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Entries in Round-ups & restaurant-hopping (26)

Tuesday
May152012

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...

~

Friday 

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.

Saturday 

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!

Sunday

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

Monday
May072012

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

Monday
Apr302012

Grand Sichuan, Markt, Chinatown Brasserie, Buvette: 4 restaurants. 48 gluttonours hours.  

My weekend was filled with 48-hours' worth of delicious eats!  It all began on Friday evening with a late-night meal at Grand Sichuan.  My very adventurous date ordered for the two of us, with the exception of my Dandan noodles addition:  Jelly Fish with Scallion Oil, Beef Tendon with Hot & Pepper Sauce, and Aui Zhou Spicy Chicken.  While I didn't touch the beef tendon (blech!), I did enjoy jelly fish for the very first time in my life.  The clear tentacles reminded me of tofu, in that they take on the distinct flavor of whichever sauce they're served within.  Texturally, the "fish" was neither gelatinous nor chewy, as I had assumed it would be; it was surprisingly dense and juicy.  Very interesting!   

~

Saturday afternoon:  Cathryn and I treated ourselves to a boozy brunch at Markt after having successfully found her a gorgoues wedding dress!  I enjoyed two Kir Royale cocktails and an omelette filled with mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs, and gruyere cheese.  A crispy potato cake accompanied. 

To be honest, I forgot just how delicious brunch is at my neighborhood Belgian!  I look forward to returning to Markt very soon!

...

Saturday evening:  I returned to Chinatown Brasserie for the first time since 2007.  The breathtaking, dramatic space was identical to how I remembered it, though the "background" music was more nightclub/DJ Pauly D.  Honestly, it was pretty loud obnoxious.  Additionally, the dining room was so dimly lit, that we had to request two more votive candles in order to read the menu!  Sigh. 

On a positive note, I enjoyed some fabulous cocktails and the best dim sum that I've experienced this side of Hong Kong.  While the sauce and vegetables were outstanding, my entree was severely disappointing and nearly inedible because of its gristly, rubbery beef. 

Conclusion:  I would return to Chinatown Brasserie solely for cocktails and their destination-worthy dim sum.

Chinatown Brasserie: Spicy Mango MargaritaChinatown Brasserie: Roast Pork BunsChinatown Brasserie: Shanghai Soup DumplingsChinatown Brasserie: Scallion-Bacon Pancakes w/ hoisin sauceChinatown Brasserie: Wok-Fried BBQ Beef with Ginkgo Nuts & Asparagus (Everything about this dish - minus the beef, its star ingredient - was excellent. The beef, however, was rubbery and full of gristle.)~

Sunday afternoon:  I met my cousin, his friend, Shira, and Dana for brunch at Buvette.  Having heard so many positive things, I was very anxious to finally experience a meal at this West Village French, for myself. 

Being the first to arrive, I grew anxious when I saw a line of hungry folks standing in front of the restaurant.  By the time my name was taken, I was quoted a 15-20 minute wait for a table of four.  When everyone arrived, we were told that "the only available table is communal, unless you want to wait longer," and that, if I wanted, I could have a look at it.  "No, that's OK, we'll make it work," my cousin replied to the hostess.

The seating at the communal table was laughable.  And, of course, the only four unoccupied seats included three across the back wall and one on the opposite side of the table.  In the middle, no doubt.  Ugh.

I tried to remain as positive as possible and reminded myself that, based on what I had read/heard about Buvette, the food would make this awkward situation worth the lack of comfort and space...

Buvette: charming, albeit tiny, interior spaceBuvette: place setting & menuBuvette: a delicious, full-fat cappuccinoBuvette: croissants, salted butter, orange marmalade (These were given to us because of our extended wait time for a table and our "patience." Nice gesture!) The pastries were moist and buttery, airy, flaky, and delicious.Buvette: artichoke hearts with mint (While we enjoyed these delightful 'chokes, there wasn't anything earth-shattering about them / this is not a recipe that the most novice of chefs wouldn't be able to recreate at home.)Buvette: asparagus with chevre (This was the table's favorite vegetable. We could not stop commenting about the whipped goat cheese!) Buvette: coq au vin (The savory wine sauce was lovely, however, there was not nearly enough chicken. Sigh.)Buvette: croque madame (This was an epic fail on all levels, except for the ribbons of salty, delicious ham. The fried egg was overcooked and the bread was toasted to a nearly-inedible crisp.)Conclusion:  While there were plenty of items that I did enjoy on Buvette's brunch menu, they weren't unique, fantastic, or even large enough to warrant a return visit.  The four of us left hungry, for god's sake!  Plus, there's something to be said about a French restaurant that cannot properly make a croque madame...  There, I said it. 

 

How was your weekend?  Where and/or what did you eat?

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

Monday
Mar052012

Weekend roundup: Stick & Pop, The Pierre, La Poblanita Mexican food cart

Believe it or not, temperatures in the Big Apple rose to the mid-fifties on Saturday!  And, to add insult to injury, it was sunny.  Not a single cloud in the sky (...post an early a.m. rainstorm, that is).  It was the kind of day that we typically don't see until mid-April.  Amazing.

After taking a ballet class together, Dara and I walked over to Stick & Pop, a "cake pop bakery" in Chelsea, for a much-needed sugar fix.  After all, I've been a devout cake pop'r ever since my first bite of Momofuku Milk Bar's "b'day cake truffle."  Oh, and let's not forget to mention the "birthday cake pop" at Starbucks

Holy cake balls!   

Left to right: "The Lunchbox" - Peanut butter cake with raspberry swirl dipped in peanut butter shell with raspberry drizzle / "Johnny Cakes" - Peanut butter cake dipped in dark chocolate, covered in pretzel and sea salt.A look inside "The Lunchbox," peanut butter cake with raspberry swirl dipped in peanut butter shell with raspberry drizzle.A look inside of the "Johnny Cakes," peanut butter cake dipped in dark chocolate, covered in pretzel and sea salt. Dara and I simply could not pass up sampling the two delicious peanut butter varieties on the menu.  There are, however, nine other flavors!  Click here to check them out.

Stick & Pop is located at 233 W. 19th Street (btwn 7th & 8th Avenues) in NYC

~

On Saturday night, I attended the New York Junior League's annual Winter Ball.  Held at the gorgeous Pierre Hotel, everything - from the decor, service, food, music, ball gowns, and auction...to the overall flow of the event - was picture-perfect and on point.

NYJL Winter Ball 2012: a view from my seat at the dinner table

Congratulations to my dear friend - and Winter Ball chair - Emily! Job well done!~

On Sunday's only, there are a handful of Mexican street carts - selling art and food - perched in front of the Young Designer's Market, at 328 W. 14th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues).  One particular food cart, called "La Poblanita," is my personal favorite (...though I'm a bit biased, as I've not tried the other carts.  La Poblanita's food is too worthy!).  Every Sunday, you will find me here - with $2.50 in hand - to purchase one of La Poblanita's outrageously delicious pork gorditas.  The gordita's shell is handmade - sometimes, even while you wait - and deep fried on-location.  The interior of the shell is smeared with fresh crema and stuffed with chunks of pork, lettuce, pico de gallo, radish nibs, and topped with cotija cheese.  Plastic 'squeeze bottles' filled with homemade salsa verde and guacamole are on-hand for guests to personalize their individual gorditas/tacos.

Best $2.50 I've ever spent and, without a doubt, a treat that I look forward to all week. 

GET. HERE. NOW.  The cart has the words "La Poblanita" written on its right frame/wall. 

~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle