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Posts from the ‘rockin’ tunes’ Category

Mulberry Project: Would You Like Some Food With Your Cocktail?

I will preface this review by saying that considering I had my “End of 1L” celebratory meal at The Mulberry Project, there was very little chance of me not liking this place. That being said, as objectively as possible, this place just kills it. On a Little Italy strip mostly known for it’s red-sauce Italian restaurants, knock-off sunglasses stands, and cannoli vendors, The Mulberry Project hides from sight, behind a recessed red door below street level.

The interior is small – long and narrow with a few choice black leather booths along one wall and bright red metal bar stools at the bar. A cartoon-y set of painted red lips frame the ordering window to the kitchen, and unintelligible scrawls of black graffiti cover the scarlet walls behind the bar. The dim lighting and color scheme almost give the sensation of being in an urban vampire den (read: that club from True Blood without the exotic dancers). Here, however, the focus is clearly on the booze, with “pick your poison” scribbled on the wall above the seating – the variety of specialty liqueurs and artisan liquors stacked and backlit behind the bar is staggering. In the summer, the back graffiti-decorated patio opens with room for 50.

The Mulberry Project is all about cocktails. They’re so about the cocktails that they don’t have an actual menu, and they custom-make ‘bespoke’ cocktails if you give them a few specifications (preferred liquor, any flavors you like, and so forth). The creations are nothing short of magical. A request for bourbon and slightly sweet returned a killer bourbon cocktail with maple and blackberries; when I said I liked pears, the most delicious drink I’ve ever had came back – all sparkly and tart and sweet; an elderflower junkie received a beautifully floral and tangy beverage in a vintage champagne coupe; a vague request for gin and citrus produced a muddled ginger, lemon, thyme and, of course, gin cocktail that was a serious upgrade from the gin & tonic. Drinks took awhile to come around and cost $15 each, but if you’re seriously into boozy beverages that taste fantastic, the bartenders at Mulberry Project know how to please.

Perhaps the most surprising thing though about The Mulberry Project wasn’t how delicious the cocktails were (that was expected), but instead how delicious the food was. Prepared by a former Boqueria chef, the upscale pub food is just plain good. A series of small plates meant for sharing, the menu is divided into “If By Land” and “If By Sea,” with meats dominating in the former and seafood options in the latter. In the “Land” category, the Braised Short-Rib Sliders shine – a soft roll stuffed with juicy and tender marinated beef, crunchy watercress, creamy sheep’s milk cheese, and a spicy chipotle mayo. All these flavors explode, resulting in a dish that is simultaneously savory, spicy, salty, and slightly sweet. The crispy porkbelly is also wonderful – more sophisticated than sliders, the bar food staple. Served with a crispy and bright apple ‘chip’ and fig compote, the porkbelly is succulent and addictive, a fresh, sweet and substantial bite that washes down with a pear cocktail very nicely.

The best “Sea” dish is hands-down the lobster sliders. These things avoid the pressure of being ‘lobster rolls’ by being ‘sliders’ and they’re just wonderful. The roll is soft and dripping in butter; the generous helping of lobster is pure and untainted by mayo or celery; the entire ‘lobster slider’ experience is pretty heavenly. Like any good ‘bar’ that also serves food, The Mulberry Project serves up three varieties of “fries,” all of which are delicious and must-orders. The truffle fries are the best – decadent, crispy, well-seasoned, and just about perfect. The sweet potato fries are also great – packed with flavor and a happy medium between floppy and crunchy. Last are the crispy baby artichokes, an unusual alternative to the true fries; shaped like lollipops and lightly fried, the earthy ‘fries’ are paired with an insanely good and contrasting almond romesco dipping sauce.

