Tacombi

There’s nothing quite like Tacombi in this city. At least not that I’ve seen.

tacombi guacamole

guacamole

With a barely noticeable facade located just south of Houston on Elizabeth Street, it’s a wonder anyone finds Tacombi among the bustle of Nolita. Once you enter, you’re transported to a new world of sparkling sangria and loud Bob Dylan music and a VW bus purveying tacos parked in the center of the floor. You are handed a double-sided paper menu and are instructed to sit in one of the folding chairs beside bright yellow tables with four different kinds of “homemade” hot sauces to choose from. You notice that you’re sitting next to two sinks flanked by paper towels with signs demanding that employees wash their hands. You wonder why there are sinks in the middle of a restaurant, but take it as part of Tacombi’s charm. You notice a bright blue-and-yellow burst on the wall near the kitchen that says “Tacombi” and you consider the meaning of the word. You search for the word on Google when you get home and cannot find any sensible definition, so you’re left pondering what exactly the experience of Tacombi meant to you.

You order guacamole with chips (totopos) because this is what you do at Mexican restaurants. You enjoy the guacamole and notice a hint of spice, perhaps chili powder, within the great avocado mush. For drinks, you and your dining partner order sparkling sangria, forgoing the various juices (watermelon!) they have on the menu. The sparking sangria is served to you in giant plastic glasses with straws and you slurp it down quickly, ignoring the fruit floating throughout because there isn’t any silverware on the table to use to fish out the pieces of apple.

tacombi tacos

tacos

For entrees, you order tacos, because this is what you’re meant to order at Tacombi (they have quesadillas, too). You’ve heard that the maiz y poblano (cheese) taco is extraordinary, so you get two of those and enjoy them greatly. You also order a pollo taco because you fear spicy food and want something basic. The pollo taco doesn’t impress you, and you return to the second maiz y poblano taco. You order rice and beans on the side, because they’re delicious, and you delight in the soupy black beans mixed with short grain rice.

In addition to his various tacos (his favorite being the al pastor), your dining partner orders esquites, or toasted corn in a cup with chipotle mayo. It is delicious. This is what you had on your food tour that you went on last weekend, and your dining partner had been thinking of esquites all throughout the week.

Your waiter asks you if you want anything else, and you politely decline because Tacombi has adequately filled your gut with delicious foods. You (or your dining partner) pay the bill and you leave a generous tip because Tacombi has treated you well. You escape Tacombi and abscond into the dark, frigid night, heading uptown toward 14th Street where the energy is up and the Strand bookstore awaits you.

Tacombi

267 Elizabeth Street, between Prince and Houston

Nolita, New York

Take the N/R to Prince, or the 6/F/B/D/M to Bleecker-Lafayette.

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Gramercy Terrace

gramercy terrace iceberg wedge

iceberg wedge

Wait, do you mean Gramercy Tavern? No, no I don’t. And though they’re both owned by the Union Square Hospitality Group (the brainchild of Danny Meyer [of Shake Shack fame]), Gramercy Terrace is nothing like Gramercy Tavern–except for its supple sophistication.

Located on the roof of the Gramercy Park Hotel–whose feel transports you back a few centuries–Gramercy Terrace is a well-lit space (and surprisingly warm in the winter months) where summer cocktails are often consumed. In fact, it’s been rated one of the best rooftop bars in the city–and I get it. It’s gorgeous and quiet, and you feel like you’re afar from the city, yet of it (as demonstrated by the towering buildings that you can view from your seat).

My lady dining partner and I visited Gramercy Terrace for restaurant week (which I’ve discussed). Just a few blocks from our office, it presented a nice departure from the hum-drum of the neighborhood lunch offerings. We got all gussied up–MLDP wearing her finest fur, me in a cute black dress–and made our way over there, to find a comfortably serene restaurant awaiting us.

gramercy terrace burger

burger

For appetizers, we both ordered the iceberg wedge, drenched in Maytag blue cheese and covered with bacon strips. “I’m not sure how to eat this,” said MLDP, but we both dug in. Before the salad, we were served salt-and-pepper popcorn in a cute tin, which was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed my iceberg wedge, and I believe MLDP would say the same.

I got the cheeseburger for my lunch entree, which came with spicy fries and a tiny milkshake with a red-and-white straw. The milkshake was just so cute, I had to drink it (even though I initially protested–MLDP was supportive in its eventual consumption). The burger was juicy and the hint of “fancy” sauce eluded my palate–I couldn’t place the flavor–but this was, by no means, my favorite burger. The spicy fries were overly spiced, in my humble opinion, but were fine.

