**Readers!  I recently moved to the City of Angels.  The good news is that I'm keeping this site alive while I simultaneously author Beverly Hills Bites.  Check it out!**

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

For those of you who enjoy highly thorough and traditional restaurant reviews, you may find them located here

But that's not all!  Additionally, I...

  • ~ For tourists, I can help you create itineraries and answer any questions you may have/offer advice for your upcoming visit to NYC.
  • ~ I can consult and/or advise on all of your small and large events.
  • ~ I will assist you with restaurant recommendations.

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

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Entries in Round-ups & restaurant-hopping (22)


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! 


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!...


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)!


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! 


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...


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.


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!!


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."  


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 


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...


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!


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



$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...


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! 


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


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


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.


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


  • 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


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


Weekend eats & drinks: Cafe Frida, Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana

"Why don't you go and buy yourself a Nook?"  My mom said, in response to me complaining about how and where to kill 2-hours.  Typically, I get out of work at 5pm and, almost every single night, I either have a meeting/event or a dinner that I have to attend.  Usually at 7pm.  In a part of town that is no where near my apartment.  "Come on, Mom," I quipped, "reading is like men; more often than not, you're disappointed.  Plus, where would I sit down and read this Nook, anyways?  Coffee shops are too loud and distracting." 

After one too many of these 2+ hour waiting periods turned in to boredom-induced shopping binges, I decided that I needed a new hobby.  And a less expensive one, at that... 

It was right around this past fall when my love/obsession for the margarita went in to overdrive.  So much so, that I soon declared "searching for the city's best margarita" as my newfound hobby.  I also hoped that, since I conducted much of my research solo (not too many of my friends get out of work as early as I do), perhaps I could simultaneously meet a young suitor...or 3!

Months later, after much trial/error and no suitor worth writing home about, I had a venue in nearly every neighborhood that I frequented for, what I had discovered to be, that particular area's best margarita:

To me, margaritas are like drinkable art:  They photograph well and come in a variety of different colors and textures (if you so choose).  And how many other beverages can you name that offer sweet, sour, and salty all in one sip?

After work last Friday, I had 2-hours to kill before the Whole Foods Market New Taste of the UWS.  Not being particularly fond of or familiar with the Upper West Side, I had no clue where to get my margarita on after trekking across town through Central Park.  I mean, surely, the latter would take me almost an hour from Midtown East.  Then what?  1-hour down, 1-hour to go.  But where to? 

And then I remembered Cafe Frida, a relatively authentic Mexican restaurant, conveniently located a block away from my 7pm event...

Making my way to the UWS via Central ParkWhen I finally arrived at Cafe Frida, it was just about 6pm - a.k.a. prime "happy hour" time.  There was not a vacant seat or standing room in the entire bar, but the hostess was kind enough to allow me to sit at a two-top in the front of the dining room. 

The cocktail and tequila list was impressive.  Ultimately, I chose the "Skinny Paloma Flaca" margarita, which contained 100% Agave Azul Tequila, pink grapfruit and lime juices, agave nectar, and a sea salt rim.

And, yes, the "Skinny Paloma Flaca" margarita was every bit as delicious as it looks, above.  It was tangy, had the perfect sweet/savory balance, and went down as smooth as water. 

I officially declare Cafe Frida to hold the title of "Best Margaritas on the UWS! 




Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana

On Saturday at noon, I met three of my fellow New York Mexican Food Lovers at Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana for our monthly MeetupOh, what a coincidence it was to be back on the UWS after having spent an entire evening there the night before!

As Selena sang in the background, a cook prepared a variety of meats and griddled tortillas on the hot flat-top behind the counter.  The smells were pleasantly intoxicating, as was the music, which reminded me of my teen years in Texas.

While Taqueria is small (containing approximately 6 tables), its space is warm and comfortable.  Casual as it may be, guests are still served by a waiter.  Meals here begin with bottomless house-made tostados and a trio of some of the most delicious salsas that I've sampled in NYC, to date.

Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana: Tostados y salsasAfter introducing ourselves to one another, which was quickly followed by some Mexican food chatter, we perused the menu and ordered individual beverages and entrees. 

I began with a glass of horchata, which is my go-to Mexican thirst quencher.  I was pleased to find that it was topped with freshly-ground nutmeg and contained the perfect amount of ice - not too much, not too little.  The beverage retained its consistency and sweet flavor, from first sip to last. 

Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana: HorchataAs I typically do on my first time at any Mexican restaurant, I ordered a plate of cheese enchiladas and a single beef taco.  On this particular occasion, I requested that my enchiladas be topped with red mole sauce.

Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana: Cheese enchiladas with red mole sauce, black beans, Mexican riceWhen the plate arrived, I was a bit puzzled by the plethora of Romaine lettuce leaves.  Sure, they added color and contrast, but the sheer amount was completely unnecessary.  I moved the entire "salad" aside. 

The enchiladas, themselves, were tasty, although I found the interior cheese too dense and stringy; it was likely mozzarella.  I thoroughly enjoyed the rich, intense, and subtly sweet mole, a sauce which I rarely choose.  The beans and the rice, especially, were good.

Taqueria y Fonda La Mexicana: Shredded beef tacoShredded beef, finished with a loosely-mixed pico de gallo, was served atop two griddled corn tortillas.  While the flavors were spot on - especially when smothered with one of the three salsas - much of the beef was gristly.

So, would I return to Taqueria?  Sure, but only if I was in the neighborhood.  While affordable and tasty, I did not find it to be destination-worthy.



Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle



Weekend round-up: Japanese food. A Texas chili cook off. The Travel Channel.  

An underground Japanese restaurant in the middle of Times Square

A Texas chili cook off attended by 1500 hungry guests

An interview with the Travel Channel (!!!!!!!!)

Sunday supper at a neighborhood favorite

Could my weekend have been any more random - delicious - or exciting?  Probably not.  And the kicker?  Both Saturday and Sunday yielded sunny, 70+ degree days...



I had date #3 with a gentleman who treated me to dinner at underground Japanese lair, Iroha.  "...I think it's somewhere around 51st and 7th," he responded, after I asked him where the restaurant was located.  "It's kind of like a Japanese tapas place."  Adding to the mystere, he could not recall its name for the life of him.  "Um, I'm not gonna lie," I said, "I'm a little scared."  And scared I was.  Not only does the neighborhood make me cringe, but "Japanese tapas?"  Come on.   

When I came out of the subway on 49th and Broadway, I received a text from my date saying that the restaurant was actually located on 49th Street.  Not 51st.  Literally right across the street from where I was standing.  "It's called Iroha," he said, "I'm in front."  When we met, he said that, due to the restaurant's popularity, he showed up 30 minutes prior to add our names to the wait list! 

Luckily, not 5 minutes later, we were led down a staircase and in to a bright, rather expansive dining room and seated at the bar.  After perusing the helpful picture menu, we ordered the following:  Sake (for him), plum wine (for me), Ume Boshi Onigiri (pickled sour plum rice ball), hamachi sashimi, pickled vegetables, octopus, uni, kimchi noodles, and shrimp tempura.

Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed my meal at Iroha and was very pleased that I did not leave with an overly-stuffed belly.  I would recommend this restaurant to anyone with a sense of adventure and a love for Japanese cuisine.


This marked the third year that I was invited to help judge the Lone Star Chili Cook Off, a fabulous outdoor bash hosted by the University of Texas and the Texas A&M alumnae associations.  And, due to this year's 1500-person attendee list, the Cook Off was moved from its prior venue, 230 Fifth, to the expansive Beekman Beer Garden.

From the moment that I arrived, I was blown away by the shear size (22,000 square feet!) - beauty - views - beach - of the Beekman Beer Garden.  It's not every day that I'm *this* impressed by a venue.  Especially not in space-deprived Manhattan.

Check out these killer views...and the Mike Myers wannabe (!!!!):

Does ANYONE who attended the Cook Off remember seeing this fellow? He kind of made my day.Besides yours truly, the impressive judge's panel included: 

We (the judges) each tasted 16 of the 32 chili entries!  Can you fathom?  After being broken up in to three teams, we sampled 10 bowls/piece.  From there, each team's top two highest ranked chilis were chosen for the final judging round.  Six more bowls of chili later, the winner, "Austin Chili Limits," was chosen!  Congratulations!!

As the day went on, I spied a camera crew who, eventually, approached the judge's table.  "Hi, we're here from the Travel Channel, and we're filming a new show about food festivals across the US.  Is it cool if we get some shots of you guys?"  We all looked at one another with wide, excited eyes and, almost unanimously, blurted, "Sure!"

The judge's ranking/notes sheet

After the judging had ended, a friend and I were chatting in the same general area when I observed an employee from the Travel Channel approaching.  As I saw her getting closer, our eyes met but, in order to make sure that she was, in fact, looking at me, I glanced over each shoulder to confirm that I wasn't delusional.  "Hi, I was wondering if we could interview you after the winner is announced," she asked.  Without hesitation, I enthusiastically accepted.  She handed me a waiver to fill out and sign, with some legal mumbo-jumbo and my personal information, etc.  "We'd love to hear how you got involved in judging the Cook Off, and your personal criteria for critiquing the chili."  Wow, OK!

And, just after 2pm, I was interviewed.  By the Travel ChannelHoly shit!!!!!  Although I was nervous, I think I did a decent job of answering the producer's questions and appearing lively, somewhat knowledgeable, and humorous.  Now, I just have to wait and see if my blurb makes it past the cutting-room floor!


After a rowdy afternoon spent day-drinking and sun-baking, I took it fairly easy on Saturday night and went to bed pretty damn early.  As in 9pm early.  And, since I wasn't my typical hungover hot mess, I was able to attend exercise class, do laundry, clean out my storage unit, and catch some rays.  See how much I can accomplish when I don't act like a lush the night before? 

For dinner, I met my dear friend, Ceci, at our favorite neighborhood sushi/Japanese joint, Momoya.  Now, this is my kind of Japanese restaurant:  Pretty, modern atmosphere and a delicious food menu with plenty of familiar items.  I mean, duh, we all know that, when it comes to fish, I don't venture too far in to the exotic.

Without fail, I can always count on having a perfect meal at Momoya, from start to finish.  Now, how many restaurants can you say that about?

Plum wine (That green blob is the actual plum!)Yellowtail JalapenoCrispy Rice with Spicy TunaPork Gyoza w/ chili soy sauceAmber jack sashimi, king crab sashimi, lobster sashimi, "Black Dynamite" roll (spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cucumber & avocado)



Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


Recap: Colette Malouf, Cinco de Derby, and one hell of a Hot Kitchen

My weekend was kicked off with a visit to Colette Malouf's pop-up shop at Henri Bendel.  Having been a fan of the designer since 2007, I was thrilled to learn that, aside from her gorgeous hair accessories collection, Ms. Malouf *also* has a line of costume jewelry! 

And for those of you who don't know?  I am a costume jewelry whore.

When I arrived at the event, I was ecstatic and star struck to see Colette - in person - explaining the intricacies of a particular hair piece to a customer.  I could hardly wait to shake her hand and gush about her gorgeous creations.  To her.  Wow!

OK, so I can't post a picture of my actual purchase, because it's a birthday present for my sister (...who will be reading this blurb the moment I publish).  However, I can show you the picture of the hair piece that one of my best friends is going to wear on her wedding day:

I urge those of you who appreciate breathtaking, hand-crafted accessory pieces and costume jewelry to go out and treat yourself to something fabulous!  Click here for store locations.


Later on that night, I met a friend at Diablo Royale for some pre-game Cinco de Mayo margarita action, followed by a private "Montauk summer house" meet-and-greet at Parlor.


On Saturday, I was able to sneak in a workout - meet my friend, Cat (...plus her mother and sister), for her wedding gown viewing - and get my hair done - all before heading to three celebratory Cinco de Mayo and/or Kentucky Derby parties...and a date. 

This was one of the funnest days I've had in all of my eight years in NYC!


Hot Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday was a bit of a struggle, as I spent much of it compensating for my lack of water, sleep, and nutrients from the day/night prior.  However, I managed to fit in a workout - which I'm especially proud of - considering my sloppy, hungover state (I'm currently participating in the "Flybarre Challenge," which states that you must attend 4 barre classes/week for 6 weeks.  Now in week #3, I've met my goal, thus far.  Fingers crossed that I can hang on!). 

At 2pm, I hopped on to my bike and headed to the East Village for a gluttonous lunch at Hot Kitchen, a fairly recently-opened Szechuan restaurant. 

Ever since spending time in Hong Kong, I cannot get enough Chinese food.  I go on Dan Dan Noodle benders and am constantly plotting my return to Asia.  In fact, Chinese food is fast becoming my second favorite cuisine, closely behind Mexican.  And, luckily, I have a handful of friends who are willing to forgo a traditional Sunday morning "Eggs Benedict brunch" for an authentic Szechuan lunch spread.

Sylvia and Hollywood ordered an ample array of dishes for the entire table.  Per the photos, below, I will do my best to describe each plate and its respective ingredients.  And try not to sound even whiter than I already am.  Here goes: 

Egg Drop Soup

Damn right. The white girl ordered the whitest soup on the menu, while everyone else enjoyed Hot 'n Sour. Cucumber with Scallion Sauce

Always a favorite vegetable dish of mine, these cucumbers were peeled and then cut in to the perfect bite-sized morsel. A garlicky, pristinely-salted scallion sauce enveloped each cuke.Spinach with Ginger Sauce

Served cold, dense spinach was blanketed by a minced ginger sauce that, surprisngly, did not overwhelm.Spicy Szechuan Dumplings

I'm not quite sure why the word "spicy" was tacked on, because these dumplings weren't fiery in the least. They were, however, every bit delicious and were constructed with the perfect dough-to-meat ratio. The pork filling was among the best I've ever had.Szechuan Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles are, probably, one of my top 5 favorite foods of all time. Hot Kitchen's version was tasty, though I found the dish to contain too much liquid. Cafe China and Wu Liang Ye still tie for first place.Szechuan Steamed Pork Bun

Within this soft, delicate bun lay a mound of shredded pork that was bound by a lightly sweet, tangy sauce.Pork Soup Dumplings

I honestly don't think I've ever met a soup dumpling that I did not like. And this version was no exception. Both filling and broth were excellent, though I would have preferred a bit less dough mass on the top of the dumpling.Szechuan Wontons with Red Oil

This was probably my favorite appetizer of the bunch. I LOVE spicy red oil, especially when crowned by pillowy, handmade pork wontons.Scallion Pancakes

Light, buttery, and chock full of scallions, these pancakes were the perfect interlude to our heavier entrees.Ma Po Tofu

At first bite, I - a self proclaimed salt fanatic - found this dish too salty. However, when spooned over sticky white rice, the sauce/gravy was perfectly balanced. We chose to add pork to our version, and it was excellent (aside from the fact that I don't eat tofu). Assorted Spicy Wok 

Chock-full of beef, chicken, sausage, beef tripe, shrimp, squid, and veggies, by the time this tray reached my end of the table, all that was left was chicken and veggies. Fine by me! I loaded up on lotus root and daikon.Because I was eating as if it were my last meal on death row, I simply *forgot* to snap pictures of our additional dishes and entrees:  Hot & Sour Soup, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Sauteed Spinach with Garlic, Beef Tripe with Minced Pickle Pepper, Beef Tendon with Spicy Peppery Sauce, Cumin Beef and, my personal favorite, the Chongqing Spicy Chicken.  The latter knocked my socks off and was so damn good, that it's worth a return visit in and of itself.

While we ordered enough food to feed a small Caribbean island, each of us only paid $43.  And that price included tax/tip, 2 bottles of wine, and a crap load of beers.

Hot Kitchen is definitely worth a visit and, in my case, a return visit.  Plus, the space is large enough to seat big-ish parties, and the atmosphere/decor will not insult your snobby mother or your waspy friends.


And, as if I had any more room in my stomach, I met my dear friend from college, Devon, for dinner at Markt.  Literally, a mere 3 hours after my lunch at Hot Kitchen! 

Gluttony and over indulgence aside, I had an outstanding weekend.  And I hope that you did, too!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle