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Posts from the ‘drinks with friends’ Category

Lure Fishbar: A Seafood Lover’s Heaven, But Boy What a Scene

Lure Fishbar is an anomaly of sorts. It has been impossibly trendy for years, with a never-ending stream of supremely fashionable young ladies, tanned and slick older men, and cougars draped in fur; and yet, despite the at times overwhelming scene, it still turns out top-notch cocktails, flavorful food, and beautifully-executed sushi, all with warm and competent service.

Designed by the eponymous Serge Becker, the basement-level Lure Fishbar is gorgeous. The theme is nautical, but not in the cutesy New England marina with a lobster shack vein; instead, Lure Fishbar is designed like a mega-yacht with sparkling portholes for windows, gleaming wooden walls with circular golden lights, white lacquer accents, polished boat-deck flooring, and just a hint of the requisite blue and white. Circular booths coated in white leather face inward, allowing diners to gaze upon the bustling and glittering dining room. Up a half-level from the dining room is the darker bar area, with navy-and-white striped upholstered booths and a long bar, inevitably packed with groups of over-dressed women in their mid-30s and banker types.

Fittingly, seafood is the specialty at Lure Fishbar. The menu offers almost every imaginable type of mainstream seafood, from oysters on ice to raw bar specialties like littleneck clams and caviar to a full sushi menu with high-end products to tartares, ceviches and carpaccio, clam chowder, grilled octopus, salmon, and whole daurade, and a lovely lobster role. It is indisputable that the kitchen at Lure Fishbar is very good at preparing seafood. The sushi is marvelous – subtly flavored, perfectly wrapped and made with the freshest product, it is worth every penny. For tuna lovers, the spicy big eye tuna roll is luscious. With six or seven varieties of oysters on the menu any given night, there is a type of anyone – briny, sweet, bitter. With any choice, the sweet taste of the ocean floods in, cool and refreshing. From the appetizers, the crab cakes are delicious – lightly breaded, stuffed with sweet crab meat, and not too bulky. Other options are the famous fried blue point oysters with a classic caper tarter sauce, a twist on bagels & lox with a crispy grilled flatbread topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion and dill, and beer-battered soft shell crab with creamy avocado.

From the entrees, stick with seafood – why eat meat when the seafood options are so good? The lobster roll is amazingly tasty with a hot buttery brioche roll, heaps of sweet tender lobster meat, lightly tossed in mayo, and served with a side of crispy salt and vinegar potato chips. Also wonderful is the Asian-inspired seared tuna, cooked to a beautiful medium rare, on a bed of soba noodles coated in a slightly spicy and rich peanut sauce. The menu has enticing diversity with everything from steamed snapper in red curry to juicy roasted scallops with chorizo and thick bucatini pasta to roasted shrimp with spicy short ribs, radish and mint. For the more adventurous eaters, an impressive grilled whole daurade comes plated with dill gnocchi and tomatoes. In the seafood entree section alone, there is something for every palate.

If you’re not prepared for the scene, Lure Fishbar can be immediately overwhelming. The music is loud, the chatter of tipsy fashionistas reverberates through the long space, the scent of men’s cologne wavers near the bar, and everyone is just so damn good-looking. But, if you know what you’re getting yourself into, Lure Fishbar is just plain fun. It’s a chic party where both the food and the drinks live up to the hype. And the best part? The table service is immensely friendly and efficient – not an ounce of pretension from anyone except the frazzled hostesses. All in all, Lure Fishbar is a great place to celebrate, to give visitors a taste of what’s it’s like to ‘go out on the town’ in New York City, and to enjoy the wonders of well-executed seafood.

Perfect For: stylish young things, seafood lovers, big blowout dinners, late night bar snacks, cocktails and oysters

Lure Fishbar on Urbanspoon


Bento Burger: Where Anime, Americana, and Frat Bar Meet

There’s no way around it – Bento Burger, a new Japanese-American ‘pub’ in the Southern East Village, is a weird place. Part American fratty dive bar and part Japanese-inspired pub, this ‘restaurant’ suffers from multiple personality disorder, is punishingly loud, and appeals to the post-fraternity youth that troll the Lower East Side and East Village. That being said, Bento Burger has a quirky party-hard vibe ideal for setting the mood on a big night out and some seriously great food.

The narrow space on 2nd Street off First Avenue is not easily missed; its presence is announced by neon graffiti and tall brightly-colored banners covered in Japanese characters and anime cartoons. It’s a slice of technicolor Tokyo on an otherwise dark and moody block. Inside, Bento Burger is a futuristic and industrial space, a bit grimy, and unfortunately affected by the frat bar smell of spilled beer. At the front, along one wall, is a scarlet-hued bar with crimson sheets hanging over the bar stools. Along the opposite wall are red leather booths, each with it’s own tray of sauces, chopsticks, and menus (a la Friendly’s, for those who remember) and each surrounded by ‘artful’ graffiti murals. A jukebox is parked in the back, manipulated more often than not by perhaps too-inebriated chicks who just cannot live without Katy Perry for one more minute.

Despite the more bar than restaurant atmosphere, the ‘Japanese roadhouse’ fare is delicious. The menu features classic American bar-fare, dressed up with some fancy ingredients and inspired by Japanese flavors. Think: chicken wings, fried calamari, spring rolls, and an array of scrumptious burgers. The ‘Hambuguu’ burger, a sumptuous blend of beef and sirloin, is rich and flavorful, especially when topped with the spicy wasabi aioli. The Thai Chicken burger is remarkable; the patty is actually ground chicken, not a piece of grilled marinated chicken breast, and is incredibly juicy; the spicy papaya relish piled on top is sweet, spicy, and savory all at once. Perhaps the best food delivered by the kitchen though came in the form of side dishes. The wasabi mashed potatoes are creamy and fluffy with a strong but not overpowering hot wasabi flavor; the sweet potato fries are some of the best I’ve ever had – cut thick, the perfect blend of crispy and soft, and doused in salt, pepper and what had to have been truffle oil. Less successful yet still tasty were the tempura onion rings. While they lacked in that crisp crunch I long for in fried food, the thick onions were soft and sweet and the accompanying wasabi aioli made up for the lack of flavor in the tempura batter.

All in all, Bento Burger is ideal for a raging good time (for example: a big group celebrating the end of final exams) – the food is delicious, just greasy enough, and packed with intense flavors, there is a pretty impressive cocktail selection, and after knocking a few back, I could imagine how difficult it would be to ignore the jukebox’s siren song. If you know what you’re getting yourself into, the low prices and good food ensure that you’ll get a great bang for your buck. Keep in mind though, no matter how you spin it, the slightly grimy/party-hard atmosphere and friendly yet frankly incompetent table service is terrible for intimate gatherings or, god forbid, dates.

Bento Burger on Urbanspoon

Mole: Classic Mexican with West Village Flair

Since I moved to the West Village in 2009 and subsequently left it this past spring, I have wanted to try Mole, a classic Mexican restaurant on the corner of Hudson Avenue and Jane Street that seems consistently mobbed. Owned by the same team behind Yorkville’s beloved Taco Taco and a similar Mole Lower East Side Location, Mole focuses on presenting traditional Mexican fare like sopas, burritos, taquitos, fresh grilled corn, and empanadas in a casual, eclectic and friendly environment.

Situated on Hudson Avenue where the West Village begins to fade into the Meatpacking District, Mole is distinctly more West Village than Meatpacking in character. Instead of flashy, it is quirky and low-key; instead of chart-topping hip hop hits, Latin American tunes and old-school jazz floats from the speakers; instead of gaggles of girls in stilettos and skin-tight dresses, a more mellow hipster crowd comes a-callin’. Mole is to the West Village as Dos Caminos is to the Meatpacking District. The small space is colorful, with rust-colored exposed brick, burnt orange Mexican tile, artwork flecked with bright blues, reds and yellows, and sparkling silver pendant lanterns. Rough exposed ceiling beams, rustic wooden floorboards, and an open kitchen in the back lend a warm and homespun feel to the place. On cool summer nights, the sidewalk patio is a wonderful spot to sit and watch the world go by.

The food at Mole is a sort of greatest hits compilation of traditional Mexican cuisine. Expect tacos, burritos, empanadas, chips & gaucamole, all sorts of salsas, quesadillas, ceviches, taquitos, sopes, fajitas, and carne asada. The mostly simple dishes are well-executed, flavorful, and familiar – a far better version of the cheap takeout Mexican food that appears on virtually every Manhattan block. The queso fundido starter is decadent, consisting of an entirely over-the-top bowl of gooey melted cheese (best when topped with marinated crumbled chorizo), paired with jalapeno slices and a marvelous salsa verde, and big enough for a large group. Rich and delicious, it far surpasses that served as nearby Empellon. Burritos are almost comically large – served over-stuffed like your favorite couch, pillowy, and twice the size of a typical burrito. The grilled marinated chicken filling is light, tender, juicy, and especially marvelous with accompanied by the silky homemade guacamole.

Mole’s tacos come in a dizzying array of mix-and-match options. You can have two stuffed with everything from chorizo and carne asada to three different types of pork (carnitas, chipotle with cabbage, and adobo marinated) or a vegetarian blend of spinach, cabbage and mushrooms. Or, if you want something more than your classic tacos, you can opt for the taquitos borrachos, crispy and slender fried tacos lightly-stuffed with shredded beef and sprinkled with cotija cheese. Seafood tacos are also available, as either baja-style shrimp or fish (a raw seared tuna when I stopped by), and served on blue corn tortillas with light and zesty dipping sauces. The options continue with soft tacos filled with adobo marinated pork and succulent grilled pineapple, ‘american’ style tacos with ground beef, lettuce, tomato and onions, and shredded beef brisket tacos with guacamole.

Mole is a casual and uncomplicated spot – ideal for neighborhood dining, a mellow margarita happy hour amongst good friends, or a casual date spot for long-term lovers. It’s charming and relaxed with a menu that doesn’t attempt too much and pleases in its simplicity. The kitchen executes the classic Mexican fare well, with lots of spices, salt and seasoning – the product just tastes great. Service suits the mood; it’s warm, welcoming and friendly, where your waiter always says good-bye as you walk out and the bartender waves hello when new guests walk in. All in all, Mole is not a game-changing restaurant, a hotspot, or a ‘fine dining’ establishment, but it’s just marvelous for a late weekend lunch, happy hour or an informal dinner with colleagues, family or friends.


Mole on Urbanspoon

A Day in Rockaway

A line item on my summer bucket list was to visit Rockaway Beach, sun myself in the sand, and sample some of the new culinary stands that have set up shop on the Rockaway Boardwalk. Between 86th Street and 108th Street on the very wide and very sunny Boardwalk, there are three new concessions hubs. As it turns out, wandering up and down the Boardwalk and stopping to sip on cool juices and to snack on Thai-inspired burgers, Venezuelan goodies, tacos, and frozen treats is really not such a bad way to spend an afternoon.

the rockaway beach boardwalk at 96th street

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Ode to the Elephant

Thai cuisine isn’t necessarily associated with beach-ready food, but Ode to the Elephant takes concession stand classics like burgers and familiar Thai dishes like summer rolls, satay skewers, and curries and transforms them into easy-to-eat and heat-friendly options. The Bangkok Burger is particularly delicious with bright yellow shards of pickled mango, a creamy Sriracha mayo, and rounds of red onion, all atop a very thick ‘home-made’ beef patty on a sesame bun.

Ode to the Elephant on Urbanspoon

2. Blue Bottle Coffee

What’s better than an iced coffee on a steamy sun-filled day at the beach? Iced coffee prepared “New Orleans Style.” Blue Bottle, one of the concessions near 108th Street, offers up a refreshing twist on the classic iced coffee by adding chicory and whole milk. The result? A richer, smoother and sweeter version of iced coffee that’s perfect to sip while staring out at the big blue Atlantic.

3. Caracas Arepas Bar

Adjacent to Blue Bottle near 108th Street, Caracas Arepas Bar is the perfect beachside stand for a late-in-the day snack. Not only do they serve classic Venezuelan treats like crispy arepas stuffed with tender meat, beans and queso, empanadas, and fried plantains, but they also offer cheap beer, Micheladas, and delicious cool Sangria for those looking to enjoy the perfect happy hour outside as the sun sets.

Caracas, Rockaway on Urbanspoon

4. Motorboat & the Big Banana

Two words: frozen. banana. Sure, Motorboat & the Big Banana is a fish-fry stand at it’s core, serving classic fish sandwiches and fish & chips, but the real reason to come here is for the decadent chocolate-dipped frozen bananas. Better than ice cream and coated in a thick layer of chocolate, these frozen bananas are the ideal frozen treat to nosh on when the sun is beating down just a little too much. My favorite? The peanut and sea salt version

5. Veggie Island

I would come here for the frozen lemonade alone. The stand offers coffee, miscellaneous breakfast items and thirst-quenching fruit smoothies, but the real star is the tart-yet-sweet frozen lemonade. Made with fresh lemons, ice, and a touch of sugar, it’s just about perfect.

Toloache: New York Mexican’s Happy Medium

There are a whole bunch of weird things about Toloache (it’s Times Square location and the chintzy neon sign are two), and yet, whether because of the excellent sangria or the crave-worthy guacamole, the laid-back environment or cheap prices, Toloache just works. The sister restaurant to the far more gentile Yerba Buena Perry in the West Village, Toloache is like the black sheep of the family – a little raunchy, a little dirty, flashier and commanding attention.

Just off Times Square, Toloache is a shining neon star in an otherwise epicurean wasteland too popular with T.G.I. Friday’s-seeking tourists. The space is quirky – bi-level, with a crowded bar, and tables crowded into corners, behind the hostess stand, next to the guac-making counter. Design-wise though, the look is spicy and thrilling with warm yellow walls, mustard-colored leather banquettes, traditional blue-and-white tilework embedded into smooth brown adobe bricks, quirky and ornate metal lanterns, and deep red candles flickering on each table. Toloache is elegant yet just raucous enough to entice the young after-work crowd and serious diners alike.

Toloache’s modern Mexican fare is remarkably cheap – especially in comparison to that offered by its sibling Yerba Buena Perry. Mostly everything except for the large entree-size dishes is under $15. And trust me, you can have quite the special meal without spending $27 on a ‘platos principales.’ The trio of guacamole is a must-have to kick off the meal. Each of the three has a completely unique flavor: the ‘mild’ is your guacamole tradicional, served chunky with plenty of thick avocaod, the ‘medium’ is stuffed with pomegranate, mango, peach, apple, and Thai basil and is possibly the most addictive dip ever, and the ‘hot’ is zesty with chipotle peppers and cooling queso fresco. Also wonderful are the tacos – served on perfectly cooked soft tacos and nicely stuffed with filling. The ‘Suadero’ option with Negro Modelo-braised brisket and a tangy horseradish cream is packed with bold and hearty flavors ; the ‘pescado’ with baja tilapia and thick guacamole is a house favorite, recommended by the server, and freshing; the ‘de pastor’ mixes together savory/sweet grilled pineapple (mmm mmm) and juicy pork – just marvelous.

If you’re not in the mood for tacos, the Mexican restaurant’s take on fondue ‘queso fundido’ is decadent and gooey, loaded with all sorts of earthy mushroom bits, and the braised short ribs quesadilla, glued together with creamy Chihuahua cheese, creme fraiche, and a dusting of pico de gallo, is perfect for carnivores looking for a not-too-heavy meal option. Lastly, its no secret that Central and South Americans know how to work with meat – and those in the kitchen at Toloache are no exception. For example, the carne asada skirt steak is tender and cooked to a bright magenta medium rare; served with Toloache’s addictive guacamole and a bonus mole cheese enchilada, it’s flavorful, zesty, and satisfyingly meaty.

Toloache is a breath of fresh air in a neighborhood known for Ruby Tuesday’s, Bubba Gump, and an altogether too large T.G.I. Friday’s. It has the suave and quirky style of a downtown restaurant, the cooking chops to rival the high-end Mexican spots cropping up all over town (it’s certainly better than the inexplicably raved-about Empellon), and the vibrant youthful energy of a tequila bar. Sounds like a winning combination to me!