Yes, The Mulberry Project is small and the Rock n’ Roll-spinning DJ pumps some seriously loud music into the cramped space, but it’s hard to deny the quality of the cocktails and the tastiness of the food. The entire experience was like what I would expect from a modern-day opium den – dark and warm, the kind of place you could lose yourself in for hours, constantly plied by good food and good drink, the music getting louder as the night moves on. The only rough part of the night is when you finally decide to peel yourself off the black leather booths and to pay the bill, a more often than not staggeringly high price tag for the night.

Perfect For: celebratory drinks, faux hipsters, fat wallets, cocktail connoisseurs, fashionistas

The Mulberry Project on Urbanspoon


Rickshaw Dumpling Bar: Excellent Concept, Not So Excellent Execution

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar is probably one of the best concepts ever – a “fast casual” restaurant devoted to DUMPLINGS. I mean, really, who doesn’t love dumplings? From the get-go, Rickshaw was pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. And, in fact, a hit it has been with food truck off-shoots and a line of kitschy-charming t-shirts. However, regardless of how popular this Flatiron dumpling mecca is, there are some problems with execution and the actual quality of the dumplings.

The restaurant is a tall and narrow sort of thing, with soaring ceilings and a stark & modern Japanese look constructed out of what seems to be concrete. The first things you see are the cashiers, smiling all sorts of big goofy smiles. Above them towers a gargantuan menu board, listing every sort of tasty Asian drunk food you could imagine: pork dumplings, szechuan chicken dumplings, shrimp and wasabi dumplings, noodle soups, sesame noodles, pork buns, bubble tea, and so forth. The selection is dizzying, tantalizing, overwhelming for Rickshaw first-timers. So, in classic fashion, my boyfriend and I order enough food to feed the entire military, take our number and wait.
In less than 5 minutes, our order is sitting at the pick-up station – impressive! All in all, the dumplings are mediocre, and some are better than others. The fillings are better than the wrappers, and the addictive dipping sauces are better than the fillings. To maximize dumpling enjoyment, skip the szechuan chicken variety and head straight for the kimchi beef with a sekom sauce (reminiscent of the best sort of creamy spicy mayo) and the shrimp with a sweet jicama, scallion and creamy wasabi dip. These two options beat out the other middling dumpling choices with their smooth flavorful filling and utterly fantastic dipping sauces. Interested in pork dumplings? Rickshaw Dumpling’s rendition are just…OK. Other than the dumplings, Rickshaw’s food is just fine – noodle soups are brothy, salty, and toothsome, and the pork buns are satisfying without being anything amazing.
In sum, Rickshaw’s food is nothing to write home about; however, the ‘restaurant’ is exceedingly accessible for all the yuppies milling around Gramercy, Flatiron, and Chelsea. If you’re on your way home from work, Rickshaw Dumpling is a safe and quick option to consider (though by no means the best) without much thought. Not great, not horrible, just easy.
Perfect For: dumplings on the go, trendy Chinese takeout, being the fat kid

Rickshaw Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

Mary Queen of Scots: One Mean Meal

Like tartan? plaid? sexy accents? Scotch? If any (or all) of the above get it done for you, Mary Queen of Scots may just be your new east side hangout. The sister restaurant of West Village favorite Highlands, ‘MQS’ is dark and sultry, a hotspot with gastropub fare and a long whiskey list for the haute hippies trolling around the Lower East Side.

Set in the long and narrow former Allen & Delancy space, MQS has completely revamped the place. Where A & D had a quirky bar up front, MQS puts its dining tables. The prime seats are the tartan-covered booths in the corridor between the back bar and the front room: festive, comfortable, spacious, and perfect for people-watching. The furniture appears to be antique store finds: mismatched chairs, ‘artfully distressed’ wooden furniture, plaid upholstery, burnished metal lamps. Down the corridor to the back is the bar, delightfully festive during the wintertime. Crowds of young and attractive hipster folk, decked out in scene-appropriate plaid shirts and corduroys, chat and laugh over hot toddies, whiskey neat, and vintage cocktails like the French 75. Nostalgic black-and-white photographs, ski lodge kitsch, and plenty of nods of Scottish ‘culture’ cover the wood-paneled walls. All in all, the mood is vivacious, youthful, boozy, and uber hip.

Perhaps the most unexpected thing about Mary Queen of Scots is the remarkable food delivered out of the kitchen. A tongue-in-cheek play on Scottish and French favorites, the menu is elegant and well-curated. Bar snacks are a fun and savory way to start the meal, with offerings ranging from tender veal cheek to oysters on the half shell to a decadent foie and chicken liver torchon. Appetizers are worthy of a gourmet restaurant: buttery boudin noir, rabbit cassoulet, a twist on the famous Waldorf salad. Notably, the seared diver scallops appetizer was mouthwatering: large juicy scallops, cooked perfectly with a beautiful caramelized crust, served simply with a well-seasoned root vegetable puree.

The main dishes are hearty and obviously French-inspired comfort food. Expect a classic roast chicken, moules frites, and a traditional flaky vegetable tart. Almost obligatory for any hot new restaurant, there is of course a burger. The MQS burger is high-flavor Piedmontese beef, blended with cheddar cheese, and served with salty crispy fries. Though not the best burger on the scene (check out Bill’s Burger in the Meatpacking District, the time-tested favorite at Minetta Tavern, or April Bloomfield’s rendition at The Spotted Pig), it’s well-cooked and truly satisfying with a whiskey. The flat iron steak, served thinly sliced with smashed potatoes and horseradish butter, was the star of the night. The quality of the beef was extraordinary; cooked to a tender medium-rare, the meat tasted beefy and juicy without much help from the kitchen. It just goes to show that you can get a fantastic steak in New York without overindulging at one of the city’s classic steakhouses.

Unfortunately, while each of the savory dishes we tried was really exceptional, the dessert fell flat. The options are homey, ranging from apple tart to an acorn-squash cheesecake. The salted espresso ganache, the most interesting-sounding item on the dessert menu with several ingredients, such as Laphroaig ice cream, that were completely foreign to me, was just short of terrible; it was bitter, tough, and poorly executed; the ganache was hard, the ice cream unidentifiable, and the caramel too salty to enjoy. Take my advice and if you’re still hungry after the entree, opt for one of the delectable bar snacks instead of dessert.

Mary Queen of Scots is pretty wonderful, even if you’re not a neighborhood regular or plaid-wearing, book-toting hipster with thick glasses and a nicely-mussed hairdo. It is warm and sultry, boisterous and yet still refined. The food is surprisingly well-prepared and tasty, good enough to please foodies, comforting enough for the gastropub-loving crowd. Though the haughty and disinterested service is a serious shortfall for those easily irritated by less-than-perfect table service, after a whiskey or two from the extensive menu, a slower and uninterrupted meal was a welcome luxury for me. Whether you’re looking for a quirky and fun date spot or a new watering hole for you and your friends, Mary Queen of Scots is a thrilling new addition to the already red hot Lower East Side dining (and boozing) scene.

Perfect For: holiday festivities, whiskey lovers, Scottish imports, people in plaid, hipsters seeking hipsters, a nouveau New York experience, nightcaps

Mary Queen of Scots on Urbanspoon

Lowcountry: Sweet Southern Soul Food Glitzed Up

As a New Englander to the core, my reactions to Southern food range from fear to trepidation to exotic excitement to mild disgust. In my mind, it’s never been anything but fried food, barbecue, massive portions, and sickly sweet desserts. West Village newcomer Lowcountry changed all that for me, widening my horizons to Southern soul food done with sophistication (and no, for all you soul food fanatics, it hasn’t lost an oomph in the process).

