Butcher Bar

It’s the end of March and, here in New York, it’s actually snowing. Whatever happened to “in like a lion, out like a lamb”? While the weather may be distressing, the meal I ate this morning certainly was not. If you’re looking for a unique answer to “where can we go to brunch?” in Queens, Butcher Bar is it.

butcher bar burnt ends and scrambled eggs

burnt ends and scrambled eggs

This borough has been experiencing a sharp influx of hipsters. Brooklyn transplants have been making their way across the county line to settle in Astoria, Long Island City, and, now, my dear Sunnyside. Butcher Bar is precisely designed for the newcomers. It’s an organic, sustainable barbecue joint with a quaint, yet plain interior. I’ve never been to the proper South, but I imagine this is the type of place you’d find in Austin, TX. These new Queens-bound millennial types enjoy this kind of thing, and I can guess that Butcher Bar has capitalized on their sensibilities.

That’s not a bad thing, of course–especially when the quality of meat and dining experience feels unparalleled to anywhere else in the neighborhood.

This morning, MDP and I wanted something different for brunch and decided to take the subway to Astoria. Butcher Bar is just a few blocks away from the N/Q 30th Avenue stop, so we hiked through the falling snow to find the lauded restaurant (it has a four-star rating on Yelp, which is pretty good considering that people love to complain on this site).

butcher bar brisket hash

brisket hash

Butcher Bar only recently began to serve brunch. Their menu is chocked full of egg dishes, with the occasional pancake item making an appearance. But the real star of the menu is the meat. Butcher Bar only sells the finest grass-fed meat, and the sheer quality of their cut selections is readily apparent in their offerings.

MDP opted for the brisket hash, while I ordered the burnt ends with scrambled eggs. Both dishes were incredible and accompanied by a complimentary alcoholic beverage of our choice (sangria, cocktail, beer). Let’s start with the brisket hash, which features diced potatoes and peppers with–you guessed it–brisket mixed in. It’s covered with a white gravy and an egg on top. MDP seemed to enjoy it, and I had a taste and agree that it was top notch. My burnt ends were phenomenal. They were silky, smooth, and very flavorful. The burnt ends were situated atop scrambled eggs with a layer of cheese, to my delight. Expertly cooked potatoes and mixed greens also came with our selections.

In addition to the mains, we got the creamy macaroni and cheese as a side dish. I found the simplicity of the dish to be satisfactory, but MDP wasn’t as impressed by it. The pasta was drenched in a delicious cheese sauce, and paprika was sprinkled on top.

butcher bar creamy macaroni and cheese

creamy macaroni and cheese

At the end of our meal, the lovely waitress asked if we’d like a piece of apple cake on the house. I enthusiastically said yes, and she brought us a sliver of the cake. It featured a drizzle of caramel on top, and the rare apple piece inside the cake. Despite the lackluster showing of fruit, I found the crust to be thick and authentic tasting. I was pleased with this addition to our meal.

I’d say that the value of brunch at Butcher Bar is amazing. Although the burnt ends with eggs plate cost $18 or so, it came with 10 – 15 pieces of meat and the plate was filled to the brim with food. The cocktail I ordered would have been $10 a la carte, and I quite enjoyed it. Plus, let’s not forget the apple cake that was a surprising finish.

Even if you’re not a Queens dweller, I’d suggest making the trip to Butcher Bar for brunch or even dinner. If they can serve up masterfully crafted dishes for the Saturday-Sunday morning set, I’m confident in their ability to do this during the evening, as well.

Butcher Bar
37-10 30th Avenue (between 37th and 38th streets)
Astoria, NY
Take the N/Q to 30th Avenue and walk north several blocks. It’s on the east side of the street.

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Dirt Candy

As you know, I’m not a vegetarian. I tried that when I was in college and failed miserably. And that was before I became a burger aficionado. I remember scooping chick peas into a bowl then covering them with Italian dressing at the dining hall. Obviously, this mode of eating would never be sustainable. If I could eat at Dirt Candy every day, I’d happily be a vegetarian forever more.

dirt candy hush puppies

hush puppies

Situated down on Allen Street on the Lower East Side, Dirt Candy serves upscale vegetarian cuisine that is categorically artful. The spacious restaurant exudes a clean aesthetic, with a minimally designed interior and many right angles. The New York Times recently wrote a laudatory review of the place, so it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation these days. But don’t be deterred! Dirt Candy has a counter that overlooks skilled chefs creating masterpieces, which ends up being a more entertaining experience than sitting among the plebs.

Now, let’s get to what I ate.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I sampled an array of menu items to get the full experience of Dirt Candy.

dirt candy broccoli dogs

broccoli dogs

After taking our order, a waiter brought over a small dish with bread bursting from it, much like muffins explode from the pan to form the exquisite tops. The breads were multicolored, and each portion tasted different, with the red conjuring beets and the green resembling chard or spinach. They were accompanied by a garlicky butter, which was fantastic. From the get-go, I knew this was going to be an incredible dining experience.

We began our meal in earnest with the jalapeno hush puppies, which were served with maple butter. In a word – YUM! MLDP observed that the hush puppies were more like corn fritters, but that’s not a knock against them. They were fried deliciousness, and served in ample portions, so do try this so-called “snack” when you go (and I’m sure you’ll go after reading this review).

dirt candy brussels sprouts tacos

brussels sprouts tacos

For our entrees, we opted for the broccoli dogs (two per order) and brussels sprouts tacos. Wow, both were amazing. The broccoli dogs sat upon housemade buns and were topped with a broccoli kraut, laced with mustard barbecue sauce. On the side, they gave us a generous portion of kale chips that tasted like sweet and sour pickles, and a small slaw made with microgreens. The dish was amazing.

But, the real stars of the show were the tacos. Charred brussels sprouts were laid upon a piping hot stone, and what seemed to be Bibb lettuce leaves took the place of your typical taco shells. I’ve never had brussels sprouts like this in my entire life. Their roasted exteriors were perfect yet belied a tender inside that delights the palate. A delicious guacamole, tortilla strips, a spicy and textured mole, and other fixings were alongside the main parts of the dish. This is billed as a dish to share, but I’d advise you to share everything you get at Dirt Candy so you can try many options.

dirt candy carrot meringue pie

carrot meringue pie

For dessert – and we had to get dessert given how amazing the other food was – we tried the carrot meringue pie with sour cream ice cream. OMG, this was AWESOME. The carrot filling was dense and flavorful, while the meringue that topped the carrot was expertly applied and toasted. I enjoyed the carrot crust, as well. I could take or leave the sour cream ice cream, but it was a nice complement to the carrot flavoring.

We got a second dessert from Babycakes, right around the corner, but, honestly, who’s counting?

So, in short, you have to go to Dirt Candy. Take this advice from the burger queen.

Dirt Candy
86 Allen Street (between Grand and Broome streets)
Lower East Side, New York
Take the B/D to Grand Street and walk a few blocks, or the F/M/Z to Delancey Street and walk a few blocks.

Dumplings & Things

Xi’an Famous Foods is probably my favorite Chinese restaurant ever. This seems to be the widely held sentiment among New Yorkers (and please God let Xi’an be a secret kept from tourists — for now anyway). At the Xi’an near my workplace, the line is typically out the door and down the block. Sure, it’s a hole-in-the-wall space, but the demand for high-quality Chinese foods has reached a fever pitch since Xi’an came on the scene in full force a few years ago.

There’s a Xi’an in Flushing, and I’ve even gone there with MDP for take-out to bring back to our home 30 minutes away — that’s how good Xi’an is.

dumplings & things pork and chive dumplings

pork and chive dumplings

But, now I don’t have to travel to Flushing for authentic noodles and dumplings because Dumplings & Things (see menu here) has opened up shop in Sunnyside. Yesterday was the opening day, and I’m fairly certain it will be the first and last time I ever actually eat there. The hungry crowds are coming, and I suspect they’re looking for Xi’an-level deliciousness. They’ll certainly find it at Dumplings & Things.

I wouldn’t call Dumplings & Things a chain, but there’s definitely another outpost in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, which has garnered rave reviews. It’s no wonder. Dumplings & Things serves up delectable Chinese (and sometimes Korean) fare for affordable prices — think $3.50 for a plate of five dumplings. Yeah, that cheap.

MDP and I were dead-set on sampling a wide variety of Dumpling & Things’ offerings, so we went about scanning the menu and choosing a food from just about every category: dumplings, noodles, baos, rice platters (we’ll try next time), and appetizers.

dumplings & things melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

melt in your mouth pork belly noodles

So, let’s start with the dumplings. We opted for the pork and chive (steamed) type. The filling was nearly bursting from the tightly wrapped skins, which goes to show the value you get when you order dumplings from this amazing place. And they weren’t just plump — they were delicious, too. Unlike some pork and chive dumplings that are typically “chive” in name only, these had a distinctly chive flavor that made the entire experience of biting into each dumpling feel fresh and clean.

We had to get noodles, and Dumplings & Things has a nice selection on their menu. You can either get your dish with rice or “regular” noodles (which, I think, are either ramen or la mien), and with broth if you choose. We got the braised beef noodles and melt in your mouth pork belly ones. Wow, both were just out of this world. While Xi’an’s wide hand-pulled noodles are pretty impressive, Dumplings & Things’ noodles are also up there on my list. They, like the dumplings, were bursting with flavor. Our respective meats were beautifully flavored and heaped aplenty on the top of our noodles, which cost a mere $6.50 and came out in a giant traditional bowl.

dumplings & things braised beef bao

braised beef bao

MDP wanted to try a bao, so he ordered the braised beef one. It’s two baos per order, so I was in luck. I bit into the bao, with sliced cucumber and carrot, as well as crushed peanuts on top, and was blown away. One of the best restaurants in Sunnyside, Salt & Fat, used to serve unique pork belly baos. I think Dumplings & Things is giving them a run for their money in the bao department.

I wanted to try the garlicky cucumber salad, to compare it to Xi’an’s version, so we got that, too. It was good — not great, like Xi’an’s — but MDP figured out that, if we doused the cucumber pieces in soy sauce, the dish would taste better. It did. Somehow the soy sauce brought out the garlic flavor more intensely, and I was a happy clam.

dumplings & things garlicky cucumber salad

garlicky cucumber salad

All this food cost about $29. Twenty-nine dollars! The seating arrangement inside is fairly utilitarian, with simple stools and small tables for patrons to dine at. It’s no sit-down and order through a waitress place, either, so snag a table before you put in your order at the counter. Getting your food could take upwards of 20 minutes because I think Dumplings & Things has a few kinks to iron out in the kitchen process yet, so grab a gourmet ginger ale and sit tight.

I highly recommend Dumplings & Things. If you’ve been looking for your local Xi’an, this is it.

Dumplings & Things
45-26 46th Street (between Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Ave.)
Sunnyside, NY
Take the 7 train to 46th Street. Walk south for one block. It will be on your right.

Ruby’s

There’s something very special about Australia. I don’t say this only because a dear friend of mine hails from the land down under. And it’s not their divine accents, either, or Foster’s in the giant can, which is, apparently, an American thing and not how it’s actually served in Australia. I simply love their slang. “Dunny” for bathroom and “chat to you” instead of “chat with you” as a mode of conveying a brief, but intimate talk with someone. But, now I’ve found something else to love about Australia: their take on the hamburger. A thoroughly American dish, the hamburger is something I take very seriously here in NYC, and have a lot of opinions on what matters when it comes to crafting the perfect one. I’ll tell you something: Ruby’s, an adorable Australian cafe in NoLita, has hit the nail right on the head when it comes to serving up a delicious burger.

Bronte burger at Ruby's

bronte burger

I selected Ruby’s out of an array of choices Yelp offered me yesterday morning. I was looking for a good burger somewhere in the vicinity of MDP’s workplace, and came across the little Aussie place on Mulberry Street. In general, people seemed to favor the “Bronte” burger in the reviews, which left me feeling wary as I do not trust devotees of any restaurant on Yelp. One reviewer complained about the poor service at Ruby’s–after 10 p.m. one night. Anyone who thinks they’re going to get good service at a restaurant past 8 p.m. any night is out of their mind, in my humble opinion.

So, I hopped the N train and shuttled down to Prince Street, where I detrained and ambled over to Mulberry. Walking down any street in NoLita/SoHo is a treat, since the cute shops and boutiques take exacting care in articulating their brand in the great wide windows facing the sidewalk. Nestled among a Kiehl’s outlet and obscure clothing stores, Ruby’s sits close to Spring Street. Its welcoming exterior draws you in, and they even have several seats in the foyer for hungry “breakie” (as they call breakfast) patrons to use while waiting for a table in the tiny space.

fried chicken burger at Ruby's

fried chicken burger

The dinner menu is spare, with no appetizers to speak of, and short lists of pastas, salads and burgers to sample. In typical fashion, I ordered the Bronte burger with avocado, and felt very grateful that the fine chefs at Ruby’s elect to thinly slice the great green fruit before placing it on the sandwich. Often, adding the avocado is an afterthought, so it usually comes out in huge chunks or in halves, bulging out from under the bun. The Bronte burger comes with “premium” ground beef (which it clearly is, at first bite), tomato, lettuce, sweet chili, cheese and mayo, all compactly situated on a ciabatta roll. The combination of flavors left me speechless. I have to say, Ruby’s Bronte creation is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Re-read the last sentence carefully and take into consideration the gravity of this statement.

MDP opted for the fried chicken burger, which has a misleading name. I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly, but what came out was a hefty breast of buttermilk fried chicken on a sesame roll, with some coleslaw dripping off the sides. It was perfect, and I highly recommend this dish if you’re not into burgers.

