September 24, 2012 § Leave a Comment
With the new semester unfolding and taking a large part of my daily routines, I haven’t had many opportunities to go restaurant hunting for reviews. Nonetheless, thanks to Rosh Hashanah last week, I was able to take a break from campus life and head to the city for some alone time – essentially some time for me to wind down with great food. I walked into a Japanese restaurant on 23rd street, called Monster Sushi, which many of my friends frequently visit. According to my group of friends, Monster Sushi was one of the best sushi restaurants in the city at an affordable price, and I just had to check the place out for myself.
Monster Sushi has a chic modern interior while maintaining the air of a traditional Japanese restaurant: the furniture had a modern flair, whereas the décor, the accessories, and the sushi bar exuded the Japanese culture. I was immediately seated at one of the tables and the waiter kindly explained the menu to me. Like most Japanese restaurants, Monster Sushi has a wide variety of sushi rolls. What I found to be unique about Monster Sushi was their bento box specials. Bento box can literally be translated as “lunch box” and comes with a variety of side dishes that accompany a main dish. Monster Sushi has an extensive list of main dishes for their bento boxes aside from simply sticking with the commonly found chicken or salmon teriyaki boxes. I ordered the Chilean sea bass bento box, which came broiled with a special light soy sauce. Each bento box comes with soup, salad, rice, a choice of spring roll or shumai (Japanese steamed dumplings), and a choice of California, tuna, or salmon roll.
I was first served the miso soup as a part of the bento box special. The miso soup was light, yet flavorful with the rich taste of the miso; a very traditional starter for a bento meal. Shortly after finishing the miso soup, the waiter served me the Chilean sea bass bento box. I was fairly impressed with the size of the bento box and how packed it was with food. The overall presentation of the box looked great and after tasting the dish, I was even more impressed with all of the flavor combinations. The Chilean sea bass was crisply seared on the outside, then broiled with a light soy sauce that seeped into the layers of the fish. The sauce consisted of soy sauce, ginger, and vinegar to add onto the light flavor to maintain the freshness of the fish. Along with the Chilean sea bass, I enjoyed all of the accompaniments to the bento box. The spring rolls that I had ordered instead of the shumai were crispy, packed with vegetable and shrimp filling, seasoned perfectly so that there was no need for a dipping sauce. The salad was also extremely fresh, topped with a light ginger dressing that was just sweet enough to entice my taste buds. To top this all off, the salmon roll that I chose consisted of fresh salmon pieces wrapped in white rice and seaweed, and these salmon rolls were larger in size compared to those from other Japanese restaurants I have frequented.
Apart from the bento box, I had also ordered the Godzilla roll, one of Monster Sushi’s specialty rolls. The Godzilla roll consisted of spicy tuna with avocado and flying fish roe on the outside. I had heard that this roll was one of the most popular rolls in Monster Sushi and after having tasted it, I had a clear understanding as to why this was so. The Godzilla roll had the right amount of spiciness in the spicy tuna that blended well with the freshness of the tuna itself. Everything about this roll was perfection: the ratio of rice to fish and having all of the rich flavors within the roll all the while maintaining a light, fresh flavor.
Monster Sushi far exceeded my expectations of the typical Japanese restaurant. I absolutely loved the bento box; especially, because of the fact that I was able to have so many different dishes within one order. Although Monster Sushi is slightly more expensive than other Japanese restaurants, it is definitely worth the price considering the sizes of their rolls and the amount of food they give per entrée. My experience at Monster Sushi was wonderfully delicious and I would highly recommend this place to people who are hunting for some great Japanese cuisine without having to travel too far.
September 4, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Recently in New York, Brooklyn has become a popular hotspot in terms of housing, bars, and restaurants. All of the restaurant reviewers that I have been following have blogged about the up and coming restaurants in Brooklyn, raving about the innovative interior and the delicious food served. So I, too, have been widening my range of restaurants by visiting places located elsewhere from my local town Queens and Manhattan, branching out to Harlem and to Brooklyn. One of the restaurants that I dined in was noted in Yahoo for having the spiciest chicken in NYC, and I couldn’t help but to head over and try some of their infamous hot chicken.
From the name itself, Peaches Hothouse advertises the extreme heat that they use to cook their food. Amanda and I walked in through the restaurant and it was evident that Peaches Hothouse specialized in traditional southern food. We were seated immediately in the small restaurant as our waiter quickly explained the menu: Peaches Hothouse prides themselves in their Nashville Style hot chicken, which is what attracts diners in the first place. Our waiter further explained that there were three degrees of spiciness for the hot chicken, from regular, hot, then to extra hot. Fully relying on our Korean heritage and our distinct abilities to handle spicy food well, we ordered the extra hot chicken, sending our waiter into a state of shock. According to him, female diners like us were the ones who were daring enough to order the extra hot while the male diners who accompanied them settled for the regular. As a side for our extra hot chicken, we asked for a milder flavored corn on the cob. Apart from the chicken, we also ordered the fried shrimp po’ boy with aside of crispy grits.
Shortly after ordering our food, our waiter brought out two Arnold Palmers ( ½ iced tea, ½ lemonade) unique glass jugs and freshly baked cornbread. I have a tendency to judge southern restaurants by their cornbread, and Peaches Hothouse impressed me from the start with their warm cornbread. Sweet and crumbly, I had to ask for more of this delicious cornbread as we waited for our food. When our food came out, both of us weren’t too shocked at the look of the extra hot chicken. Sure, it was perfectly cooked – the fried skin of the chicken looked extremely crispy and it was clear that they knew a thing or two about frying chicken. But what disappointed us was how unintimidating the chicken looked in terms of its spiciness. Nonetheless, we dug in and soon realized how wrong we had been. Peaches Hothouse’s extra hot chicken is really extra hot. Although we couldn’t see it, the entire fried chicken breast was dusted with Cajun pepper, making it one of the spiciest chickens I’ve ever had. Taking one bite of this chicken brought tears to our eyes and we had to continuously ask for refills to alleviate the feeling from our mouths.
After we recovered from the extra hot chicken, we moved onto the shrimp po’ boy. Everything about this dish was perfect: the shrimp was fried perfectly, the bread was toasted well, and the dressing was a great accompaniment to the sandwich as a whole. The shrimp po’ boy, hands down, had all of the components in making a great southern dish. The sides that we ordered were delicious as well, both the crispy grits and the corn on the cob were perfectly seasoned.
Peaches Hothouse gave both of us a spicy food experience that we will never forget, and there’s no doubt as to why they were listed as having the spiciest chicken in NYC. Although their chicken was extremely spicy, it was also extremely delicious and tender. Commuting to Brooklyn is tedious and the train ride is lengthy, but Peaches Hothouse makes all of this completely worth it by providing quality southern food. I strongly recommend Peaches Hothouse if you’re willing to have a mind-blowing, tongue numbing experience, and if you can handle their hot chicken.
August 20, 2012 § Leave a Comment
After a long of week of seemingly endless work at the office, I finally had a day free to myself to spend doing whatever I felt like doing. So I headed out to Union Square with my sister, Rachel, to visit some bookstores around the neighborhood and also to grab a bite to eat. Right off of University Place, we walked into a Mexican restaurant called Tortaria for our late lunch – despite it being past regular lunch hours, Tortaria was packed with diners enjoying their meals. Rachel and I were seated at the bar, where we were given a thorough explanation of the wide variety of dishes on the menu.
Upon being seated, Frankie, the restaurant manager, recommended that we start off our meals with a frozen margarita, one of Tortaria’s famous drinks. The frozen margaritas come in different flavors every day, depending on what Frankie thinks would be the hit of the day, and I was given a pomegranate frozen margarita. Tortaria’s frozen margarita is an absolutely delightful concoction, with a sweet and fruity flavor blended with refreshing ice. In the musky and hot city, this drink is the perfect solution for beating away the heat. After receiving my drink, Rachel and I ordered the chips and guacamole as our appetizer. One great thing about Tortaria is that their guacamole is made fresh for every diner. When receiving an order of guacamole, a member of Tortaria’s staff quickly cuts open a fresh avocado to mix it in with the rest of the ingredients to make a customized guacamole bowl according to each diner’s preference. Made immediately on the spot, Tortaria’s guacamole was refreshing with bright flavors that popped out to complement the crispy tortilla chips.
