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Posts from the ‘tapas-style’ 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

Txikito: Basque-ing in Goodness

With Tia Pol, Salinas, El Quinto Pino and Txikito all within a 10 block radius of each other, it seems as though the western reaches of Chelsea are turning into a verifiable Spanish Tapas home-base. A self-described “love letter” to the simple and “unencumbered” cuisine of the Basque region in Spain, Txikito prides itself in its simplicity. And simple it is, a simply wonderful ode to the salty, savory and generally excellent traditional Basque fare.

The restaurant is easily missed, located in a low-rise and nondescript strip mall (also housing Co and the soon to arrive Chelsea outpost of the Sullivan Street Bakery) and totally devoid of any identifying signage. I first noticed it in the summer, when the floor-to-ceiling glass windows were pulled up, exposing the scarlet-topped metal bar stools stored under the white tile and slate-grey marble bar. A hip and young crowd chatted excitedly in the window, spilling out onto the street. Inside, the long and narrow main dining room is covered in faded clapboard, from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. The furniture is sparse and minimalist, consisting entirely of recycled plastic chairs and chintzy metal tables. Only simple lights adorn the rough walls, shedding a soft simple light over the generally disheveled and youthful crowd. The vibe is relaxed, with waiters sauntering around in hipster plaid, and nonchalant – there is no rush here, no stress.

The food is, as touted, classic Basque. The style, tapas. For two people, the recommendation is 4-6 dishes, and with five, my friend Sarah and I felt happily satiated. The cuisine proffered by the kitchen is uniformly delicious and craveable. The kroketas are a wonderful way to start – the size of golf balls, these creamy pork filled croquettes are gooey on the inside, crispy on the outside, and completely addictive. I could go through a basket of these daily if given the opportunity and promised no possibility of egregious weight gain. Also addictive are the salty, oily but not too oily, and spicy blistered peppers – served in a little dish, I think I went through my half of them (and more) a bit more rapidly than I care to admit. On the heartier side are the lamb meatballs, small, savory and served in a wonderful slightly minty broth – as someone with an English passport, the nostalgic reference to lamb and mint was appreciated. For those who love grilled cheese (how can you not, really?), the bocata sandwich is a great option. It’s on the larger side for tapas and undeniably well-made. Thick slices of uncured bacon, a cross between pork belly and Canadian bacon, and Spanish cheese are layered between two slices of grilled sandwich bread – the result? An oozing, meaty and satisfying Spanish twist on an American favorite.

Lastly, even though the standard menu offered is jam-packed with scrumptious options, in the words of our sage waiter, “the specials are where it’s at,” and on any given night, the kitchen at Txikito presents a vast array of specials. The real winner when I visited was a cross between an enchilada and cannelloni – tender pasta sheets were wrapped around a filling of ground pork, beef and veal and the entire package was topped with melted cheese and a Bechamel sauce. It was decadent and soul-satisfying, the type of hot meaty food filled with flavor that you want on cold rainy nights.

Txikito seems content to fly under the radar, attracting passers-by, neighborhood locals, or those actively seeking out tapas/Basque cuisine. And that’s A-OK with me also because it makes Txikito the ideal neighborhood spot – a place you can pretty much always walk into, a place not packed with those who don’t know the difference between Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, a place not crowded with travelers from the surprisingly nearby Penn Station, a place not impacted by trends and thus not interested in catering to trend-setters and trend-followers. In short, it’s a wonderful place where you can settle in with a friend, a bottle of Spanish wine, and some delicious, unusual, and elegant tapas.

Perfect For: after-work bites and wine, Spanish food lovers, girls night out, hipsters on dates, Chelsea locals, quick bites before hitting the town

Txikito on Urbanspoon

Anfora: dell’anima’s Chic-er and Sleeker Sister

Even with all the bars and restaurants in New York, it’s often difficult to find a sophisticated hybrid of the two genres, where you can enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with bites to eat in an informal environment. Anfora, the sister restaurant to West Village favorite dell’anima, is the type of bar/restaurant you want to go to on a first date, with enough buzz and hip factor to impress and enough legitimately good food and drink to make the high prices worthwhile.