Now, as for the fries that can optionally accompany the burgers: they are saturated in truffle oil and chopped parsley (I think?), and deliver a satisfying flavor. Although I ate all of the fries that were served to me, I felt the repetition of the truffle flavor overwhelmed my taste buds. But, for the truffle fanatic, this is the side to get.

salted caramel pots de creme at Ruby's

salted caramel pots de creme

Like the other menus, the dessert list is rather minimal, but I implore you–do get the salted caramel pots de creme. MDP observed that the split pea color of the substance seemed undesirable, but, after one bite, I was completely sold on their fine dessert. First, the buttery caramel sings as you savor its flavor. Second, the “salted” in the salted caramel description is not in name only; the dish actually has a salty taste, but not in a bad way. I loved this dessert, and suggest you order it when you (inevitably, after reading this review) go to Ruby’s.

You must try this place, and, though the space is small, don’t worry about having a large group–they have a table for six in the back corner. Aside from the fact that they sat our party of two at a table for four (which, as I’ve said before, signals an uncanny level of hospitality), another thing I like about Ruby’s is the authentically Australian waitstaff, who are attentive, cheerful and charming.

If you’re not yet an Aussie fan, you will be after trying Ruby’s.

Ruby’s

219 Mulberry Street (between Prince and Spring streets)

NoLita/SoHo, New York

Take the N to Prince and walk along Prince to Mulberry, turn right and walk toward Spring. Or, take the 6 to Spring Street, walk toward Mulberry, turn left and you’ve arrived!

P.S. Below is what my view was of Times Square last night around 6 p.m. I know what you’re thinking: where’s Grover?

IMG_0473

La Flor

Legend has it that La Flor, a beautiful restaurant on a less-than-beautiful corner in Woodside, was meant to only offer coffee and pastries from the start. Chef Viko Ortega, master of the art of pastry, opened La Flor with this intention in mind. Fate took the reins and soon Ortega began serving Mexican-inspired culinary creations to eager patrons, many of whom had traveled from as far away as Manhattan (can you believe it?). The rest is history. La Flor has been reviewed and highly rated by all the important critics in the land, and yours truly joins the chorus of positivity in celebrating this unique establishment.

When you approach La Flor, the first thing you’ll notice are the gorgeous mosaics decorating the restaurant’s exterior. The echo of the charging 7 train urges you inside where you’ll find a minimally lit space and minimal decor, with the mosaics forming accents near the kitchen.

la flor pastry basket housemade

pastry basket

Unlike some places, La Flor is a very comfortable, casual environment. The staff are even willing to allow your party of two to sit at a table for four. Some may argue this is inefficient, but I say it reflects the level of hospitality deep-seated in La Flor’s approach to business.

The menu itself is a thing of beauty. It’s handmade and features the list of dishes in delicate handwriting. I’ve been to La Flor many times, and I have to say, anything you order will be some of the best food you’ve tried.

Most recently (i.e. this morning), I stopped in for brunch. The helpful waitress handed us our menus and a list of specials. La Flor uses the same menu for every meal, so we turned to the very first page to find the breakfast and brunch options. My eyes were immediately drawn to the basket of housemade pastries listed at the top of the page. A true bang for your buck, this basket contains some of the most delicious pastries I’ve tried to date: chocolate chip brioche, tiny rolls, a selection of muffins, scones and more. I nibbled on just about every pastry and found them to be categorically superb. In particular, I enjoyed the lone berry scone. Reluctantly, I broke off a piece to share with MDP.

For my entree, I ordered the huevos Mexicana, while MDP opted for the roasted butternut squash frittata from the specials list.

la flor huevos mexicana

huevos mexicana

Rife with jalapenos, tomatoes, onions and red peppers, the scrambled eggs sat upon a bed of beans and warmed tortillas. The eggs were perfectly cooked, with no dense or crisp parts to speak of. My only complaint is that I wish the tortillas were not underneath the rest of the food; you know how I love to make sandwiches. However, this is a small qualm in the grand scheme of this delightful breakfast.

MDP’s perfectly round frittata contained sweet potato and manchego cheese (my favorite), in addition to the butternut squash. It was a well-crafted dish, although MDP argued that the flavor of the butternut squash was not as pronounced as he may have liked.

la flor butternut squash frittata

butternut squash frittata

The waitress offered us hot sauce. I expected her to bring over a bottle of Tabasco or another brand, but she surprised me. Instead, she put on the table two adorable dishes of sauces: one green (mild) and one red (hot). This detail demonstrates the thorough authenticity of La Flor.

I recommend you try this restaurant for brunch or dinner (the pasta dish on the menu is surprisingly good), but remember to stop at the ATM before you go. La Flor is cash only, which is probably its only drawback.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a landmark to help you remember where La Flor is found, see below.

lucky hair

La Flor

53-02 Roosevelt Avenue (on the corner)

Woodside, NY

Take the 7 to 52nd Street. Walk to the very end of the platform (toward 53rd Street) and take the stairs. La Flor will be at the bottom of the steps.

Galli

Situated down on quaint, cobble-stoned Mercer Street in SoHo, Galli is an Italian restaurant that markets itself as the haven for Italian “comfort food,” whatever that means. According to its “About Us” page, the recipes for the dishes found on Galli’s menu have been passed down from Sicilian family members of yore to the Gallos, who are the restaurant’s founders. A menu filled with “typical” Italian dishes, such as penne a la vodka and meatball parmesan, does not scream “authentic Sicilian” to me, but perhaps I’m only quibbling over semantics.

Or not.

Galli’s website will have you believe that it’s a comfortable, casual environment. While the main dining room certainly is striking, with black-and-white photos adorning the exposed-brick walls, the seating arrangement is anything but cozy. The words “strangling” and “anxiety-inducing” come to mind, rather.

galli calamari

calamari

When we arrived at Galli for our 7 p.m. reservation, we were greeted and briskly whisked away to the large dining room in the back of the space. Of the 20 to 25 tables that were nearly touching each other, about three were occupied. Still, the hostess carelessly sat us in the corner, directly beside a couple of women. I requested to change our table, as I was already legitimately concerned for how I would escape from this setup, and the waiter informed me he had to ask the hostess if we could move. Instead of putting us somewhere else, the hostess sat another two women to our right. So now I was blocked in. Forever.

MDP and I were not amused.

With all this said, I should inform you that Galli’s food is pretty good. For those of you who have been reading this blog for some time, you are aware of my usual loathing for Italian restaurants. However, Galli served up delectable fare, which is probably the biggest compliment I could give it.

galli veal milanese

veal milanese

We started our meal with the “mad” calamari. Galli offers three types of calamari, and we went with the rather standard one, which was tossed in a spicy marinara sauce. The small dish that emerged from the kitchen was a plate, rather than a bowl, and it was covered with tiny fried rings (and things) that were drenched in the sauce. It was fantastic. The marinara sauce lived up to its spicy description, making each bite resonate like a ringing bell in my mouth.

Moving on, we each ordered off the mains section of the dinner menu, avoiding the 20 or so pasta dishes listed at the top. This was a wise move. I opted for the chicken parmesan, because, as I’ve said before, how can you screw up this dish? MDP got the veal milanese, which comes with an arugula salad on top. While the milanese was good, it did not compare to Palma’s whose intricately constructed arugula salad is mind-blowing and delicious. The veal was tender, though, so Galli gets points for that. My chicken was dressed with ample mozzarella and a too-sweet-for-my-liking marinara sauce, with a side of pasta that was overcooked (this is why I’m glad I didn’t order a pasta for the main dish). I can’t say I can forgive Galli for overcooked pasta – after all, isn’t pasta the very meal that Italians have perfected over the past millennium?

galli tiramisu

tiramisu

After the staff cleared our table, I promptly signaled for the waiter to come over and bring us a dessert menu. The space was filling up, and my level of anxiety about getting out of there was directly proportional to the number of bodies in the room. I was disappointed to see that Galli does not serve ricotta cheesecake, but “cheesecake a la Americano” instead. Why bother putting cheesecake on the menu at all, if it’s not going to be Italian? We ordered the tiramisu, and I was delightfully surprised both by the size of the portion and the creaminess of the dish. The whipped cream served on the side tasted like Reddi-wip, which is not a knock against Reddi-wip, but against the restaurant’s best judgment.

All in all, I was pleased with the food. Yet, I would not return to Galli and do not recommend that you bother with it. The only reason why I selected this restaurant was because it received high reviews on Yelp–always a mistake to trust this website. As you know by now, you should always consult Taylor’s Ham when making reservations.

Galli

45 Mercer Street (between Grand and Broome)

SoHo, New York

Take the N/Q/J/Z/6 to Canal Street and walk about six minutes.

Almond

To be honest with you, I’m not even sure how I heard about Almond, a French restaurant located on 22nd Street in Flatiron. Its name may have materialized out of nowhere and landed in my brain, urging me to make a reservation for Friday night. As anyone else would do, I followed my brain’s command and clicked on a 7:30 pm reservation in OpenTable.

Almond grilled thick-cut bacon

grilled thick-cut bacon

MDP and I arrived around 7:10 to Almond. I had been standing outside for about 25 minutes, awaiting his arrival, and I was eager to get inside the restaurant since the polar vortex is once again upon us; I felt a bit cold. We walked through the thick curtain that separates the vestibule from the restaurant’s interior, and a gentleman wearing a V-neck sweater with a button-down shirt underneath stood beside a non-descript female hostess behind a computer. I informed them–since I wasn’t sure who to talk to–that we had a 7:30 reservation. The man with the preppy dress shot back, “Well, you’re early for your reservation.” This was the beginning of the end of Almond in my book. He proceeded to tell us to get a drink at the bar until he summoned us for our table. We stood idly next to a fake display of mollusks on ice for about two minutes, and then, upon noticing that we weren’t inclined to order a drink, he ushered us to our table.

The table itself was unsatisfactory, as well. We were seated against a short divider that separated the dining area from the bar folk and in the middle of a highly trafficked thoroughfare. At least the chairs were comfortable.

MDP considered ordering a bourbon. When the waiter finally came around to ask for our drink orders, he asked, “How much is the bourbon?” The waiter responded, “It’s about five ounces.” First of all, this estimate of drink volume is highly unlikely. Second, it was fairly obvious that MDP was asking for the price, which, after some back and forth, was discovered to be $14. MDP selected a beer off the back of the food menu instead. I ordered a glass of riesling, which is on tap, and it was decent.

almond le grand macaroni and cheese

“le grand” macaroni and cheese

When the waiter sauntered over to take our food order, we requested the grilled thick-cut bacon for an appetizer. I opted for the “le grand” macaroni and cheese and MDP asked for the croque madame for entrees.

Bread was brought over to our table, and we quickly devoured it. I have to say, the bread was excellent. And Almond’s food overall is very good. But, as you’re surely sensing, the service leaves something to be desired.

We waited about 30 minutes for our appetizer. The waiter assured us it was “on its way” and at least 10 minutes passed until it was presented to us. Two thick slabs of bacon sat beneath avocado, grilled red onions and a paprika white-bean stew. The bacon itself tasted fatty to me, but the combination of flavors from the avocado, onions and bean stew was delightful.

I lost track of time waiting for the entrees. The macaroni and cheese was delivered to me in a very hot dish, while MDP’s croque madame was situated in an oval-shaped cast iron pan. The macaroni and cheese is some of the best I’ve ever tried. The aroma of truffles wafted up from the dish and stimulated my taste buds before I even had the chance to take my first bite. Large bits of prosciutto dotted the dish, with the truffle flavor overpowering–in a good way–the entire experience.

The croque madame was okay, but Astoria Bake Shop still wins for best rendition. MDP also ordered french fries, and, as expected, they were very good. Crisp and delicious, the french fries were perfectly salted, as well.

almond french fries

french fries

I had already informed MDP that I wanted the chocolate pot de creme for dessert about an hour before the dessert menus were brought to us. Once the waiter reflexively asked us about dessert, fifteen minutes passed before we saw him again. I decided to pass on my beloved chocolate pot de creme. It was already past 9 pm.

MDP observed that Almond’s service may reflect its French roots. My response? We’re in America–and in New York City, no less. Get with the program and speed up the service, and be more accommodating while you’re at it. MDP also said that the somewhat expensive prices on Almond’s menus must be necessary to offset the lack of quick turnover of tables. I think he’s on to something.

Almond may have good food, but, if you’re looking to spend fewer than two hours on a meal, pass on this place.

Almond

12 E. 22nd Street (between Broadway and Park)

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street. Walk south one block and east on 22nd.

The Odeon

“Which neighborhood do you want to have dinner in?” asked my restaurant-savvy coworker as I pondered aloud about my Friday night plans.

I rattled off a few areas that might be convenient, considering MDP works in SoHo.

“What about The Odeon in TriBeCa?” she asked.

Together, we looked at the restaurant’s website and she continued to tell me all about the food and ambiance.

“Everything is good,” she explained. “And it’s got an old-time diner aesthetic. It’s a place where you can see beautiful people and feel very cool.”

It sounded like my kind of restaurant, so MDP and I decided to try it.

baby beet salad odeon

baby beet salad

When we arrived, the hostess informed us that there were several tables for “walk-ins” near the front. We mistakenly selected a table next to a pillar in the middle of the restaurant. Pro tip: Make a reservation at The Odeon if you’re interested in trying it, so that you can sit somewhere that’s not in the very center of a highly trafficked pathway.

After getting comfortable, we were greeted by a waiter who would prove to be extremely attentive and helpful over the course of the evening. He asked us for our drink orders, which were promptly delivered shortly thereafter, and what type of water we would like for the table. A few moments later, he brought us the tap water we had requested and asked if we would like some bread, which quickly came out of the kitchen.

The menu isn’t particularly large, but everything looks delicious. We ordered the baby beet salad as an appetizer to share. Before the salad was served, MDP inadvertently knocked the butter off the table. A staff member swooped in, picked up the butter and instantly brought us a replacement. In short, the service is impeccable at this restaurant.

croque monsieur odeon

croque “monsieur”

A table runner placed the baby beet salad—organized in a perfectly round circle on the plate—on the table and we dug in. It featured a bit of feta, fennel and arugula, but the best part about it was the blood orange vinaigrette that offered a citrusy essence to the salad. MDP and I were very pleased.

For entrees, we ordered off the “brasserie” section of the menu: MDP got the croque madame (it is a “croque monsieur” on the menu, but he requested the egg on top, which made it a true croque madame), while I opted for the moules frites. A slender looking sandwich, MDP’s dish was a delectable combination of prosciutto, ham, gruyere and Mornay sauce with a distinct kick to it. I greatly enjoyed his croque madame, which also came with a hearty portion of matchstick french fries that were superb. Now, I implore you to order the mussels when you go to The Odeon—even if you’re unsure about whether you like mussels—because they are easily the best mussels I’ve ever had in my life. Drenched in a beautiful saffron cream broth, they were covered with sautéed leeks and tomatoes, and were incredibly flavorful. I kept telling MDP, “These are the best mussels I’ve ever had. Even better than Belgian Beer Café.” I love leeks and don’t see them used enough when I dine out. I was delighted that The Odeon embraces the leek and puts it front and center in the moules frites—a fantastic decision. Obviously, my mussels were accompanied by fries, which I gladly inhaled.

sundae odeon

The Odeon sundae

My coworker had noted that the desserts were top notch at The Odeon. She highlighted the profiteroles, which I always love, but we decided to go for The Odeon sundae. With some of the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, the sundae had a dollop of housemade whipped cream on top and a small container of hot fudge on the side. MDP drizzled the not-too-sweet hot fudge all over the ice cream and whipped cream, and I even used my spoon to scoop out the lining of fudge on the bottom of the container, allowing us to savor every last bite of it.

The Odeon is fantastic and served up some of the best fare I’ve had in recent months. Do go there.

The Odeon

145 West Broadway (at Thomas Street)

TriBeCa, New York

Take the 1/2/3 to Chambers Street and walk north on West Broadway to Thomas.

Murphy’s Lobster & Grill

I must preface this post with an admission: I resisted going to Murphy’s Lobster & Grill for many months. In fact, when visiting with some friends, MDP declared he’d like to try it, for their oysters and other seafood fare, and my friend said he would go with him. Well, the friends moved away and MDP was left with no one to accompany him to Murphy’s. I finally gave in.

murphy's lobster and grill snow crab platter

snow crab platter

And I’m glad I did! Situated on a quiet corner on Skillman Avenue (about 10 steps away from where I once lived) in Sunnyside, Murphy’s used to just be a bar, but, in recent years, they renovated the space adjacent to the beloved bar and turned it into a lobster house. And what a lobster house it is: the walls are covered with nautical-inspired decorations, such as giant fish and torn and tattered photos from yore. The ambiance is warm and quiet, and the lighting is just right.

The menu is filled with seafood delectables, including baked clams, calamari and items from the raw bar for appetizers. We opted for the steamed mussels, which are cooked in a delicious white wine sauce. They were served with two pieces of garlic bread drenched in butter. I saved my bread for when we got to the bottom of the bucket–it was perfect for soaking up the fantastic broth. The mussels were on the large side, with giant meaty bits within. They were quite good.

murphy's lobster and grill lobster macaroni and cheese

lobster macaroni and cheese

For entrees, Murphy’s offers a range of seafood dishes, with a lobster platter prominently placed at the top of the menu. They also serve surf and turf, and a steak frites dish that I nearly ordered. Instead, I got the lobster macaroni and cheese that was wonderful. Succulent bits of lobster that were sauteed in garlic dotted the creamy macaroni and cheese. Finely shredded cheddar coated the top of the macaroni, adding a layer of deliciousness to the very rich dish.

Prior to traveling to Murphy’s, we watched a few videos on how to eat crab legs, something neither of us had ever done. So, MDP accordingly ordered the snow crab platter, which came with two crabs’ worth of legs (eight in total), boiled potatoes and corn. Over the course of about 30 minutes, I watched him patiently crack each leg, at every joint, pulling out bite-size pieces of meat and drowning them in the melted butter that came in a tiny cup. I tried a bit of crab meat, and it was quite good, but I honestly prefer lobster. (Shoot me for having a refined palate.) Everything on his plate was fabulous, with the exception of the corn that seemed to be somewhat firm–I owe this to corn no longer being in season.

murphy's lobster and grill chocolate mousse cake

chocolate mousse cake

Per the recommendation of the jolly waiter, we ordered the chocolate mousse cake for dessert. It was delightful. The mousse was smooth and creamy, and the chocolate cookie crust was firm and flavorful.

Murphy’s is one of the few seafood restaurants in the neighborhood, and it deserves the kind of acclaim some of the Queens Boulevard places have received. I hope it continues to attract a good crowd.

Murphy’s Lobster & Grill (and Bar)

48-20 Skillman Avenue (at 48th Street)

Sunnyside, NY

Take the 7 train to 46th-Bliss Street. Walk north two avenues to Skillman and turn right; walk two blocks.

Brooklyn Bowl + Old 97’s (Sorta)

MDP and I bought tickets for the Old 97’s show at Brooklyn Bowl about a month ago. So, when the day came, I was pretty excited to get there. Although the doors weren’t slated to open until 8 pm for the show, we knew we could grab a bite at the bowling alley beforehand. I took the L train to Bedford, hopped off and made my way over to Brooklyn Bowl, which is located on Wythe between North 11 and North 12 streets.

brooklyn bowl calamari

calamari

My walk was pleasant. I hadn’t realized Williamsburg possessed such charm. I suppose I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the neighborhood since I was in college, and that may explain my surprise at the cute eateries and shops that lined Bedford. Anyway, I turned down North 11 Street to cut over to Wythe, and locked eyes with a gentleman who was sampling a beer in an outdoor café. He looked familiar, but I kept walking—that is, until I realized it was Rhett Miller, front man for the Old 97’s.

My internal dialogue went something like this:

Should I talk to him?

Should I bother him?

What if it isn’t him?

What if he thinks I’m crazy?

After about five minutes of hemming and hawing, I walked over to him and said, “Hey, you look familiar. Are you Rhett Miller?” He smiled and nodded, and stood up to introduce himself. “I’m Rhett,” he said. I know, I thought, but told him my name instead. “You’re awesome. I love your music,” I said, sounding 16 years old. I added that I was going to be attending his show later in the evening, and he said he was planning to sing a duet with the opening act. “I’ll be there at 8 then,” I told him and blurted out “enjoy” for some reason.

What an evening this is going to be! I thought, as I made my way over to Wythe.

brooklyn bowl fried chicken dinner

fried chicken dinner

Well, the night took an unexpected turn. Apparently, Brooklyn Bowl had a power outage earlier in the day. It didn’t occur to me until after I tried to unsuccessfully order a burger that the lack of power might affect the show. It did.

But before that realization struck, MDP and I sampled some delectable food from Brooklyn Bowl. First of all, it’s worth mentioning that this place is pretty awesome. It’s a huge space with a stage, bowling lanes and a restaurant. Oh, and the bathrooms are clean and pristine, up a flight. They have Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap, and Blue Ribbon food (whether that means the recipes or the chefs are trained a la Blue Ribbon is a mystery).

We started our meal with the fried calamari, which was crisp and delicious, and came with fried jalapenos mixed in with the octopus. It also had a lemon and cayenne mayo and an authentically included lemon wedge on the side. Fantastic!

When I learned the burger was not an option due to the down grill, I opted for the fried chicken dinner, with mixed pieces (dark and white meat). It came with the best collard greens I’ve ever had. Thick pieces of bacon were mixed in with them and they had a perfect flavor. The mashed potatoes were so-so, but the chicken was decent. The fry on the chicken was very flavorful, but I’m sorry to say that the flavor did not seep down into the bird’s flesh as it does at many other places. The dish also came with a hefty slice of white bread, which I rather enjoyed.

MDP got the fried catfish sandwich, and he seemed to enjoy it very much. I’m no fan of catfish, so I didn’t sample a bite.

We waited around for about 40 minutes until we heard through the grapevine that the show was canceled. But I happened to notice Rhett traipse down the stairs and into the back of the stage. He was carrying his acoustic guitar. Suddenly, he was gone, and I thought, He must have gone outside. There we went, and we found Rhett singing on the sidewalk of Wythe, outside of Brooklyn Bowl.

rhett miller outside brooklyn bowl

rhett miller

He played around seven songs, much to the crowd’s delight. We all sang along to “Wish the Worst” and “Big Brown Eyes” and Rhett even did a few tunes from the new album, such as the title track “Most Messed Up” and Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On.” Mostly, Rhett sang/shouted the lyrics, but he still sounded great.

“I have to stop singing or else I think I may never sing again,” he shouted to the screaming crowd of about 30.

UPDATE! Saw the Old 97’s today at Lincoln Center and got a much better shot of them!

IMG_1052

So, definitely go to Brooklyn Bowl. But make sure the power’s working if you’re planning to see a show or bowl. It’s good eatin’, for sure, but if you’re making the trek to Williamsburg, you’re going to want to do more than eat good food.

Brooklyn Bowl

61 Wythe Ave. (bet. North 11 and North 12 streets)

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Take the L to Bedford and walk a few blocks west then north.