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Posts from the ‘feel free to linger’ Category

The Fat Radish: A No Man’s Land Secret Garden

Despite it’s goofy name, The Fat Radish is magical. Tucked into a discrete space in the no man’s land between the Lower East Side and Chinatown, walking into The Fat Radish is like discovering a secret garden. Inspired by the original industrial Covent Garden market in London, the Fat Radish bills itself as a healthy and simple sort of place – with a veggie friendly menu, biodynamic and natural wines, and an emphasis on seasonal cooking. And yet, it is so much more than the “simple, airy and elegant room” it considers itself.

Before sitting down to dinner, first enjoy a cocktail at the tiny bar behind the hostess stand. Nina Simone and Nat King Cole croon softly in the background while a swarthy English bartender, clad in plaid, pleasantly whips up one of the fresh house cocktails; industrial Edison lights shed a golden glow on the stacks of artisan and mainstream liquors, causing the glass bottles to twinkle softly. Suddenly, waiting for your guest to arrive is a marvelous experience. When heading back into the main dining room, take in the illuminated sprays of fresh flowers nestled into archways carved into the distressed white brick, the large antique mirror in the back listing the day’s specials, the rough hewn wooden furniture, decorated simply with dishcloth napkins and a tealight candle. Unique design touches make the room pop – such as a retro scarlet “R” letter sign, illuminated like a Broadway marquee with small white light bulbs or the cool blue modern ceramic squares, arranged neatly into a rectangle on one wall.  The Fat Radish is a charming gastronomic sanctuary in a part of town better known for graffitied storefronts, massage parlors, and fresh produce stands; it is warm and welcoming and yet somehow effortlessly cool, frequented by an unpretentious yet fashionable crowd.

The food is seasonal American, focused on fresh flavors and simple preparations. At dinner, something as simple as a warm potato salad, an arrangement of roasted fingerling potatoes topped with a poached egg, is truly tasty when the rich yellow yolk covers the herbs and shards of potato; the celery root pot pie is vegetarian, yet rich and homey, reminiscent of Thanksgiving stuffing and the chicken pot pie we all know and love. Salads are well-dressed and just taste good, garnished with baby beets, crispy bacon, or a well-cooked egg. Entree dishes are traditional – Colorado lamb loin with miatake mushrooms, glistening with fat, green curried monkfish with wild rice, a heritage pork chop with tomato jam, and, of course, a thick bacon cheeseburger with perhaps the best side ever, duck fat fries. While dinner is wonderful, brunch is perhaps even better – warm banana bread, soaked with melted butter, is irresistible; rich thick slices of avocado 7-grain toast, with eggs in a spicy tomato broth, is unusual, innovative and ridiculously delicious; ‘eggs purgatory,’ swimming in a flavorful tomato sauce dusted with pecorino, is the ideal savory brunch dish; and the homemade cheddar biscuit, served with gravy and bacon, is just … sinful.

The Fat Radish is a marvelous find for people who just love food. The atmosphere is pleasingly low-key, just trendy enough to feel hip yet also approachable, warm, and immensely likeable. The service is friendly and unobtrusive, present and efficient yet not nagging. The food, by and large, really tastes delicious – it’s not fussy or over-thought; instead, it has the taste of being cooked from the soul, cooked with love. When the atmosphere, the service, and the food all work together so seamlessly, with such a unified front, it’s truly difficult not to love The Fat Radish.

Perfect For: trendy vegetarians, Lower East Side locals, fashionistas, laidback dates, boozy brunch, schmoozing with a friendly bartender, a cozy night out with good friends

The Fat Radish on Urbanspoon

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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

Monument Lane: Where English Colonialism is Good

Maybe it was my personal elation from securing employment or maybe it was the wonderful crew of friends who showed up to help me celebrate or maybe it was just Monument Lane’s infectious warmth, but whatever it was, I freaking adore this place. Monument Lane, a West Village newcomer on the same stretch of Greenwich Avenue as Bennie’s Burritos, Tea & Sympathy, and Lyon, is a marvelous addition to a neighborhood seemingly saturated by cozy ‘neighborhood-y’ establishments. Sure, it’s not a brilliant new idea, a bastion of nouveau gourmet techniques, or a foodie’s fantasyland, but does that really matter when the Anglo-American comfort food is executed well, the cocktails are classic and strong, and the general mood seems to fluctuate between pleasantly satiated and truly convivial?

The new tenant in a long-vacated spot on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, Monument Lane has settled itself nicely into a misshapen and quirky corner space. The result of much interior design work is an angular room with more than a few nooks and crannies. At the entrance is a bar, crowded with people waiting for the rest of their parties to arrive before sitting down to dinner; it’s a transient bar crowd, not the sort that sits around for the sheer pleasure of it. This is probably for the best, considering the bartender seems to suffer from forgetfulness and an inability to prepare a cocktail in under 5 minutes.  Several lucky diners get to reap an unsung benefit of a corner restaurant – plenty of window tables. Pressed up against the plate glass windows, these hot seats are ideal for watching the world go by, with a loved one, good friends, or perhaps just on your own. Further into the interior of the restaurant are tables for bigger groups – on a Saturday night, Monument Lane could accommodate at least two parties of eight and with those, the place is rollicking. Tucked mostly out of sight, away from the bar and away from the windows, is the best seat in the house – a wood-paneled booth surrounded by walls on three sides, over which towers a vintage Union Jack.

The kitchen delivers Anglo-American comfort food, dressed up to suit the palates of discerning New Yorkers. To begin, it’s hard to turn down the siren song of soft whole wheat pretzel bites and cheese dip, of fresh ricotta dusted with lemon, of hot and tart buttered radishes, and of a classic fisherman’s fried basket filled with greasy but not too greasy bits of fried clam bellies and fried fluke fingers. Each starter was lovely in it’s own right, but the string of them together had my group of eight friends remarking on what a great meal this was sure to be. Later in the meal, a stunning rendition of classic American meatloaf includes not just gravy, but bacon gravy – an unforgettable touch that transforms a pedestrian dish often overcooked, undercooked and slapped together into a sinfully rich carnivore’s delight. The lobster roll, while not the best in the city, tries hard to impress with a hot buttered ciabatta bun, not too much mayo, and a plentiful helping of sweet succulent lobster meat – although it’s not a Maine lobster roll, it’s still pretty difficult not to enjoy it. A New York strip steak is cooked tender and bloody pink, if you let the kitchen have it’s way, and paired with the sweet bite of cipollini onions. For vegetarians, the fried green tomatoes are a wonderfully light option – crispy and breaded on the outside yet cut open to expose the thick juicy bright green tomato slice within. Each of the entrees had that satisfying heartiness that makes comfort food so beloved and had my friends moaning in pleasure over their plates.

Yes, it’s true – I loved almost every bite of my Monument Lane meal and not because it was exquisite in the way that Gramercy Tavern or Gotham Bar & Grill or Eleven Madison Park are exquisite. Instead, I loved Monument Lane because it was so pleasantly plebian, so warm and so delicious. It was the food you want to eat when it’s cold outside, when you’re having a rough week, when you’re tired of oily delivery and, perhaps, the limitations of your own cooking. Sure, Monument Lane has it’s quirks – including a particularly surly waitress, the tortoise-slow bartender, a no-reservations for parties under 6 people policy, and an unwillingness to seat incomplete parties – yet, if you relax and enjoy what’s coming to you, the experience can be quite pleasant.

Perfect For: West Village natives, groups of 6 to 8 friends looking to celebrate, Anglophiles, comfort food fanatics, first dates, girls night out, a casual dinner with mom and dad

Monument Lane 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

Rubirosa: A Classic Pizzeria with Nolita Flair

Considering how difficult it is to get a reservation at Rubirosa and how much buzz the restaurant has had since opening, I had expected the Nolita pizzeria to be unattainably fashionable and perhaps even a little snotty. Thus, what a surprise it was to discover instead a warm, convivial and family-friendly neighborhood establishment that appears to be rabidly popular with trendy young things, neighborhood families, traveling foodies, singles, and couples alike.

A cheery blood orange and crimson facade with a retro painted sign announce Rubirosa’s presence. The pizzeria’s space on a Mulberry Street block shared by Balaboosta, Eight Mile Creek, and Torrisi Italian Specialties is narrow and quirky. The front area is primarily a bar, where diners without reservations nosh at high-top tables and tame groups of revelers enjoy reasonably-priced bottles of wine and artfully-concocted house cocktails. Towards the back of the front room and in the tiny back room, normal tables held for those parties with reservations wait. Rubirosa channels a homespun rusticity popular amongst casual eateries these days in New York – striped wallpaper covers the walls in one nook; tables are made from hefty hewn dark wood; pails of fresh Gerber daisies sit on the bar; mismatched framed black-and-white photographs of Italian neighborhoods hang neatly on the dark grey walls; hanging lanterns with soft scalloped edges shed a warm glow over patrons. Though not necessarily unique these days, the look is charming, comfortable, and a bit more upscale than your typical New York pizzeria.

Though Rubirosa bills itself as a classic pizzeria, it offers a full Italian menu with antipasti, pastas, pizza, and secondi. The bruschetta are a great way to start a meal – and a great value at $3 each. My favorite is the Meatball – a soft and savory traditional meatball atop a large piece of crusty fresh-baked Italian bread and coated in warm tomato sauce and melted Parmesan. Other options include the earthy and nutty Mushroom variety and the rich Caramelized Onion with pieces of braised duck. For a pizzeria, the salad options are quite sophisticated – beets with goat cheese, an iceberg wedge with bacon and vodka blue cheese dressing, a warm mozzarella caprese. Classic antipasti follows – delicately fried calamari, arancini stuffed with prosciutto and gooey fontina, roasted octopus with tomato and potato, and of course, an Italian-American homage to eggplant parmesan.

The pastas are all made in-house and range from a succulent lasagna with sausage AND meatballs for two to a decadent hand-rolled manicotti, ricotta ravioli and a refreshing whole wheat fettucini with asparagus and zucchini. The ‘black-and-white’ tagliatelle is an embarrassment of riches – a squid ink pasta accompanied by clams, mussels, scallops, and shrimp; it’s briny, silky, and perfect for seafood-lovers. Of course, despite this spectacular array of food, Rubirosa is best known for its wondrous ultra thin-crust pizzas. The crust is wafer-thin, crispy at the crust, and slightly chewy at the center. The toppings are layered on, but not too thickly. The vodka pizza, a house speciality, is light and airy, best with a sprinkle of crushed red pepper and a tossing of shredded Parmesan.

Rubirosa is a wonderful neighborhood establishment – a refreshingly laid-back restaurant in a neighborhood known for high prices, high fashion, and “high horses.” The service is efficient and friendly, the food accessible and reasonably-priced (for Manhattan), and the atmosphere congenial. Sure, the food isn’t haute gourmet or even perfectly-executed, but what does that matter when you can slurp it down with a $30 bottle of house wine (quite the bargain, if you ask me)?

Perfect For: post-shopping pigouts, lowkey date nights, weeknight quick dinners for Nolita locals, thin crust pizza fanatics, wining and dining, noshing at the bar

Rubirosa on Urbanspoon

Keens Chophouse: A Truly New York Original

I’ll readily admit that steakhouses generally don’t get me all-fired-up. Despite my love of red meat and creamed spinach, I find them over-the-top, stodgy, and generally uninspired. However, a recent dinner excursion to Keens Chophouse has me totally and completely enamored with the concept of the classic New York and only New York old-school steakhouse. Keens has been in business since 1885, and even longer if you count it’s prior affiliation with the Lambs Club, a theater and literary group. For those 125-ish years, it has remained in the pretty magical Herald Square location that it continues to occupy today. Sure, the surrounding neighborhood has transformed from a thriving theater and arts district into the grimy Fashion District a smidgeon too close to Penn Station no-mans-land, yet Keens Chophouse is a culinary beacon worth visiting.

The dining rooms, of which there are an astonishing number in the bi-level space, are dark, cozy, and charming. They have the creaky luxurious feel of beautifully-refurbished antiques and the palpable history of many many years of use. Despite the general buzz of large parties and the ability to walk on in without a reservation, the rooms  at Keens manage to exude the feeling of an exclusive private club. The ceilings are low and the walls paneled with rich dark wood; intricate brass lanterns hang from the ceiling, illuminating the rows of black-and-white photographs, framed yellowing documents, and gilt-framed oil paintings clustered together on every inch of wall space; banquettes of brilliant crimson and chocolate leather line the walls, pressed close against tables swathed with crisp white tablecloths. It’s all marvelous and intimate – no sign of cookie-cutter chain steakhouse decor here. Perhaps the most extraordinary design feature of Keens though, and what it is certainly famous for, are the rows upon rows of clay pipes that hang from the ceiling. In total, they number over 50,000 and are true relics (the story can be found here).

The food is what you would expect from a steakhouse – plenty of meat, plenty of seafood, and a few classic sides. It’s a USDA prime-only steakhouse, and the meat is just fantastic. Choice abounds – aged prime sirloin, king’s cut, t-bone, porterhouse cuts for two or three, short ribs, filet mignon, and, most wonderfully, chateaubriand. The chateaubriand, the most tender and flavorful cuts of tenderloin, serves two – and it’s a buttery, juicy, immensely rich marvel. Topped with the truffled creamy mushroom sauce, it’s a slice of heaven. The kitchen also offers its famous mutton chops, hulking and gargantuan, a slice of New York epicurean history, as well as pick-your-own lobsters, double lamb chops, buttermilk chicken, a classic preparation of the increasingly rare dover sole, and of course an array of traditional appetizers (crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller, iceberg lettuce with Stilton blue cheese dressing – which is just perfect – and shrimp cocktail). You know the drill – if you’ve ever been to a steakhouse, chain or not chain, the menu is familiar. At Keens though, the food tastes … homemade, authentic and loved; it doesn’t smack of assembly-line ‘production;’ there is real heartfelt cooking going on here.

Well, I’ll just come out and say it then: Keens is my favorite steakhouse in New York (of those that I’ve visited so far) and perhaps of all time. Dining at Keens is a pleasant, seamless, unique, and traditional experience – one worth trying at least once. The service is just perfect – present and attentive but not bothersome; and the combination of dim lighting, incredibly affordable wine, and truly wonderful food easily lulls you into a satiated state of happiness.

Perfect For: anniversary meals, showing your parents a slice of classic New York City, blowout client dinners, after-work scotches, a night out with the boys

Keens Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Ardesia: Westside Winebar Gone Industrial Chic

Ardesia is a ‘modern’ winebar suited to the ‘modern’ up-and-coming area in which it’s situated, the far western reaches of Hell’s Kitchen, now called Clinton. It’s industrial chic vibe harkens back to the rough industrialized past of the now gentrified neighborhood, and large sidewalk patio allows diners and imbibers to enjoy the cool river breezes blowing off the Hudson.

Ardesia lacks the cozy charm of many of Manhattan’s wine bars, yet makes up for it in space, a highly valued luxury. The airy room has high ceilings and bright floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the patio and street; walls without windows are painted in blackboard paint on which the day’s specials are scrawled. Off to one side is a separate ‘lounge’ room with low plum-colored couches clustered around coffee tables. In warmer months, a 30-seat sidewalk patio is a lovely and quiet place to enjoy one of the bar’s many beverages. Everything from the furniture to the bar layout to the decor is simple, streamlined, and contemporary without cutesy flourishes or kitsch.

Ardesia’s wine list is, as expected, extensive. On any given day, there are about 30 wines by the glass offered from all over the world: France, Italy, Austria and Germany, Spain, the United States, Argentina, and so forth. They range from $8 a glass to as high as $15 a glass – at those rates, if you’re not careful, drinks can get pretty steep. The food on the other hand is not only reasonably priced but also pretty good for a wine-focused spot. The kitchen seems to take its inspiration from pretty much everywhere. There’s a Cuban sandwich, a duck banh mi, weisswurst (sauerkraut, bread and mustard), a South American-inspired flank steak with salsa verde, and New York Style pretzels with a gooey cheese sauce. While the options are diverse and yummy-sounding, the actual quality of the food is inconsistent. For example, whereas the Southeast Asian lemongrass shrimp skewers are excellent – succulent and aggressively-seasoned mini shrimps bursting with flavor, the burrata is less of a success. Tough and stringy, it lacks the creamy texture that makes burrata so alluring and enticing.

Ardesia has its flaws – it’s not exactly an immediately warm and welcoming environment, despite the friendly best efforts of the bartender, the food can be both wonderful and disappointing, and our server was acting so bizarrely he had to be on drugs. However, in a neighborhood lacking in many viable low-key and classy watering holes catering to the increasingly gentrified crowd, Ardesia nicely fills a void – and offers a wonderful patio in the summer months at the same time.

Perfect For: midtown west after-work drinks, Clinton locals, alfresco boozing, oenophiles

Ardesia on Urbanspoon