Just a few doors down from dell’anima where 8th Avenue transforms into the infinitely more charming Hudson Avenue, Anfora is, in one word, sleek. The dark and slinky room is more lounge-y than most wine bars, with several low-lying couches and what I think of as ‘kiddie stools’ for people to perch on. The look is simple – exposed brick, fresh white walls, luxurious Earth tones, verdant plants here and there. No frou-frou decor to be found here. Though the rich leather couches may beckon after a long-day, the best seats are at the bar. Sitting at the bar, not only do you get to interact with the competent, knowledgeable, warm and exceedingly welcoming bartenders, but you also get much faster drink and food service.

Speaking of drink and food, Anfora is, in the first instance, a wine bar. And a very good one at that. I won’t pretend to know left from right about wine; however, the selection of both wines by the bottle and wines by the glass is vast and diverse. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Anfora though (or perhaps not so surprising if you’re a fan of dell’anima, which I was resoundingly not) is how wonderful the food generally is. The menu offers Italian-inspired small plates, charcuterie, cheese, and panini. The grilled cheese, made with gruyere, cheddar and onions, is thin, not greasy, and pleasingly cheesy; in fact, it’s better than that offered at Melt Shop, a Midtown East stand devoted entirely to grilled cheese sandwiches, and at the ‘cheese bar’ Casellula. The lamb ragu sliders are just plain ridiculous; served on a ciabatta roll with nutty and sharp pecorino, these little ‘burgers’ pack an incredibly flavorful punch.

The crostini are mostly delicious – the spicy chorizo with avocado, lime, chili and mint was my favorite. The flavor combination was surprising and unusual – not your average crostini! The ricotta crostini is also great, probably because it’s virtually impossible to make fluffy ricotta with sea salt taste bad. The tuna salad and curry egg salad crostini were both decent, if you like tuna and egg salad, but by no means a ‘must-order.’ Lastly, the chickpea romesco option is wonderful, nutty with chopped almonds and rich parmesan, zesty with piquillo peppers. Though the menu is limited, it’s well ‘curated’ and developed; the dishes offered don’t mess around flavor-wise and are the ideal small bites to complement your glass of Chianti or whatever was recommended that evening.

Anfora is a charming place – a snazzy West Village wine bar that’s not too cutesy on the one hand and not too trendy on the other. Although it can get busy on Thursday and Friday nights, the helpful staff does their best to find room for you and more often than not, waiting for 15 minutes yields a few seats here and there. The food is almost universally good – the type of yummy Italian that pairs wonderfully with wine – and the drinks are, of course, great. Just watch out – a few cocktails with a couple glasses of wine and some victuals here and there can add up quickly – Anfora is certainly not cheap!

Perfect For: first dates, oenophiles, after-work drinks

Anfora on Urbanspoon

Casellula Cheese & Wine Bar: Where Cheese Comes First

Wine and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, steak and potatoes. And just off a busy Hell’s Kitchen corner, a charming little wine bar devotes itself to marrying ‘the holy duo’ through a long and worthy wine list and a cheese-centric menu. And thus, in a city with wine bars in every neighborhood, Casellula is no ordinary wine bar. With a name where cheese comes before wine, the focus at Casellula isn’t only on the nectar of Dionysus, but also on cheeses of all shapes, sizes, and stinks (yes, stinks), used in all sorts of different ways.

The tiny space just off 9th Avenue is cozy. Exposed brick covers two walls, and the one wall left free is bare white. Near the entrance is a crowded bar, simple wood, with bottles of wine clusted on shelves and quality beer on tap. The rest of the space is reserved for seated dining – the best tables are those pressed up against the windows, where you can watch all sorts of characters rush by on 52nd St. With soaring ceilings and an entire wall lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, Casellula creates an illusion of space, and so people crowd into corners and cluster at the bar. As the night goes on, the sound level rises to a pleasant roar – the sounds of happily satiated people reverberate, laughter ricochets, wine glasses clink and tinkle. It’s a charming and mellow sort of place, where it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.

