Tamarind Tea Room

Situated just off Park on 22nd Street, the tiny Tamarind Tea Room is adjacent to the proper Tamarind restaurant you may have heard so much about. Their Indian fare is legendary, and the Tea Room certainly reflects the level of service and quality consistent with the larger restaurant.

tikka malai

tikka malai sandwich

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I visited Tamarind Tea Room for lunch and ordered off their limited menu of inspired sandwiches, salads and appetizers. They make up for the short entrée list with a lengthy tea inventory and a page and a half devoted to desserts. The physical menu itself is adorable—a small leather binder with the simple Tamarind logo embedded on the cover. You’ll feel at home flipping through the pages, taking in the various delectables the Tea Room has to offer.

For my entrée, I opted for the tikka malai sandwich. Chunks of chicken straight from the tandoor oven filled a delicious wrap, with onion and bell pepper making an appearance. MLDP ordered the spinach kofta sandwich with mint-chutney dressing that looked quite good. On another occasion, I tried the saag paneer sandwich that was extraordinary—giant pieces of paneer cradled in a wrap with fresh leaves of spinach. It was scrumptious.

creme brulee

creme brulee

I had tried the mango cheesecake during my first visit to the Tea Room, and declared it one of the best cheesecakes I had ever tried. Well, a visit to Tamarind Tea Room wouldn’t be complete (to my mind) without getting the mango cheesecake again, so that’s what I did. With a creamy, mousse-like texture, the cheesecake sits delicately on a wide plate in two beam-like structures, with dots of caramel as garnish. MLDP wanted crème brulee, so she ordered the lemon and cardamom inflected dish, which had a thin, crisp exterior of burned sugar—delicious! We also ordered coffee, and even that was good.

If you’re in the Flatiron neighborhood, make a point of stopping at Tamarind Tea Room for lunch.  You won’t be sorry.

Tamarind Tea Room

41-43 22nd Street (off Park Avenue)

Flatiron, New York

Take the 6 to 23rd Street and walk south to 22nd Street. Alternatively, take the N/R to 23rd and Broadway and walk south one block, then turn left onto 22nd Street.

Advertisements

MP Taverna

So, you want some chicken souvlaki. What do you do? You go to Astoria, where Greeks have made a point to settle and share their delectable cuisine. But, with all the options available, which restaurant do you choose? I’ll make it easy for you. MP Taverna is where you want to go. Here’s why.

mp taverna meatballs

meatballs

Chef Michael Psilakis’ Astoria outpost is gorgeous. Situated on a corner steps away from a busy intersection (and two CVS pharmacies, for some reason), MP Taverna is a pleasure to walk into. When you enter, you pass by a long bar on your way to the back of the narrow interior. There’s an upstairs, and I’m not sure what happens up there, but the downstairs area is certain to be hopping. We were seated at the rear of the first floor at table for two with a distinctive light source overhead, shedding just the right amount of illumination on our table.

Laminated menus were presented to us with an extensive beer and wine list on the back. I selected a beer I had never tried before; one that was inflected with vanilla flavors and a certain punch at the end. MDP ordered a rye whiskey. The waiter was garrulous, sharing reflections on the current beers on tap and the appetizer selection. He recommended that we order an additional appetizer in addition to the three dips that we planned to try, so we opted for the calamari, which took some time to arrive. Good thing Chef Michael Psilakis was on hand–he sent out a complimentary order of the most delicious meatballs I’ve ever tried in my life to satisfy us while our calamari was prepared. The crisp-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside meatballs were made from lamb, I think, with generous bits of parsley integrated. They were served with a yogurt-dill sauce, which was a welcome change from my childhood experience with meatballs drenched in gravy.

mp taverna dumplings

dumplings

The calamari was worth waiting for. Octopus was mixed in with chickpeas and cauliflower, all doused in the same batter and flash fried to an ideal texture. The calamari was served with a yogurt-dill sauce and a tomato sauce. I favored the yogurt to the tomato, just because I felt it was a little bit more Greek. I enjoyed the chef’s interpretation of this dish.

