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Posts from the ‘outdoor area’ 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

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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.

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

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

Riverpark on Urbanspoon

Westville Chelsea: New York’s Farmer’s Market Mecca

Westville Chelsea is not really anything exceptional – it’s not unique, and it’s not a novelty in New York; yet, somehow, despite being a rather run-of-the-mill neighborhood spot, it charms endlessly with it’s bright environment, fresh and simple American fare, and laidback table service. In fact, it’s an ideal place for convening with friends, whether for a leisurely breakfast, quick lunch, or fuss-free dinner.

The space is a substantial size improvement on Westville’s original Bleecker Street location. The boxy dining room is sparse with bright white walls, a chalkboard scrawled with the day’s specials, and a simple bar with seats on two sides, a line-up of artisan beers, and a very hipster cute bartender. Seats for no more than 50 line the walls and are pushed up against the large floor-to-ceiling windows. The look is clean and simple, without over-the-top flourishes (or really any at all) and distracting frills. With so few guided atmosphere cues, put a few picnic tables and benches in here and you could almost imagine noshing on the lawn outside a white clapboard farmhouse, chickens around and a vegetable garden down the slope.

The food is described as what the owners love to eat, “prepared simply and tastefully.” This translates to hearty and recognizable American fare, cooked better than you could probably cook it yourself. The ingredients are market-fresh, seasonal, and uncomplicated; there are no unknown and indecipherable vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, or roots. Vegetarian options abound, yet the comfort food menu will appeal to pretty much any fan of classic American cuisine.

Westville serves one of the better brunches in the Chelsea/West Village area. There’s nothing like finding a place that serves all your favorites: a sweet and chunky granola & yogurt parfait topped with in-season fresh fruit; a thick and fluffy bagel topped with the regulars, cream cheese, lox, capers, and onions; eggs served anyway with salty and bold potato hash, flecked with bits of onion; towering and decadent challah french toast with fluffy cream, cinnamon sprinkles and cut strawberries, all sweetened with authentic maple syrup. On any given weekend, over half the options offered are market-driven specials, including a plethora of vegetable-packed fritattas and omelettes; the choice is close to dizzying.

Westville’s shtick is simplicity and perhaps it’s originality is found in such a stark yet somehow incredibly welcoming dining experience. The lack of decor isn’t cold or contemporary; instead, it’s a blank slate upon which you can build your own idea of what Westville is or should be; it’s surprisingly warm and comforting – no need to stare numbly at gilt-edged mirrors or to put on a show to waistcoat-clad staff. A certain slamdunk for brunch, Westville is fit for just about anyone, except those insistent on wearing stiletto booties and faux-fur shrugs to breakfast.

Perfect For: friendly brunching, hot dog fanatics, relaxed breakfast, farmer’s market foodies

Westville Chelsea on Urbanspoon

The Mermaid Inn: A Seafood Lover’s Nightmare

The Mermaid Inn should’ve been a date-night home run. It’s got a nice outdoor patio, a cool & casual downtown vibe, and a generally good-looking crowd. It’s quiet but not too loud, buzzy without being rowdy. The food walks the line between healthy and over-the-top with a little bit of seafood something for everyone; there’s even a roast chicken option if your date doesn’t like shrimp, fish or crab. Yet, unfortunately, The Mermaid Inn has either entirely lost its spark, or it’s always been way over-hyped and just plain boring. While the restaurant itself is a study in charming simplicity, the food cannot possibly be considered good.

Situated on a hoppin’ block of Second Avenue in the East Village, The Mermaid Inn is in good company; Frank, Mayahuel, and Burp Castle are right nearby. Yet, all the talent in the neighborhood merely underlines how under-performing The Mermaid Inn really is. Not even the super chilled-out and charming nautical chic scene can save it. Rich dark wood, an in-your-face oyster bar, seaside kitsch, and a 100% awesome sidewalk patio draw in passersby, yet, if any of them have taste buds, they’re sure to leave significantly less pleased.

The shtick is seafood, and with the exception of just a few plates, everything is fish and shellfish. Now, anyone who appreciates seafood must know that it is difficult not only to cook properly but also, oftentimes, to flavor enticingly. You’d think though that a restaurant devoted to preparing seafood would be confident in its ability to deliver tasty and well-made food. Shockingly, the Mermaid Inn overcooked and underseasoned everything put on my table last week. The jumbo crab cocktail was slimy and bland; the sauteed skate wing tasted more like crunchy breading than anything else and the wilted greens were just too bitter to enjoy; the spicy shrimp pasta was a soupy mess with absolutely no spice whatsoever, overcooked shrimp, and again too-bitter-to-stomach greens. In fact, the only remotely delicious thing presented was a mere side dish of heirloom tomatoes, plump, juicy, and dressed in a tangy vinaigrette.

As a native of Massachusetts and of a family from Cape Cod, well-done and simple seafood is often considered sacred where I’m from; thus, The Mermaid Inn’s approach to cooking and serving seafood seems sacrilegious and is, without a doubt, disappointing. Seafood should be cooked and served with care and with skill; for, anyone who’s had the unfortunate experience of eating bad seafood knows that it is particularly offensive.

Craving fish & chips? Head across town to A Salt & Battery. Have a yen for lobster rolls? Luke’s Lobster is just a block or two away. Crab cakes your path to nirvana? Even Choptank, on Bleecker, offers up better quality crab. Manhattan is replete with seafood specialty shops and restaurants offering up just a few excellent seafood options (Aldea, Marea, Matsugen, and L’Artusi, to name a few)- why waste time and money on one that will make you wish you stuck with roast chicken?

Perfect For: happy hour $1 oysters, snacks al fresco, student budget-friendly dinner

Mermaid Inn on Urbanspoon