Gabriel’s Bar & Restaurant

11 W 60th St. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 956-4600 • gabrielsbarandrest.com

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This cozy, not-so-little Italian joint is located right behind the Time Warner Center tucked away in an unassuming façade amidst the far flashier options surrounding it. Inside, the low key vibe makes you feel right at home, even though the décor walks that line of being a touch dressy. Also, the expansive L-shaped dining room seems awfully large for a place that I’m guessing seldom exceeds 50% capacity, so either the rent is killing them or the Cosa Nostra is saving them.

My suspicions toward the latter only grew stronger after trying the short rib tortellini, which was very basic and not the kind of dish that you’d expect to be paying the rent on such exorbitant real estate. On the plus side, the Cabernet by the glass was very good and the service was friendly. And I’m not just saying that because they didn’t kill me. However, my safety may still be in jeopardy because I am only giving them two knives, so if this is the last entry in my blog you’ll know what happened.

2 teeth

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Alice’s Tea Cup

102 W 73rd St. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 799-3006 • alicesteacup.com

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New York can be so annoying with its Stalin-esque reservation rules, which seem so out of character for a place like this. Charming, whimsical, themed like something pulled straight out of Alice in Wonderland, hence the name. But unless your tea party is six people or greater, prepare to wait, because the Queen of Hearts is apparently running things.

That said, should you have a party of six or simply wait long enough to get a table, you are in for a treat that will have you grinning wider than the Cheshire Cat. It starts with their “wonderful” assortment of interesting and unique teas such as apple-cinnamon and chocolate chai, each served in its very own color-coded pot the size of your head. Which you then pour into a mixed English tea setting comprised of hand-painted floral china. None of the teas were amazing, however. It was actually the food that stole the show.

Stolen with a surprisingly limited brunch menu, but if everything’s good, then who really cares, right? The scones are excellent (pictured), some of the best I’ve ever had. Thick, not too dense, moist and yummy. The French toast is also very good, served in cubes, casserole style, with an amazing drizzle of chocolate, syrup and berries around the perimeter of the plate.

The salmon benedict isn’t too shabby either, although the eggs were a touch overcooked, which is benny blasphemy and borderline worth docking a knife, but because they served it over one of their amazing scones I’m gonna let it slide.

The tower of breakfast is pretty great too, if you’re looking to try a bit of everything, adorned with a poached egg, scone and a nice homemade granola served with fresh berries and vanilla yogurt.

But Alice is also a bakery, making it an ideal place to celebrate birthdays, particularly if you have young birthday girl with you, deep in the princess phase. Mine is a bit of a chocoholic, so we obviously went with the chocolate cake, which I thought was just okay by comparison to the rest of the meal, but that didn’t seem to stop my daughter from wolfing it down like a champ.

All in, a highly successful outing worth the wait and the special trip, because that’s exactly what Alice’s Tea Cup offers… A special experience.

4 teeth

Rosa Mexicano

61 Columbus Ave. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 977-7700 • rosamexicano.com

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I’ve been going to Rosa for years. All three locations in the city, and multiple times at that. So I think it’s fair to say that we have some history together. And while there are many things I still love about Rosa, like any long-term relationship, we’ve had our rocky times as well.

The first time we met, I was instantly smitten by her fresh-made guacamole right there table-side. But this was back in the day before Dos Caminos and virtually every other Mexican joint copied them. Since then, however, I’ve learned a trick or two on how to spice things up, literally. Although the innuendo does work nicely. So, if you’re like me and you want more heat in your heat in your guac, you can ask them to double or even triple the chopped jalapeno count in the bowl. And if you’re into oral masochism, again like me, you can even ask that they go in the back and grab some habaneros instead, to give it more kick than a mule with a soccer fetish.

But man cannot live on guac alone, and fortunately Rosa does many other things very well. Some classics like empanadas, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and poblano dishes, and some with a modern twist, like their skirt steak sandwich on ciabatta with caramelized onions and cojita cheese or their incredible bunuelos served with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces that make them even more ridiculously addictive than they already are (a borderline Ultimate Doughnut).

Sounds like a Hollywood romance, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t always that way. A while back at their Upper West-ish/Hell’s Kitchen location, I took my cousin and his fiance who were in town for a visit. And let’s just say Rosa treated us like mierda. First they made us wait at the bar for about 45 minutes for our table, and that’s with having a reservation. Fortunately, they have great drinks, but the bar was so over crowded it felt more like being on the subway at rush hour with a margarita in your hand.

Then, once seated, we naturally ordered the fresh made guac, and everything was going deliciously as always… That is, until the entrees came. When a few of us ordered the paella risotto, and while it was tasty for the first several bites, it was also filled with shards of PLASTIC!!! Yes, several bits of plastic were mixed all throughout the dish. And when we told the waiter, they literally did nothing about it! They didn’t comp a single dish. The manager didn’t even come over apologize. Nothing. And just like that they lost a customer for over almost a decade.

However, forgiveness is divine, as they say, and a few years back I decided to let Rosa back into my life. The one near Union Square. And slowly but surely, she earned my trust back and we have been together happily ever since… end scene.

3 teeth

 

Per Se

10 Columbus Circle New York, NY 10019(212) 823-9335 • perseny.com

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If you should manage to get a reservation, congratulations. Now the bad news. While I found the dining room nicer than The French Laundry, the food isn’t quite up to the same astronomical, nor is the price tag .  And I’m not one to shit on Thomas Keller. I’m actually quite the fan. But when you’re playing at the tippy-top of the game, and the only chef in history to have two restaurants open at the same time with three Michelin Stars apiece, I expect nothing less than a life changing experience, and I’m sad to say it was not. Wallet-changing, maybe. But most definitely not life-changing. Thus, I am still the same old cocky, opinionated, know-it-all, blowhard.

Now, to be fair, one must take this review with a huge grain of- no, make that an entire industrial-sized bag of salt, because Per Se is still very, very good. In terms of service alone, it is on a whole other level. Not since Bouley in the early 90’s have I experienced anything like it. Swat team precision meets Russian ballet meets the “Be Our Guest” routine from Beauty and the Beast. I know you might be thinking, “really, how good can service truthfully be?” Well, just pick up a copy of the book “Service Included” and you will understand that Per Se makes a place like Daniel look like amateur hour service-wise.

As for decor, Keller likes to keep things “undistracting.” He doesn’t want the ambiance to compete with the plate and thus you won’t find anything the likes of a Jean-Georges restaurant. And while I did find it a touch boring, it still out-shines The Laundry simply due to one stunning trump card- floor to ceiling windows overlooking Central Park.

Now for the food. This is where I think many a Richie Rich, is over-convincing themselves that the cuisine here is spectacular simply because of the price. Which I get. Who wouldn’t want to rationalize spending all that coin? You need to justify it somehow, otherwise you’re libel to throw a conniption when you get the bill and wind up on the front page of The New York Post. But rationale aside, at this price and with this much hype, it should easily be one of the best meals of your life, and I can honestly say it doesn’t even crack my own personal top 100, in New York City alone!

3 teeth

The Ultimate Guacamole

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When it comes to great guac, I have to admit I’m a bit of a priss. Okay, so I’m prissy in general as a rule, but only as it pertains to good food. As for the complexity or simplicity, I whole-heartedly appreciate both. But when it comes to guac, I have to say I kinda prefer the fuss. No simple old mashed up avocado will do for this cat, oh no, no, no. You gotta earn my lovin’ with a little magic in your mush. Below are three of my favorite magicians.

The Ninth Door – Denver, CO

This is the most inventive guac of the three, and more inventive than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It starts with an avocado cut in half, then they flash fry it with a little panko and fill the divot where the pit use to be with pico de gallo. The end result is so unforgettable you’ll hear Natalie Cole singing in your ears while your mouth and your eyes are still busy recovering from the rapture.

ABC Cocina – NY

Jean Georges always seems to find a way to take the basics and turn them into brilliance. From caprese salad to foie gras terrine to guac he really knows how to make you feel like you’re tasting something again for the first time. The dial here is a simple one, however, simply adding sunflower seeds to the green stuff and serving it up along side a wonderful grapefruit salsa and oversized, fresh-baked chips.

Rosa Mexicano – New York, NY

For the purists, I offer up the remarkably fresh, table-side prepared guac at Rosa. I’ve been to hordes of other places that try to do the same, but somehow it always pales by comparison. I’m not sure how or why, but whatever they’re doing, they manage to pull it off at every location too. Also, one of the things I love most about it is that they customize the heat. You like spicy, they throw in more jalapenos. You like crazy spicy, just ask for habaneros. That’s what I do and it’s guac-a-holy-mole!

The Ultimate Sweetbreads

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I’m not sure why, but there is a huge misconception as to what sweetbreads really are. But to clear things up for the misconceived, they are NOT brains. They are glands. Now, I can only imagine that if the thought of them being brains was irksome to you, the whole gland thing didn’t exactly move the ball either, but at least now you know what you’ll be rejecting the next time someone offers them to you.

Animal – Los Angeles, CA

There is virtually no part of the anatomy this place can’t turn into gold. And man do they spin some sweet-ass sweetbreads. The thing I love so much about them is that they don’t overly bread and fry them. So many other restaurants seem like they are trying to hide something as opposed to improve something. Well, Animal gets it. They let just enough of the savory through, and then contrast it with an outer shell of crisp sweetness, so that when you bit into it, the two collide like someone walking along the street with a bar of chocolate and another with a jar of peanut butter (as though anyone has ever done that, ever) and BOOM- Two great tastes in one gland-based dish. Reese’s advertising was so stupid in the 70’s, and yet I still remember it. Scarred for life I suppose.

Dovetail – New York, NY

When dealing with a delicacy that isn’t exactly the foie gras of fine dining, you have to try a little harder to impress. But therein lies the razor’s edge. How much trying can you do before it becomes overdone? Like at The Gander, for example, overdone to the point where they actually miss the point and you taste absolutely nothing of the sweetbreads. Well, I’m not exactly sure what the answer is, but whatever Dovetail is doing is hella right, taking the sauce and batter right up to the very threshold of pomp, without crossing the line. In fact, it’s so good you’ll be all like “foie who?” Assuming you talk like that, which, dare I say, is a bit annoying.

Josie’s

300 Amsterdam Ave. New York, NY 10023(212) 769-1212josiesnyc.com

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I have eaten at Josie’s at least 50 times so it’s pretty safe to say I know this place like the back of my tongue. So I guess you could say I’m a fan. That’s not to say that I don’t see Josie’s for what it is, which is good, not great, organic with style. But back when Josie’s first opened, she was the only game in town. Paving the way for the likes of Pure Food & Wine, etc… Therefore I feel the need to give added props to Josie’s for changing the game.

So, after over a decade of faithful patronage here are some of my suggestions:

Always, always, always order one of their beverages. They are all excellent. Their Sangria is better than most Tapas bars. Their lemonades, spiked and non are both fantastic. They have twists on Mimosas, you name it. Just don’t miss out, because this is one of the best parts of dining at Josie’s.

For appetizers I love the Nori rolls (sushi without the raw fish) and the spicy black bean dumplings. For salad, try the Mykonos. It’s a delicious take on a Greek, as the name suggests, but ask them to throw some grilled shrimp on top for a few bucks more. It’s worth it. And the macadamia crusted chicken is another dish I’ve eaten more times than I have fingers.

And for sweets, it’s really only between two for me. Either the Lemon Ribbon Pie or the Apple Crumble. Both are surprisingly good for a “healthy” (wink, wink) dessert.

4 teeth

Richart

Available at GASTRONOMIE • 491 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10024 • 1-800-742 4278 • richart-chocolates.com

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I suppose it’s no coincidence that the last name of this chocolatier was a prophetic glimpse into his life’s work, creating “rich art.” Because they are undeniably both rich and a work of art.

Far superior to the likes of its confectionary sibling Godiva, who also began in the mid 1920’s, right next door in Brussels as opposed to Lyon. And while history definitely proved out who had the better marketing plan, they most certainly did not have the better chocolate.

This is not to say that Godiva is crap, it’s fine. But it’s also not even worthy of comparison to Richart. Richart is something truly special. A treat for the eyes and mouth alike. In fact, their chocolates are so beautiful it almost saddens you to eat them. Well, up until that moment when joy takes over because you’re tongue is doing the happy dance in your mouth.

And while Richart may be smaller and harder to come by (their stores have closed in the U.S.), it’s worth tracking down. It’s still family run, third generation and it’s one the best gifts under $50 on the face of the Earth. So if you truly want to impress your Valentine, skip the mall this year and shower her with “Riches” instead.

5 teeth

The Mermaid Inn

568 Amsterdam Ave. New York, NY 10024(212) 799-7400 themermaidnyc.com

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Hi. My name is Ferocious Foodie. And I too am a Mermaid lover. In fact, I don’t think I’ve loved a mermaid this much since Ariel, The Little Mermaid. From the first bite (well, technically “sip”) to the last, everything was great.

The wife and I both started with cocktails. I partook a pair of Pink Dahlias, which sounds more fru fru than it is. It’s actually a spicy margarita with grapefruit. Tart, refreshing, spicy and perfecty. Can’t recall what the wife had because I’m a typical, self-absorbed male, but I know she liked it because I asked… So I’m not a total schmuck.

Everything else we shared, to a symphony of simultaneous foodgasms. The octopus was tender with a nice contrasting char for texture. And it was dressed with wonderful flavors that netted out a touch sweet, but in a good way.

The oysters were fresh an delicious. We did the Kusshi, which, if you’ve never had them are so sweet you’d think they were candy. And the Mermaid Cove, which were delightfully creamy. Great combo for those who don’t dig on the brine.

For entrees we split the lobster “sandwich” and the fish tacos and the reason “sandwich” is in quotes is because it’s a lobster roll. Not sure why they don’t call it that. I’m assuming there’s no copyright infringement since about 1000 other places call it that, but whatever. Maybe that’s not how they roll… oof. Even I cringed on that one. But cast your cringes aside, because the roll/sandwich thingy is up there with the Ultimates. Quite handily better than Luke’s down the street and as good as Pearl Oyster Bar. Yes, I said it. Just not quite as big as Pearl’s though, making it a bit pricier per ounce. But like Fancy Feast, it’s worth it. And truth be told, Mermaid’s fries are better.

The fish tacos were mighty fine as well, adorned with pickled jalapenos and a side of handy fresh made salsa. Together they made for sloppy, fishy bliss.

And finally, for dessert, there is no menu. They simply bring you an espresso cup filled with chocolate pudding and call it a night. No charge. Just as a thank you. Well, Mermaid, thank YOU for a wonderful meal. My only regret is having not tried you sooner.

5 teeth

Pasha

70 W 71st St. New York, NY 10023 (212) 579-8751 •  pashanewyork.com
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 I’ve been going to Pasha for years and the reason is quite simple, it’s the best Turkish in the city. Well, other than Beyoglu and Pera. But they each do different things well, so it’s kind of a draw.

Among Pasha’s bailiwicks are the octopus, so consistently tender and awesome it just barely missed my Ultimate Octopus list. Solid mezes ranging from baba ganoush to sigara boregi (feta pastry) to yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves). And of course entrees ranging from whole fish to kebabs and all of it is done as authentic as anything you might find in Istanbul.

Decor is touch on the expected side, painted Turkish Flag Red. But they somehow manage to charm it up with its different rooms and quaint vibe. As a result it feels nothing like its decor twin in Kips Bay, Turkish Kitchen (also red, but more expansive and less intimate).

And service as a rule among most Turkish haunts is always very friendly and accommodating. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had a bad waiter at Pasha or any other Turkish restaurant in the city and I’ve eaten at close to a dozen. And I’m not just saying that because my Turkish wife is reading over my shoulder as I type this.

4 teeth