And the not-to-be-overlooked dips were excellent, as well. We received chick pea, yogurt and eggplant dips neatly arranged in a cute tray. The yogurt one, which featured bits of cucumber and dill, was far and away my favorite, with the delicious chick pea/sun-dried tomato one as a close second. The eggplant dip was fine, but not nearly as flavorful as the other two. I’d still recommend ordering the three dip combo, as opposed to separate dips, since they’re all worth trying. And the pita that was served with the dips was divine–so tender, so thin, I’ve never had pita like this in my life.

For our entrees–which I was sure I would be too full to sample–I opted for the chicken souvlaki, while MDP ordered the dumplings. The chicken souvlaki was served with the most delicious “smashed” fries, which were steak-like fries condensed into tender, potato crisps. They were fantastic. I wish I could say the same for the chicken souvlaki itself. The flavor of kalamata olives overtook the entire wrap for some reason, even though only a few kalamatas were included. I favor a more mild souvlaki than this one, but I ate most of it anyway. The chicken was fine and the ingredients were clearly fresh.

mp taverna baklava

baklava

MDP’s dish was incredible. Bits of dumpling were covered with spicy lamb sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, feta and spinach, with some pine nuts mixed in. The dumplings themselves were extremely tender and delicious, and the accent of feta and lamb sausage delighted my palate. I greatly enjoyed his dish, and I suspect it’s one of MP Taverna’s signature offerings, so you might want to try it.

At any Greek restaurant, it’s just about law that you need to have their baklava for dessert, and so we did. But MP Taverna’s baklava is an interesting interpretation of the traditional dish. Instead of thin, light layers of phyllo dough, their baklava features three thick layers of dough that is far crispier and dense than phyllo. A seasoned apple mixture was part of the dessert, with some pistachios making a brief cameo. The real highlight of the dish (for me, anyway) was the fascinating ice cream that accompanied the baklava. It tasted of almond extract and cardamom, and was quite good.

Though the service was erratic and the place seemed a bit disorganized overall, MP Taverna is not to be missed. If you haven’t been to Astoria, you should really see it. And going to MP Taverna is the perfect excuse to visit the popular Queens neighborhood.

MP Taverna

31-29 Ditmars Boulevard

Astoria, New York

Take the N/Q to the very last stop in Queens. Walk around the corner. 

San Francisco Food Tour

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I decided to take a trip to San Francisco last week. We had a great time! Although the city is gorgeous for its ambitious hills and lovely bay, the architecture left something to be desired. The city literally lacks luster, in stark contrast to shiny New York. But, the food is pretty good, so it’s definitely got something going for it. If you’re visiting any time soon, follow my food guide to learn about what to try and what to avoid.

We started our journey with a trip to the inimitable In-N-Out Burger on Jefferson Street. A trip to California wouldn’t be complete without a stop at this incredible burger joint. I had a Double Double and Animal Style fries. The burger was extraordinary and the creative use of grilled onions on the fries delighted me.

In-N-Out Double Double

Double Double

After In-N-Out, we walked up to Ghirardelli Square and stopped by the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. We ordered the classic sundae, which came with vanilla ice cream topped with the most decadent chocolate fudge I’ve ever had and delicate whipped cream, and, of course, a cherry. It was incredible. I’ve never had a sundae like this in my life.

ghirardelli ice cream sundae

ice cream sundae

The next day, we took a trip up to wine country and checked out a diner in Sonoma. The Fremont Diner is a hole-in-the-wall place located on highway 121. It’s easy to miss, which, of course, meant it wasn’t extremely busy for a Tuesday morning. We ordered a biscuits basket, which was filled with the most delicious, light, fluffy biscuits I’ve ever had. I opted for the ricotta pancakes, which came with the most delicious cherries I’ve ever had (thanks, California!) and MDP got the brisket hash which was topped with a fried egg and tasted amazing.

Ricotta Pancakes at the Fremont Diner

ricotta pancakes

After checking out Benziger Family Winery (which has a great story and I urge you to visit it if you go out west), we returned to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge (which doesn’t take cash at its toll, and that’s just crazy talk to an East Coast driver like myself). We went to Chinatown via a streetcar and beelined to the main attraction in this neighborhood: the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. It was AMAZING!!! See below for an image of a woman making fortune cookies. This was truly a highlight of the trip for me.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

making fortune cookies

Afterward, we headed up to Fisherman’s Wharf (again, because it was one of my favorite tourist attractions to explore) and stopped by Alioto’s for some fresh seafood fare. I tried the clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, which was scrumptious. The chowder was thick (though not too thick) and creamy, and the bits of clam were phenomenal. I also got some crab on my salad on the side, very good. MDP ordered the crab cake sliders and they tasted delicious, as well.

Alioto's clam chowder in sourdough bowl

clam chowder in sourdough bowl

On Wednesday, we had breakfast at a diner close to our hotel, and that wasn’t exactly remarkable so I didn’t take any pictures.

For dinner, we went to Brother’s Restaurant in the Richmond neighborhood for Korean barbecue. It was phenomenal! Our table had a barbecue pit sunken in the center. A small man came to our table and placed two receptacles filled with coals into the pit. A kind waitress (the service was very good) brought over some raw meat and we got cookin’. The kalbi was fantastic (!) and the pork bulgogi tasted very good. I enjoyed the banchan muchly, as well, as they gave us a dish with thinly sliced peppers covered in red pepper flakes–in addition to the standard kimchi and seafood cakes–and this was my favorite of the bunch. You must try Brother’s Restaurant for Korean if you’re ever in San Francisco.

Brother's Restaurant Korean Barbecue

barbecue

On Thursday, we stopped by Boudin, something like an Au Bon Pain, for breakfast. I had the lemon poppy seed muffin and MDP ordered the chocolate croissant. They also had bagels there, and I saw many people eating them…but I’m sure they aren’t very good.

Boudin treats

treats

Instead of hanging around the city, we drove to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Big Sur, down highway 1. It was gorgeous. I have never seen views like these in my life. The rocky coast transforms into a beach paradise as you drive along the highway. Stark blue water contrasts to the coarse, white sand, and you feel like you’re in heaven.

beach off highway 1

beach off highway 1

We went to Nepenthe in Big Sur for lunch. We waited for about an hour for our table, and I’m not sure lunch was worth the wait. It was very good–I had the chicken breast sandwich with chipotle mayo–but it was a tad overpriced. I suppose you’re paying for the view, and, when I see it from that perspective, maybe the cost was worth it.

view from nepenthe

view from nepenthe

I had heard that a good Indian place called Shalimar was in the vicinity of our hotel, so we checked it out. What a crazy place that is. I wouldn’t go there if you have any trace of anxiety in your being. First, you might have to wait, like, 20 minutes for a table. Everyone is confused at Shalimar, including the waiters. Second, you’ll have to walk up to the counter and order your food yourself (even though a waiter is walking around the restaurant). Third, it won’t be clear that they’ve heard your order or that they’re going to actually make it. Fourth, you’ll have your food practically thrown onto your table in front of you. Fifth, you’ll finally get the check and you’ll be afraid you’ll never see your credit card again if you pay with that method, so you pay in cash (even though you may be cash poor on this expensive trip).

With that said, the food is decent. It’s a Pakistani-Indian restaurant, so I can’t be sure whether my chicken tikka masala was influenced with Pakistani flavors. It could have been. MDP ordered a special curry and aloo paratha, a potato-infused bread that was excellent–much better than their naan.

shalimar chicken tikka masala

chicken tikka masala

Friday finally rolled around and we were beat. We had traveled all across the city and state and simply wanted to chill out in the Mission district on our final full day of our trip. Well, we weren’t exactly impressed by the Mission. We opted for La Taqueria for lunch, which had received rave reviews in my trusted guide book, and I wasn’t amazed by their offerings. I had a chicken burrito and it was just so-so. The strange thing about La Taqueria is that you have to order your cheese, sour cream, avocado and any other topping separate from the burrito. It looks cheap, but it really isn’t (it’s only about a dollar less than Chipotle).

After lunch, we went to Mission Pie for some dessert. I had high hopes for Mission Pie but was largely disappointed. I had expected incredible pie. What I got was a slice of sad peach pie and a much-better-though-still-only-decent slice of banana cream pie. I don’t know, maybe my expectations are too high. Coming from New York, it’s hard not to expect a lot from your pie purveyor.

mission pie peach pie

peach pie

Originally, we had planned to try the Southern Pacific Brewing Company for dinner, but it was packed, so we went to Super Duper Burgers instead. Now, for those of you who know me, you’re aware of my “one burger per week” rule. I violated this, but I’m so glad I did.

I ordered the “super” burger which comes with two 4 oz patties, onion, lettuce, tomato and special sauce. I opted for the cheese and the avocado as add-ons. Wow, what a burger. Super Duper clearly smashes their patty, instead of making a well-formed circular mass of meat on the griddle. The char is perfect and the combination of toppings invigorated my palate. The only thing that didn’t impress me about the burger was the bun, which simply amounted to too much bread. We also got the garlic fries, which were incredible. Crisp fries were presented to us with gobs of garlic on top–amazing! MDP wanted a milk shake, so we tried the cookies and cream version and it was thickly good.

If you’re like me and you have a “one burger per week” rule, go with Super Duper Burgers. Some of you may be surprised to hear me say this (given my avowed love for In-N-Out), but trust me. You won’t be sorry.

super duper burgers

super burgers

We departed from our hotel on Saturday morning and arrived at the airport to enjoy a nice breakfast at the Lark Creek Grill, whose restaurant group has locations all over California. You might try it.

All in all, San Francisco was one big food festival for me. Remember, it’s not New York, so the food isn’t quite as amazing. But it’s pretty darn good!

BurgerFi

I love New York magazine’s restaurant reviews. They’re the best in town—far better than Time Out New York’s attempts at recommendations and superior to even The New York Times, which strives to delineate the entire back story of the food they’re eating. Really, I just want to know whether it’s good or not.

So, when the Underground Gourmet recommended BurgerFi in the “cheap eats” edition of the magazine, I figured I had to try it.

burgerfi double cheeseburger

double cheeseburger

Situated on 2nd Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets, BurgerFi loudly claims its spot two doors down from the low-budget Insomnia Cookies and a few steps away from a frozen yogurt shop. Bright colors—blues, greens, yellows—invite you in, where you will undoubtedly meet a long line of patrons who have likely also read the “cheap eats” issue. The seating situation isn’t especially crazed, but, should it cause you anxiety, you should know you can always take your food to the East River park.

So, how was the menu? Well, decent enough, but a complete, blatant rip-off of the Shake Shack. From custard to concretes to Martin’s potato rolls, BurgerFi eagerly emulates the gold standard burger stand. But there are a few problems with BurgerFi’s approach. One, the meat isn’t nearly as good as the Shake Shack’s LaFrieda blend, nor is the sear as perfect. Two, their standard burger is a double, and that may alienate some (not this eater, though). Three, the fries are wooden and in desperate need of salt, unlike the crisp, crinkle cut fries with ample salt shaken upon them from the Shake Shack.

burgerfi fries and onion rings

onion rings and fries

The meal had its moments, though. The onion rings are fantastic. Gigantic circular pieces of onion are deep-fried, resulting in a delicious, thick coating that certainly doesn’t need ketchup. And the soda machine is redeeming. They have one of those special soda fountains that allows you to select which soda you’d like to try—from a panoply of options—and which flavoring you’d like in your soda. I opted for the Coke Zero with raspberry syrup—very good.

The verdict? Don’t bother with BurgerFi. If you happen to be on the Upper East Side with a hankering for a burger, just go to the Shake Shack on 86th. Its spacious outdoors area is the perfect venue for a summertime dinner or lunch.

BurgerFi

1571 Second Ave. (between 81st and 82nd streets)

Yorkville, New York

Take the 4/5/6 to 86th Street and walk east a few avenues, then south.