cakesMy love affair with rice cakes began with Korean food.  I love their gummy texture and, in the case of the oval/oblong shape that's shown above, the ease of combining all key components (veggies, protein, sauce) with each forkful/bite.  Rice kernels can be so tedious!

The soy-based, salty brown gravy - combined with bite-sized pieces of braised beef and shrimp, plus onions and bok choy - made for an incredibly delicious meal.  I literally had to get up and walk away from my desk to stop myself from eating the entire portion.

Sesame rice balls (sweet

Shanghai Asian Cuisine: Sesame rice ballsSurrounded by a gluttonous rice dough/shell was a molten-like core that oozed with sweet black sesame paste.  The "balls" were served in water (...god knows why). 

I'm thrilled to have been introduced to Shanghai Asian Cuisine by my coworkers and cannot wait to reorder next week!!

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Duane Park Patisserie

This small, charming bakery has been on my "must try it" list for at least a year.  I had read somewhere that they carried a version of Southern-style petit fours (see picture, below, for a better idea), and that's all it took for me to add them to my coveted list.  So, on my way to meet someone for a drink last week, I stopped in and grabbed one!  Afterall, Balthazar Bakery's version have become so almond-y.  Blech!

Photo found on Duane Park Patisserie's websiteFor $3/piece, Duane Park Patisserie's version doesn't come cheap...but it's the best Southern-style petit four that I've had outside of NM Cafe in Dallas.  And that's saying A LOT.  There wasn't a trace of overly-fragrant almond marzipan, which I find to be the "petit four deal breaker."  

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Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 

Wednesday
Feb062013

The Weekly Eater: 1/27 - 2/03

Since I'm transitioning in to a new-ish role at work, my schedule is kind of all over the place.  That, paired with the fact that I've just begun a month-long "academy" at Barry's Bootcamp (which is a 5x/week commitment - every weekday morning at 6am).  Needless to say, I'm exhausted.  But I'm also really excited about the new challenges ahead.

So, because I'm a bit pressed for time, I thought that, at least until I get in to a routine, I will start posting a summary of my favorite eats/drinks/activities/etc. from the week prior.  Hopefully, every Monday or Tuesday...

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What I loved and/or really stood out last week (1/27 - 2/03)

Jamba Juice's "Brown Sugar Crumble" Oatmeal

I remember reading somewhere that Jamba Juice's oatmeal was" really good and way better than Starbucks" which, to be honest, didn't really mean anything to me.  I typically hate oatmeal.  And I think that the food at Starbucks - minus the cake pops - is sub par. 

Sick of my usual routine - which included a Nature Valley granola bar - I decided to give Jamba Juice's oatmeal a shot.  Unbeknownst to me, it happened to be "$1 oatmeal day" on the morning that I stopped in the store (which, by the way, happens *every* Wednesday!).  What an incentive, right?  I mean, what did I really have to lose for $1?

I chose the "Brown Sugar Crumble" because it was the lowest-calorie of the trio (registering at 220 calories/single serving), which also includes Blueberry/Blackberry and Fresh Banana.  Upon opening the container, my first observation was how scrumptiously attractive the oatmeal appeared.  By that, I mean it didn't look like a grey glop.  Beneath a crust of fresh brown sugar was a heaping helping of oatmeal.  I liked how visibly textured it appeared - you know, dispersed with tons of tiny lumpy-bits. 

Warm and comforting, just like that favorite blanket on your sofa, this transcendent bowl of slow-cooked porridge did not disappoint.  Since that first bite nearly 6-weeks ago, I eat this delicious oatmeal every single morning.  It's actually what I look forward to when I wake up! 

Now THAT is some sexy oatmeal!

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Soul Cycle

"Spin is in."  And I have always bled Flywheel's black and blue.  However, in anticipation of a friend's upcoming birthday at Soul Cycle, I figured that I should take one class to familiarize myself prior to her event.

I wanted to hate it.  So bad.  I wanted to walk out of the studio post-class - roll my eyes - and feel reassured that Flywheel reigned supreme.  Well, that didn't happen.  I found Soul Cycle to be very different, but in a really refreshing and positive way.  Without a calibrated number on your bike, you don't feel like you're battling yourself or competing against the girl next to you.  Because, at Flywheel, you're only as good as your last number.  Period.  And, at least when I spin, I just want to lose myself in the rhythm of the music and enjoy the dark serenity surrounding me.  Additionally, at Soul Cycle, other body parts are incorporated in to the exercise beyond just your legs.  It's a winning formula.

