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Posts from the ‘soho’ 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

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Rouge et Blanc: A Modern Twist on Old Saigon

Considering the man in the kitchen is an alumnus of Eleven Madison Park and Degustation, the new Soho neighborhood eatery Rouge et Blanc opened with very little fanfare. Perhaps this has to do with its impressively laid-back and congenial atmosphere, its desire to appeal to a quieter and less trend-focused crowd, or even its own lack of comprehension of how good the product it’s offering really is. A Vietnamese-French fusion concept restaurant that harkens back to Saigon in the ’40s, Rouge et Blanc is a quirky sort of place that, without question, presents some of the best food I’ve had in the past few months.

The restaurant is small, located on a quiet stretch of MacDougal Street on the south side of Houston. It’s the sort of place you notice only by walking past it. In the summer, the wide windows open to the street, beckoning to passers-by; the siren song of vintage Parisian tunes and the crystal clink of wine glasses draw them in. At the front of the restaurant are a few round tables with plush antique upholstered chairs for the lucky few diners who get to watch the world go by over steaming plates of lamb ribs and duck confit. Then, a bar, congenially tended by a well-suited man and packed with couples enjoying a bottle of bordeaux or burgundy. In the back is an intimate and sultry dining room – a blend of French bistro and Vietnamese tavern with soft light filtering through paper lanterns, separate cubicles with dangling red light blubs shedding a crimson glow over dinner, scarlet wooden chairs pulled up to dark and rough hewn tables, and curated elements of Parisian nostalgia dotting the walls.

The menu, created and executed by chef Matt Rojas, nods to both classic French and Vietnamese dishes. It is divided into three parts: a lamely-titled ‘wee plates,’ ‘small plates’ and ‘large plates.’ The wee plates are snacks – a fresh watermelon salad with goat cheese, house cured salmon with basil oil and crunchy glazed almonds, or briny razor clams with smoky charred leek conft. The small plates are like appetizers – flavor-packed and tender skewers of Vietnamese sausage with sweet onions and rice noodles, fresh green papaya with whole-fried prawns, and luscious strips of bone marrow with baby octopus and pickled plum. The large plates are, you guessed it, entrees (note: why they can’t just call them snacks, appetizers and entrees is beyond me – a quirk of this quirky spot). The green curry with roasted and grilled summer vegetables is remarkable – the house ground green curry paste is simmered long and slow with coconut milk until it’s thick and silken – it’s so good that if given the opportunity, I would gladly take a bath in it. The vegetables (turnips, yams, potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots and zucchini) are soft and flavorful, salty and cooked just right. Also wonderful are the lamb ribs – cooked until they’re falling off the bone and served in a pool of roasted red pepper puree. The hand-made roti offered alongside is hot and oily, an upgraded version of fried dough.

Rouge et Blanc is an excellent restaurant disguised as only a good one. It’s not often spoken about; it’s not swamped with foodies and trend-setters; it’s not pretentious or self-important. It’s just quietly marvelous – a pleasant surprise to all who dine there expecting a solid comfortable meal and receive instead a remarkable one. The food served is obviously beloved by those cooking it in the kitchen – it is cooked with care; the atmosphere is utterly devoid of irritations – it is relaxed, quiet but not somber, personal, and convivial; the service, though slow every now and then, is friendly and informative. Rouge et Blanc is a diamond in the rough, obscured by the flashier new arrivals nearby (I’m thinking of you, The Dutch) yet peacefully truckin’ along.

Perfect For: later in the game dates, Soho locals, a quiet dinner with friends, older new couples, non-ostentatious foodies, cool fall nights

Rouge et Blanc on Urbanspoon

Osteria Morini: A Bad Restaurant with Great Food

I’m going to cut to the chase: Michael White’s casual dining spot in Soho, Osteria Morini, is somewhat of a hot mess. Despite the generally excellent food that White is known for at his other restaurants (Marea, and the now defunct Alto and Convivio), there are so many flaws in the design of Morini and how the restaurant is run that it’s hard to truly love this place.

Located on the Soho triangle where Lafayette and Centre converge at Spring Street, Morini doesn’t look like much from the outside. Peering through the door, it looks leaden and dark, unfriendly. On the inside however, it’s aggressively rustic, to the point of seeming chintzy and faux. The tables are heavy and wooden, the sort of thing you’d see in the ‘Rustic Home’ section of a Raymour & Flanigan competitor; while aesthetically-pleasing, if you’re into the whole country kitchen look, they are ridiculously tall; thus, unless you’re a giant, the table is just too tall to eat at comfortably. Further, all of the dining chairs are supposed to be ‘ artfully mis-matched’ in shades of mint green, white and brown, yet the overall affect is a forced ‘countryside-in-Manhattan’ style that looks just plain matchy-matchy. The rest of the decor is typical farmhouse-chic: copper pots and antique cooking utensils, old photographs, wooden hutches displaying Italian kitsch, mini pots of fresh flowers on each table. Perhaps the most distracting thing about Osteria Morini though is the noise; it is unbelievably noisy, starting at a low hum early in the night and rapidly rising to a full-on roar by 7:30pm. Who designs a restaurant without taking into account the acoustics? Such excessive noise can really ruin a meal.

In fact, Osteria Morini was so loud that our waitress could not understand what we were ordering and had to repeat everything we said to verify she got it right. Perhaps the staff’s constant exposure to loud noises is the reason why they were borderline incompetent. Although our waitress was mostly friendly, both she and the bus boys rushed me and my friend Julie through our meal. Half way through every single course, we were asked whether we wanted our food cleared, even though it was clear that we were still eating. At one point, a bus boy tried to take away an as-of-yet untouched appetizer and when we said no, proceeded to snag my friend’s bowl of soup out from under her and clear her starter course silverware. She had to ask for it back to finish her food.

Part of me wishes I could just write Osteria Morini off the map for its obvious annoyances, yet unfortunately for me and fortunately for it, the food is actually quite wonderful. At Morini, Michael White demonstrates his facility with the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, churning out soulful and hearty dishes without a whole lot of fuss. There are the requisite cured meats and cheeses, one of which, a special on the night I visited, was utterly marvelous: aged nutty Parmesan, served in thick nuggets with a slice of pickled pear, a dollop of poached date, and soft fruit & nut bread. The antipasti options are extensive: fluffy ricotta with spring peas and pesto, creamy duck liver mousse crostini, mozzarella di bufala with figs and saba, marinated olives, and so forth. Perhaps the best though is the house meatballs, a savory blend of mortadella and prosciutto, baked in a wonderfully thick, salty and flavorful tomato gravy (particularly good for sopping up with crusty bread).

Morini offers a number of entrees, such as roasted hampshire pork with sage, roasted baby chicken with brussels sprouts, or a sangiovese-braised short rib, but the ‘primi’ pastas are where the real magic is. My favorite? The Gramigna, a strange looking dish that tastes delightful. The maccheroni noodles are spinach green and egg yellow, shaped strangely like curly-cues, and cooked a sharp al dente. The best part though is the sauce, filled with chunks of tomatoes, pork sausage, and plenty of black pepper. The result is a comforting, colorful, and satisfying dish that I could eat every night if it didn’t put me back $17. Unfortunately the only missteps food-wise were at the end of the meal. Both desserts sampled, a couple of sorbets and the panna cotta, were just plain bad. Upon leaving, all I had lingering in my mouth was the cough-syrupy taste of a ‘strawberry’ sorbet that tasted suspiciously like a Jolly Rancher and the strange texture of the citrus panna cotta served in a cup. I couldn’t even taste the apricot sorbet, the flavor was so ‘subtle.’

Osteria Morini is the ultimate sort of disappointment – a restaurant with such potential and delicious food that is poorly run. It’s difficult to enjoy a meal when you’re rushed through it and constantly interrupted, when the noise level is borderline intolerable, and when the actual seating is uncomfortable. Not a single aspect was damning, but the combination of little irritations turned Osteria Morini into a restaurant I wouldn’t soon return to.

Perfect For: cocktail night, early in the night eats, pasta fanatics

Osteria Morini 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

Raoul’s: A Soho Legend Keeps it Hot

Raoul’s got it going on. It’s the type of place with a certain special something that you only find on rare occasions. From the outside, it looks dark, like a sultry bar for those in the know. Inside, it’s a quirky French restaurant with stand-out food, risque decor, a poppin’ bar scene, and a resident psychic.
Soho has its fair share of hotspots, most of which fall sadly short on either the food front (Mercer Kitchen? Delicatessen? yikes) or in terms of atmosphere (Kittichai? Blue Ribbon Sushi?). Raoul’s hits the sweet spot; it’s got the whole package. Dark and buzzing, the restaurant is separated into three areas. At the front is the bar, and boy, is it your classic New York bar; banquette tables against the wall face out, affording some pretty fantastic people-watching; bar stools are grabbed by early revelers and as the night chugs onward, crowds begin to gather; a twisting and narrow set of stairs wind up to the bathroom, where, surprisingly, a psychic also sits, lurking, waiting.

Separated slightly from the bar is the front dining area with black-white leather boothes, complete with coathooks and hatracks, tables covered in white paper, a corner booth where groups can hold court. Raoul’s charming eccentricity is exemplified by the massive painting of an anonymous nude woman, hung front and center, and the neon blue glowing fish tank (yes, with a few lone fish) standing tall at the entrance. In the back, through the kitchen, is the patio and garden, secret to those not curious enough to inquire. Part-external and part-internal, the year-round garden area is quiet, almost idyllic, a spot protected from the spirited shenanigans of the front rooms. Raoul’s is a feast for the eyes, not only in terms of the incredibly attractive clientele, but also because of the endlessly interesting paintings, photographs, and postcards that cover the walls as a standing art collection.

Raoul’s food is classic French comfort food, and it’s amazingly good. We’re talking butter, butter, butter, fat, butter, and salt – how could you possibly go wrong? Steak abounds with a tender wagyu option, a luscious steak tartare, and a steak au poivre. All three options wow with an all-steak no-funny business tartare, topped with an oozing quail’s egg and served with crusty baguette. In my experience, this tartare is only surpassed by that at Quality Meats, a top-notch steakhouse. The steak au poivre came bloody pink, crusty with black and white pepper, hulking, and flanked by a mound of salty french fries; it was a steak-lover’s dream, a francophile’s bit of nostalgia. The wagyu, an American cut of Kobe beef, came more refined, slinky and tender, on a bed of thinly cut fingerling potatoes, chevrettine, and lemon: a modern steak for a modern woman.

Aside from the steak, Raoul’s just kept the good times coming with beautifully-seared sea scallops, sweet and juicy from the crusty caramelization and paired with flavorful wilted greens, with a generous disk of moist pate de maison atop walnuts and crisp baby spinach, with a quirky asparagus and leek starter made unusual by funky quinoa and a smooth English pea puree. Desserts were rich and uninhibited, ranging from a well-executed profiteroles, drenched in melted chocolate, to a wicked chocolate trio, made special for my mother’s birthday by an enormous sugar cage (pictured below). One dish after another showed not only the skill in the kitchen but also the range, the inspiration. The food at Raoul’s seems cooked with passion, with care – each offering came perfectly seasoned, decadent, borderline gluttonous.

Raoul’s is classic New York: a hidden garden, most popular at late seatings, a bar for locals, a shh-shh reputation. Despite it’s touristy location, it is notably devoid of lost-looking visitors. Most diners look like regulars, sons and daughters of regulars, those who heard by word-of-mouth. A true gem in the heart of Soho, Raoul’s shines brightly in a neighborhood known for cookie-cutter eateries.

Perfect For: hidden trysts, pre-gaming the game, the sport of people-watching, late night meals, being part of the in crowd

Raoul's on Urbanspoon

Balthazar: A Socialite’s Brunch

Balthazar proves that brunch has become a blood sport in Manhattan. Getting a table there involves jostling baby strollers and 6-children families, holding on a reservation line for 20minutes, or just plain ole waiting for a good long while. If you’ve won out over the many others and nabbed yourself a table, you’re pushed into the Balthazar brunch machine, a well-oiled contraption that moves at an alarming speed, crams as many patrons as possible into a cavernous dining hall, and pushes out classic Parisian fare with impressive quality.

Despite the factory-like flavor of Balthazar’s manic brunch, the restaurant manages to maintain a certain urbane French charm revered and extolled by New York’s fashionable set. The sister restaurant to Pastis, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, Morandi, and the rest of Keith McNally’s rapidly expanding empire, Balthazar has the look, feel, and attitude typical of McNally. No expense is spared in painstakingly recreating the look of a classic Parisian bistro. Converted from a leather warehouse, the expansive and airy dining hall can seat up to 200 people at the long zinc bar, luxe red leather banquettes, and large circular tables, all arranged helter-skelter in the rollicking maze. Everything from the gigantic antique mirrors to the sunny distressed yellow ceilings to the polished dark wood finishes seems authentically Parisian. Slowly turning ceiling fans, bright golden light, and a beautifully tiled floor complete McNally’s masterpiece. It is clear that at Balthazar, as at his other thematic restaurants, restauranteur-extraordinaire Keith McNally is not selling food; he is selling an experience.

The food won’t blow your mind, but it’s certainly good enough to attract a rabid following. High points include the bakery’s baked goods, a best of compilation offered in the bread basket, and the wide range of beautifully-prepared egg dishes. The Eggs Norwiegan and Eggs Benedict offered perfectly poached eggs that when cut into oozed golden yellow yolk all over a crispy toasted English muffin and salty soft breakfast potatoes; the Eggs Florentine, served piping hot in a cast iron skillet, baked poached eggs in with fresh spinach and artichoke, seemingly healthy yet surely loaded with delicious butter and cream; the Eggs in a Puff Pastry was a spruced-up and fancy Egg McMuffin, impossible to eat like a sandwich yet composed decadently of flaky pastry, fluffy eggs, rich cream.

Other notable dishes include the Sour Cream and Hazelnut waffles, unusual yet also found on Schiller’s menu, and the Apple Cinnamon pancakes, made to the perfect consistency and somehow imbued with a savory rather than sweet quality. Fresh and generally well-prepared, the food at Balthazar is beyond decent yet seems to come second fiddle to the incredible bustling scene and distinct decor. Typical of McNally restaurants, atmosphere and experience reign supreme at this Soho brunch mecca.

Of course, the price of such a lovely spot in such a hoppin’ neighborhood is crowds, crazy, fashionable, pushy crowds. In order to eat in peace, you’ll first need to contend with the stressed-out hostess, bitchy Manhattan desperate housewives, too snobby for their own good gay mafia, baby strollers brigade, and bankers in tshirts used to getting what they want when they want. Once you get past such obstacles though and work up an appetite, the servers treat you like gold and the food will make you think, for at least the length of the meal, that it was all worth it.

Perfect For: feasting with the fashionable, family get-togethers, birthday celebrations, francophiles, a classic New York experience, boozy brunch, hosting out-of-towners



Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Lupa: Not Batali’s Best…or Worst

In the past 6 months, I’ve been to my fair share of Batali establishments, ranging from the most expensive (Del Posto) to the least (Otto). Lupa, Batali and Bastianich’s Roman trattoria, sits in the middle of the Batali empire, in terms of quality and price. Located in the heart of NYU-dom, on crowded and restaurant-heavy Thompson Street, Lupa mimics the cozy yet boozy, busy and bustling vibe of the neighborhood with plenty of requisite exposed brick, packed-in tables, a buzzing bar, soft golden light, and rows upon rows of glinting wine bottles. The look is casual yet sophisticated – classic Batali with lots of style and pizzazz, warm Italian character, and little pretention.

The menu is also what you would expect from a Roman trattoria conceptualized by the Batali/Bastianich team; it features small antipasti bowls of vegetables, seafood, meat and cheese, classic pastas, traditional secondi dishes, and a plethora of special additions based on market availability. In all honesty, the food barely hovers around average – the pastas were acceptable, the secondi entrees were better than anything else on the table, and some of the antipasti options were close to inedible (and $10 each!). Steer clear of the broccoli rabe and ricotta vegetable option – it’s bitter, cold, and chalky in the mouth- and be prepared for an onslaught of pepper notes in the salumi (to be cherished by some and despised by others).

I had hopes that the pasta would be soul-satisfying with flavors that linger long afterwards. Unfortunately, while they were tasty, they certainly got nowhere near crave-worthy status. The Bavette Cacio e Pepe was delightfully peppery with the hot zingy aftertaste a shower of fresh black pepper offers, yet the pasta itself tasted as though it were out of a box and slightly overcooked; similarly, the Spaghetti Algio e Olio was something I could make at my place for half the price and all the flavor (in essence, nothing special). Surprisingly, the secondi dishes outshone the pastas (seemingly impossible, according to me, in Italian restaurants). The major highlight? The pork shoulder – well-spiced, savory and sweet, so soft it just melted in your mouth – was incredible; it was so good that we spliced it up and put it in our pasta to add a little oomph.

Lupa didn’t live up to expectations and it didn’t wow – did it serve its purpose as a comfortable and relaxed date night spot? Absolutely. Did it give me a meal to remember? No. Last question, is that ok? Yes. Lupa keeps it simple and good – I would never recommend it for those looking for mind-blowing Italian, but if you’re willing to settle for a comfortable, sophisticated and fun atmosphere sans top-notch food, Lupa’s your spot.

Perfect For: first dates, a dinner with hip parents, wine-fueled ladies night out, appetizers and vino, casual yet trendy dinner with friends

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