MLDP ordered the (gramercy) Waldorf salad, which notably featured slices of celery, but too much of it in MLDP’s opinion. It looked good, but was on the small side, and was accompanied by two slices of sesame-coated French bread–a nice touch.

gramercy terrace apple crisp

apple crisp

For dessert, I opted for the apple crisp, which had cubed apples within and was topped by delectable vanilla ice cream. MLDP got the brownie sundae–a rich, chewy-enough brownie with vanilla ice cream and candied pretzels. Yum! So good.

A waiter (or somebody who worked at Gramercy Terrace) came over to ask how our meal was, and we told him it was excellent. He went on to explain that while Gramercy Terrace strives to serve up comfort food, they do it with a flair of sophistication. I must agree. Everything at Gramercy Terrace–from the tiny milkshake to the waitress’ insistence on addressing us by “ma’am”–added up to a highly sophisticated experience.

Though the food is great, Gramercy Terrace is only open for breakfast, brunch and lunch. You’ll have to just go to Gramercy Tavern–have I thoroughly confused you yet?–for your nighttime meal.

Gramercy Terrace

2 Lexington Avenue (between 21st and 22nd streets)

Gramercy, New York

Take the 6 to 23rd Street and walk south. Gramercy Terrace is located in the Gramercy Park Hotel.

Emporio + Cake Boss Cafe

Last weekend, MDP and I went on a food tour of Nolita and Noho courtesy of MDP’s kind cousin Jan. The tour was extraordinary! We sampled Brooklyn blackout cupcakes and homemade ricotta on multigrain toast among other delightful treats on our three-hour culinary journey.

emporio prosciutto and arugola pizza

prosciutto and arugola pizza

One of the stops was Emporio, where we tried a beautiful slice of prosciutto and arugola Roman-style pizza. As I munched on the gigantic slice, extra virgin olive oil streamed down my sleeve–a delectable treat for later. I knew we would make our way back to Emporio some day. Who knew it would be a mere six days later?

Emporio is tucked away on Mott Street, down below Prince where high-end boutiques are the neighborhood norm. Emporio is nothing like it’s neighborhood would suggest, though. It isn’t boastful or cold, no. It exudes a warm, serene ambiance and a no-nonsense Italian menu that lingers on the palate for many delightful moments after the completion of the meal.

We ordered the kale salad for an appetizer, though we eyed the Fritto Misto and the burrata. Considering we were planning to have the prosciutto and arugola pizza, which is made with mozzarella, we decided against the burrata–though, it was, I must admit, a painful choice. The scrumptious kale salad was accompanied by delectable roasted squash and bits of pomegranate strewn throughout, and topped with rich slices of grana padano. It was a light, excellent way to begin our meal at Emporio.

For the main course, we split a special pasta course called I Casarecci made with eggplant, tomato and whole wheat, homemade pasta, and the prosciutto and arugola pizza. The pasta was divine! I highly recommend Emporio’s pasta, by way of the recommendation of our fantastic tour guide from last week. She raved about the homemade delicacies coming out of their pasta maker, and I second her support. The pizza was just incredible. Made with a not-quite-Neopolitan thin crust, the prosciutto and arugola pizza is a white pie (no sauce) cooked in a wood-fire oven where the convection of the heat is so strong, the pizza takes just four minutes to bake. Once the pizza is out of the oven, it is topped with handfuls of arugola, slices of prosciutto, cherry tomatoes and slices of grana padano. The result is one of the best pizzas I’ve had. Ever. I highly recommend Emporio’s pizza.

cake boss cafe treats

cake boss cafe treats

Instead of trying Emporio’s desserts (the Nutella calzone is the option to get for dessert, by the way), we went up to the newly minted Cake Boss Cafe up on 42nd and 8th, in the north wing of the inimitable Port Authority Bus Terminal. Cake Boss Cafe takes up a large chunk of the corner, and rightfully so. With good lighting and ample seating, it’s easy to make yourself at home at this Buddy Valastro establishment. Unlike Carlo’s Bakery, the line isn’t too overwhelming at Cake Boss Cafe. They have their signature cake in the form of beautifully decorated cupcakes, alongside cannolis, lobster tails, Napoleons, and other Italian treats (such as pignoli cookies which are, by far, my favorite cookies).

We ordered a lobster tail and an orange flower-topped cupcake. The lobster tail was divine! Think: a thick, crusty, flaky croissant filled with silky cream in the shape of a lobster tail. And the cupcake wasn’t bad either, although the sweet, soft bakery cake reminded me of Entenmann’s.