Replacing Bar Blanc Bistro on West. 10th and Greenwich Avenue, Lowcountry’s shtick is warm, casual, and, well, Southern. The dimly lit space personifies the traditional Southern man all dressed up for the big city; there’s just enough glitz, just enough grunge, just enough soul. Stacks of tattered vinyl records line one wall with vintage mirrors nearby and the same long exposed brick wall from the restaurant’s predecessor. At the front is a hoppin’ bar, complete with bar height tables for groups, flat-screen TVs, and an extensive bourbon collection, backlit with soft golden light. The tables are made from recycled wood (ours seemed to be a repurposed window) and the walls are lined with deep burgundy leather banquettes. Young and stylish, the crowd comes after work and stays through the night, sipping house bourbon cocktails and noshing on trotter tots, fried green tomatoes, and deviled eggs.

The thing to do though is to reserve yourself a table and sit down to properly enjoy the truly wonderful food coming out of the kitchen. The menu is separated in snacks, salads, smalls, mains and desserts. The snacks are small and quick, perfect with a cold beer or a house ginger julep; the mac n’ cheese looked particularly decadent with a toasted golden brown top. For smalls, the obvious winner is the Fried Chicken Biscuit, served stacked and crispy atop a generous helping of creamy, rich and savory ham gravy. The cheddar biscuit is slightly dry, but packed with satisfying cheesy flavor and a delicious mess when sopped in the gravy; the chicken is not as melt in your mouth as you’d want, but the crust is spicy, peppery and playful; a generous helping of sweet and savory onion jam pulls the whole thing together. The pork belly is a marriage between down and dirty Southern flavors and Manhattan culinary sophistication. So tender that no knife is needed to cut it, the braising is done just perfectly. A bright and crunchy radish salad and a runny fried egg add interesting texture to an otherwise delightful dish.

For mains, try the BBQ baby back ribs, served with a savory Red Bliss potato salad and crunchy pickles. The ribs are showered in thick and spicy barbecue sauce so good that you want to drink it off the plate (yes, seriously). In the mood for something sweet? Try one of the delectable homestyle all-American desserts, ranging from bourbon-soaked bread pudding to brownie sundaes and apple cobbler. The pecan pie is my favorite, served as a personal-pie size with a dollop of salty caramel ice cream – nutty and delicious!

Lowcountry is quite the find – fun and fratty with an authentic Southern rock backbone yet still sophisticated enough food-wise to appeal to New York’s discerning downtown diners. There’s just enough grunge (the PBR + a shot of bourbon for $6 “recession special”) to transport you off of picturesque W.10th to where NASCAR is the preferred sport, yet it’s not so grimy that you couldn’t take co-workers, dates, and native New Yorkers here for a grand ole time.

Perfect For: UVA and Duke alums, after-work drinks with your younger colleagues, late-night bar snacks, bustin’ a gut

Lowcountry on Urbanspoon

Nolita House: A Very Un-New York Brunch Juggernaut

I ask you, how could a cheap boozy brunch set to the crooning and twanging of a live bluegrass band ever go wrong? The answer is that it just can’t. Nolita House, a down-home 2nd floor find on Houston and Mulberry, has created quite a niche for itself in the competitive New York brunch scene with it’s Boozy Bluegrass Brunch. This wondrous innovation consists of exactly three things: 1) delicious and hearty American comfort food, 2) a talented true blue Bluegrass band, and 3) plentiful mimosas and bloody marys. It is fun, unique, casual, and a welcome break from the often monotonous (and beloved) Manhattan brunch tradition.
The restaurant itself walks the line between shabby and comfortable. On the 2nd floor of a building on Houston, Nolita House seems meant to evoke a middle America schoolhouse with everything from slightly askew class pictures to chalkboard walls; however, nothing about this cult favorite is kid-friendly. Worn-in leather boothes line the walls and rickety tables fill in the middle, yet it’s the rectangular (and slightly sticky) bar that sits pretty front and center. Loud speakers blare Southern rock at unhealthy decibels, and the vast majority of patrons seem more focused on the plethora of booze options instead of the grub. Not to mention, Nolita House stays open far past acceptable hours on a school night. Nothing about Nolita House is sleek or elegant; and that’s perfectly OK for a place content on eschewing the uppity fashionista set that Nolita is famous for in favor of a grungier and, perhaps, more fun-loving crowd.
The most surprising thing about Nolita House is that the food is actually very good. It is solid and satisfying American comfort food, served hot and heaping. Brunch is your best bet here, and not only because it comes with a kickass Bluegrass band. Through such decadent options as Eggs, Biscuits & Gravy, New Orleans Shrimp & Grits and Vanilla Brandy-Soaked French Toast, the flavors and aromas the of the great American South come through loud and proud. The biscuits are buttery and flaky masterpieces, paired perfectly with soft and salty eggs, however you like them done; blackened shrimp & cheesy grits come packing bold and intense flavors that leave you craving more; the french toast is cut about 4 inches thick yet is somehow not overcooked or dry – it’s sweet, moist, and buttery with an addictive brown sugar crust. With Green Eggs & Ham, the kitchen turns an American kid-friendly classic into something any adult can crave with boursin cheese scrambled into three eggs, all served atop thick-cut slices of ham. Even the Mediterranean Baked Eggs are good, though obviously just outside the kitchen’s comfort zone – too oily for most yet right on the money flavor-wise, this dish can cure any hangover (and that’s a promise).
Nolita House offers a welcome breath of fresh air in the often cloying and overdone New York brunch scene. It’s unpretentious, inexpensive, and indisputably fun. The food strikes a tasty balance between too greasy diner food and too pricey ‘haute comfort food’, and the drinks come free at first, then easy and cheap. New to New York and the aggressive brunchers in stilettos? Nolita House is a nice and stress-free way to participate in a beloved tradition without harming your self-esteem. A New Yorker needing a break from the insufferable lines and faux-casual vibes at downtown favorites Pastis, Balthazar, Jane and 10 Downing? Nolita House can give you much-needed relief without hopping a jet.
Perfect For: boozy brunch, non-New York vibe in a a prime New York neighborhood, country music and whiskey binges, live music, hangover cures, doing something a little different

Nolita House on Urbanspoon

L’Artusi: dell’anima’s Little Sister Shows Who’s On Top

I came to L’Artusi with low expectations and mixed reviews. Yeah, the menu looks great, but when one of your good friends and frequent dining companions says it’s way-overrated, that’s going to taint things. Well, L’Artusi showed up tonight big and in great style. Every element of my gluttonous multi-course meal exhibited skill, creativity, and immense talent.

On West 10th Street, just west of Bleecker, L’Artusi looks small and shabby from outside, with just a quirky navy and white awning announcing it’s presence. Magically though, L’Artusi expands into an elegant and spacious multi-level restaurant, just like Alice crawling through the shrunken door to find Wonderland. At the front is a plush bar room, all velvety blue and grey, with multiple stools at the marble bar and a long coral-and-white canvas banquette with tables for two and four. Towards the back is an expansive open kitchen with a 10-seat chef’s bar for those interested in watching Chef Gabriel Thompson’s staff work magic. Up a crisp white staircase is a private dining room cum wine cellar with room for 16 and a mezzanine seating area open for cocktail soirees and overflow tables during peak hours. Sophisticated and contemporary, L’Artusi’s look is vaguely nautical with navy, white, coral and yellow tones complementing each other throughout the space.
At this far superior sister restaurant to nearby dell’anima, contemporary Italian food shines brightly. The ricotta cheese special, served with sweet strawberries and crusty slices of baguette, is creamy and flavorful, salty and savory, the type of simple dish you want to lick your fingers after to get every morsel. Lantern Bay scallops crudo and fluke ceviche are raw magic, the scallops served diced with rich bits of uni, zesty lemon, and olio verde and the fluke cut like tangerine slices and coated in citrus juice whose acid enhanced the mild flavor of the fish.
L’Artusi’s grilled octopus and crispy veal sweetbreads prove that Italian food isn’t just about pasta and crostini. The octopus, charred and beautifully grilled through, came prepared with salted potatoes, crispy bits of pancetta and chilis – an artful blend of fresh clean ocean flavors and savory meat & potatoes simplicity; the crispy veal sweetbreads came perfectly-fried and crusty, so smooth and innocuous they tasted almost like chicken. The cavatelli pasta, showered in a spicy lamb sausage bolognese, was the meal’s zenith; cooked to the ideal al dente texture, the gnocchi-like pasta with rolled edges had the sweetness of lamb meat, the freshness of a well-made tomato sauce, and the savory notes of garlic and sausage.
Got a sweet tooth? L’Artusi’s dessert menu is sure to tantalize with everything from gelati to a bittersweet chocolate budino with chocolate-honey crisp to a classic poached pear dish with caramel sauce and a pecan streusel. While desserts like the brown butter raspberry tart pack bold and bright flavors into a flaky and heart attack-worthy crust, the olive oil cake is your best bet: light, airy, moist, slightly sweet, and served with a refreshing creme fraiche mousse.
L’Artusi is, surprisingly, a foodie’s wet dream. It is chic and sophisticated, contemporary, staffed by laidback yet professional servers, and the type of sleek spot you’d only find in New York. The soulful yet modern riffs on Italian food are cooked with passion and precision; the food has heart and you can taste it in the quality of the ingredients used, the precise preparation, and the generous seasoning of the dishes. The verdict’s out: L’Artusi more than shows up its older sister, dell’anima, on pretty much every count.
Perfect For: date night, ladies night out, wine-fueled catch-up sessions, dining at the bar, impressing clients, blowing your bonus, celebrating your anniversary, feasting with foodies

L'Artusi on Urbanspoon

Maracas: Disco Balls, Maracas, and Birthday Shots

I’ll admit it – I’m on a cheap Mexican kick. Wait, who am I kidding? I’m always on a cheap Mexican kick, and lucky for me, I’ve got Maracas, Caliente Cab Co, and Benny’s Burritos within 4 blocks of my apartment. Now, these places don’t serve good food; it’s certainly not authentic. Yet, as we all know, there’s nothing like a heaving toppling platter of cheese-smothered nachos and a craptastic dish of enchiladas to complement your happy hour margherita.

Maracas Mexican Bar & Grill on Greenwich Ave is about as much of a party as it’s name would suggest. The expansive restaurant features every single kitschy piece of decor you’d expect, and really, you’d want to see. We’re talking sombrero hats, disco balls, crepe paper, cactus pictures, cheap Mexican art, and a lot of primary color usage. Wooden painted tables stand helter-skelter, easily moveable to accommodate large groups. Outside, an impressive number of tables allow for al fresco ‘dining’ (read: drinking with snacks) when the weather’s nice.

Perhaps the most entertaining part of the ‘decor’ is the hilariously rowdy crowd. Midtown yuppies looking for happy hour downtown mingle with locals craving salted margheritas who mingle with a suspicious number of birthday girls and their posses. All are drunk or on their way, and friends are made easily.

Maracas does have food, and some of it is better than you would expect. For example, the freshly ground guacamole is surprisingly refreshing; the nachos are more than satisfying with an acceptable cheese-to-chip ratio; and the chorizo quesadillas bring together successfully the winning combo of sausage, melty cheese, and tortilla. However, despite  these high notes, most of the cuisine is exactly what you would expect from a cheesy margherita bar: over-cooked, Americanized to the point of being almost unrecognizeably Mexican, and made with low quality ingredients.

Maracas is your quintessential crappy Mexican go-to; it’s a rollickin’ good time with cheap and strong drinks (could you even think of getting something other than a margherita?) and filling serviceable food. And just trust me on this one, you’ll want to tell them it’s your birthday…

Perfect For: celebrations, margherita mondays, pig-out sessions, guacamole cravings, ladies night out, large group dinners

Maracas Mexican Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon