Friedman’s

It always pays to have a lunch buddy. Today, My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) invited me to lunch with her at a spot I’d never been: Friedman’s. Known for their bustling ambiance and delectable comfort fare, I knew I had to take her up on the offer.

Friedman's BLAT with chicken

BLAT

We trekked up to lower Midtown West, just above Flatiron where we work, and made our way to Friedman’s. The facade is unassuming, but the moment you enter, you realize you’re in for something good. It was packed and everyone’s food looked incredible. We snagged a few stools at the counter and got down to checking out the menu, but I had already done my due diligence and selected a sandwich to order prior to setting foot in the restaurant (as usual).

I ordered the B.L.A.T. (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) with grilled chicken. “Phenomenal” is too empty a word to even describe how good this sandwich was. The bread was toasted just enough to offer a crisp exterior to hold onto, and the mayonnaise was dill-inflected, offering up a robust and fresh flavor. My only complaint would be that the grilled chicken piece was dwarfed by all the green leaf lettuce (no iceberg at this place), but that’s a small qualm. I asked for their housemade chips to accompany my dish (for $2 extra – one thing about Friedman’s is that it ain’t cheap), and they were paper thin and delicious.

MLDP opted for the adobo chicken salad, which comes with grilled chicken, black beans, tortilla crisps, pepperjack and an amazing chipotle dressing. I snuck a bite of it and was impressed.

Friedman's carrot cake

carrot cake

Since our entrees were so good, we knew we had to get dessert. The limited menu does not disappoint. We opted for the carrot cake. When it came out, we marveled at the gigantic chunk of cake in front of us and the waiter said, “This is half the size we used to serve.” I can’t even imagine what that serving looked like–and I don’t even want to think about what kind of person consumed the whole thing. This carrot cake is supremely special: it’s moist, chock full of carrots and covered with coconut flakes that offer a new dimension of flavor and texture. I was quite pleased with our selection, and MLDP liked it so much, she took the enormous leftovers to go! (She later shared the piece with me as the afternoon wore on.)

Friedman’s is definitely worthy of a true destination venture to try their offerings. I’d like to go there for dinner, too, but I fear there may be a wait. Though they do not take reservations, it’s certainly worth hanging around for a table, whether you like it or not. Trust me.

Friedman’s

132 W. 31st Street (bet. 6th and 7th avenues)

Midtown West, NY

Take the orange or yellow to 34th Street, walk south a few blocks and toward 7th Avenue on 31st Street.

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Empellón Taqueria

Situated on the corner of West 10th Street and the ever-confusing West 4th Street (why, exactly, does it run diagonal across other numbered streets?), Empellón Taqueria is a kind of Mexican cuisine oasis. Once you step inside, you’re transported to another place—one where graffiti on the wall behind the bar is the norm and the list of margaritas stretches on and on.

queso fundido at empellon taqueria

queso fundido

Don’t be fooled—Empellón Taqueria is a true taqueria, meaning that they primarily serve (and specialize in) tacos. You won’t find your overstuffed burrito or simpleton’s quesadilla here. Go somewhere else, like Chipotle, if this is what you seek.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I began our meal with a box of tortilla chips and one of the salsas (tomatillo-chipotle). The salsa can only be described as smokey, and its consistent composition delighted and surprised me. Many salsas have chunks of vegetables mixed throughout, whereas Empellón Taqueria’s rendition (at least the one I had) was a smooth, thick sauce. MLDP ordered the classic margarita, which was tangy, and I got a standard Negra Modelo.

chicken tacos at empellon taqueria

chicken tacos

We moved on to the next must-have at this spot: queso fundido. For the uninitiated, queso fundido is a wonderful creation: a small, cast-iron pan is filled with melted Chihuahua cheese and served with warm tortillas. As anyone who’s ever had breakfast with me will attest, I love building little sandwiches out of anything in front of me. So, the prospect of lathering up a tortilla with a bit of cheese excited me. The queso fundido we chose had green (?) chorizo with spinach. Unlike other versions I’ve had in the past, this QF was rather meaty. Chunks of delicious chorizo covered the surface of the cheese. Spinach did make an appearance, though it was more of a cameo rather than a starring role. I loved it, and I highly recommend you try this dish.

For our entrees, we both ordered tacos (not that we had much of a choice!). The list of tacos is creative, to say the least, and I opted for possibly the most boring one: chicken. But! The tender chicken pieces came with black kale, crema and salsa verde, for a satisfying combination of flavors. I ordered two, but you’re welcome to order three, if you’re hungry. Pro tip: get the chips and QF like I did, and just order two tacos. MLDP tried the fish tacos, which were doused in tempura and looked quite good.

milk chocolate flan at empellon taqueria

milk chocolate flan

The helpful waitress came over to us once we were finished with our entrees and asked us about dessert. She rattled off a few options, and we landed on the milk chocolate flan, which came with densely cinnamon-flavored ice cream and crumbled (Oreo?) cookies. ‘Twas delish, but don’t count on having that when you go. It sounded like the desserts rotate.

Empellón Taqueria is definitely at the top of my list of New York City taco shops. I’ve been told that Salvation Taco is a must-try and I’ll definitely report back with an assessment once I go. For now, I urge you to go to Empellón Taqueria. You’ll need a reservation, most likely—even on a weeknight! So head to OpenTable now and get to this restaurant as soon as you can.

Empellón Taqueria

230 W. 4th St. (at W. 10th  Street)

West Village, New York

Take the 1 to Christopher Street, walk north one block and turn left onto West 4th Street.

Chocolate Babka at Zucker Bakery

There’s nothing like a good loaf of bread. And when that certain loaf contains chocolate, well, it’s truly inimitable.

Upon reading Serious Eats’ review of Zucker Bakery‘s chocolate babka, I knew I had to make my way down to the diminutive bakery in the East Village. To answer the question about whether this is the most beautiful babka in New York City, it is. There’s no denying that. Just look at it!

zucker bakery chocolate babka

With chocolate elegantly woven through thick belts of sweet dough, this chocolate babka is a thing of beauty. No, it’s more like a baked masterpiece. Though it’s tiny–reflecting the size of the bakery itself–Zucker Bakery’s chocolate babka is outsized in flavor (and in cost, at a surprising $13.50).

I was struck by how mild the sweetness is. It tastes more yeasty, like bread, but with fine chocolate in every bite. The babka boasts a moderately moist texture: not too dry and just dense enough.

zucker bakery chocolate babka

To me, the chocolate babka is more like an anytime bread than a dessert. You may feel differently. It’s definitely a nice treat to present at any dinner you’re invited to. Knowing how good this babka is, I wouldn’t be surprised if your host surreptitiously stashed it away for a nighttime snack, rather than putting it out for his guests to sample.

When I visited Zucker Bakery this morning, I inquired about the chocolate babka, and the cashier handed me the last remaining loaf. This was at 10:45 a.m. on a Saturday. So, as a cautionary tale, if you’d like to try this babka, you better get to Zucker Bakery quick and early. Word is spreading fast about the wonder that comes out of their ovens.

Zucker Bakery

433 E. 9th St.

East Village, New York

Take the L to First Avenue and walk south to 9th Street. Turn left onto 9th and walk toward Avenue A. Zucker Bakery is tucked away on the north side of the street.

Empire Biscuit

It was 6:30 on a Friday night, and it was evident that Empire Biscuit was just waking up for the evening. You see, they’re open 24 hours, seven days per week, so 6:30 on a Friday night is practically 6:30 on a Saturday morning to me. Their motto (?) “breakfast – lunch – dinner – drunk” speaks volumes to the type of clientele Empire Biscuit attracts; that is to say, the inebriated at 1 am. And I can see why. Biscuits can go a long way in sopping up all the alcohol in the anti-teetotaler’s belly.

empire biscuit

biscuits

But we were there for a legitimate dinner, and almost found one, I swear. Though rife with biscuit options and delicacies, the Empire Biscuit menu is lonesome for some side dishes. Would it kill them to put fries on the menu? Even a fruit salad would satisfy the dinner-seeking patron, though not this one. In addition to a menu void of anything but biscuits, their drink options are equally disappointing. Empire Biscuit’s namesake cola tastes like liquorice and herbs–nothing like a Coke Zero or any kind of homebrew cola I’ve ever had (not that I’ve had many). At least it was carbonated, I guess.

At this point, you may believe that I didn’t enjoy my experience at Empire Biscuit. I did, indeed. When you walk through the imposing wood-paneled front doors, you feel as though you’re in a cocoon. Empire Biscuit is tiny, to say the least, with fewer than 25 seats (I know this, not because I counted, but because they don’t have a public bathroom). A long counter runs into the center of the restaurant with some stools to perch upon. Everything is on an angle at Empire Biscuit, and I appreciate their lack of symmetry.

empire biscuit chicken biscuit

chicken biscuit

The food is top notch, too. I ordered the biscuit with egg, bacon and cheddar, and it was delicious. The bacon was so flavorful, and the biscuit, while anything but big and fluffy, was firm and formed a sturdy sandwich. My Dining Partner (MDP) got the biscuit with fried chicken, which featured a nicely fried breast of chicken and was excellent. For good measure, we also ordered the biscuits and sausage gravy. This is an interesting one–instead of ladling the gravy over the biscuits, the chef put the gravy in between the biscuit halves. Innovative? Not quite, but definitely delectable.

The staff at Empire Biscuit were so gracious and kind, I’ll try to make it back there some day. Even if it’s at 1 am.

Empire Biscuit

198 Avenue A (between 12th and 13 streets)

East Village, New York

Take the L to 1st Avenue and walk east one block then south 1.5 blocks.

 

Bo’s

When I first heard about Bo’s from Gothamist, I knew I had to try it. First, it’s located in the neighborhood where I work, which is a definite advantage. Second, and more important, it shares the name of my most wonderful kitten. As soon as I read about Bo’s, I called them up and made a reservation for Friday night.

bo's crispy alligator

crispy alligator

Bo’s is a long narrow restaurant serving up Bayou specialities situated on 24th Street, just beyond the Italian delicacy mecca that is Eataly. In the front, there is a bar frequented by the creatives of the district, all sipping the fine cocktails Bo’s has to offer. When you walk past the bar and into the rear of the restaurant, the place opens up to a wonderful interior, lit with just the right amount of illumination. It’s a beautiful space, for sure.

After a few minutes, we were served monkey bread, which is basically a fantastic white bread with much more salt and butter than your average loaf from the supermarket (or even than what you’d make homemade). We received four pieces, and I ate 3.5 of them. That’s how good it was.

We began our meal with the crispy alligator. Sounds … reptilian, no? It was amazing. Lightly battered pieces of alligator were mixed among chunks of red pepper with a creamy chili aioli on the side. The alligator was not at all what I had imagined. It was chewy and flavorful, and the chili aioli was the perfect accompaniment. You must try the crispy alligator at Bo’s.

bo's buttermilk braised fried chicken

buttermilk braised fried chicken

For my entree, I ordered the perfectly cooked (medium) skirt steak with a French feta sauce drizzled on top and the most perfect mashed potato puree, inflected with hints of bacon, positioned underneath the steak. To round out the dish, I also received a hearty portion of fresh carrots that were roasted with honey-glaze. It was sublime.

My Dining Partner (MDP) opted for the buttermilk braised fried chicken, which was enormously flavorful and delicately battered. Oddly, Bo’s serves the fried chicken with asparagus, rather than a starch. I suppose the buttermilk biscuit (delicious!) that comes with the dish supplies the right amount of carbs the patron could desire. MDP greatly enjoyed his dish, finishing off the very last bit of it.

I knew we had to order dessert since they had pumpkin beignets on the menu. They were quite good, although not the highlight of the meal (which, though everything was very good, may have been the monkey bread for me). The fried balls of dough were rolled in granulated sugar, and were filled with pumpkin goodness. On the side, we were served a maple sugar ice cream that wasn’t particularly sweet, but had just the right hint of flavor to it. Very good.

I implore you to try Bos’. You certainly won’t be sorry. But bring a good credit card; it’s a tad pricey.

Bo’s

6 W. 24th St. (between Broadway and 6th Avenue)

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street. Walk north one block and turn left onto 24th Street. It’s on the south side of the street.

