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Posts from the ‘chelsea’ Category

Salinas: Great Tapas, Just The Right Amount of Euro

Although Chelsea isn’t necessarily my ‘new’ neighborhood anymore (hard to imagine it’s been 6 months!), I still thoroughly enjoy exploring all the surprisingly good dining options in the area. Since its opening this summer, neighborhood newbie Salinas has peaked my interest, mostly because of its gorgeous-looking back garden. As it turns out, this back garden is indeed lovely and Salinas as a whole is a quite pleasant restaurant.

The sleek space on 9th Avenue has a sheen to it – everything seems shiny and new, crisp and clean. Both the dining room and the back garden are dominated by soothing sultry shades of deep blue; luxe fabrics and Brazilian woods abound; mirrors glint on the rough limestone walls; exotic lanterns shed soft light over the remarkably attractive international crowd. The main dining room opens seamlessly to the enchanting garden patio where the inky velvet chairs mirror the inky night sky and the glint of flame from a stone fireplace reflects the white lights of satellites, airplanes and perhaps even stars passing overhead; lush potted plants are crowded into corners, sit prettily on the fireplace’s mantle, and curl around the tops of lanterns. Salinas is warm, in a sultry sort of way. If you let the lilting cacophony of Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese waft over you and picture that the grimy New York apartment building peeking through the retractable roof is actually a palm grove, you could just imagine that you’re no longer in Manhattan, but instead on the Mediterranean coast, in Monaco or Juan les Pins.

The kitchen prepares Spanish tapas inspired by the boisterous communities lining the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Italy. Unlike what is typically offered at trendy “Euro” eateries from the Upper East Side to Tribeca, the food at Salinas is mostly marvelous. Like tapas should be, the dishes are bold and flavorful bites – assertively salty and savory, sweet at times, bitter when advertised. Culled from a long menu of delicious-sounding plates, my favorites include the simply prepared shishito peppers, lightly fried and dusted with crystalline grains of sea salt; the crispy quails, delicate yet pink and meaty, wrapped in high-quality bacon; the ‘crujiente mahones,’ an airy and crispy flatbread rubbed with honey, thyme and sea salt and topped with perfect nubs of salty dry aged Mahon cheese; the sinful bite-size veal cheek croquetas paired with sweet roasted apples. The food comes out quick and adds up quicker; sometimes, the food is so tasty that it’s hard to stop ordering more plates for the table – I found myself asking for just one more order of the croquetas, for the road …

Salinas is lovely addition to a stretch of Ninth Avenue on a restaurant and nightlife hot streak. Nearby are the new Tippler, Top Chef alum Hung’s new restaurant Catch, speakeasy wannabe Bathtub Gin, and Southern favorite Tipsy Parson. The setting is hard not to like, especially if you’re lucky enough to sit in the garden; it’s luxurious in a quiet way and always buzzing, even when it’s half-full. The noise can get overwhelming if you’re with a larger group or near one, but a glass of sangria quickly sets the nerves at ease. If the setting isn’t your cup of tea, the food most likely will be – the flavors and ingredients are familiar, approachable, and expertly manipulated into traditional Spanish tapas.

Perfect For: first dates, a cheaper trip to the Mediterranean, your “Euro” buddies, a glass of wine and light bites, al fresco dining, Chelsea natives

Salinas on Urbanspoon


Txikito: Basque-ing in Goodness

With Tia Pol, Salinas, El Quinto Pino and Txikito all within a 10 block radius of each other, it seems as though the western reaches of Chelsea are turning into a verifiable Spanish Tapas home-base. A self-described “love letter” to the simple and “unencumbered” cuisine of the Basque region in Spain, Txikito prides itself in its simplicity. And simple it is, a simply wonderful ode to the salty, savory and generally excellent traditional Basque fare.

The restaurant is easily missed, located in a low-rise and nondescript strip mall (also housing Co and the soon to arrive Chelsea outpost of the Sullivan Street Bakery) and totally devoid of any identifying signage. I first noticed it in the summer, when the floor-to-ceiling glass windows were pulled up, exposing the scarlet-topped metal bar stools stored under the white tile and slate-grey marble bar. A hip and young crowd chatted excitedly in the window, spilling out onto the street. Inside, the long and narrow main dining room is covered in faded clapboard, from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. The furniture is sparse and minimalist, consisting entirely of recycled plastic chairs and chintzy metal tables. Only simple lights adorn the rough walls, shedding a soft simple light over the generally disheveled and youthful crowd. The vibe is relaxed, with waiters sauntering around in hipster plaid, and nonchalant – there is no rush here, no stress.

The food is, as touted, classic Basque. The style, tapas. For two people, the recommendation is 4-6 dishes, and with five, my friend Sarah and I felt happily satiated. The cuisine proffered by the kitchen is uniformly delicious and craveable. The kroketas are a wonderful way to start – the size of golf balls, these creamy pork filled croquettes are gooey on the inside, crispy on the outside, and completely addictive. I could go through a basket of these daily if given the opportunity and promised no possibility of egregious weight gain. Also addictive are the salty, oily but not too oily, and spicy blistered peppers – served in a little dish, I think I went through my half of them (and more) a bit more rapidly than I care to admit. On the heartier side are the lamb meatballs, small, savory and served in a wonderful slightly minty broth – as someone with an English passport, the nostalgic reference to lamb and mint was appreciated. For those who love grilled cheese (how can you not, really?), the bocata sandwich is a great option. It’s on the larger side for tapas and undeniably well-made. Thick slices of uncured bacon, a cross between pork belly and Canadian bacon, and Spanish cheese are layered between two slices of grilled sandwich bread – the result? An oozing, meaty and satisfying Spanish twist on an American favorite.

Lastly, even though the standard menu offered is jam-packed with scrumptious options, in the words of our sage waiter, “the specials are where it’s at,” and on any given night, the kitchen at Txikito presents a vast array of specials. The real winner when I visited was a cross between an enchilada and cannelloni – tender pasta sheets were wrapped around a filling of ground pork, beef and veal and the entire package was topped with melted cheese and a Bechamel sauce. It was decadent and soul-satisfying, the type of hot meaty food filled with flavor that you want on cold rainy nights.

Txikito seems content to fly under the radar, attracting passers-by, neighborhood locals, or those actively seeking out tapas/Basque cuisine. And that’s A-OK with me also because it makes Txikito the ideal neighborhood spot – a place you can pretty much always walk into, a place not packed with those who don’t know the difference between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, a place not crowded with travelers from the surprisingly nearby Penn Station, a place not impacted by trends and thus not interested in catering to trend-setters and trend-followers. In short, it’s a wonderful place where you can settle in with a friend, a bottle of Spanish wine, and some delicious, unusual, and elegant tapas.

Perfect For: after-work bites and wine, Spanish food lovers, girls night out, hipsters on dates, Chelsea locals, quick bites before hitting the town

Txikito on Urbanspoon

La Grainne: Contender for Chelsea’s Best Brunch

Brunch is a New York-y thing to do, and finding your neighborhood’s best brunch is almost a right of passage for those new to an area. Lucky for me, I had the inside scoop from a friend already living in Chelsea, and so finding the best brunch nearby was easy as pie. The winner? La Grainne, a no-pretense French cafe with some of the most flavorful food as I’ve had in Manhattan.

Located on the corner of 21st and 9th Avenue, La Grainne is in the heart of Chelsea – and you can tell that most of its clientele are locals that just keep coming back. After treating myself to a few meals here, with friends, family and just by myself, I can certainly see why it’s so loved; La Grainne is a total gem! It doesn’t have a name that pops up in Grubstreet or Eater or the New York Times as a ‘hotspot’ for weekend brunches, and that’s part of the charm. There’s no fuss, no muss here with a staff that is both friendly and wildly efficient, a rustic cobbled-together decor, and a menu of crowd-pleasers.
The small dining room is almost always packed to the gills at lunch hour, both during the week and on weekends. Crowds will mill awkwardly at the door, spilling out onto the small sidewalk patio, until a table opens up. The open kitchen is the beating heart of the restaurant, always bustling, throbbing with energy, and surrounded by soaring lush bouquets of fresh flowers. Bistro-style furniture crowds almost every inch of floor-space, pushing diners elbow-to-elbow at peak hours. The best seats are those in the window, away from the crush at the center of the dining room, swathed in natural lighting, and prime spots for some pretty quality people-watching. The feel is warm, vibrant, relaxed – the perfect neighborhood spot that you can just keep going back to time and time again.
Perhaps the best thing about La Grainne though is the food. It’s hearty and comforting, the sort of un-prissy French food that makes you wish you were in Paris…all the time. And the best part? It’s relatively inexpensive and served in truly massive portions. The menu reads like a laundry list of classic Parisian favorites: gooey and pungent french onion soup, escargots in a traditional garlic butter sauce, quiche lorraine, the largest salad nicoise you’ll have in a Manhattan restaurant, a simple yet delicious bowl of mussels marineres, both sweet and savory crepes, golden roasted chicken with potatoes, and of course decadent desserts like tarte tatin, creme brulee and chocolate mousse. The croque monsieur and croqur madame sandwiches are marvelous, made with thick crusty bread, hearty slices of ham, and gooey gruyere cheese; they’re not too greasy and big enough to feed a small army. For a lighter sandwich option, try the baguette au fromage; simply a toasted baguette with layers of creamy soft brie (or swiss) cheese, this Parisian lunch favorite is easy on the stomach and luscious without over-doing it.
The ratatouille is somewhat of a house specialty at La Grainne, and it’s just about mind-blowingly delicious; a blend of baked tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and onions, this rendition of a French ‘peasant’ dish is immensely flavorful, aggressively seasoned, and nothing short of perfect with a slice of crusty bread. Similarly mouth-wateringly good is the brunch special ‘oeuf maison,’ a house egg dish featuring a delicate poached egg perched atop a moist potato cake, all surrounded in a pool of the ratatouille. It’s a hangover cure in a dish and not in the least bit prissy.
La Grainne is just wonderful – great for enjoying soul-satisfying meals with friends or for sipping a citron presse over a goat cheese salad with the day’s paper. It’s got an infectious energy, making it quite literally a ‘happy place.’ And the best part? There are no pretensions here – not among the crowd, the staff, or the food. It’s just simple, friendly, delicious. What more could you ask for from the neighborhood hangout?
Perfect For: francophiles, Chelsea locals, weekend brunching, a solo lunch, people-watching on the patio

Le Grainne Cafe on Urbanspoon

Don Giovanni: Classic Red Sauce Italian, With a Small Dose of Charm

Don Giovanni is a neighborhood joint, nothing more and nothing less. It’s not fancy and it’s not grimy. It’s the type of comfortable and acceptably tasty restaurant that’s good for couples and families, roommates, tourists, students, gallery employees and building staff. There is not a lot of pretension here, or a lot of service for that matter. It’s just simple, quick, and cheap.

Located on a stretch of 10th Avenue made newly popular by the High Line, Don Giovanni is pretty much always packed these days. The inside is casual and cramped, with little attention paid to design. A tiny bar with seats mostly filled with people waiting for tables is situated just next to the kitchen window where pizza orders are constantly being filled by the bustling kitchen staff. The best part about Don Giovanni is the sidewalk seating, seemingly open as soon as the snow melts. With an awning lined with Christmas lights and a few phalanxes of slightly rickety metal dining furniture, the sidewalk at Don Giovanni is charming, especially when the weather is warm and the stylish folk of Chelsea are out in full force. With the High Line entrance just a few short blocks away, the people-watching is some of the best in the area.
The food at Don Giovanni is straight-up traditional red-sauce Italian: thin-crust pizzas, spaghetti & meatballs, chicken parmesan, caprese salad and bruschetta, fettucine alfredo, ravioli, lasagna, veal piccata, and so forth. If you’re in the mood for basic Italian goodies, Don Giovanni is a fine option – nothing is surprising, you know what you’re going to get. The pizza is good ole New York-style pizza with a thin, crispy, slightly chewy and immensely flavorful crust, oozing fresh cheese, and savory tomato sauce. The pasta is nothing to write home about, especially if you’ve sampled anything cooked by Michael White, but it’s hearty and satisfying, served in massive belly-filling portions. The meatballs are nostalgic: moist, salty, massive, and doused in puddles of Italian tomato ‘gravy’. I could keep going, but I think you know the type of food I’m talking about. It’s good and easy, accessible to pretty much anyone. Well, anyone except perhaps snobs.
Don Giovanni is reminiscent of the old Italian New York, Mott Street and the Italian sections of the Bronx – none of the new-fangled gourmet Italian stuff here. And while there are no truffles in your pasta sauce or ramps on your pizza, the food is tasty and cheap. In fact, very cheap. So cheap as to have prices finishing in .95, which for students like myself, is excellent. Easy and relaxed, this Chelsea neighborhood hangout is just about perfect for sharing a pie on balmy spring night with Peronis and a jumbo piece of tiramisu.

Perfect For: pizza and beers, people-watching over a bottle of wine, High Line visitors, cheap eats, a quick dinner out, families and pet-owners (for sidewalk seating)

Don Giovanni Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Co (Company): Top-Notch Neapolitan Pizza, Off the Radar

Neapolitan pizza, as a food group, has witnessed a serious resurgence in Manhattan over the past couple years. Motorino, Keste and most recently Donatella have received pages upon pages of press for their authentic Neapolitan pies. Co or Company, the brainchild of Sullivan Street Bakery’s Jim Lahey, opened in early 2009 and has stealthily become a neighborhood favorite ever since.

On the quiet corner of 24th and 9th Avenue, Co is very much under-the-radar with little more than a small hanging sign announcing its presence. Inside, the 54-seat dining room at Co exudes warmth, looking somewhat like a sauna (though, you know, without the oppressive heat), with contemporary wood paneling, a long rustic communal table, and soft low lighting emitted from contemporary rectangular chandeliers and industrial chic pendant lamps. The look is simple, casual, comfortable, homey without being chintzy, sleek and clean without being cold or impersonal. Near the door is a tiny bar, with just four or five seats for those seeking a solo meal or glass of wine; the bartender is chatty, good company for those waiting for friends or just looking for conversation.

The food at Co is rustic Italian, with a focus on Lahey’s funky neapolitan pizza baked at 700 degrees in a wood-burning oven imported from Modena. Start with a pizza bianca, a small white pie served with coarse sea salt, olive oil, and ricotta, if you’re willing to pay the extra $8; it’s a significant upgrade from the typical bread & butter boredom and a great way to sample Lahey’s impressive bread-making skills. It would be silly to visit Co without trying one of their round pizzas.

There’s one for every taste: the Rosa for purists, served simply with crushed tomato, garlic, oregano and chili, the Margarita for traditionalists, the Meatball for carnivores, packed with bits of veal meatballs, the Brussels Sprouts for the adventurous types, layered with bechamel, parmesan, lardons, chestnuts, red onion and chili. The Stracciatella is a masterpiece with rounds of mellow stracciatella melted over a white base, fresh and bright crushed tomatoes, the refreshing bite of arugula, and a shower of fresh ground black pepper – perfection! For those seeking a funkier blend between French and Italian flavors, the Flambe is marvelous, a rich and smoky bechamel base with crispy lardons, bursts of nutty parmesan and fresh mozzarella, and silky and slightly sweet caramelized onions. The diversity of Lahey’s Roman-inspired pies can be overwhelming for first-timers, yet truly exciting for those up to the challenge of choosing one or two.

Co is a welcoming sort of place, meant for groups of friends to congregate and enjoy good and simple food. The service is efficient and warm, the kitchen speedy, and the mostly local crowd civilized, and congenial. Co is pleasantly under-the-radar, devoid of the rabid crowds loitering outside Keste or the long waits at Motorino; Lahey’s labor of love has a quiet confidence about it that puts patrons at ease. With no pretensions and few irritating quirks, Co is a lovely choice for pizza lovers uninterested in fighting or waiting for their fix.

Perfect For: pizza fiends, a quiet dinner in the neighborhood, the 3rd or 4th date, solo meals, those-in-the-know seeking food off the High Line

Co. (Company) on Urbanspoon

Tia Pol: Being Neighbors with New York’s ‘Best Tapas’

For a restaurant the size of my living room, Tia Pol has a whole lotta hype to live up to. Recommended by pretty much every food-loving person I know in Manhattan, Tia Pol has been touted as New York’s Best Tapas (nymag), as offering a cerebral meal (nytimes), and as one of Zagat’s favorite Spanish spots in New York. Luckily for me, it’s next door to my new digs.

In what I like to call a hot up-and-coming neighborhood, near the high line, most art galleries worth visiting, and a slew of tasty eateries, Tia Pol is barely a sliver of a space. Long and narrow, it seats just 34 customers, and 9 of those seats are at the itsy-bitsy and bustling bar upfront. What little decor there is consists of weathered exposed brick, dotted with small lanterns glowing dimly, bottles of Spanish wine tucked into nooks and crannies, and a cramped open kitchen offering a peek into the magical world of authentic Basque tapas. The seating is a little torturous (consider it a right of passage before the scrumptious food to come), with high bar-height tables, stools with no backs, and little-to-no room to spread out; however, if you’re willing to put up with mild discomfort, it is 100% worth it once you start eating.

The menu is authentic Spanish tapas, offering traditional dishes from the Basque, Cataluna, Andalucia, and Galicia regions of Spain. There are a myriad of tasty treats to choose from, with a core menu offered all the time and varying options at brunch and lunch. Each dish is moderately priced, depending on size, and big enough for two people to have a few bites. With so many tantalizing plates to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to start, and where to end for that matter. For first-time Tia Pol patrons, don’t skip the txipirones en su tinta, a generous bowl filled with succulent rounds of squid, soaked in a savory ink sauce, and a small tower of aromatic saffron rice; it is well-seasoned, fresh without reeking too much of salty seafood, and remarkably complex. Another favorite is the gambas al ajillo, shrimp in olive oil with chili and garlic. The mini-shrimps are perfectly cooked, served piping hot in a bubbling bath of luscious chili oil, red-hot, spicy, and marvelously garlicky – a guilty pleasure for anyone who loves a lotta bit of heat. The chorizo al jerez is a treat for meat-eaters; obviously of the highest quality, this chorizo is fatty (in the best of ways), steeped in thick smoky flavor, and doused with a hint of slightly sweet sherry sauce. The result? A seemingly simple dish of diced meat turned thrilling.

Tia Pol’s kitchen can even turn something so ordinary as a lamb skewer into pinchos morunos, two tiny bites of perfectly-cooked lamb marinated in moorish spices that pack in all sorts of salty, bitter and funky flavors – talk about efficient eating. Other hits are the crema de higado de pollo, two pieces of flaky and chewy baguette topped with generous dollops of creamy chicken liver mousse and a drizzle of the honey-sweet dessert wine Pedro Ximenez, and the extraordinary bocata de lomo adobado, a warm not-your-average sandwich of thinly-sliced pork loin, roasted piquillo peppers, and gooey melted tetilla cheese between two slices of the perfect crusty baguette.

Tia Pol is a place for people with a passion for food. It is simple spot, devoid of atmospheric distractions, with a marvelous menu of classic Spanish dishes. The kitchen must be populated by magical elves in order to churn out such remarkably flavorful and well-executed plates not only with so little space but also in so little time! Unfortunately, one of the down side’s of such an intimate and popular spot is the impossibility of nabbing a table during peak times without a significant wait. The way around it? Stopping by for lunch or brunch, calling ahead to see if they’ll take a reservation that night, or sacrificing your normal mealtime for something very early or very late! Regardless of how you strategize your visit to Tia Pol, just make sure it happens because it’s worth every minute you wait and every penny you pay.

Perfect For: post-gallery hopping wining and dining, first dates, lunch on your lonesome, Spanish wine aficienados, West Chelsea residents, an intimate and quirky brunch

Tia Pol on Urbanspoon

Donatella: This Glamazon Knows How to Cook

Donatella is the newest cog in celebrity chef Donatella Arpaia’s ever-expanding empire. With a starring role on the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef, frequent judging gigs on Iron Chef America, a shmancy new cookbook, a beloved meatball stand, and now Donatella, Arpaia and her PR team are busy people. Very busy people.

Glittering on an otherwise pedestrian block of 8th avenue in Chelsea, Donatella is sleek. Tucked into a deceptively small storefront, the trendy pizzeria seems to expand backwards, growing from a charming bar area to an almost cavernous and luminous back room. Soft golden light showers everything in a flattering glow, from the chic and youthful clientele to the pristine oversized black-and-white ‘vintage’ maps of Italy lining the walls to the good-looking and always smiling all-male staff, contemporary racks of wine bottles curving around the bar, and shiny honey-colored floor. Donatella blends charming rusticity with Arpaia’s now recognizably shimmering and fashionable New York aesthetic (undoubtedly artfully created by her publicity team).

With a menu completely developed and prepared by Donatella herself, the rustic and soulful Italian food is nothing lifechanging, but it is hearty, warm, and damn tasty. The neapolitan pizza is well-made with an addictive chewy, fluffy and slightly charred crust and fresh fillings (the spicy sausage and mozzarella Diavola is the best) that are gooey in the center of the pie. It is so good that even my pizza-averse boyfriend couldn’t stop eating the leftovers. The pasta is thick and satisfying, with big, bold and delicious flavors; the paccheri, a square hollow pasta topped with tender braised beef and stewing in a savory onion sauce, is a must-have, and the lasagna wows with thin layers of pasta topped with a hearty sausage tomato sauce. Don’t expect fireworks from Arpaia’s traditional Italian comfort food, but if you’re looking for something that’s just going to taste good, keep you warm inside, and satisfy, Donatella delivers.

Perhaps what’s most fun about Donatella is that Arpaia herself is invested heavily in this venture as the executive chef and part-time hostess. In towering gladiator heels, the glamazon herself manned the hostess stand, escorting diners to their tables and accepting recommendations for improvements. You’d think with such panache and celebrity, the restaurant would risk being overwrought and overrated, yet instead, it simply sparkles.

Perfect For: little fried bites and cocktails, pizza fanatics, date night, ladies night, celebrity sightings, Food Network fans, bar snacks, out and about in the gayborhood

Donatella on Urbanspoon