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Posts from the ‘gramercy/murray hill’ Category

Riverpark: Very Colicchio, But Not Colicchio’s Best

Riverpark, Chef Tom Colicchio’s newest fine dining spot in Manhattan, is a strange sort of place. First off, it’s in a completely wacky location for a restaurant, tucked behind Bellevue Hospital and close to cantilevered over the FDR. If you’re not familiar with the neighborhood, it’s hard to find, especially in the dark. Second, although it seems to cater to the neighboring hospital crowd, it’s as sleek and slinky as a Meatpacking District restaurant frequented by models and their men. Third, despite the Colicchio pedigree and interesting menu, the food is not particularly far above mediocre. For all these reasons, Riverpark is a confusing place, with a whole lot of swagger and not a whole lot to back it up.

The restaurant looks oh-so-Colicchio. In fact, it’s a dead-ringer for Colicchio & Sons, with the same high ceilings, massive windows, sleek industrial-chic aesthetic, and a comfortable modernism. The spacious room is split into a bar/cafe area and a dining room. While I understand the conceptual difference between the two, the separation is so indistinct that it’s almost not worth thinking about. To it’s credit, Riverpark has a few visually stunning elements. The ceiling above the bar casts modern magic, emulating the twinkling luminosity of a rural night sky; giant window upon giant window in the dining room look at over the East River, and while the panorama of industrial Williamsburg may not be the most charming, a view of anything ‘nature’ in New York is appreciated; and the outdoor patio, opening during clement weather, is a slick and comfortable spot to lounge with cocktails on modern couches with the woosh of the FDR in the not-so-distant background.

The menu at Riverpark is similar to that at Craft and Colicchio & Sons, a Tom Colicchio standard blend of modern and innovative ‘American’ cuisine with seasonal and, when possible, local ingredients. The options are diverse, ranging from a brothy mushroom consomme to an Italian-inspired ramp & ricotta ravioli to the updated English favorite leg of lamb with potatoes, mint, and peas. Unfortunately, while each dish seems intricately constructed to strike the perfect balance between dressed-up comfort food and gourmet creativity, the actual execution is only average.

The cavatelli with braised lamb, sweet peas, mint and horseradish is muddy and confusing; it was almost delightful with perfectly cooked and toothsome cavatelli in a blend of tender lamb, peas and fresh mint, yet the overpowering horseradish threw in a wrench in the whole production. The diver sea scallops were over-cooked and rubbery, strangely fishy, and lacking in that silky texture and meaty flavor that make scallops dishes so wonderful – an overall failure, despite the very tasty bacon-ramp vinaigrette. The smoked flour gnocchetti sardi starter is one of the more unusual dishes I’ve tasted in while, with a crispy smoky gnocchi with nutty parmesan, lemon, and crisp spring asparagus. Unfortunately, all this ‘creativity’ backfires – once again, the flavors are muddy and confused; there is just too much going on.

Riverpark is not the best of Colicchio’s New York restaurants, despite it’s truly gorgeous decor and unusual location. The most important part of the restaurant, the food, is unimpressive. However, if you’re looking for elegant bar snacks, fancy cocktails, and a sleek atmosphere, Riverpark is an excellent pick, especially for after-work festivities, client events, and treating your visiting parents to a uniquely New York experience.

Perfect For: the east side hospital industry, after-work drinks, power lunches, Colicchio fans, dining with a view, outdoor cocktails in the summer

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La Giara: Above Average Italian in an Unexpected Location

A former resident of Murray Hill, I thanked my lucky stars when I stumbled upon La Giara, a bright spot in an otherwise barren dining neighborhood. A fixture in Murray Hill, this 13 year old Italian restaurant claims inspiration from the rustic regional cuisine of Italian peasants. With remarkable success, La Giara produces comfortable and accessible Italian food in an unpretentious and relaxed environment.

The easy-to-miss storefront just before 34th Street on 3rd Avenue is clustered amongst cookie cutter apartment buildings and inexcusably boring restaurants. The look is cozier than you would typically find in the often-accused cultural wasteland of Murray Hill: exposed brick, wooden ceiling beams, a quiet wooden bar for a glass of wine, kitschy paintings of the Italian country side, a bright front window open in clement weather to the hustle and bustle of 3rd avenue. The vibe is kept traditional with an Italian-speaking staff, stiff white tablecloths, and and a properly effusive maitre’d.

The grub is classic Italian comfort food, offering beloved favorites like bruschetta, beef carpaccio, a caprese salad, linquine with clams, gnocchi pomodoro, fettucine bolognese, and veal ravioli. The magic isn’t derived from originality in construction or presentation but rather from the scrumptious traditional execution. The ingredients used are fresh and high quality; the pastas are all homemade in house, and you can absolutely taste the freshness; the desserts are good enough to make you swoon. For the best experience, stick with familiar basics (read: pasta dishes) and a cheap bottle of red wine.

Recommended dishes include the bufala caprese starter with tangy and slightly sour fresh mozzarella balls, basil and tomatoes, the pappardelle with duck ragout that is delightfully gamey without being overpowering, and the immensely comforting fettucine bolognese. Don’t miss out on the heavenly tiramisu – the perfect end to a satisfying and hearty meal.

La Giara may not be the best Italian in New York or the most well-known; however, it’s a reliable and delicious neighborhood spot for the Murray Hill/Midtown East crowd. Fresh pastas and classic desserts compensate for the less-than-perfect service (on the slow side) and cramped space at peak hours. A relaxed and traditional environment makes it great for a casual dinner with friends or family or for a laidback date night. Not to mention, the open windows in the summer make for great people-watching.

La Giara on Urbanspoon

Josie’s East: All the Single Ladies

Josie’s is a funny sort of place. It occupies an interesting niche in Murray Hill. The healthy dinner spot on 3rd Avenue caters almost exclusively to the young, weight-conscious, and well-heeled female population of Murray Hill. In the numerous times I’ve eaten here, whether just picking up grub for myself or with friends (always female), I think I’ve only seen a man once (I kid you not).

The vibe is relaxed and serene with a cool contemporary look, calming music, and quiet conversation. Josie’s, despite the rushed whisper-like chatter of waifish girls, is the anti-thesis of clamorous. The service is decidedly mellow, often resulting in long gaps in time between seeing your waitress. Despite it’s rabid popularity in Murray Hill, Josie’s is decidedly un-Murray Hill in its eschewing of a loud fratastic environment. Don’t get me wrong – Josie’s is still very much a scene, with skinny mean girls, athletic types, and those clearly on a mission to drop a few all hobnobbing together for the ‘natural’ fare.

For the good restaurant-starved neighborhood, the food is actually pretty good. Josie’s isn’t vegan or vegetarian, it’s just more health-conscious than most eateries. Wholesome and flecked with all sorts of international inspiration, the offerings fill the belly with satisfying tweaks on Asian and American cuisine. It’s not haute cuisine nor is it uniformly delicious; however, when you’re looking for something easy and reliable, Josie’s pulls through. Expect such Asian fusion delights as Thai Chili Seared Wild Shrimp with guacamole, mango salsa, and tortillas, Ginger-Grilled Calamari, a too-good-to-be-healthy Warm Macademia-Crusted Natural Chicken salad stuffed with mango, tomatoes, avocado, orzo and cucumber, and a variety of burgers, faux burgers, pastas, and stirfries.

There’s something for everyone, whether you prefer to go veggie all the way or to eat your beef burgers healthy. Recommended dishes include the natural filet mignon medallions with truffle-infused mashed potatoes for a stunning $19.50, the organic angel hair with turkey meatballs (a satisfying twist on spaghetti and meatballs), and the chicken breast teriyaki stirfry chock-a-block with cremini mushrooms, broccolini, zucchini, and organic tamari brown rice. In light of the myriad of spectacular burger joints in New York (Zaitzeff, Old Town, Burger Burger, Five Guys), steer clear of Josie’s cardboard-like offerings.

Josie’s has its flaws (the irritatingly bird-like clientele, slow service), but it fills a necessary niche in image-conscious Murray Hill. The food is good enough to support a large group of loyal regulars, and the fast takeout makes it great for a light meal at the end of a long day. Check it out with your girlfriends for a mellow dinner out or chill out alone with a glass of white and your current read.

Josie's East on Urbanspoon

Maialino: This Little Piggy Gets Best in Show

After my failed first attempt at Maialino and Immaculate Infatuation’s unfortunate review, I approached Danny Meyer’s newest hotspot with trepidation and muted expectations. As it turns out, both were thoroughly uncalled for as this Italian blockbuster truly blew both me and my boyfriend away.

Meyer’s heralded Italian ‘trattoria’ in the Gramercy Park Hotel transforms a rustic concept into a sleek and stylish hotspot yards from Rose Bar, model-central, and the illusive Gramercy Park (where Danny lives himself). The room is admittedly contrived with faux rustic touches like exposed beams, blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, bread baskets, bottles of table wine, and rough wooden tables. Everything is airbrushed and shiny, slick, smooth, and expensive – oh so very Danny. A set of marble-topped counters, one for bread and one for salumi, separate the hoppin’ front bar area with high-top tables, corner nooks, little rounds near the windows, and a hefty bar from the more subdued and elegant dining room. Neatly-organized black-and-white and sepia photographs line the walls; beautiful tufts of flowers rest among twinkling magna-sized wine bottles on shelfs and banquettes. The look is restrained exuberance – if you can imagine that.

The service surpasses expectations in terms of professionalism, warmth, and ability. Our waiter was both congenial and quick, efficient and casual. The food came out at well-timed intervals, and a very knowledgeable manager assisted in selecting the perfect wine for us. At the end of the meal, one of the chefs came out to mingle with the tables and talk about the food (a very nice touch). Any service bumps and bobbles that may have been there at opening are long gone by now.

The dressed-up Roman trattoria cuisine ranges from good to beyond excellent. The menu offers salumi and cheese options to pick at, pastas, hearty entree dishes, tantalizing-in-their-own-right side dishes, small plates starters, and desserts that defy the typical Italian selection. My boyfriend and I sampled the mixed salumi plate, the buffalo mozzarella, the ravioli al uovo, the lamb chops, the olive oil cake, and received a gift of spaghetti with pecorino and ramps from the kitchen.

The low point was the salumi plate, which featured too-hard soppressata, average mortadella, and beautifully cut slices of speck. It was good but by no means up-to-par with the proliferating selection of salumi plates in New York. The high points were the ravioli and the lamb chops. The ravioli was unlike any ravioli dish I have ever had; one large ravioli shell delicately stuffed with spinach, ricotta, and an egg yolk, this astonishing dish oozes a remarkable filling the moment you cut through it. The lamb chops were so good that my boyfriend was rendered speechless for 30 seconds; after taking a moment to savor the luscious tender meat, he proceeded to explode into a long effusive set of compliments to the chef. Sauced perfectly and cooked to a beautiful deep pink, these lamb chops rank easily in the top 2 or 3 I’ve ever had.

The rest of the meal was happily very good with divine buffalo mozzarella balls packed with silky flavor, a savory ode to ramps nestled amongst a haystack of well-cooked spaghetti, and a perfectly moist slice of olive oil cake with a dollop of creamy marscapone. All in all, Maialino or “little pig” delivers consistently very good food with moments of brilliance. It is comfortable and relatable cuisine that any diner from adventurous to picky to cautious will enjoy – and should with the whopping pricetags attached to many dishes.

Maialino offered an all-around memorable dining experience from the marvelous service to the comfortably elegant look to the delicious and satisfying cuisine. From start to finish, it was a meal to relish in. A wonderful option for everything from entertaining guests from out of town to a romantic date to a birthday dinner with friends, Maialino is a sophisticated and flexible crowd-pleaser, just good luck snagging a reservation!

Maialino on Urbanspoon

Haru: Overpriced Sushi for the Masses

There are really only two reasons for why you should ever end up at Haru: 1) you’re hosting a business lunch that needs name-brand recognition, high prices, and space for groups or 2) you’re a tourist and might not know better.

If you work in finance in New York, you’re probably intimately familiar with Haru – a favorite for business lunchers in midtown and the financial district alike, this mass-market but ‘upscale’ sushi chain offers reliably average Japanese food in a clean, contemporary, and slightly showy environment. The menu is a greatest hits anthology of ‘modern’ Americanized Japanese food – think: basic sushi rolls, rock shrimp tempura, yakitori, shumai, spring rolls, fried calamari, chilean sea bass or black cod, and chicken teriyaki. None of the food is bad, none of the food is remarkable.

In a city with a sushi den on every corner, Haru blatantly overcharges for average cuisine (read: $15-18 for ‘special sushi rolls’ and $20 for shrimp/vegetable tempura). The sushi is good yet by no means the freshest; the entrees lack inspiration; the appetizers please bland palates but not much else. Haru has made sushi mass-market popular cuisine with little finesse. It is made to accommodate the lowest common denominator in diners (hence, the popularity with business groups seeking anything that will please all tastes).

Unless you have a very good reason for dining at Haru (like a lunch with clients from out-of-town or a large private event or a birthday party with upwards of 15 people), try some of the other wonderful and innovative sushi spots in the city like Tomoe, Jewel Bako, Soto, Sushi Yasuda, Sushi-Ann, or Yama on Carmine. Even some of the big box Japanese eateries like Nobu and Megu offer fresher fish, finer cuisine, and more original fare. Consider Haru a fallback, a “in a desperate situation” sort of place that will always be there, sparkling and schmancy, for you in your time of need.

Haru on Urbanspoon

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Penelope’s: Lot’s of Lovin’

Penelope’s is like a slice of warm apple pie around the holidays, a breakfast with friends you haven’t seen in awhile, the first bite of your favorite food ever, and that realization that you’re eating something truly delicious and fit to be cherished. Now, I’m not saying that Penelope’s is fancy, that its a gourmet powerhouse, or that you should expect curley-cues on your food – at all. Penelope’s is some of the best and the freshest home cooking I’ve had in New York. It is clean, simple, and prepared with ‘love’ in the kitchen.

You feel like you’re eating something thats good for you. No over-fried dishes here, no pools of oil or fat, no poor ingredients. The bread is fresh from the baker in the back, the fruits & vegetables are beautiful, and the food is creatively put together so that everything tastes remarkably refreshing. Most famous for its brunch (good luck nabbing a table on weekends), Penelope’s serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. Each meal is as good as the last. Breakfast offers up fluffy egg omelettes made however you like, buttermilk pancakes, pumpkin waffles, french toast, and a plethora of options from the bakery: scones, croissants, and muffins. Lunch and dinner, calmer times to go where students and nearby workers dine alone or in small groups, tantalizes with everything from homestyle mac&cheese, a large hummus plate, curried chicken salad (amazing dressing), a cozy chicken pot pie, a hearty warm brie & green apple sandwich, chicken meatballs, and huge juicy burger. It’s just everything you want from a home-cookin’ establishment, with the creativity and flair of an experienced chef.

The atmosphere matches the delicious grub, totally laidback and comforting. White walls, wooden tables, and little adornment define the space. The waiters bustle around, chatting with each other and the guests, dressed down in converse, jeans, and plaid shirts. Near the kitchen is a small tiled bar with seating and cases displaying fresh-baked scones, decadent cakes, and fresh fruit.

You’re meant to feel comfortable here, at home, relaxed – and everything from the easy-going staff to the heart-warming food to the no-frills country kitchen decor supports this philosophy. Penelope’s is the quintessential neighborhood spot.

Penelope on Urbanspoon