Rocking Horse Cafe

I’m on the quest for the perfect meal that fits within my dietary restrictions. I did not find it at Rocking Horse Cafe.

rocking horse cafe guacamole

dimly lit guacamole

Touted as an excellent restaurant on Yelp, Rocking Horse Cafe did not live up to the expectations set forth by taste-bud-less reviewers on the site. While even New York succumbed to offering a positive review for the place, I cannot muster the strength to do the same. It simply wasn’t good. Even worse, the food was bland. And one has to wonder how someone creates bland food at a Mexican restaurant. Given the artillery of Mexican ingredients, you’d think they’d serve up the most fascinating (to my taste buds) meals on the planet. Not Rocking Horse Cafe.

Shortly after we arrived at the dimly lit establishment, chips and salsa were brought to our table. Sadly, I think the chips and salsa were the highlights of my meal. The salsa tasted fresh and housemade, rather than out of some Ortega jar.

After sampling the chips and salsa, we opted for some guacamole. This is when the meal started to tumble downhill. The guacamole appetizer is served with an array of relishes, as well as some soft, corn tortillas. Why not chips, you ask? I had the same question.  We used the chips we had that accompanied the salsa to scoop out the bland, tasteless guacamole. Though we finished it, neither of us was impressed. The relishes were okay, but not spectacular, and it was challenging to identify the contents of them. The guacamole itself simply had no flavor. It was just avocado mush.

rocking horse cafe mole michoacan

mole michoacan

I ordered a gluten-free dish off the menu called mole michoacan. On the menu, it sounded pretty good. But when it arrived, I felt differently. Plenty of sauteed onions covered the oversalted chicken in the bottom of the plate. The onions were fine, and were topped with some toasted pumpkin seeds (an elegant touch given the shoddy nature of the rest of the offerings). The chicken itself was pretty good, but, again, too much salt. It was served with sauteed kale that had the strangest flavor. I left it alone on the plate.

MDP got the carnitas tacos. Three miniature tacos were served to him. He wasn’t happy with the portion size, and didn’t seem too pleased with the flavor, as well. We also received rice (which was fine, hallelujah) and some soupy black beans on the side. They were okay, but, to reiterate, the highlight of the meal was the chips and salsa.

I’m not sure why people seem to like Rocking Horse Cafe. According to Yelp, the drinks are pretty good (I can’t drink them because of my diet), but the food is just so-so, at best.

Rocking Horse Cafe

182 8th Avenue (at 19th Street)

New York, NY

Take the A/C/E to 14th Street and walk north, or take the C/E to 23rd Street and walk south.

 

Clarke’s Standard

I’ll admit it: I’ve never been to P.J. Clarke’s. Everyone raves over their hamburger, but I have an inkling that it isn’t really that good. To me, P.J. Clarke’s is in the same camp with Donovan’s, which, in my estimation, never served a decent burger in its existence, yet had “Voted Best Hamburger in New York City” emblazoned on its facade. We all have our opinions.

clarke's standard's burgers

clarke’s standard’s burgers

Yet, when I heard Clarke’s Standards were popping up all around the city, I knew I had to try one. So, I picked the Clarke’s Standard most convenient to me (the one in Flatiron/Union Square) and gave it a go. I wasn’t disappointed.

The interior of Clarke’s Standard is cool, clean and comforting. Black-and-white photos of butchers of yore are plastered onto the walls. Friendly employees greet you and comment on your choices (“The Cadillac is the best burger on the menu,” one told me, when I whispered my selection to MDP). Clarke’s Standard is definitely an upgrade from the goodburger outpost that once stood in its place.

Now, the food. Clarke’s Standard boasts interesting offerings in the burger department. The Standard is, as you may be able to tell, a standard cheeseburger. Then, there’s the Cadillac that comes with white cheddar, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and their special sauce, which is something like Shack sauce, but not quite as thick. They also offer a Brooklyn Au Poivre edition of the burger, accompanied by cracked pepper sauce, gouda, and a few other toppings. There are several additional burgers on the menu, but these mentioned stood out to me as being the ones I’d like to try.

clarke's standard's cheesy tater tots

cheesy tater tots

And I was certainly impressed by the Cadillac. The ground angus beef was obviously fresh and extremely flavorful. Though my burger came out looking a bit disorganized, the delicious bacon and cheese added a hearty touch to the sandwich. I enjoyed the sauce, but felt there could have been more ladled on. MDP opted for the green chiles cheeseburger, which has American cheese, charred green chiles, garlic aioli, and mustard on top. I felt the chiles were apparent and bursting with flavor, but MDP did not see it this way. He experienced the heat of the peppers, but not the flavor–interesting dissonance.

We had to order the cheesy tater tots just because they sounded marvelous, as well as the natural cut fries. But the tots came out rolled in parmesan cheese, as opposed to having melted cheese dripping all over them. This was a minor disappointment. However, the tots were still pretty good–potatoy and crisp. The fries were definitely delicious. I might like these fries better than the Shake Shack’s fresh cut fries. “Might” is an underestimation–I definitely like Clarke’s Standard’s fries better. Unlike the Shack’s, which are flaccid and lacking flavor, Clarke’s Standard fries are medium-cut, rigid (in a good way), and chocked full of potato goodness.

All in all, Clarke’s Standard is pretty good. I’ve read some terrible reviews of it on Yelp, but this doesn’t surprise me. Just an aside: People don’t know what they want, unless it’s to complain, which is all they ever want to do on the Internet–and that’s about all Yelp is good for.

Clarke’s Standard

Multiple locations

New York, NY

Palma

Situated down on Cornelia Street, on a long, lonely block, Palma awaits you. It’s cute, brief exterior belies the wonder found within.

palma mozzarella di bufala insalata

mozzarella di bufala insalata

Palma sells Italian specialties, and you know how I feel about Italian food from Italian restaurants. That is, I typically do not like it. But Palma is the rare exception to the rule, so I implore you: go to Palma.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I walked into Palma to find a crowded interior with people bustling around a small bar. We were seated at a table for two in close proximity to both the window and the tables around us. MLDP squeezed her pregnant body into the chair and we were at last comfortable in our own little world.

We ordered the mozzarella di bufala insalata, which was served with olive-oil drizzled arugula and hearty slices of tomato. I have never had such good mozzarella. It was creamy and dense, and altogether fantastic. On the specials list—and I get the feeling this is a daily special—there was a burrata option, which tempted us, but we ultimately chose the mozzarella on the menu. You won’t be disappointed if you opt for this.

palma pappardelle dish

pappardelle dish

For our entrees, we both ordered pasta dishes off the regular menu. I got the pappardelle allo spezzatino d’Agnello—a long name for a fine dish, which contained long, wide ribbons of pasta with slow-cooked lamb, tomatoes, and kalamata olives thrown in. The salty flavor of the olives nicely complemented the richness of the lamb. It was incredible. MLDP ordered the fettuccine ai funghi, which had the most delicious mushrooms I have ever eaten. They were tender and rich with flavor. I only took a bite of her mushroom pate, but the pasta itself—which must be homemade, to be so glorious—looked amazing.

We passed on dessert, although Palma has a few Italian delicacies on their sweets menu, such as a bufala ricotta cheesecake. It must be heavenly.

I can’t wait to go back to Palma, and I think you should go, too. I highly recommend the pasta, and am certain the secondi dishes live up to Palma’s pledge for well-crafted food.

Palma

28 Cornelia Street

West Village, New York

Take the A/B/C/D/E/F/M to West 4th Street and walk around the corner to Cornelia Street.

The Cronut™

MDP got up at 5 am to get me these cronuts. My birthday is Sunday and he’d thought it would be a nice treat for me to have on my “work” birthday, which is today.

It was.

the cronut

the cronut

What can one say about such a unique pastry? Its crisp doughnut-like exterior is rolled in granulated sugar for a sweet bite. And its croissant interior is smooth and silky, perfectly blending with the cream that bursts as you chew. The flavor I was served was coconut. It was faint enough to be unobtrusive, while still supplying the full-bodied taste of a real coconut.

cronut interior

interior shot

The cronut is by far the best pastry I’ve ever had. You should get one. Or find someone who loves you enough to wake up at 5 and make their way down to SoHo to Dominique Ansel’s quaint bakery. I’m a lucky girl!

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.