I’d recommend Cake Boss Cafe, especially if you’re getting on a bus to New Jersey (or somewhere else). But I can see it becoming a tourist trap, much like the sorry Five Guys outpost located on 42nd next to Chevy’s. What were they thinking?

Do try Emporio, at the very least!

Emporio

231 Mott Street

Nolita, New York

Take the N/R to Prince Street and walk east a few blocks.

Cake Boss Cafe

Corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue

Times Square, New York

Take the A/C/E to 42nd Street and exit near 8th Avenue.

Yerba Buena Perry

Located on the corner of Perry Street and Greenwich Avenue, Yerba Buena Perry serves up Latin flavors that delight the palate.

yerba buena perry skirt steak

skirt steak with avocado salad

MDP and I tried Yerba Buena Perry for its Restaurant Week menu (which MDP didn’t even order from, but we’ll get to that later). Out of all the available menus on the NYC GO website, Yerba Buena Perry’s looked best to me. As an aside: I really hate Restaurant Week(s) [it’s actually roughly four weeks long] because they never give you a “good” deal. Often times, the restaurant puts subpar dishes on the Restaurant Week menu, and, really, an appetizer and a dessert all for yourself is a bit much.

Anyway, Yerba Buena Perry had a nice beets salad, a skirt steak and two desserts I was eyeing on their menu, so I thought, let’s give it a try.

The beets salad was a plate of greens with hardly any beets to speak of mixed in. There were candied pecans, too, which were also sparsely arrayed. MDP ordered the croquetes de queijo, which were tiny fried cheese balls accompanied by salsa verde–and they were scrumptious!

yerba buena perry Lechon Confitado

lechon confitado

My skirt steak came with a tangy avocado salad and some yucca fries (or tiny balls of yucca occasionally appearing on the plate). The steak was PERFECTLY cooked and the avocado salad was delicious, but don’t get too excited since the skirt steak isn’t on their usual dinner menu. MDP got the lechon confitado, a plate of suckling pig with sunchoke-black truffle puree drizzled on the side of the platter and kale-red chiles to go with it. The pork was excellent and the kale was to-die-for. MDP said that he typically doesn’t like kale because it’s so tough (and I protested that it’s so good for you, who cares what the texture is like), but he actually enjoyed this kale for its tenderness and flavor.

For dessert, MDP and I split the dessert that came with my menu: the cheesecake brownie, which was confusing in that it was cheesecake in the shape of a brownie, but not dense or chewy like a brownie–if you know what I mean. It was rich and came with a random scoop of vanilla ice cream.

One gripe I have about Yerba Buena Perry is the seating arrangement. We had a reservation, which usually means your party will get seated at a prime table (after all, you’ve made a premeditated commitment to the restaurant). We were put beside a gabbing couple of middle-aged women, but not exactly put beside them–put nearly on top of them. Then, I figured they wouldn’t seat anyone to the right of me on the banquet I sat upon, but no, they had to put another table for two in my lap. What was odd about this was that there was a huge center section of the restaurant where nobody was sitting. Why not seat people there?

I probably won’t go back to Yerba Buena Perry because the seating arrangement gave me so much anxiety, but you might want to try it–and bear the tables/chairs situation–during loathsome Restaurant Week because that skirt steak is so damn good.

Yerba Buena Perry

1 Perry Street

Greenwich Village, New York

Take the 1/2/3 to 14th Street. Walk south on 7th Avenue and left onto Greenwich Avenue.

 

Baoguette

What constitutes a Banh Mi sandwich? Is it the julienned carrots? Or the crisp, crusty hoagie on which the sandwich contents lay? I couldn’t tell you. But what I can tell you is that Baoguette has extraordinary Banh Mi.

bbq chicken banh mi at baoguette

bbq chicken banh mi

Located in a hole-in-the-wall on Lexington near 26th Street, Baoguette sells noodles, rolls, and salads in addition to their signature Banh Mi sandwiches. For Banh Mi, there is a nice selection of flavors to choose from: the Baoguette (with pork), BBQ chicken, catfish, a sloppy Bao, and a veggie sandwich.

I opted for the BBQ chicken sandwich which came with pickled daikon, cilantro, cucumber, and a delicious garlic aioli. The bread was perfect, the fillings a delight. I was in heaven. And, the sandwich was free for some reason.

My lady dining partner ordered the Baoguette which is topped with terine, pate, and fresh herbs. She seemed to be in heaven, too, so I’d say go with the Baoguette when you try it out.

There’s another Baoguette down by Wall Street, for you financial buffs out there.

I highly recommend it!

Baoguette

61 Lexington Ave. (between 25th and 26 streets)

Murray Hill, New York

Take the 6 to 28th Street. Walk east one block and south two blocks. It’s on the east side of Lexington.

Recipe Attempted: French Apple Cobbler

In the mood for peach cobbler, I scoured the local grocery store, in search of ripe peaches. Well, silly me, it’s clearly no longer peach season, so when I finally found them, I wasn’t too surprised to see that these (imported) peaches were about $4 per pound.

So, still angling for a cobbler, I decided on an apple version instead. I selected five perfectly round Granny Smith apples from the grocery store and picked up a box of sugar, and was on my way.

The recipe is fairly straightforward, although I wish they had mentioned up front that the oven needs to be set at 375 (I searched and searched through the recipe to finally find the oven temp.). I chose this recipe, of all the recipes that came up in my Google search, because it treated the apples with cinnamon, flour, water and vanilla–which, I though, would enhance the flavor of the cobbler. And I was right.

french apple cobbler

french apple cobbler

The delicately sliced apples are soft and supple, while the minimal cobbler topping is just enough to thicken out the dessert.

Yum!

 

Topaz Thai Restaurant

I love Thai food, don’t you? It’s so nice to live in New York and have a panoply of Thai restaurants to choose from. Last night, MDP and I went to Topaz, an old favorite located past Carnegie Hall on 56th Street.

topaz curry puffs

curry puffs

Just take a few steps down from street level and you enter a world of delicious food. Topaz seats about 40 people, give or take a few, and is often bustling with guests, many of whom seem to be tourists. But don’t mistake Topaz for a tourist trap, no. This isn’t like Guy Fieri’s new restaurant or “the world’s largest Applebee’s” over on 50th and 7th.

No, Topaz is a real treat. I called ahead for a reservation, and upon arriving, was greeted as “Miss Nicole” and was promptly seated.

We ordered the curry puffs for an appetizer, and though they took a long time to get to us, they were well worth the wait. The crispy, flaky exterior belied a perfectly spiced, soft inside. They were on the small side–much smaller than Yum Yum’s, for example, but Topaz offered three (to Yum Yum’s two), so all was well.

For an entree, I opted for the Drunken Noodles, possibly my favorite Thai dish. Rife with julienned carrots, Chinese broccoli and flat, wide noodles that perfectly absorb the dish’s juices, Drunken Noodles warned to be on the spicy side (indicated by a small chili pepper beside its name on the menu). I ordered it anyway–and paid the price this morning–but it was quite delicious. I can’t tell you if this is Topaz’s best noodle dish, as it’s the only one I ever order because it’s just that good.

topaz drunken noodles

drunken noodles

MDP got the Lovely in the Golden Nest, which is a rather ornate way of saying “chicken with cashew nuts on a bed of crispy Chinese noodles.” The noodles form the eponymous nest, and the cashew chicken lays atop them. This was on the sweet side, and tinged with a flavor of celery (which I don’t care for in this dish, but it’s always there. Such is life). MDP must have enjoyed it since he didn’t leave anything–not even a fragment of a Chinese noodle–to spare.

All in all, Topaz is quite good, especially for its neighborhood filled with crappy diners and fast food fare.

Topaz

127 West 56th Street between 6th and 7th avenues

Midtown West, New York

Take the N/Q/R to 57th-7th and walk south one block, then west on 56th Street.

Joy Burger Bar

joy burger bar burger and fries

burger and fries

The name conjures warmth, doesn’t it? Joy Burger Bar.

When you walk into the corner burger shop at 100th and Lexington, you’ll see a handful of tables and a literal burger bar where you can order your food. This is another one of those places where you order the food and then sit down–which, as I’ve stated, gives me anxiety about finding a seat to eat.

But, luckily, we got to Joy just in time, before the hungry masses came in about 30 minutes after we sat down.

There are a few nice things about Joy.

First, they offer three different sizes for the hand-packed, fresh ground meat burger you can order: 3 oz., 5, oz. and 8 oz. I chose the 5 oz. burger because I wasn’t extremely hungry that night. MDP got the same.

Second, Joy allows you to put as many toppings on the burger as you want and they have delectable sauces to go around. I chose the garlic mayo, avocado, cheddar and raw onion to top my burger, while MDP got the lettuce, tomato, sauteed onion and chili sauce for his. He ordered a pickle, too, but that came on the side for some reason. My burger was outstanding! Though, MDP said it doesn’t compare to the Shake Shack, his burger must have been pretty good since he put it away fairly quickly.

joy burger bar patatas

patatas

Third, Joy’s beers are only $4! How can you beat that? Maybe they’re priced competitively for the neighborhood. Whatever the reason may be, we were happy to enjoy a Blue Moon and a Sam Adams for the price of one beer anywhere else.

Fourth, Joy offers a number of delicious sides, such as traditional french fries, sweet potato fries or as they term them “patatas,” onion rings and more. I especially enjoyed the patatas, which are accompanied by pure maple syrup–yum! A little sweet, a little salty, a little piece of heaven.

Lastly, Joy gives you a playing card with your meal. When your food is ready, they’ll call “Queen of Hearts” or whatever card you received. I liked this. It’s a cute, quirky touch to the feel of the ambiance.

After dining at Joy, we walked down to 86th Street and went to the Shake Shack for a concrete. Talk about mad house. There were people sitting on every perch they could possibly find to eat their meals. It was insane and exactly the kind of set up that gives me gut-wrenching anxiety.

Do try Joy, whether you’re in the ‘hood or not. It’s just a quick 6 train ride up to 103rd, then a challenging walk up a steep hill to get to the burger shop. Everything is cheap, everything is delicious. Go, tonight!

Joy Burger Bar

1567 Lexington Avenue (at 100th Street)

East Harlem, New York

Take the 6 to 103rd, walk south three blocks. It’s on the east side of the street.

Noodle Bar

kimchee pancakes at noodle bar

kimchee pancakes

On their website, Noodle Bar proclaims to offer diners “something special.” If a drafty interior with cramped tables and spare seating is what they consider to be “something special,” then surely they’ve delivered.

It’s not all that bad, I swear, but it’s not all that great either.

We got there just in time, before the mad rush for dinner set in. I could feel the patrons slowly approaching Noodle Bar as I waited for MDP outside, but kept calm–there were still several tables available within. But then I noticed that Noodle Bar only accepts cash for payment, so MDP and I scoured Bleecker Street for an ATM location, finally found one and hurried back to Noodle Bar before the popular (read: dreaded) 7 o’clock time rolled around.

Once we sat down, we dove into the menu, carefully reading each dish and its description. Noodle Bar has quite an extensive menu, with Wok-fired dishes, traditional noodles, broth noodles and rice entrees to offer.

We quickly reviewed the “small plates” aka appetizers and selected the kimchee pancakes and sesame chicken wings to start.

Singapore noodles at Noodle Bar

singapore noodles

You can probably tell from the picture that the kimchee pancakes were abundantly fried. By “abundantly” I mean “more so than necessary.” The fry was all I could taste. I’m not even sure kimchee was in these pancakes. Of course, MDP enjoyed them, because he’ll eat anything fried, but I was disappointed by this dish. The sesame chicken wings didn’t please me either. Flavorless (but for the garnish on top) and sticky, the wings were edible, but I can’t say much more about them.

For my entree, I ordered the Singapore noodles with chicken. A hot, steaming bowl of rich, red coconut-curry broth with Udon noodles was presented to me, with an egg floating in the upper hemisphere of the bowl. I wasn’t quite sure why they included an egg with this dish–are eggs popular in Singapore?–but I handed it off to MDP for his dining pleasure. Complex in flavor, the deep red curry broth was outstanding. I drank all of it, and left a great deal of my Udon behind. (But I ate all the chicken and tofu that came with the dish.) I quite enjoyed the Singapore noodles, and I think you would too if you like slightly spicy broth. The other contender for dinner was the BBQ Pork & Crispy Vegetable Wonton broth noodles, but I think I made the correct choice.

mee goreng at noodle bar

mee goreng

MPD ordered the Mee Goreng noodles, which is egg noodles with shrimp, tomato, bean sprouts, fried tofu and his beloved potato. (MDP loves potatoes! I can make them in any fashion and he’ll eat them, but then again, he’ll eat just about anything I make, which is nice.) I tried a forkful, since I was having trouble with the chop sticks, and it tasted pretty good. MDP seemed to enjoy them, as he cleaned the plate, so I’d recommend that.

Because it took about 10 minutes for someone to take our order, we figured it would take just as long to get change from the waitress, so we left a generous tip. It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? Terrible service should not equal extra cash, but we only had a five instead of a few singles to leave behind.

All in all, I’d recommend Noodle Bar to someone who wanted a quick fix of pan-Asian noodle selections. In addition to the West Village outlet, there’s another Noodle Bar down on the Lower East Side, I believe. That one may have a better seating situation, and it may truly deliver “something special” to its diners.

Noodle Bar

26 Carmine Street (just off Bleecker)

West Village, New York

Take the A/B/C/D/E/F/M to West Fourth Street. Walk south on Sixth Avenue, turn right onto Carmine Street and cross Bleecker. It will be on the left.