Archive for the 'Chow Down' Category


mixing it up on the lower east side

It’s always good to have different types of friends, but things get complicated when one tries to combine all of their worlds into one night. Where to go and what to do to please everyone including a more high maintenance friend, a homosexual friend and an African American friend?  Although far, far away, the answer has to be the Lower East Side.

Although I virtually had to steal a cab from someone uptown to get all the way downtown on this particular blistery Saturday evening, it was worth the schlep. I was pleasantly surprised to not only find an incredible dinner venue but also to see how my friends from different walks of life all really enjoyed meeting each other and had a lot more in common than I ever thought.

I met my eclectic group of friends on the corner of Clinton and Rivington under an awning resembling any local storefront on the Lower East Side.  Inside, the aroma of classic home cooked, American food lingers in the air and a friendly staff member is waiting to seat you. Alias isn’t a new restaurant, but it’s a top notch homey venue that is better than Schiller’s, less expensive than Orchard and not quite as tumultuous as Allen and Delancy. 

The crowd is a mixed breed of trendy hipsters, Lower East Side bohemians and everything that falls smack in the middle. We couldn’t have fit in better!  Alias serves the classics such as Upstate Chicken, roasted Hanger Steak and handmade pasta which “Mama” couldn’t do better herself.  We were in no rush to leave the warm environment, especially when they serve Il Laboratorio ice cream sandwiches and apple pie a la mode.

So where to next with such a diverse cast of characters?  We would have to opt for THOR or The Hotel on Rivington where the crowd is usually a unique combination of “Euro trash,” swanky scenesters and Bridge and Tunnel. We started out at a really nice private party on the second floor where we had a friend’s holiday party, but ultimately made our way downstairs to where the real crazy scene was.

Eighties music blasts in the downstairs bar where the somewhat tacky crowd embraces their inner cheese, but it’s amazing to see how no matter what color, religion, race, sexuality or nationality someone is, everyone loves to sing and dance to Madonna’s “Holiday” and Toto’s “Africa!”


Rock The Boat In Midtown

Bar 44 and Brasserie 44, the trendy, new bar and restaurant just opened last week in the newly redesigned Royalton Hotel on 44th street between 5th and 6th Avenues.

Walking into the hotel you automatically get the feeling of a swanky boutique hotel in Miami. This shouldn’t cause any major shock value considering it is part of the same family as the Hudson, the Delano, the Mondrian and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Vegas.

What is unlike these other Mecca’s is that the Royalton is not quite the “hot spot” yet, but this is all a matter of timing. Give it through the holidays, because where else can the Viacom family, the Conde Nast group or most of the major law firms in the city go for large corporate events in that area?

Nowhere, so this almost “club like” new bar and restaurant will book up fast and furiously.

Bar 44, furnished by the same designer that did Lure Fishbar and Lever House, has that same sleek vibe, but there are a few different sections that are kept “private.” Private is a relative term considering the fact there are no doors to close and it’s very easy to sneak in to a section with an open bar for a signature drink on the house.

Bar 44 is a great place to go on a date for a drink in midtown, but if it’s a night where there are a few parties, it definitely can get loud. This was fine for me on the night I went, because MTV’s private party drowned out the screeches the 1 ½ old year girl I was with made when her Elmo hit the floor! I do recommend grabbing a seat by the fire if you can, because it’s clearly the “hot spot” in the place!

As for the restaurant, the food was very good. Have you been to Oceana or Daniel? Well that is where the chef was trained and he brought all of his skills with him to midtown. I do think for the portion size, the prices were a bit on the high end, but remember, this is also a place for corporate expense accounts and business lunches.

The restaurant portion of the lobby has a bit of a boat like feel to it. Like Lure Fishbar, there are large leather banquettes to relax in; rope arches over many of them, and teak wood throughout the restaurant. The staff is young and accommodating and helped the MTV party get drinks, helped the diners pick the best bets from the menu, and even read our little guest part of a story book.


Where To Eat?

Most of the restaurants east of Irving Place, below 14th Street and above Houston have been played out already.

Sure Frank is great, but we’ve been, and is it really worth waiting hours to be cramped into a cubby room? Hearth is a bit pricey for what it offers, Cacio e Pepe is “fine,” and the Mermaid Inn is delicious, but let’s venture out to the Upper West Side now and check out the new outlet.

Sure the NYU area is not ideal to dine in due to the amount of young students, frat-like bars and more “fast food” type restaurants, but now that Uno Chicago Pizzeria on 3d Avenue has closed its doors and THE SMITH has opened, there is a better option when you find yourself in the East Village.

The Smith is an American Brasserie that is casual but sleek. It is decorated in a vintage- like way with subway tile floors and a cool East Village neighborhood feel. Go for a drink to the long, spacious bar that serves no wine over $9 dollars and pick from a decent list of beers and creative mixed drinks. The menu serves everything from salads to full entrees, but it seems their signature dishes are “almost burnt” mac ‘n’ cheese and chips with cheese. I suggest you leave room for one of the large array of ice cream desserts available as well!

Granted, the place just opened, so be patient with the service and order an appetizer because the entrees definitely took a while to come out.

The Smith is just a standard American neighborhood joint with a great vibe, yet, a relaxed atmosphere. Don’t go expecting the food and service of Gramercy Tavern, but you won’t be disappointed. It’s enjoyable, straightforward and laid-back.

Also, be careful not to confuse The Smith with Smith’s that just opened on MacDougal. It seems 411 is a bit confused so don’t let them steer you toward the more expensive, more formal venue with almost the same name!


Dinner and a Movie Date Recommendation

Michael Clayton is an intense thriller as opposed to a quirky love story, however, I still recommend it as a great movie date selection. It’s a thought provoking film that will stir great conversation for the rest of the evening.

Upon first reflection, I hated the movie, but after thinking about it, why did I hate it? I hated it because it made me stressed and intense. It rattled me and shook my nerves up so much that I was edgy for two hours straight and desperately needed a drink.

Granted, looking at George Clooney is always comforting, but if this movie didn’t star the most sought after actor in Hollywood, would Michael Clayton have any endearing qualities? Clearly, yes. Any movie that can elicit these types of emotions is apparently a movie worthy of a Hollywood buzz .

Obviously this was an extreme movie, and in the end it made me question a lot of the big business’ I’m familiar with and the people that defend them. Don’t these industries have morals to guide their ultimate decisions? Are “fixers” like Michael Clayton truly necessary to break up powerful companies that are harming our livelihood?

In this powerful thriller perhaps we did, but after thinking about it I realize if it wasn’t for big business we wouldn’t have the food we eat, the medicines that cure us, the people to defend and the education provided to us. I was able to calm my nerves and justify the world in my own head.

But now it’s time for less contemplation, justification and rationalization, and more thought on where to eat and what to drink!

Who else to turn to than Steve Hanson, the restaurateur responsible for the B.R. Guest franchise (Ruby Foo’s, Blue Water Grill, Fiama, Level V). I’m not a big carnivore but I have to say I loved Primehouse because of its twist on the typical steakhouse experience. It doesn’t try too hard to be a “female” steakhouse like STK, but is not overwhelmingly manly like Wolfgang’s.

Although it is an enormous venue, its friendly staff and not too eclectic architecture gives it a homey feel, filled with geometric design and an art deco aesthetic. The menu is a great combination of classic steakhouse offerings with a twist of the chef’s own personal touches.

So in the end Michael Clayton and Primehouse New York was a date combining the best of both worlds. Thought provoking, mindful, reflection and conversation, combined with indulgence, pleasure a slight buzz to lead to perhaps a second date????



Jinx No Longer – So Share It with Someone Lucky

There are certain addresses in Manhattan that no matter what restaurant opens in place of the last one, it doesn’t work out for one reason or another. For example, the spot on 22nd Street that once was Commune, then Rocco’s (during the failed reality TV show), followed by Caviar and Bananas and eventually, what we call now, Borough Food and Wine. I think certain city locations are just simply jinxed as if the Hope Diamond was buried under their kitchens.

Accademia di Vino, the new venue at 1081 Third Avenue, is one of these bad luck addresses, which, I hope, will break this cursed locality. It’s the “sister” restaurant of Cesca on the Upper West Side and is considered Italian like its older sibling.

There is a full restaurant downstairs with a great private area, but last night we preferred to be more social and sit in the bar upstairs where people can either sit at a long wooden bar or choose to dine at a high table along the windows. The bar menu includes all the Salumis, Paninis, Carpaccios, Tartars, Pizzas, Sushi and salads as the restaurant menu and clearly, as the name implies, there is a vast wine list. It’s not easy finding a good after work bar where you can also share light fare and appetizers and I highly recommend Accademia di Vino, even it means a special trip to the Upper East Side.

Now, only because I promised to share funny escapades, I must share a little incident that occurred. I must admit, the crowd at AdV was a bit mixed. There were old folks, young kin (who I’m not sure were quiet 21), couples, singles and everything in between. This being said, my single girlfriend and I were sitting, sharing some appetizers, drinking some fantastic Montepulciano, when a strange (and I don’t mean because we didn’t know him and he was a strang”er”) man walked by, picked up my friends bread, ate half of it in one bite and put the rest back on her plate.

Now I missed this all occur, but the waitress (who was very sweet despite her butter fingers dropping a tray or two), saw it and gave a questioning stare. The man proceeded to walk away, but my feisty friend decided to throw the remaining bread at his head. After the shock wore off that she actually did this, and a short flick off with his hand, he did leave the bar and we got to finish the rest of our Tartars and Carpaccios in peace!

Like the new auspicious restaurant AdV, my friend and I were fortunate enough to leave with a great buzz, full from delicious food, and had a lot of laughs while there!

Bon Appetite!


Waverly Inn, I Think Out

I don’t know Graydon Carter, nor do I know his people, his cell phone number or the number of his restaurant that apparently doesn’t deal with plebeians like me anyway. I know the Waverly Inn is somewhere to go and be seen, but to be honest, no one there is going to know who you are, care that your are there or remember you ever even stepped foot in to the place.

Personally, it sounds more like a venue for stress and “Inn-digestion” than a fun scene.

During your meal, you’ll probably be too busy looking around for Gwyneth, Jimmy, Harvey or Graydon himself to pay any attention to the person you went in with and you’ll leave probably frustrated because you never sat, never saw anyone, or wasn’t treated with any form of respect.

From my understanding, the mediocre food is overpriced, not well prepared and served impersonally. Of course this is all hearsay, however, I would rather go somewhere where patrons are respected upon arrival and not meant to wait hours at an overstuffed bar with barely a glimmer of hope that a table will come up before midnight.

I think I’d rather head nearby to Café Cluny or Extra Virgin, where beautiful people go because they are hungry for both great, reliable food and for a good time with no stress involved. Environments that are easy to get along in, get good service and food at and be able to mingle with those who surround you, without staring over their shoulders to see who “MAY” be behind them.