This does not mean that I'm a convert, it just means that I appreciate and respect the differences between Soul Cycle and Flywheel

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Millesime

$1 oysters every weekday from 5:30pm-8pm at Millesime's Oyster Bar

Spicy Tuna Tartare  If you love the contents of a well made spicy tuna roll, then this appetizer is for you:  A rectangular mold of lightly-bound tuna tartare is topped with a crunchy slaw and fried wonton strips for texture, and finished with an agave-soy jus.  Absolute decadence and sheer perfection.

Cherry/Chocolate Croissant Pudding  This was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable desserts I've had of late.  Imagine, if you will, a ramekin filled with warm, gooey, intensely-rich "bread pudding."  Only, instead of day-old bread, Millesime's version is made with chocolate/cherry croissant scraps.  And is crowned with a scoop of chocolate ice cream that nearly liquefies when placed atop the warm pudding.  Heavenly...

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7-11's "Vermont Blueberry" coffee  I know, I know.  This sounds completely asinine, gnarly and, in all honesty, makes absolutely no sense.  Blueberry coffee?  Trust me, I was so geeked out when I saw this flavor at the 7-11 on 7th Avenue...that I had to taste it!  And guess what?  It's actually *really* good!  Seriously, if you see this wacky blend at your local 7-11, give it a try and please let me know what you think! 

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A Taste of Modern Luxury: Celebrity Cruises Pops Up in New York City   Of any "pop up" that I've ever attended, this was, by far, the best.  Held at The Kitchen, the team from Celebrity Cruises "came to land," if you will, to showcase cocktails from resident mixologist, Junior Merino, and culinary creations prepared by Chef John Suley.

Tasteful and lovely decor in the "Molecular Bar" area of the space. 

Junior Merino pours one of his signature cocktails.

My first cocktail of the evening was the "El Angel," which was a concoction of:  Dehydrated Hibiscus, citrus, Dainzu Gomme, tequila blanco, mezcal joven, and Junior Merino's Aleppo Pepper Lime Rimmer

After finishing my first cocktail within minutes, I chose to proceed with "Coming Up Roses," a concoction made of:  Bacardi Razz, lime, Dainzu Rose Essence, rose petals, champagne, and Junior Merino's Rasberry Rose Foam.

About 3/4 of the way finished with my second cocktail, Michelle and I were whisked to our table for dinner.  Let me just say that if the three courses we enjoyed are anything akin to what is served onboard, I am confident that a Celebrity Cruise will be in my *very* near future...

Bread & salted butter for the tableJerusalem Artichoke Veloute: Iberico ham, black trumpet mushrooms, sourdough croutons, marscaponeHandmade Ricotta Cavatelli: Wild mushroom fricassee, mach, parmigiano reggiano, shaved black truffles (look at those truffles!!!)Five Spice Crusted Cervena Venison Loin: Celery root fondant, wilted spinach, red cabbage marmalade, lingonberry sauceSeared Halibut (this was my favorite dish of the evening): Salsify, beef oxtail marmalade, Brussels sprouts, parmesan emulsion

Pork and "Beans": Tenderloin, cheek, tarbals beans, collard greens, heirloom carrots, cider jus

Strawberry Fields and CustardsWarm Pineapple Tart Tatin: Coconut rum ice cream, lime confit, passion fruitValrhona Cocoa Cake: Chocolate mousse, peanut butter creme brulee, salted caramel ice cream

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Needless to say, it was a very delicious and eventfull week! 

Thank you all, in advance, for your patience as I transition in to my new schedule. 

~~~

Until we eat again (next week),

The Lunch Belle

Tuesday
Oct092012

Hong Kong by way of Queens: A journey to Flushing's Chinatown

It happens about every 2-months.  I get this overwhelming urge to escape.  An itch, if you will, to break free from the never-ending crowds in the streets - the nauseating, ear drum-piercing horns and ambulance sirens - that uber-narcissistic, "me, me, me" girlfriend that you just want to punch (Oh, come on, we alllllll have at least one of those!) - dating drama - emails that I need to respond to - and all of my other petty, "white people problems" grievances.  

Question:  How much physical distance do you think it takes to really feel as though you've escaped?  Trust me, it's much less than you think.  Are you ready?  The answer is - wait for it -  just about 11 miles!

On Saturday afternoon, I had lunch plans with one of my most loyal readers and her boyfriend.  After going back and forth over cuisine options and neighborhoods, we unanimously decided to head to Flushing's Chinatown (Queens).  Why leave the borough for Chinese food, you ask?  Well, because a) I had never been to Flushing's famous Chinatown (How fcuking embarrassing is that?), b) it's the second-largest Chinatown outside of Asia, and c) I'm obsessed with Chinese food.

We secured a legit parking spot close to the Queens Botanical Garden and walked up Flushing's Main Street.  The first businesses we passed along the way were Middle Eastern.  From shop windows showcasing brightly colored saris, to markets carrying a bountiful array of fragrant spices and exotic ingredients, it was like Christmas morning for my eyes and nose.  I even picked up a Pakistani newspaper (...so that I could later view its restaurant listings).

As Arabic writing on shops and restaurants slowly morphed in to Mandarin, we found ourselves in the heart of Flushing's Chinatown.  My first observation was how much more civilized, clean, and spacious it felt compared to Manhattan's Chinatown.  More notable, however, was the fact that there was room - and air - to breathe.  People were not packed in the streets - or the shops - or restaurants like sardines.  And, speaking of sardines, the air did not reek of dead fish. 

As we made our way further up Main Street, we found ourselves chatting with a pair of teens who recommended that we dine at "the place with the long line...by the restaurant with the green awning."  So, armed with that information, we hooked a left, followed by a sharp right on to Prince Street, and grabbed three seats at a communal dining table at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao.

We ordered with the mindset that we would be "restaurant hopping."  Obviously, we wanted to taste offerings from as many establishments as our stomachs would allow.  But, you know, it's a funny thing:  Whenever I order dishes at a Chinese restaurant, my eyes always end up being much bigger than my stomach.  Moderation, in any sense of the word, is just not something I have mastered...

Pork & Vegetable Wonton in Casserole  While I'm not quite sure what they mean by "casserole," the wontons were served over a delightfully thick, peanut-based soy sauce.  Perhaps "casserole" is intended to mean "thick" or "abundant?"  Who knows.  I could tell that the wontons had been assembled onsite, as the wrappers were slightly gummy and glutinous, and not pristinely packaged (which is a key observance in trying to decipher whether or not a wonton/dumpling is homemade).

The pork filling was dotted with green flecks, which indicated the presence of either chives or spinach/greens.

Scallion pancakes  Buttery and crisp on the outside - soft and doughy on the inside - these savory, scallion-flecked pancakes really hit the spot.  Especially since just moments prior, in a fit of gluttonous haze/rage, I purchased a scallion pancake from a street vendor that was beyond bland.

Xiao Long Bao (pork soup dumplings)  How could we possibly go to a restaurant - with "Xiao Long Bao" in its lengthy name - and not sample its namesake dish?  Served atop a cabbage leaf were six piping-hot pork soup dumplings.  I was certainly impressed by the thinner dough/skin exterior, as most dumplings I've had in the US are too thick and gummy.  While the interior pork meatball was tasty, I found its surrounding soup to be utterly flavorless. 

My idea of the perfect soup dumpling is one where the accompanying soy/vinegar sauce is not necessary for a flavor transformation - only a flavor accentuation.  To this day, no one does it better than my beloved Din Tai Fung.

First bite!It's what's on the inside that counts -After what we thought was round one of our restaurant-hopping tour, we headed to Jmart in the New World Mall.  Imagine, if you will, 30,000 square feet of pan-Asian grocery-shopping heaven.  I awed beautiful, magenta-colored dragon fruit, sampled even more scallion pancakes, spotted an overly-crowded eel tank (I find eels to be quite fascinating creatures), and watched - in my Western-hemisphere horror - as live frogs got their heads chopped off at the butcher's counter.  It was a feast for every one of my "vanilla" senses! 

Our next stop was at Fay Da Bakery, so that I could get my bubble-tea fix.  The woman behind the counter insisted that I try taro-flavored tea, "smoothie" style.  This just meant that the tea was blended with ice before being combined with tapioca "bubbles."  And, she was right - it was delish!  For those of you who don't know, the black dots in the photo, below, are the tapioca "bubbles!"

Midway through my tea inhalation, I realized that there was no way in hell I could fit another thing in my stomach.  So, in an effort to solely pay our respects, we took a quick stroll through the Golden Shopping Mall, where Xiang Famous Foods, the stall that Anthony Bourdain made famous on his No Reservations episode in NYC, was born.

On the drive back to Manhattan, I couldn't believe how refreshed and renewed - and uncomfortably full - I felt.  If only for a couple of hours, I was able to completely immerse myself in Flushing Chinatown's myriad of deliciously affordable and fascinating sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.  One of my favorite occurrences that happened repeatedly throughout the day were the low-flying, LaGuardia-bound airplanes landing ridiculously close to where I was standing.  Oh, how I wish that I could have just propped myself atop the roof of a car - a-la-Wayne's World - and gawked as the jets touched down at the airport...

If you've not yet been to Flushing's Chinatown, I highly recommend making the 11-mile journey.  I cannot think of a better, more affordable way to feel transported to another hemisphere.  To forget, if only for a few hours, all of the bullshit that weighs you down just across the East River.  To immerse and educate yourself in new cuisines, shopping experiences, and languages.  Flushing has inspired me to seek out more cultural pockets across all five of these fabulous boroughs.  After all, it is this multitude of diversity that attracted me to New York City in the first place.  Shame on me for not having experienced this neighborhood sooner.

...

Places I visited/recommend:

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (restaurant) - 38-12 Prince Street - Flushing, NY 11354 - *cash only*

Jmart (pan-Asian grocery store) - 136-20 Roosevelt Avenue - Flushing, NY 11354

Fay Da Bakery (bubble tea, bakery items) - 41-60 Main Street - Flushing, NY 11354 - *cash only*

Golden Shopping Mall (food stalls, small stores - this is where you will also find the original location of Xiang Famous Foods) - 41-28 Main Street - Flushing, NY 11355

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Thursday
Jul192012

My whirlwind-week in review: A sister, a bachelorette party, and becoming a "mother"

Whew!  It's been a whirlwind of a week.  My apologies for not having posted anything sooner, but my hands have been tied!

After having just seen her in California, my sister flew to NYC (a week ago, today) for our cousin's bachelorette party.  We crammed a ton of eating, shopping, sisterly bonding, and debauchery in to her 5 days in the Big Apple, and I'm excited to finally be giving you the recap!

...

Thursday, 7/12

From the moment my sister landed, we hit the ground running! 

After rushing home from work, I took a lightning-fast shower and got primped for my dear friend, Christine's (a.k.a. "Hollywood"), birthday party at The Liberty

~

Friday, 7/13

For dinner, my sis and I went to Almayass, a new Lebanese-Armenian restaurant that had been on my "must-try list." 

The atmosphere is very romantic and ideal for a date!  In terms of decor, the space is kissed with white-washed walls and patches of exposed brick - dark-wood ceiling beams - dramatic, wrought-iron chandeliers - and Venetian art.  On the evening we dined, the music was an tragic interesting melange of Frank Sinatra, Lebanese pop, and dentist office/Kenny G-esque elevator music. 

We began with the Hummos Almayass, which was accompanied by thin halves of pita bread and crisps.

Visually, the hummos was a lovely spectacle.  However, I think I would order the regular hummos, sans the "special Almayass sauce," if I had to do it again.  I was disappointed that the pita bread was not homemade.  It was slightly cold and clearly mass-produced.  Have I become so spoiled that I expect all Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurants to make their pita in-house?  Thank you, Omar's Kitchen & Bakery.  I blame you for this!

Hummos Almayass

In addition to the bread and crisps, we received a small dish filled with za'atar and olive oil.  Hated it!  The flavor aired on the side of 'overwhelming' and the texture reminded me of wet beach sand.  Meh.

Za'atar "dip"

While my sister ordered a bowl of lentil soup for her appetizer, I opted for the Spicy Olive Salad (with tomato sauce, spicy paste, and fresh lemon dressing).

There wasn't much of a kick to it at all, so "Spicy" in its title was misleading.  As a green olive lover, I thought that this salad would be a home run but, alas, it was too salty.  And that speaks volumes coming from a salt-o-holic.  Sigh.

Spicy Olive Salad

Per our server's suggestion, we chose the Queen's Delight (sliced and marinated filet mignon with a special sweet/sour cherry sauce) for one of our entrees.

While the beef was perfectly bite-sized and cooked to a tender "medium," I found the cherry sauce to be cloyingly sweet and too liquid-y.  But it would be killer on pancakes!

Queen's Delight

I had read various reviews stating that the mantee, a filled pasta/dumpling, was a must-try.  Leila and I opted for the Mantee Spinach, as opposed to the beef version.

Boat-shaped raviolis were filled with seasoned spinach and topped with a tomato-y, garlic-yogurt sauce.  Unfortunately, the actual "mantee" were not even cooked al-dente.  They were crunchy, for god's sake!  :(

Mantee Spinach

The next and last entree that we split was the Grilled Prawns.  I let my sister choose this dish, even though the description, "...served with cocktail and tartar sauce," scared the crap out of me.  Why?  Because it's a Middle Eastern restaurant, not a damn fish shack! 

The prawns, while generously sized and meaty, were limp.  And definitely NOT grilled. 

Epic fail.  On more than one level.

Grilled Prawns

While my sister adored Almayass, I wasn't such a fan.  At least in terms of the food.  The service - despite a slight language barrier - and atmosphere, however, were brilliant.   

~

Saturday, 7/14

The bachelorette festivities for Cousin Barb began at noon with a delicious brunch at one of our other cousin's apartments.  Highlights included:  Mimosas, avocado toasts, fresh bagels, homemade granola, and Momofuku Milk Bar's Crack Pie!

After brunch, we walked over to Chelsea Piers and hopped aboard a Classic Harbor Line schooner for a late afternoon cruise!  The views of downtown Manhattan and Lady Liberty were outstanding.  I felt like a tourist in my own city, and embraced the hell out it.  I highly recommend this particular cruise/company!

After 1.5 hours on the water, we returned to land.  The group (15 of us) scattered and later met up for dinner at 9:30pm at Supper.

We had our own private room!

With lots of wine...

The groom even showed up as a surprise (...don't worry, he didn't stay long)!

We ate a plethora of delicious Italian food, served family-style.

Whew!

After dinner, the group headed to Happy Ending to dance the night away.

~

Sunday, 7/15

The next morning, my sister and I made a bee-line for brunch at Aquagrill.

The space is sunny, cheery, and what I would describe as 'casually sophisticated.'  Think:  Sunflower-yellow hues, seashell chandeliers, crisp white tablecloths, and plenty of natural light.  There's a sizeable raw bar near the entryway, housing a multitude of fresh 'jewels from the sea.'  Oysters.  Lots and lots of oysters.

To drink, I ordered the "fresh squeezed lemonade," which arrived in a tiny, awkward wine glass.  And it wasn't even good.  Big waste of $4.   

Fresh Squeezed Lemonade

A basket of freshly-baked sweet biscuits and mini-muffins were accompanied by salted butter and orange marmalade.

We started with one of the daily specials, a sushi-type roll that was composed of avocado and crab meat, and wrapped in a thin strip of raw sea bass.  The creamy avocado added the perfect amount of buttery richness to an otherwise light, seafood-centric composition. 

Sea Bass, Crabmeat & Avocado Roll

What we received next was the highlight of the meal, at least for me.  Local oysters, from the waters of CT and MD, plus four Jonah crab claws were paired with all of the proper accoutrement:  Vinegar, cocktail sauce, aioli, lemon wedges.  Jicama/mango slaw accompanied the crab claws.

Oysters & Jonah crab claws

And, last but not least, my sister and I split the Maine Lobster Sandwich, which was accompanied by French fries.

Served atop moist, homemade ciabatta bread were ample chunks of sweet lobster meat that was lightly dressed with cayenne mayonnaise and vegetable slaw.  Although the portion was on the smaller side, both the sandwich and house-made fries were pretty fcuking incredible.  I could have eaten four more servings.  Seriously.

Maine Lobster Sandwich

~

Monday, 7/16

Before checking out the MoMa, my sister came to my office and met me for lunch.  Where we continued our discussion about dogs, at length.  And, being the mother of two pups, she convinced me that it was about damn time I become a dog owner, as well...

So, I did something I rarely do:  Listened. 

Without further ado, please meet my new "daughter," Lucy!  She's a 5-month old Maltese puppy who's every bit as quirky, curious, and energetic as her adoptive mother.  We also share a passion for shoes.  :)

Obviously, I'm already on the lookout for dog-friendly restaurants/bars so, if you have some solid recommendations, please let me know!   

...

Places mentioned in this post

Bars:

  • Happy Ending - a Lower East Side mainstay that's great for late night dancing and debauchery
  • The Liberty - spacious, new, great bar food, ideal for private functions

Restaurants:

Places to visit/things to do and see:

  • Classic Harbor Line - take a schooner cruise along the NY Harbor!  Great experience.
  • MoMa - Museum of Modern Art (sorry, I still haven't been, so I cannot comment)

 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle