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Posts from the ‘people-watching’ 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

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

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

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

What Happens When: A Culinary Chameleon with Thrilling Bursts of Inspiration

Chances are, by the time you read this review and decide to try What Happens When, the menu will have radically changed or, even more drastically, the restaurant will have disappeared. No, I’m not just being wildly pessimistic about the state of restaurant ownership in New York; I’m just underlining the simultaneously frustrating and thrilling nature of ephemeral ‘pop-up’ restaurants, one of which is Nolita’s wildly popular What Happens When.

The brainchild of Dovetail chef John Fraser, a photographer, a composer, and two designers, What Happens When rides the currently red-hot trend of creative and funky pop-up restaurants in Manhattan. It is temporary, occupying the former Le Jardin space on Cleveland Place, and unique from other eateries of its kind in that every 30 days during its 9-month tenure, it completely reinvents itself. Each month, the menu changes; the decor changes; the inspiration changes.
The first ‘movement’ at What Happens When was a modern Scandinavian winter-scape with potato skins on the menu and a chilly black & white decor. Movement #2 was a riff on the magical world of Where The Wild Things Are and the wonders of an enchanted forest, with an earthy menu following suit. Just today, What Happens When metamorphosed into Movement #3, a lush new incarnation inspired by French impressionism, Paris in the 1880s and the quaint charm of a Renoir-esque garden party. Regardless though of how the look of the space changes, unfortunately nothing can hide the uncomfortably cramped nature of the dining room; low ceilings and too many tables in too little space can make claustrophobic folk turn green, and those who like to eat with their elbows are out of luck.
It’s safe to say that the food at What Happens When demonstrates Chef Fraser’s unrestrained joy and boundless inspiration in the kitchen. Though there a few execution foibles here and here, the new American fare is thrilling, inventive, and bold. The menu is a 3-course prix-fixe, and the delicious nuggets I ate are already ‘out of fashion.’ And so, I won’t wax poetic about what you absolutely have to order. However, you should know that the smoked hen egg tastes golden, with marigold-colored yolk dripping over rich smears of chicken liver on crusty toast; the braised short rib entree with cheddar cheese polenta is a case study on how to pack some of the boldest and brashest flavors into one dish while still exhibiting deftness and delicacy; the ‘pig’ entree, simply stated and lushly presented, thoughtfully wastes not with a big bowl of cooked pig parts; and the crispy chocolate dessert cake, a girl scout’s thin mint cookie punched up a few hundred notches, woos and seduces with more game than the most charming guy you’ve ever met.
What Happens When is fun. It’s something different from the typical New York eating-out grind. Not everything is perfect, but that’s OK because What Happens When isn’t looking for that 4-star review or a never-ending stream of regulars to keep it afloat for years to come. Instead, because of its ephemeral nature, What Happens When and its ambitious owners just ‘have fun with it.’ They offer the type of relentlessly creative product that is probably just too risky for more established restaurants. This is too bad – What Happens When is invigorating; I wish there were more restaurants like it; and I’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Oh, and we saw Natalie Portman. A very pregnant Natalie Portman. That was cool.
Perfect For: trendsetters, adventurous eaters, impressing a first date, people-watching

What Happens When on Urbanspoon

David Burke Kitchen: Every Neighborhood Could Use a Little Burke-ian Whimsy

I haven’t been to a David Burke restaurant in a long time, and before last year, he seemed to have fallen off the ‘famous chef’ radar. Yet, with an appearance on Top Chef All-Stars recently and the opening of his new restaurant, David Burke Kitchen, it appears as though Burke has decided to re-enter the spotlight. And what a delight this is, for Burke’s whimsical and passionate approach to food, regardless of how successful his creations are, is truly a thrill for diners.

David Burke Kitchen is in the basement of the new James Hotel on Grand Street in Soho. Yes, it’s in the basement, of a hotel. To many, this would be a recipe for disaster. Hotel restaurants get a bad rep for uninspired cuisine and cookie-cutter atmospheres, yet David Burke is joining the ranks of famous chefs looking to change this image by opening their new culinary hotspots in hotels all over Manhattan (others: Michael White’s Ai Fiori in The Setai Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club in The Chatwal, Sam Talbot’s Imperial No. 9 in the Mondrian Soho, and April Bloomfield’s The Breslin in The Ace Hotel, and so forth). David Burke Kitchen is, well, nice. It’s certainly got a fabricated feel, with modern wooden furniture and a funky undulating wooden ceiling, all tried to be made up as ‘rustic’ with blue-and-white checkered napkins. Yet, all the same, despite a certain “been there, done that” decor, David Burke Kitchen is warm and welcoming, friendly to all, and, most importantly, comfortable.