Next came our taquitos. Each taquito is made with soft, white-corn Masa tortillas that have been individually hand-pressed after receiving the order. Because the tortillas are made fresh as well, I was definitely able to taste the authenticity of the taquitos as if I was really eating in the streets of Mexico. We ordered the Pescado taquito: a filet of crispy Red Snapper topped with a mango chipotle slaw and warm Costeno salsa, and the Carnitas: braised pork with crumbled Queso Fresco, pickled red onions, and tomatillo salsa. The Pescado taquito was absolutely amazing: the fish filet was crispy but not heavily fried and the mango-chipotle slaw with Costeno salsa added a mildly sweet and zesty flavor to the taquitos as a whole. The Carnitas were also delicious, with tender pork marinated with a sweet and spicy salsa to create unique tastes. Both taquitos were light and extremely well cooked, and we were thoroughly impressed.
Tortaria is also famous for their Mexican sandwiches, called tortas, and they take great pride in creating unique flavors for each dish. Tortas made at Tortaria are extremely fresh, using semolina bread baked locally every day. We ordered the Milanesa de Pollo, their most popular torta, the Crispy Eggplant, and the Mexican Grilled Cheese. After tasting the Milanesa dePollo, it was obvious why this was the most popular dish on the menu: with panko-crusted chicken cutlet topped with spicy black beans, melted Oaxaca cheese, avocado, pickled red onions and jalapeno, chipotle mayo, and cilantro sprigs, this torta is packed with fresh ingredients that make it the best Mexican sandwich you’ll ever eat. Slightly spicy and tangy, balanced with the tender and crispy chicken cutlet, the Milanesa de Pollo is simply amazing. The Crispy Eggplant torta is a vegetarian torta, with panko-crusted fried eggplant cutlets topped with Chihuahua cheese, avocado, fresh Piloncillo tomatoes, pickled jalapeno, fresh cilantro, and Tortaria’s Chipotle BBQ sauce. As you can see from the extensive list of ingredients, the Crispy Eggplant torta is also filled with great vegetables that add on to the overall flavor of the sandwich. What I liked the most about this torta was the fact that it was vegetarian Mexican dish; generally, Mexican food is based on meat, so having a vegetarian dish on the menu is definitely a crowd-pleaser. Lastly, the Mexican Grilled Cheese at Tortaria gave a unique twist to the classic grilled cheese sandwich. Using buttered Challah bread, the Mexican Grilled Cheese consisted of melted Oaxaca cheese, fresh Piloncillo tomatoes, chicken chicharrones, and roasted chipotle salsa. Chicken chicharrones are fried chicken skin which gives the grilled cheese a crunch, whereas the Piloncillo tomatoes add a slightly sweet flavor to the overall savory sandwich. All three sandwiches were well-made, tasted great, and uniquely crafted to give each diner an extraordinary Mexican dining experience.
To top off our meal, we ordered the Paleta de Horchata & Tequila Ice Pop, a popular dessert, as I saw many people ordering it. As a mix of liquor and ice pop, this particular dessert is a great way to combine two spectrums of food, with the youthful ice pop and adult tequila. This, too, was also an extremely light dish, ending our entire meal with an overall lightness that satisfied our hungry stomachs.
Everything about Tortaria is fresh, immediate, and carefully crafted, and there is no doubt as to why this restaurant is always buzzing with people. With a great brunch menu for the weekend, Tortaria offers a great selection of food for people with all tastes. I absolutely fell in love with their guacamole and taquitos, and I can’t wait to visit again to try the different combinations of Mexican food that Tortaria has to offer.
August 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
NYC’s Restaurant Week has recently come to an end and I had the pleasure in visiting one of the most renowned restaurants in the Meatpacking District. Located not far from the beautiful Highline Park, Fig &Olive was on the top of my list of restaurants to visit when Restaurant Week started. Amanda and I made our dinner reservation to have another fine dining experience.
Fig & Olive is an extremely well decorated European fusion restaurant with a highly modern interior. Everything about the restaurant, both the inside and the outside, was chic and we were greeted with the friendly hostess and waiter who showed us to our reserved table. Because it was still early for dinner, the restaurant was fairly empty, making the service much faster than what I had expected. Restaurant Week always has a three course prix fixe menu and Fig & Olive was not an exception. I ordered the chicken samosa as my appetizer, paella del mar as my entrée, and chocolate pot de crème as my dessert. Amanda also ordered from the Restaurant Week menu, getting the gazpacho de andalucia as her appetizer, the Fig & Olive summer chicken tajine as her entrée, and the chocolate pot de crème as her dessert.
Prior to getting our appetizers, the waiter brought out a plate of warm freshly baked bread with three different types of olive oils. Amanda and I really liked this bread platter, particularly because we were given the chance to try different flavors of nutty and fruity olive oils. Shortly after the bread, our appetizers came out and all I can really say is that both of our appetizers were superb, setting the bar high for what to expect for the rest of our meal. The chicken samosas that I had ordered were seasoned perfectly, covered in crispy and light puff pastry, topped with a sweet and tangy sauce. The gazpacho de andalucia that Amanda had ordered was fresh and simple, plated aesthetically to satisfy the diner. As for our entrées, we were even more impressed with Fig & Olive after tasting the first bite of our dishes. The paella del mar that I ordered was cooked perfectly, with the creamy rice combined with well-seared scallops on the side. Amanda’s chicken tajine was also grilled to perfection, but what she loved the most about her entrée was the grilled fig that came alongside the chicken. The overall savory dish was heightened by the sweetness of the fig, adding a great balance to the rest of the dish. Lastly, for the dessert, our chocolate pot de crèmes were the prefect finish to the entire meal – the desserts were light, fluffy chocolate that still had the rich, sweet flavor.
All three courses at Fig & Olive were light and fresh. Fig & Olive is smart with their flavors, creating refreshing yet innovative tastes using simple ingredients which ultimately result in great dishes. Although the general price for a meal at Fig & Olive is on the higher end, Restaurant Week provides a great opportunity for diners who want to enjoy a fine restaurant experience at an affordable price. I’m aware that Fig & Olive also has a cheese platter and crostini tasting that has been extremely popular amongst eaters, so I’ll be sure to try this out the next time I visit.
P.S. I really do wish that I brought along my DSLR to take better quality pictures – I was too engrossed by the quality meal that I had forgotten to take pictures of the interior & our desserts. What a shame, but I definitely know that I’ll be revisiting sometime soon, so expect better pictures for then!
P.P.S Good news, everyone. Restaurant Week has yet again been extended to September 3 – more time for me to visit those high end restaurants without losing all of my paycheck!
August 9, 2012 § Leave a Comment
My dream has always been to travel Paris to indulge in the art, culture, and food of France. But with school and work currently dominating my life, my plans of traveling will have to wait until I’m able to squeeze in some vacation time. When that time comes, I’ll be committed to trying all of the delicious food that France has to offer. But in the meantime, I’ve found a small local café that specializes in one of France’s most popular delicacies, crêpes. Vive la Crêpe! brings French street culture into the streets of New York.
Upon entering Vive la Crêpe! in Union Square, I met with the social media manager, Kate, who gave me information on the popular eatery. Focusing solely on crêpes and café drinks, Vive la Crêpe! aims to exude an aura of “authentic French coffee shop.” It succeeds: small yet homey, with wooden walls and chairs throughout the café, each employee at Vive la Crêpe! has been trained to perfectly create the signature delicate dessert in order to provide diners with an original French crêpe experience rather than turn it into something Americanized. The unique presentation of the crêpes is something to be admired: served in a cone, the crêpes, which are considered street food in France and served in food carts and small storefront windows for a quick eat, are easily portable and resemble over-sized ice creams that just as easily melt in your mouth.
My partner for the day, Maria, and I ordered one savory crêpe and one sweet crêpe to see if Vive la Crêpe! could tackle both worlds. From the extensive menu, we chose the spinach, goat cheese, mushroom and basil crêpe, as well as the Nutella crêpe. Soon after we ordered, we were holding two large cones of hot, freshly-made crêpes. The ingredients of our savory crêpe were fresh and clearly designed to be a healthier option with creamy goat cheese. The fresh spinach and basil, mixed with the distinct taste of goat cheese, gave this savory crêpe a light yet satisfying meal-like quality. According to Kate, this is one of the most popular crêpes on the menu. Our Nutella crepe was amazing as well, the soft crêpe sheets covered in nutty and chocolaty Nutella. Sweet and simple, the Nutella crêpe would be great as a light dessert or a snack to satisfy a sweet tooth. The layers of crêpe that encased these delicious ingredients were extremely soft and fluffy while still maintaining the traditional thin texture. None of the edges were crusty or over-cooked, and the crêpes were evenly chewy throughout.
Vive la Crêpe! is the perfect place to grab a quick bite to eat, as well as a place in which you can find a great cup of espresso — all for an affordable price. Better yet, Vive la Crêpe! has a smartphone application with a QR code so that diners can redeem a free crêpe with their first Vive la Crêpe! receipt (with no expiration date!). A hot spot in NYC, Vive la Crêpe!’s Union Square establishment has sister locations in NoLita, the West Village, and the Upper West Side so that people all over Manhattan can indulge in a great crêpe experience. Maria and I had a wonderful time at Vive la Crêpe!, and I can confidently say that you can grab the best crêpes here, right on the streets on New York City.
August 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Summer nights in NYC are absolutely beautiful; all of the city goers dine out in the restaurants that fill up each block and enjoy a relaxing night out with great eats. This past Saturday, I finally found sometime to myself where I could take a break from my usual routine of work, and I headed out to Bleecker Street with my good friend Amanda for a girls’ night out. Bleecker Street is extremely popular for having some of the best restaurants in the city and is a popular hot spot for people of all ages. Out of the many restaurants on Bleecker Street, Amanda and I dined at The Mussel Pot for a seafood experience that we were sure that we would love.
Known for having some of the best seafood in the West Village, The Mussel Pot takes great pride in their mussel pots, as their name states. The restaurant is warm toned with soft lights, exuding a romantic atmosphere throughout. The Mussel Pot also has a small garden behind the restaurants for diners who wish to have a peaceful outdoor dining in a busy Manhattan neighborhood, giving the diners a great chance to escape from the city. The Mussel Pot has an extensive list of drinks from an entire page of beer to specialty drinks. To start off our meal, Amanda and I each ordered a specialty drink: Amanda ordered the Hemingway daiquiri martini which contains rum, grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, and a maraschino cherry while I ordered the almond joy: a mix of Godiva white chocolate and Malibu coconut rum swirled with chocolate. Shortly after we ordered, our drinks arrived and it was clear that we were both greatly satisfied with our drinks. The Hemingway daiquiri martini was light with a tart sweetness to it, making it a great drink to start with. The almond joy that I had ordered was delicious as well, with a strong chocolate taste to it.
After receiving our drinks, we ordered our entrées right away. We started with the seafood rigatoni and Guinness battered fish and chips, our two seafood favorites. Then we ordered two different mussel pots: the Bouillabaisse and the Louisiana. One of the fun things about The Mussel Pot’s menu is that their mussel pots are named aptly by the region of the style that they’re cooked in. For example, the Bouillabaisse uses a French technique and ingredients, and the Louisiana utilizes great southern seasonings and ingredients such as okra. With six different regional categories, diners are able to experience different provincial dishes.
The seafood rigatoni and Guinness battered fish and chips arrived first and these two dishes simply blew us away. The rigatoni was cooked to a perfect al dente with an excellent creamy, cheesy sauce over it. The seafood rigatoni was overflowing with different types of seafood, containing baby shrimp, scallops, and mussels. All of the ingredients used were fresh and Amanda and I both loved this delightful dish. The Guinness battered fish and chips were also astounding. Lightly battered, perfectly seasoned, and cooked to a great crisp, the fish and chips were my personal favorite. The dish came with three different sauces: ketchup for chips, tartar sauce, and vinegar. The tartar sauce and vinegar were great additions to the dish, each giving different yet delicious flavors to the fried fish.
