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Bite of the Best, Restaurant Tips

Russian Samovar

 

by Bonnie Tandy Leblang

 

Russian Samovar, Theatre District, NYC + Angels in America

We for sure needed sustenance between “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika,” parts one and two of the Tony-nominated Angels in America, the play with Nathan Lane and Andrew Garfield about life that’s as relevant today as it was during the early AIDS epidemic. At a break in our theatre marathon, we headed next door to the quirky yet elegant Russian Samovar as their guests. Years ago at the restaurant’s height, it was part-owned Mikhail Baryshnikov and attended by the Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack. They are gone, but the classic Russian comfort food establishment has remained the same. In fact, their menu lists “grilled sturgeon” that hasn’t been served in years. I love to enjoy […]

Ippudo Ramen, East Village, NYC

This is my year for ramen, with visits to Ichiran Ramen, Ivan Ramen and E.A.K. Ramen before meeting some relatives at Ippudo Ramen, a bustling place in on Fourth Avenue and 10th Street in the East Village. I’m told there’s always a wait. Once we were seated, we ordered drinks and apps. I sampled their version of an Old Fashioned made with Japanese whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. Not bad. My relatives had beer. We started with flash-fried shishito peppers served with yuzu salt ($9) and two servings of steamed Ippudo buns spread with both Ippudo’s spicy sauce and mayo and filled with pork ($9 for two buns). Neither was remarkable, both […]

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, Chelsea, NYC

Oscar Wilde pays homage to the spirit of this Irish playwright’s prolific story. As their guest I sampled a good deal of their menu. After sampling a good deal of Oscar Wilde’s menu as their guest, I recommend you visit this fun establishment bedecked with an extraordinary Victorian art and object collection for drinks and their delightful appetizers. I recommend The Travesty created by mixologist Johnny Swet, that is if they’re still serving this specialty cocktail that was created for a partnership with the show Travesties (that was) playing at the American Airlines Theatre. It’s a nicely balanced mixture of vodka Lajay Crème de Cassis, lemon juice and Prosecco garnished […]

Andaz Kitchen & Bar, Financial District, NYC

A few months ago, I attended the opening of the new Andaz Kitchen & Bar, at the eponymous hotel and met the general manager and the chef, who invited me to come back and sample the menu. I did so recently, asking for small portions of items so I could sample lots. Keep in mind that many of the photos are only a partial portion; what you get at the restaurant are more plentiful! Still on a hunt for the penultimate spicy cocktail, I began with the Lighthouse made with jalapeño infused tequila, Campari, simple syrup and lime juice. Nice, but not spicy enough for me ($15). The three apps […]

Lillie’s Times Square, Theatre District, NYC

Having been to Lillie’s in my hood, I looked forward to sampling  Lillie’s Victorian Establishment in Times Square when the publicist invited me. Like the Union Square area one, the ornate wooden carvings and antiquities  at Lillie’s were procured from a ballroom in an 1800′s estate in Northern Ireland, according to their website. On the hunt for a really good spicy drink, I ordered their Spicy Reposado made with El Destilador Reposado tequila, agave and Hellfire bitters, garnished with a charred poblano pepper ($15). Good, but not at all spicy. Our server steered us toward the beer battered fish and chips ($22), with two large strips of fried cod along with […]

 

Flatiron Room

Flatiron Room, Gramercy-Flatiron, NYC

My friend suggested we go listen to jazz one night, suggesting the Flatiron Room. On 26th Street is this restaurant-club where the groups performs in the background on a velvet-curtained stage and regulars store their bottles of whiskey until they return. Flatiron offers almost 700 bottles of whiskey to choose from including the rare 27-year-old limited-run Glenmorangie Pride priced at about $800 per gram!  I also learned that a private room upstairs offers tastings and classes ($35 to $125). When we sat down at our booth, our waiter Simon pointed out the drinks and bites that were available at Happy Hour prices that  included some drinks and two of the flatbreads until […]

 

AOA Bar & Grill

AOA Bar & Grill, Hilton Garden, Tribeca, NYC

Looking for a hotel partner for The Next Big Bite, the October 1, 2018 event that I’m chairing again for Les Dames d’Escoffier at The New York Law School, I sat down to lunch with the director of group sales at one of their properties. I began with an AOA Bar & Grill’s Diablo Reverse made with Tanteo jalapeño tequila ($14), black currant liqueur, lime and basil with a little spice. We then shared their fire-cracker shrimp ($14, three large), known to some as bang, bang shrimp because of the spicy wasabi sauce served with the shrimp that are topped with roe. Worth trying. Next, we shared the fresh Southwest chicken salad, with […]

Nios, Theatre District, NYC + Amy and The Orphans

I’m always looking for NYC theatre area restaurants to try and suggest. I recently stopped in Nios in the Muse Hotel for a casual bite before heading across the street to Round About theatre to see Amy and The Orphans. It’s the story of siblings heading to bury their dad; Amy has Down syndrome, like the actress (Jamie Brewer) playing her and spouts recognizable movie lines. She’s spent most of her life in state-funded institutions. We learn during the moving play that she had housed been at Willowbrook. (For a complete review on Theater Pizzazz, click here.) I chose the Sokol-Blosser Evolution Pinot Noir ($14) to sip while looking at the […]

 

Old Town Bar & Restaurant, Gramercy-Flatiron, NYC

Around since 1982, Old Town is one of the city’s oldest taverns with a mahogany and marble bar, tin ceiling and an antique still working dumbwaiter. Like Pete’s Tavern a few blocks away, you can feel the history as you enter. NBC awarded it “Best Old Bar in NYC,” Esquire Magazine named it one of “Best Bars in America.” Head there for simple fare. The Old Town burger platter ($12.50) comes topped with lettuce and tomato, on a sesame seed bun served along with skinny fries. Only a dollar more for a cheeseburger. Enjoy with a pint! If you’re sitting near the end of the bar, you’ll notice your food […]

 

Serenata

Serenata, Chelsea, NYC

I walked down the street umpteen times but hadn’t noticed Serenata, a Mexican bistro, nestled between West Elm and Haven’s Kitchen. We started with a straight-up happy hour margie ($7) — one that packed punch — served in a salt-rimmed martini glass. This margarita was not sickly sweet like some, instead a tad tart. The prix fixe lunch for $8.95 could not be missed at least for one of us. We chose the unusually spiced house salad with mesclun greens, diced avocado, fresh corn, diced tomatoes and sunfl‑ower seeds all in an herbed vinaigrette sprinkled with cotija cheese and garnished with a delicate blue flower, as were all the dishes. From […]

Aunt Jakes, Greenwich Village, NYC

Like the old Chinese menus, you select one from column A and one from column B. In Aunt Jake’s case, you select your pasta (housemade) and then your sauce. Sort of a DIY pasta in a bowl.  You can choose from pastas that include squid ink (black) fettuccine, beet pappardelle (red), cavatelli, and even gluten-free rigatoni, and then select the sauce from 10 different ones including marinara, broken meatball, puttanesca and carbonara. The hearty portions are served in a bowl garnished with fresh basil and slices of Italian bread.  We sampled the Sunday sauce (+$4; sausage, veal and shredded short ribs in a flavorful tomato sauce) over tagliatelle ($14) and the arribiata […]

Almayass, Gramercy-Flatiron, NYC

Had to laugh that I learned about Almayass, a Lebanese-Armenian restaurant in the heart of the Gramercy-Flatiron area AKA my hood, from my sister who only lives in the big apple a short time each year. She discovered it when looking for a place for my brother-in-law’s big birthday that offered a meze. We went together for a tasting. Everything was so delicious that we had difficulty narrowing the menu for the party. I went back to have lunch one afternoon after visiting the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt, a National Historic Site literally around the corner on 20th t0 write about it. The restaurant has an inviting atmosphere with super […]

 

JAX BBQ

JAX B-B-Q, Hells Kitchen, NYC + Come From Away

We stopped in at JAX BBQ before heading to see the amazing musical,  Come From Away, that takes place following the September 11 attacks telling a true story of the people on the planes that landed unexpectedly in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland. For a complete review of the show, click here. As their guest, we sampled as much of JAX offerings as feasible. Realize that some food photos contain only a partial portion. Starters include southern delicacies like Bayou alligator fritters ($14.95), that are not to be missed. Having eaten alligator many times before, I knew how good these fritters were – as the meat was not rubbery at all […]

The Palm Too, Midtown East, NYC

It wasn’t for the food that we headed to Palm Too for lunch; instead, it was to see the new caricature of my friend’s late husband on the wall of the restaurant he often frequented. Her daughter-in-law had made the arrangements. I arrived first and was greeted warmly as I walked in, which is Palm Too’s MO as they treat guests like family. I mentioned how I was looking for a new face on their wall; the manager walked me through a couple dining rooms to the back one not being used that day for lunch right to the wall. When my friend arrived, I took some photos to capture […]

Tudor City Steakhouse, Midtown East, NYC

Walking east on the north side of 42nd Street from Second Avenue, look for the stairs to walk up to Tudor City Steakhouse. I had been to this location in one of its previous incarnations, specifically L’Impero. Weather permitting, this new bi-level restaurant will also have al fresco dining. As guests of the steakhouse, we tried to sample many items often asking for small portions so not to waste. When you look at my photos realize that many are half portions! My friend requested the sizzling strip of extra thick bacon ($6.95/slice) to start along with the not-to-be-missed yellow corn Venezuelan open tamale ($11.95) with roasted diced corn and zucchini. For […]

Mani in Pasta, Gramercy, NYC

After learning Mani in Pasta didn’t yet have a liquor license, I stopped in at Trader Joe’s wine shop across 14th Street before heading to the second location of this Roman-style pizza and Cucina restaurant, which had a soft opening in December. This little gem is easy to miss if you’re not looking. As their guests, we were greeted by chef  Giuseppe Manco and his partner Pietro Toscano as if we arrived at their home. We were told to sit back and relax and they would feed us. We started with a medley of lightly coated then deep-fat fried zucchini flower, potato croquette, mozzarella cheese, frittatina (fried pasta with ham […]

Piccola Strada, East Village, NYC + Rosemary and Time

Piccola Strada a tiny Genovese restaurant across from the theatre where we were attending a performance of Rosemary and Time came highly recommended by more than one friend. It’s a BYOB place with a mere $5 corkage fee. Our waiter offered suggestions. We might have been better off if we hadn’t listened to him. We started with the Carciofini Al Forno, artichokes hearts sprinkled with parmesan cheese and olive oil then baked ($11). Nicely done, but nothing special. Same goes for their Ossobuco Di Manzo of very tender beef shank braised in red wine accompanied by tender gnocchi all in in a bolognese sauce ($22). My least favorite was one of the specials […]

Red Farm, Upper West Side, NYC + Admissions

Red Farm’s chef Joe Ng had just been nominated by the James Beard Foundation as this year’s “Best Chef in New York City” making me even more excited to head to the UWS location of this Chinese restaurant. We got to the 77th Street location early as we had ticket to see a Jessica Hecht ensemble performance at Lincoln Center. It wasn’t until after we arrived that I learned that my dining partner was a dear friend of owner Ed Schoenfeld, who then proceeded to send us out some goodies. My favorite of the evening was the first dish that Ed sent. They call it a bruschetta, but there’s no bread. […]

Fig & Olive, Upper East Side

Fig & Olive Uptown, Upper East Side, NYC

After shopping at Saks for two mother-of-the-groom dresses for my friends from CT, both of whose sons were getting married, we looked for something nearby to grab a bite. I made a reservation at the uptown location of Fig & Olive as we were walking there. Our meal and libations were just what we were looking for. One friend began with the tart and sweet Rossellini ($15) made with passion fruit vodka and blood orange and lime juices; the El Matador ($14) made with tequila and rum, plus lime juice, a cilantro syrup and muddled jalapeños that I had packed a potent punch! The refreshingly healthy quinoa salad ($15) topped […]

Kubeh

Kubeh, West Village, NYC + Relevance

Kubeh refers to a Middle Eastern dumpling that I had read about being offered in my hood at a restaurant by the same name. We stopped by on the way to the Lucille Lortel to see one of our favorite actresses Jayne Houdyshell (who had won a Tony nomination forDolls House 2, and a Tony for her Humans performance). This time she was an angry feminist in Relevance. The noise level at Kubeh was deafening once we past the bar and into the dining room. We ordered some drinks and a couple of items from the meze part of their menu. The chunks of chilled roasted eggplant, pomegranate arils and fresh mint leaves […]

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