David Burke’s quirky and whimsical interpretations of traditional American dishes are the real reason to visit David Burke Kitchen. And, in general, the kitchen executes Burke’s visions very well. A pork chop entree is hefty, enough to feed two, yet wonderfully complicated with a large bone-in chop cooked to the perfect temperature and marinated in something wasabi-like, tasty nuggets of tender braised cheek, and an addictive salty-sweet marmalade made from bacon and apple. It is completely in-your-face flavor. The appetizers are a treasure trove of inventive bites: ‘ants on a log’ are reinterpreted from a popular childhood snack to include sophisticated bits of bone marrow and snails soaked in garlic, crab cakes bound with pretzel and filled with green peppercorns and white beer, a succulent duo of juicy seared scallops perched on a tangled mess of ultra rich braised oxtail, all topped with a dainty quail’s egg. The menu virtually overflows with Burke’s imagination – nothing is left alone. Fries are not just fries, they’re ‘fancy fries’ cooked in smoked beef fat and topped with sliced jalapeno; a baked potato comes topped with classic English rarebit; jars of chicken liver with prunes and pistachios are offered for adventurous eaters as a tempting (and heart attack-inducing) bar snack. The options are endless and diverse, often thrilling, and always complicated.
For some, David Burke’s ebullient enthusiasm may be overwhelming or, even worse, tiresome. However, if you’re prepared for the sometimes unusual outpouring of creative flavor combinations, your meal at David Burke Kitchen can be exciting and adventurous, a break from ‘the norm.’ Burke sets customers at ease with a refreshingly friendly and competent staff; our waiter was exuberant and respectful, informative and clearly inspired by David Burke. All in all, though not perfect and with a few kitchen kinks to work out, David Burke Kitchen is a fun new addition to an otherwise barren corner in Soho.
Perfect For: fashionable foodies, first dates, adventurous eaters, non-hipster carnivores, giving visitors a thoroughly ‘New York’ dining experience, drinks and dessert

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Hotel Griffou: A Fashionable Boarding House Reborn – Again

I’ve always been intrigued by Hotel Griffou, mostly because I can’t lie about my mildly embarrassing fascination with supper clubs and their spawn. Granted, the faux supper club on 9th Street and 5th Avenue has gotten slammed for its service, it’s pretensions, an obnoxious crowd, and so forth. However, not even this laundry list of bad reviews was going to keep me away. And good thing it didn’t, either all those reviewers were on crack and prejudiced for whatever reason or Hotel Griffou has really cleaned up its act.

The location is lovely, situated in the basement of a posh building, a former 1870s boarding house, on 9th Street, just off the famous Fifth Avenue ‘Golden Mile.’ The restaurant is dark and twisty, in a good sort of way, with dim sultry lighting and a collection of dining rooms modeled after townhouse parlors and living rooms. Up front is the bar, generally crowded with a fashionable group of after-work suits, writers, gallery owners, fashionistas, and so forth. Its remarkable how attractive every person I encountered appeared to be – perhaps it was the lighting. The dining rooms are cozy and stylish, with luxe dark wood dining tables, petite personal ‘gas’ lamps, fancy wallpaper that seems taken from the stairways of a Victorian home, and all sorts of vintage-y portraits and paintings. Yes, the look is now a little over-done in New York’s trendy dining scene, but it just looks so pretty that it’s hard to get tired of.
I had quite a bit of trepidation regarding the food, given the less than complimentary reviews from the NYTimes and NYMag. However, with the hiring of Chef David Santos in October of 2010, everything has changed: the menu is marvelous and the food even better – magic seems to have made its way to Griffou. The organic poached egg starter is near perfect: a beautifully poached egg sits atop rustic bits of gnocchi romani, which are swimming in a decadent truffled chestnut veloute. When you cut into the egg, the rich yolk explodes over the rest of the plate, coating the gnocchi in a golden yellow glaze. Also excellent is the housemade cavatelli, a perfectly-portioned bowl of well-made cavatelli, cooked to an addictive chewy texture and served with bitter and refreshing broccoli rabe, a dusting of chili flakes, and melted clothbound cheddar that hints at classic mac n’ cheese. Though I didn’t have a chance to sample them this time, I have plans to go back for the golden cod brandade fritters and the fois gras terrine, served with an unusual-sounding jasmine and kumquat marmalade.
The entrees are grand: roast suckling pig, a whole roasted chicken for two, lamb leg, peking style duck, tuna bolognese, and so forth. Of course, there is also the requisite ‘haute’ burger, and this one is pretty damn delicious. Served on a buttery toasted brioche bun, Santos keeps it simple with a perfectly cooked and impossibly juicy patty, a thick slice of sharp Vermont cheddar, and sweet dried tomatoes. On the side, an ‘artful’ mess of golden brown salty and crispy fries – parfait! My friend was lucky enough to find on the menu the branzino, served beautifully filet-ed with crispy skin and a bed of luscious gnudi. Its safe to say that with the arrival of Chef Santos, Hotel Griffou’s food woes are a thing of the past. There was not a single misstep all night for Santos and his kitchen – a rare thing in a restaurant known more for its scene than its cuisine.
Hotel Griffou was a wonderful surprise – you can’t help but feel chic in its sultry renovated ‘boarding house’ rooms, surrounded by beautiful people. The food was hearty and sophisticated, accessible, and packed with flavor; each dish was well-executed. Naturally though, whether because of its coveted location or its fashion-friendly image, the prices are steep. Appetizers rarely dip below $14 and entrees below $25 – glasses of wine or one of the house specialty cocktails add frighteningly quickly to the bill. However, if you’re looking for a quintessentially trendy downtown New York restaurant, where reservations are reasonably accessible and the food is good, Hotel Griffou offers up a pleasant and, at times, exciting experience.
Perfect For: showing off your new shoes, cocktails with friends, pretty people-watching, a night of indulgence, swanky eats before a night on the town, burning a hole in your wallet
Griffou on Urbanspoon