Perfect For: midtown west after-work drinks, guac and margs, pre- and post- theater dinner

Toloache on Urbanspoon

Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo: No Reinvention of the Wheel

Hecho en Dumbo, the former DUMBO-Brooklyn and now Bowery hipster Mexican hangout, has introduced a Chef’s Table. For a dark and ‘artfully grungy’ restaurant not necessarily known for its cooking, the introduction of a sleek Momofuku Ko-style table at the open kitchen is an interesting maneuver. And to mixed results, the Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo doesn’t whack the concept out of the park, but it isn’t a failure either. The five course prix-fixe menu is $55, a wonderful value for the generally high-quality cuisine; however, the food wasn’t so good or so innovative that it reinvented the wheel and I left not entirely sure what the kitchen meant to showcase through the Chef’s Table set-up.

The Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo is in the back of the restaurant, past the bar and the slightly grimy dining area. It’s a smooth pale wooden bar, overlooking the kitchen, with high-rise seats for eight. For bar seating, it’s surprisingly comfortable, and spacious enough so that you’re not knocking up against your neighbors. The only unfortunate element of the Chef’s Table design is that it’s meant to allow diners to watch the kitchen staff work, yet because of the bar’s height, all of the counter-top work and plating is hidden from sight. Only views of oven, the stovetop and the fryer are available – not exactly where all ‘the fun stuff’ happens! Despite being completely ignored by the kitchen staff for over 2 hours, the service was actually quite efficient and very friendly.

Of course, at a Chef’s Table, the emphasis on the food and not much else. The five-course meal at Hecho en Dumbo is elegant and tasty, though not mind-blowing. The progression was classic, starting with ceviche and ending with dessert. The official meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of a Wellfleet oyster on the half shell with an extremely spicy tomato soup ‘shot’ – the brine of the oyster, topped with a chunky salsa verde, and the sinus-clearing heat of the soup shot complemented each other beautifully and readied the taste buds for what was to come. The first course, a sea scallop ceviche perched atop a crispy tortilla with a generous swipe of creamy queso fresco and a thin slice of cucumber, was a study in textures. The crisp tortilla and crunch of cucumber contrasted with slippery ceviche was exciting; everything tasted so fresh and bright, it was a refreshing start to the meal. The second course was an interpretation of a classic octopus starter; the thick cuts of octopus were tossed with hearty florets of marinated caulflower in a generous drizzle of hot chorizo oil, which was so concentrated that it tasted exactly like bits of hearty chorizo; a Mexican surf n’ turf, this is a contender for favorite course of the night.

As someone not necessarily in love with fish, the third course, a grilled Spanish mackerel, was not my favorite. However, my friend Diana, a fish fan, argued that the preparation was just lovely – light, flaky, and moist – and that the accompaniments, including a silky celery root puree, balanced out the fishiness of the mackerel. In between the third and fourth courses, the kitchen offered a palate cleanser that almost stole the show from the prior three offerings. A lime and mezcal sorbet, this cleanser erased all the brine of seafood and tasted like a kicked-up frozen margherita; more please! With the fourth course, the meal took a turn for the richer, much to my delight. The kitchen delivered squab bathed in a bright orange pumpkin seed mole with a cactus souffle; the bird, while slightly difficult to eat elegantly, was perfectly cooked with a deep pink center and golden crispy exterior; the mole, a most unusual shade of orange, was complex and flavorful, with a hint of warm spice and some lingering heat. While the cactus souffle had very little flavor of its own, the lovely pale green hue looked lovely on the plate and the fluffy texture contrasted well with the meatiness of the squab. All in all, the fourth course was one of the most successful, striking a nice balance between familiar elements (bird, sauce, souffle) and surprising flavors.

The last course was absolutely the highlight of the night. A panna cotta made from Mexican chocolate and vanilla atop a hazelnut crisp and in a pool of house-made caramel and hibiscus creme anglaise, the dish was both beautiful and absurdly delicious. The panna cotta itself was just the right texture, firm and gelatinous, and the caramel was the type of stuff you would just want a bowl of to snack on. The swirl of pastel pink cream through the pool of caramel was stunning (and tasted great also). This dish was just about everything you could want out of a dessert course – bravo!

The Chef’s Table at Hecho en Dumbo is a little of a strange experience. On the one hand, the food is mostly very good. It isn’t excellent and it’s not the most innovative ‘show your stuff’ Chef’s Table out there, but its generally delicious. On the other hand, I could not stop asking myself: “why is this a Chef’s Table?” I couldn’t grasp the point behind it. The chefs weren’t animated; there were no cooking pyrotechnics; the food wasn’t blow-your-mind innovative. That being said, if you’re a fan of modern Mexican food and you’ve got an appetite, it’s hard to say no to a $55 five-course fine dining prix-fixe!

Perfect For: people who love to cook, foodie couples, a great prix-fixe value, adventurous eaters

Hecho En Dumbo  on Urbanspoon

Empellon: Mostly Missing Lowbrow Mexican

‘Trendy’ Mexican food seems to be a thing in New York these days, as evidenced by former wd-50 pastry chef Alex Stupak’s new Empellon and its predecessors Cascabel Tacqueria, Toloache, Dos Toros, Hecho en Dumbo and so forth. Whether or not this thing, usually a blend of dressed-up Mexican street food, fancy cocktail menus, and a casually elegant vibe, is successful depends on the restaurant, and unfortunately, Empellon struggles where others have triumphed.

On the suddenly red hot corner of West 4th and West 10th in the West Village, Empellon is pretty much like every other hip ‘neighborhoody’ restaurant in the area. It has fresh white walls, unadorned dark wooden tables, a backlit bar stocked with all sorts of fancy alcohols (mostly artisan tequilas here), rounded leather booths for groups, and the requisite gilt-framed mirror, you know, to make the room look bigger or whatever. Sure, it’s comfortable and charming, but this look is starting to get a little bit redundant (see: 10 Downing, Bistro de la Gare, Casa, Recette, Kingswood, and so on and so forth). I ask myself: why should I come here if there are carbon copies with different menus littered throughout the surrounding blocks?

Perhaps my beef with Empellon rests in that not only was the atmosphere ‘same old same old,’ but the food was wildly inconsistent. Some of what the kitchen produced was truly delicious, while other dishes were just plain bad. The guacamole is wonderful – the type of stuff you could eat every night with one of the bar’s stiff tequila or mezcal-based house cocktails. And its made even better by the two ‘salsas’ its served with – a smoked cashew sauce and a smoky arbol chile variety; both are distinctive and addictive. Yet, the tacos were over-priced at $12 each and almost inedible. The lamb barbacoa tacos, by far the most tasty sounding, were pretty awful – underseasoned lamb meat, a tough tortilla, horrible bits of bitter green olives that overpowered every other meek flavor in there. The chicken variety were better, though not by much; like the lamb barbacoa, the chicken was egregiously under-seasoned, and unfortunately, not even the little nuggets of green chorizo could save this dish.

Other non-taco dishes are better – the octopus marisco with parsnip and a lovely dressing of chipotle, sweet spices, and an unrefined sugar called piloncillo is well-cooked and an unusual spin on an octopus starter. The queso fundido options sound ridiculously good. I mean, how could you not salivate over a bowl of melted cheese served with warm tortillas? However, the execution was not as good as it could have been. I was imagining some sort of decadent Mexican fondue, and yet what I was delivered was a disappointingly small bowl of extremely concentrated pseudo-melted cheese that had hardened a bit too much. Its hard not to like melted cheese, and so, of course, I ate every bit of what was served; yet, at the end of the day, I would rather just go get some fondue at The Bourgeois Pig. The best part of the meal was the end of the meal. The bunuelos, a bowl of churros-like fried doughnut holes, are utterly incredible. Served with two sauces, a warm honey and an absurdly-delicious caramel-ish cajeta, these are like Pringles on steroids (once you pop, you just can’t stop). I could eat them every night, if I didn’t mind risking heart failure.

Empellon is fine; it’s not great and its not dreadful. Mostly, it just makes me miss low-brow Mexican fare from such favorites as Benny’s Burritos and Maryann’s Mexican. Why pay $12 for a crappy taco if you can pay half that for a scrumptious burrito or decadent plate of nachos at a less chi-chi spot? or perhaps a better question is, in a neighborhood as jam-packed with quality restaurants as the West Village, why pay exorbitant prices for mediocre food when those same prices will get you something amazing just down the street? That being said, if you’re only looking for some guac and awesome cocktails with your lady friends, Empellon is undoubtedly your spot.

Perfect For: guacamole and margheritas at the bar, ladies night out, west village locals

Empellon on Urbanspoon