At Casellula, the menu focuses on cheese (a no-brainer for a place opened by the guy who used to run the cheese program at the Modern) and showcases up to three dozen varieties at one time in all sorts of ways. There’s a gooey and decadent grilled cheese, served on buttery and crusty bread with thin wisps of bresaola and three varieties of cheese; it’s nutty, savory, salty, and everything you could want from an American classic all-dressed-up. There is a mac n’ cheese (of course) of comte and goat cheese with speckles of bacon and sweet caramelized onions. There is straight-up grilled camembert for the cheese purist, served hot and oozing with roasted tomatoes and bacon. For ‘lighter’ options, the kitchen offers a petite ricotta crostini; crispy slices of baguette topped with airy ricotta, floral orange blossom honey, and earthy bites of hazelnut, it’s so simple and yet so satisfying. If you’re not a cheese person, don’t despair – the chicken liver pate, served with a layer of creme fraiche in a little bowl, is rich and creamy without being over-powering; and the kitchen offers everything from hot n’spicy adobo chicken wings to fish taco ceviche, a goose breast reuben, endive salad, and a rabbit & mushroom pie.

Casellula is essentially an homage to cheese, and cheese is the star here. It’s in almost every dish, oozing out of grilled cheese, fluffed atop crostini, or just on its own. Yet, aside from the cheese, one of the greatest things about Casellula is how utterly un-snobby it is. Although it’s a cheese and wine cafe, beer is beloved here as well. The young and hip staff is laid back (almost too much so on occasion); the food is accessible without sacrificing an ounce of quality; and there’s no need to dress up to show up. Casellula is a refreshingly relaxed hitter on the New York wine bar that maintains it’s cool without sacrificing an iota of food or wine quality.

Perfect For: first dates, wine & dessert, cheese freaks, catching up with your girlfriends, mellow after-work drinks

Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon

Stone Rose Lounge: Models and Mini-Bites

I will admit that I found myself at Stone Rose Lounge mostly through process of elimination. With tickets to the New York City ballet, I was looking for a swank pre-theater spot that my friends and I could nosh and imbibe at before the show. All my favorite pre-Lincoln Center options (Bar Boulud, A Voce Columbus, and Café Luxembourg) were unable to accommodate a large group last minute. And so, I gave Rande Gerber’s Time Warner Center ‘hotspot,’ Stone Rose, a chance.

The lounge itself is gorgeous, in a New York-Meets-Vegas sort of way. On the fourth floor, ‘the food floor,’ of the Time Warner Center, it has breathtaking views of Columbus Circle and Central Park. The large floor-to-ceiling windows seem to be just above the treetops, and you can almost imagine that the majesty of Central Park is in the palm of your hand. Stone Rose is 100% lounge with soaring ceilings, sleek contemporary couches, low cocktail tables, buttery leather benches and seating cubes. In the back are rounded banquette tables cut out of the wall, and a few traditional dining tables are scattered in the middle of the floor. Everything is slick and shiny, glittery at night, almost like a nightclub but without the DJ beats. If you’re only interested in drinks, a long and larger-than-life bar spans an entire wall – new age-y low lights make the entire thing glow in an almost cheesy sort of way.

In true lounge fashion, the service can best be described as shit. Although the scantily-clad waitresses are friendly, when you can manage to track them down, they regularly either disappear into “the kitchen” or spend a large chunk of time simply milling around the bar. At the end of the night, after waiting for 20 minutes for our waitress to swing by, I finally went up to the bar in hopes of settling my check – our waitress then magically appeared out of nowhere.

The food at Stone Rose Lounge is limited, though generally pretty tasty. All the dishes are eclectic American fusion small plates, with all the usual lounge options: hamburger sliders, beef skewers, artichoke dip, basic sushi rolls, cheese and charcuterie platters, and so forth. There’s nothing ground-breaking or particularly special about what the kitchen serves; however, as a complement to the fancy cocktails, the dishes do just fine. Perhaps the biggest gripe about the food at Stone Rose is how unbelievably over-priced it is for what amounts to little more than average cooking. And with irritating quirks, like how extra ‘naan’ (really, it’s just pita) for the artichoke dip is $3, Stone Rose is certainly not worth visiting if you’re only interested in eating.

The food certainly plays second fiddle to the cocktails. At Stone Rose, the complicated martinis and house specialty cocktails are the main event. Unfortunately, there are much better cocktails in Manhattan (Lambs Club, Little Branch, Yerba Buena Perry, Raine’s Law Room, Pegu Club, to name a few). Stone Rose’s ingredients and combinations are often inspired and unique; however, the execution is frequently off. Rarely can you actually taste the fun and unusual ingredients, for they are so dominated by whatever type of alcohol is included. I’m not paying $14 for a cocktail that tastes like a vodka shot. If I wanted a vodka shot, I’d go to the local dive in Hell’s Kitchen. You can tell that the menu was created by a master mixologist and that it is being executed by your typical bartender – what an error.

Stone Rose is all about atmosphere and glitz, a fact supported by its well-heeled, well-dressed and generally good-looking crowd. Other than the supremely convenient location and wondrous views though, Stone Rose falls to the level of mediocrity unfortunately shared by most of New York’s lounge clubs. The food is average, the cocktails only slightly above so. If you’re not tied to the Columbus Circle area, there are far better options for swank libations.

Perfect For: fashion week libations, blowing cash, expensive after-dinner drinks, large groups, models and bottles

Stone Rose Lounge on Urbanspoon

The Spotted Pig: New York’s Original Trendy Gastropub?

Few restaurants in Manhattan have sustained hype for as long as Ken Friedman’s The Spotted Pig, a verifiable West Village hotspot since it opened in 2004. The brainchild of Mario Batali, A&R music exec Ken Friedman, and pork-obsessed chef April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig is a simultaneously quaint and hip British ‘gastro-pub’ with a vaguely Italian menu and an in-your-face scene.
Stuffed into the quirky 100-seat space on W. 11th Street and Greenwich formerly inhabited by Le Zoo, ‘the Pig’ is as dark and twisty as an old townhouse with plenty of dusty corners and necking nooks. The two levels each have a bar guaranteed to be swamped with hipsters and yuppies-in-the-know alike, while mismatching tables are strewn about wherever they can fit. With antique photos, hanging porcelain plates, green knotty plants, textural wallpaper, slightly crumbling exposed brick, and bar stools upholstered in various faded fabrics, the look is lush and nostalgic, inarguably atmospheric, and just shabby enough to qualify as chic.
The Spotted Pig has simple and delicious bar food made from quality ingredients and with a fair bit of inspiration from chef April Bloomfield. The menu blends British classics with American standbys and Italian favorites, and there’s a little something for everyone. For those seeking a little nibble with their brew, flavor-packed snacks like deviled eggs, chicken liver toast, and “devils on horseback” (bacon-wrapped stuffed prunes) are sure to satisfy; while, inexpensive small plates such as a refreshing and verdant squash salad or a light sheep’s milk ricotta gnudi offer something on the lighter side of dinner. In the mood for something substantial to sop up that compulsory pint of stout? Opt for the hulking char-grilled burger, served thick and juicy with Roquefort cheese and a mass of tangled shoestring fries. Chef Bloomfield’s food is hearty and satisfying. Made with skill and focused on quality, the eclectic menu is a welcome break from the typical pigs-in-a-blanket and fried calamari pub grub that permeates New York’s bar scene.
Despite receiving a Michelin Star and raves from scores of critics, The Spotted Pig is, at it’s core, a bar. The cocktails are strong and creative, made of fresh ingredients and a cocktail craftsman’s magic. My personal favorite? The wonderfully tart Market Lemonade, made slightly sweet with cut strawberries. The beers are diverse, with everything from classic British ‘cask beer’ to an unusual array of international beers on tap and in bottles (expect varieties from Asia, Mexico, Europe, and across the United States). Over 100 bottles of wine are offered, to appease those oenophiles seeking a bit of vino with their vittles.
Now, The Spotted Pig isn’t for everyone. It’s sceney and noisy, consistently packed, and incredibly difficult to nab a table at dinner without an hour or two wait. However, if you don’t mind talking over the buzz and killing some time at a neighborhood wine bar, The Spotted Pig is a wonderful place to experience a chi-chi slice of New York life, where everything’s trendy, casual and oh so haute, all at the same time.
Perfect For: ladies night out, a foodie’s pregame, celebrity spotting, Anglophiles, yupsters and huppies, boozy lunch

Spotted Pig 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