239 W.14th St. & 7th/8th Aves. (Centro Español), 212-929-7873
Great for: vegetable and meat tapas, sangria, large parties, flamenco shows
I starred in a webseries that teaches foreign nurses English – it took all day for a whole month. This was our wrap party. I’d been here a few years ago to watch flamenco, and I really wish I’d had the food then! Tapas is often mildly disappointing in NYC – too salty, oily or bland. These guys get it right. (Well, I’ve only been to Marbella, where my family opted not to eat the local food, so it’s not like I know what’s completely authentic, but I do know from yummy.)
There were nine of us and I think we sampled most of the menu. All their “vegetable” tapas were simple and lovely – we had the pan con tomate, tortilla (scrambled eggs with creamy potatoes), patatas bravas and egg tomato soup. The seafood tapas were not as good, though decent. I found the grilled octopus tasteless and squishy but still okay, and liked the fried calamari better. I didn’t bother with the grilled calamari since I usually don’t like that.
The meat tapas, on the other hand, were stellar. We had a nice cheese and meat plate with two cheeses, a spicy chorizo and a prosciutto-type meat with olives. The chorizo escarole soup was pretty good, as were the shrimp in garlic oil. I loved the chorizo dish and its sauce, and the croquetas were perfect, thinly breaded balls of cod mousse that came six to a plate.
My favorites were the tortilla, chorizo, patatas bravas, croquetas and egg tomato soup. I’m getting hungry just thinking about them! The waiters were sweet and patient, and we really enjoyed the delicious sangria. It’s sweet and not too alcoholic. This place definitely stays on my list.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Our cost: $335 (12 kinds of tapas, 5 pitchers of sangria)
Noise level: noisy party
Chance of walking in: it’s busy.
228 W.18th St. & 7th/8th Aves., 212-206-8930
Great for: pastelitos
Have you ever had Venezuelan food? Neither had I, until I went to an audition nearby and decided to try this place for lunch. It’s no Argentinean steak or Brazilian churrascaria, but it’s still pretty tasty.
The lunch special of shredded chicken with rice, beans and sliced plantains, $9.95 as opposed to $15 at dinner, was good. Though it needed a ton of hot sauce, I liked it enough that I even ate the beans. (I usually hate beans.) I was delighted by my jamon y queso pastelito, a round fried pastry big as a saucer. It was delicious, stuffed with a large block of cheese and ample ham. Like the empanada’s big sister who has three kids and always wants to feed people.
The restaurant is quite big with a friendly atmosphere and colorful décor. I think next time I should get lots of pastelitos on Bolívar Day or some other happy holiday to get the full experience.
Rating: 7 / 10
My cost: $15 (1 pastelito, 1 lunch special)
Noise level: between ceiling fans, music and conversations, pretty high
Chance of walking in: decent.
19 1st Ave. & 1st/2nd Sts., 212-420-4900
Great for: focaccino, late-night Italian cravings
The only Frankie’s restaurant I’d been to before this was Falai, and this one confirmed my good opinion of them. Fortunately they’re all a little bit far from me or I’d get really fat.
The arugula with parmigiano reggiano was so fresh it was a bit spicy, and the balsamic vinaigrette balanced wonderfully against the lemon my date and I squeezed on it. It does have to be chopped up and looks enormous, but don’t worry, it’ll disappear quickly.
I liked the cute rigatoni polpettini ragu. There’s just something adorable about tiny meatballs. It could maybe use a little more salt but it was a nice homey, tasty dish with rich red sauce.
The life-changing focaccino, two flat sheets of bread enclosing melty robiola cheese and prosciutto di Parma with a big hit of white truffle, is incredibly decadent and wonderful. The crisp bread and prosciutto were an amazing contrast to the creamy cheese, while the truffle oil was the perfect final touch.
Our waiter was nice and didn’t hover much, probably because it was still busy. The gangsta rap was a bit loud but apparently it’s usually not like that. Overall, it was a very satisfying meal and I was happy.
Rating: 8 / 10
Our cost: $75 (app, pasta, main, beer, glass of wine). Cash only
Noise level: kind of loud
Chance of walking in: they’re open until 2am weekdays, 4am weekends; you’ll probably still have to wait.
128 W. 26th St. & 6th/7th Aves., 212-243-8183
Great for: most seafood, panna cotta
This place is actually a steakhouse, but for whatever reason we plumped for all seafood. I loved my tuna tartar over avocado and sour cream garnished with bloomed mustard seeds and soy and wasabi oil. It was a great idea beautifully composed in squares, with a nice melding of flavors. The little bits of mustard cut all the cream well. My friend’s lobster salad with winter melon (which was like watermelon) had too much of the latter and not enough of the former. It was decent.
I was mildly enthused by my Alaskan king crab tagliatelle. It was a bit bland. The crab itself was nice but the pasta somehow didn’t absorb any flavor. The veggies were good though. The fennel pollen tuna in pesto finished with saba over butternut squash caponata, on the other hand, was lovely. The just-barely-seared tuna and the braised vegetables underneath were delicious. It was definitely something to dig into.
I’m glad I allowed myself to be tempted by the “sinful” panna cotta, made fresh daily. It was soft fluffy vanilla loveliness, not too heavy despite probably ridiculous amounts of cream.
The waiters are good at their jobs. The décor is the epitome of midtown corporate. I rather liked it though their efforts were uneven.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Our cost: $135 (2 apps, 2 entrees, 1 dessert, 2 glasses of Chianti)
Noise level: probably not above a convivial hum
Chance of walking in: I imagine you can walk in fairly easily.
16 West 29th St. & Broadway/5th Avenue, 212-679-1939
Great for: basically everything on the food and cocktail menus
After hearing so much about April Bloomfield I was delighted to finally try her food for myself. It certainly lived up to the hyperbole!
The sausage roll is a very large pig in a wonderfully soft blanket. They make the sausage in-house with actual meat. It was so good I wanted to cuddle with it. (I know, that doesn’t really make sense.) I would wake up a hell of a lot earlier if I had one of these waiting for me every morning! The seafood sausage with beurre blanc and chives is a large, perfectly-spiced sculpture composed of nice big chunks of shellfish arranged in a vaguely sausage-y shape. It’s a “sausage” the way a Ferrari is a car.
The thrice-cooked chips (fries) with mustard might be the best ever. They were an impeccable balance of crispy outside with soft insides. Even their accompanying pickle wedges were delightful. The almonds are spicy and terrific too. If I liked marrow vegetables I would like the baby squash with parmesan. I think it could have used more spices but I didn’t eat that much of it.
The service was nice, though I haven’t eaten in the dining room yet. On the other hand, having drunk the entire cocktail menu (in two visits, it’s short), I can say with certainty that all the drinks are strong and tasty. This is a great place for meeting friends, making new ones, and generally having a grand old time in an otherwise semi-desolate area. The lobby bar is fun when you get tired of sitting, too.
Rating: 9 / 10
Our cost: $75
Noise level: very noisy
Chance of walking in: you can’t reserve, just go and have drinks until you don’t care how long you’ve been waiting.
103 2nd Ave. & 6th St., 212-253-0470
Great for: everything I tried, stretching out your legs
There really aren’t enough Dutch restaurants in the city. Before, I couldn’t have told you what they eat in the Netherlands besides pot brownies and maybe… chocolate? But if this place is any indication, I definitely like the cuisine. It was a very fitting celebration for me booking my first big commercial and finishing my samurai movie.
The Aussie Astrophysicist and I started with an amuse bouche of broccoli and smoked eel, which was excellent. I love amuses – I’m picky, so it’s good for me to try things outside the stuff I usually order.
The terrific romaine with sausage crumble, pistachios and herring vinaigrette was a really interesting mixture of flavors. I loved the rich, tasty hit of sausage. And the vinaigrette is a dream. I wanted to roll around in it. I never thought I would enjoy a herring-based food so much. The beer-battered lamb sweetbreads with pickled Concord grapes, aïoli of pickling juice and Holland peppers were just as wonderful. They were crunchy and earthy while still being quite tender inside. We dipped all the other dishes in the aïoli, too, it was that good.
The special of halibut, cured for hours with sugar and salt then painted with genever, is worth the wait. It’s soft, subtle and comes in nice big pieces. Like ceviche, only much better. AA and I were intrigued by the hete bliksem (“hot lightning”) and had to check it out. The crisp fingerling potatoes, bacon, apple and stroop (caramel) syrup spiced up with cayenne and thyme were a strange, delicious combination. I actually liked it despite my usual distaste for sweet and savory mixed together. The bacon was insanely fatty and the syrup was not too gooey. They complemented the heaviness of the other ingredients well. I found myself even liking the finely diced apple pieces.
Three appetizers and one side turned out to be enough for two light eaters. My Manolin cocktail was fennel-y and yummy. (Yes, I partly ordered it because it sounds like Manolo.) We had super friendly service from the incredibly knowledgeable bartender. Actually, everyone there was very nice in general.
I was impressed with how much space the restaurant has. It’s so big they left some areas open! It’s especially lovely with their minimalist white and silver decor. Basically, any time I’m in the neighborhood and just got paid, I will definitely stop by.
Rating: 8.5 / 10 (but we didn’t have any entrées)
Our cost: $75 (3 apps, 1 side, 1 cocktail, 1 beer)
Noise level: a bit noisy
Chance of walking in: the wait is probably not too bad.
198 Orchard & Houston Sts., unjustly closed by the SLA
Great for: interesting dishes, Taiwanese food on Four Loko, hanging out with Eddie Huang
I have many fond memories of Taiwanese xiao ye, the night market, from visiting Taipei as a baby foodie. Imagine my excitement when I heard Eddie Huang of Baohaus fame was opening a xiao ye right here in my neighborhood! As it turns out, his dishes were considerably amped up from the basic food I remember, but I like and respect his creativity.
My date and I started with the poontang potstickers, made of LaFrieda custom blend pork and napa cabbage. They’re good but not mind-blowing. I would have liked more spice. The name (and pretty much all the other dish names) was cute, though – I like a menu that makes me laugh.
Taiwan’s most famous minced duroc pork in 5 spice and soy sauce over rice with braised egg and pickled daikon was nice. The famous Cheeto fried chicken with chili orange marmalade dipping sauce was juicy, tender and perfectly cooked. The Cheeto dust is just sprinkled on top, not quite as integral to the dish as I expected. In both dishes I could wish for a little more spice.
My favorite thing was probably the corn with garlic, red pepper and unagi sauce. The sauce is to die for and the corn is very crispy.
I had to try some of their funny cocktails. The Milk Skywalker is a yummy, crazy, end-of-night type drink. You are probably only drinking it because you’re already hammered, despite knowing it will just fuck up your morning (at least). The Taiwan favorite apple sidra with vanilla and bourbon is slightly less insane. It tastes awesome, surprisingly – the vanilla is a lovely finishing touch. Both drinks came in nice generous glasses for $12.
The super friendly staff and the hip vibe made this a very cool little restaurant. Everything was black wood with red accents, super Asian without being cheesy. And it was really good for an area of drunkards. My understanding of why they had to shut down so fast was that Eddie did some unlimited Four Loko deal right before it got outlawed and the State Liquor Authority came down hard on them about it. It wasn’t really fair but you can still get some Taiwanese goodness over at Baohaus, a few streets away. And for regular dishes there is always Saint’s Alp Teahouse in the East Village.
Rating: 7 / 10
Our cost: $75 (3 small dishes, 1 medium, 2 cocktails)
Noise level: classic old-school Eddie music
Chance of walking in: sadly, nil. Why, SLA, why???
2 Lexington Ave. & 21st/22nd Sts. in the Gramercy Park Hotel, 212-777-2410
Great for: pasta, sophisticated nights out, dates
The Scholar/Mistress and I share many common interests, the foremost among which is amazing food. (Or maybe reading books. But you guys don’t care about that.) We were delighted to get a reservation to Maialino, which we’d both heard wonderful things about.
Our starter of crostone di fegato (chicken liver) and aged balsamic vinaigrette was great on large half-slices of bread. The balsamic was a nice peppery contrast to the creamy pâté.
For budgetary considerations we got two pastas to share as a main. My bucatini all’amatriciani with pecorino, spicy tomato and guanciale was delightful and spicy. It reminded me of when I’d first had the dish in Rome; this was just as good, with perfectly al dente and wiggly noodles. S/M’s agnolotti corn ravioli with sungolds and ricotta salata was also lovely. We liked the large pasta and all the flavors went together really well.
Surprisingly, one app, two pastas and a generous side of potatoes with rosemary is enough for two hungry girls! We still had a little room for dessert, of course. I went for the affogato, gelato in espresso, which was good but super bitter and delicious simultaneously. S/M ordered the absolutely lovely gianduja budino, a chocolate and hazelnut bread pudding. It was very large and wonderful, especially when we discovered the chocolate melted in the middle.
I’m so glad the hotel finally found a restaurant worthy of it that’s popular too. I definitely wish I could afford to come back often.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Our cost: $90 (1 app, 2 pastas, 1 side, 2 desserts, 1 lavender mint tea)
Noise level: noisy
Chance of walking in: it might be ok, since the place is huge, but you should call.
177 Prince & Thompson/Sullivan Sts., 212-254-7337
Great for: duck mojito, dessert, cocktails, large parties, fucking in the bathroom
Feisty Brooklynite’s birthday party here turned out to be the same night as a tornado warning. That’s definitely a quick way to figure who really loves you. Since I live just across SoHo and she’s one of my best friends, I obviously showed up.
The panko coconut-crusted shrimp tasted overly of coconut, while the semolina fritters had nice chicken and shrimp inside. They could both be crispier. The calamari, on the other hand, is interestingly crunchy without breading. The duck mojito was the best appetizer I tasted. It doesn’t taste like a mojito at all, just vaguely Latin.
The Thai-latin BBQ scallop, prawn and salmon with mixed green salad, white chimichurri and sriracha was quite good. I wished for more than just one of each thing. The saffron paella with seafood in a banana leaf is incredibly awkward to eat – fuck leaves, we don’t live in trees any more – but pretty good. I liked the white sauce on top and could use more of it. The rice needed more flavor. Their pad thai is pretty good.
The sweet world dessert with chocolate volcano cake, créme brûleé and ice cream was far and away the best thing we put in our mouths all night. I wanted to roll around in it. The volcano is rich and decadent, while the créme brûleé is creamy heaven.
I liked all the cocktails we tried, and I especially recommend the chocolate cake shots. The bartender Nick, if he is still there, is both hot and nice. Our waitresses were either kind of deaf or stupid but they seemed to mean well.
The place is girl party central. They were annoying but the music is great. As are the bathrooms. You can see the entire dining room from inside but no one can see you, and my first thought was “Nice! Bathrooms to fuck in!” It’ll be really obvious what you’re doing, but on the plus side, some of the girls will probably dare each other to flash you. Yep, it’s a fun place overall.
Rating: 7 / 10
Our cost: $100 (2 apps, 2 mains, 1 huge dessert, 2 cocktails, 2 shots)
Noise level: noisy when there are girls
Chance of walking in: prob not too bad, there’s a lot of space.
61 Wythe Ave. & N. 11th St., 718-963-3369
Great for: rock & roll fries, fried chicken, live shows
Generally, I think leaving Manhattan for something we already have here is stupid. (The great Mimi Sheraton agrees with me.) There are several Blue Ribbons and amazing fried chicken all over this borough. But I’m a loyal friend so Bubbly Blonde and I went to support my actress friend’s burlesque troupe. My shoot ran so late I actually didn’t see her act, which apparently involved independently rotating tassels, but the food amply made up for annoying travel and missing the sexiness.
Bubbly Blonde and I were naughty and started with the rock & roll fries with Cajun spice, gravy, provolone and cheddar. My exact notes are “thin fries dipped in yummy crack.” It was a nice big plate of crispy, gooey, flavorful addiction. In the spirit of thoroughness we also got six bbq wings, which were a bit sweet and pretty good, though I wish the skin were crispy. I was impressed that the accompanying dipping sauce had actual blue cheese crumbles in it. The honey barbecue sauce is decent too. I can’t say $9 is a great price, though.
We had to wait a bit longer for our eight pieces of mixed white and dark chicken. They are lovely big pieces with crunchy batter and juicy, tender meat. It’s even nicer that they are $22, especially since a half chicken dinner with bread, collard greens and mashed potatoes is $21. I couldn’t stop myself from finishing my half despite having eaten so much already. The side of coleslaw is good and I don’t even like coleslaw.
The service can be spotty since the place is so big. It is also not cheap; one Coke is $3. Regardless, I would actually consider making the trek back just for the food.
Rating: 8 / 10
Our cost: $60
Noise level: cacophony
Chance of walking in: good.
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