After we finished our two dishes, our long awaited mussel pots arrived in large stainless steel pots. The two mussel pots were steaming and packed with fresh mussels and seafood waiting to be devoured. The bouillabaisse contained fresh scallops, clams, shrimp, and a thick saffron broth –a classic French styled dish with a great richness to it. All of the seafood incorporated into the dish was well-cooked and the mussels were especially amazing. The natural taste of the sea within the mussels mixed with the saffron broth created a great balance of flavor to the mussel pot. The Louisiana contained Andouille sausage, baby shrimp, crawfish tails, gumbo sauce, and scallion. A classic American mussel pot, the Louisiana had a smoky heat to it that is often found in southern dishes. The bouillabaisse was rich and worked off the natural briny flavors of the seafood, while the Louisiana added a great contrast to it with its spices and distinctive seasonings. The two mussel pots were packed with flavor and were a great finish to our meal.
There’s no doubt that The Mussel Pot is one of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood – diners flowed in out and of the restaurant, crowding the place by peak dinner time. With friendly service, great atmosphere, and amazing food, there’s no surprise that The Mussel Pot is a favorite of many NYC diners. Amanda and I loved our experience at The Mussel Pot, and I highly recommend this place to seafood lovers and others alike who simply enjoy a quality meal in the city.
August 5, 2012 § 3 Comments
Before the storm hit NYC this past week, I roamed around the city with my two photographer friends, Janice and Jonathan, to search for a new lens for my beloved camera. With the help of these two, I bought my new lens and we were set on an adventure to find the perfect restaurant for dinner. Not searching too far from where we were on 18th street, we quickly looked up the top restaurants in the nearby neighborhood to find an Italian restaurant called Incognito Bistro. We walked in having absolutely no idea what this restaurant would offer us aside from basic Italian food, and all three of us were impressed with the modern chic interior that the restaurant displayed.
Upon entering, we were informed of the restaurant’s happy hour: from 4-7PM, a 2 course meal from the happy hour menu costs only $15 with a separate happy hour bar menu as well. Each of us ordered from the happy hour menu, starting with our appetizers. I ordered the calamari fritti with tartare sauce, Janice ordered the vegetable plate consisting of eggplant caponata, roasted fennel, sweet corn, and butternut squash, and Jonathan ordered the meatballs with rich marinara and garlic bread. The waiting time for our appetizers was short and our table was soon filled with well-prepared plates of Italian food. To begin with the calamari fritti, I have not a single bad thing to say about this dish. The calamari was well fried and not greasy at all, accompanied by a light but flavorful tartare sauce infused with lemon. Janice was a bit disappointed with her vegetable plate, being that she’s not a big fan of cold food. However, the vegetable plate was seasoned perfectly, each vegetable grilled to finesse and showing a nice caramelization. The meatballs and garlic bread that Jonathan ordered came with a rich marinara sauce, but they were, however, a bit too dry and salty.
Our entrées came out not too long after the appetizers were cleared – my cannelloni stuffed with beef and spinach, Janice’s fennel and mushroom pizza, and Jonathan’s Incognito burger with fontina cheese, guacamole, and frites. The cannelloni that I ordered was creamy, heavily topped with melted cheese and covered in rich tomato sauce. The dish itself was simple yet elegant and judging from the content of the dish, it was evident that all the ingredients used were fresh. Janice’s fennel and mushroom was another great entrée we had on our table: with the pizza’s crispy thin dough, creamy mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil, it was a light and traditionally Italian pizza. The Incognito burger that Jonathan ordered was phenomenal as well. All three of us loved the refreshing taste of the guacamole added to the succulent burger. What we did not like, on the other hand, were the frites that came as the side. These frites were literally covered in salt that we had to rub off the salt grains as we ate them.
With a beautiful bar and interior, Incognito Bistro definitely gives off an authentic Italian flair and it’s clear that Incognito Bistro takes great pride in this. Although the restaurant is casual, it is still fancy enough to be a perfect first date location. My photographer friends and I had a great time catching up with some great food and taking pictures of the beautiful dishes we ordered. I highly recommend Incognito Bistro to anyone who’s in town and craving quality Italian food.