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.

 

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Crumbs (gluten free)

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted here in a few weeks. Well, there’s a pretty good reason as to why I haven’t shared with you my culinary adventures: I simply haven’t had any.

I’m now on a strict diet, due to a health issue, and can’t eat at restaurants as much as I once did (or as much as I’d like to). Basically, I’m on a low-carb, gluten-free diet, which limits the options available to me in this great big city of food.

gluten free crumbs red velvet and blackout cupcakes

red velvet and blackout

So, what better way to indulge when on such a diet? Try a new gluten-free cupcake joint.

For the uninitiated, Crumbs has now opened a gluten-free bakery down on 8th street in the West Village. Its sterile interior betrays the warmth and splendor of the baked goods that lie within. With no seats or tables to park at, the gluten-free outpost forces patrons to take their baked goods elsewhere. I have to say, the store itself is slightly unwelcoming, save for the delightful faces of staff who helpfully assist you in buying your sweets.

Primarily, this Crumbs sells cupcakes, but they also offer baguettes, quiches, macarons, and other treats to taste. Samples of baguette were carefully cut up and placed upon a platter near the cash register. I tried a piece, and it was pretty good, although the graininess of the bread made it taste less “authentic” than other gluten-free breads I’ve tried.

My Dining Partner (MDP) and I selected two small-sized cupcakes: red velvet and blackout. As for the cupcakes, they were pretty good–no, they were better than Crumbs’ typical offerings. If you’ve been to Crumbs, you are familiar with the ultra-sugary, totally gigantic cupcakes they sell. They’re too sweet and too big, and just too much to even try to eat. In my former life, as a gluten-eating person, Crumbs was way down on my list of cupcake shops. But the gluten-free store surely has delivered. The red velvet cupcake was crumbly and sweet enough with a hint of cream cheese in the this-can’t-be-cream-cheese frosting, while the all-chocolate blackout cake was exquisitely frosted and featured the right texture for any cupcake, gluten free or otherwise.

gluten-free crumbs blackout cupcake

blackout, up close and personal

Here, at the gluten-free Crumbs, their primary target is obviously Babycakes. And, while I truly enjoyed my cupcake at the gluten-free Crumbs, Babycakes still takes the cake, as it were. Read why here.

But, if you’re interested in or need gluten-free confections and don’t want to make the trek all the way down to the Lower East Side, I heartily recommend the gluten-free Crumbs store to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Crumbs (gluten free)

37 W. 8th St.

West Village, New York

Take the N/R to 8th Street. Walk west about a block or so. 

BabyCakes NYC

babycakes gluten-free banan cupcake

gluten-free banana cupcake with maple frosting

A throwback “BAKERY” sign hangs from the exterior of a hole-in-the wall bakery better known as BabyCakes. Once you approach it, you’re certain to be charmed.

If you know anyone with food allergies, BabyCakes is the place to send them. A vegan bakery, they serve up gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, vegan sugar/agave-sweetened confections that are quite delectable–even for the non-allergic.

I have been to BabyCakes many times. In fact, it’s one of my favorite bakeries, and I don’t even have a food allergy or autoimmune disease.

Today, My Dining Partner (MDP) and I opted for a few delectables from BabyCakes’ well-rounded menu.

I selected a favorite of mine: a gluten-free banana cupcake. It was frosted with a subtle maple-inflected icing that nicely complemented the dense banana cake underneath it. BabyCakes refrigerates their cupcakes at, what seems to be, a moderate temperature, so the cake actually tastes cool and more firm than it would were it left standing on the counter. We noticed you could order a frosting shot for $1.50  and I considered it for a moment, so good was the maple topping.

babycakes cookie crunch doughnut

cookie crunch doughnut

MDP decided to try one of BabyCakes’ doughnuts. He ordered the cookie crunch option, which is gluten-free and made with vegan sugar. It tasted lemony and had a surprisingly nice consistency–much better than anything you might find at cringeworthy Dunkin’ Donuts.

BabyCakes also sells brownies, biscuits, an array of cupcakes (some made with spelt), tea cakes, crumb cakes, pies and cookies.

And the staff are incredibly accommodating and knowledgable about the ins and outs of their product. One patron came in with her daughter, who sounded like she had celiac disease, and asked a ton of questions about the ingredients of the various items. Erin, the founder, was on site (which is kind of incredible since she’s pretty famous as far as bakery proprietors go) and was happy to provide useful, intelligent responses.

Try BabyCakes, no matter what your dietary needs are.

BabyCakes NYC

248 Broome Street (between Orchard and Ludlow streets)

Lower East Side, New York

Take the F/J/M/Z to Essex-Delancey or the B/D to Grand Street.

Nizza

nizza eggplant involtini

eggplant involtini

As you may know by now, I’m not a fan of Italian restaurants. But it’s only because there are so few good ones around New York–if you can believe it. Well, my friends, I’ve found a delicious Italian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. It’s Nizza.

Cozy with swelling ambient lighting, Nizza has a small bar and about 15 tables around the restaurant. When we arrived, which was on the early side for a Friday night, we were told we had to wait 30 minutes for a table for two. MDP and I sat at the bar, sipping Maker’s Mark and a house white, respectively. The drinks weren’t exorbitantly priced, as they were last weekend at Blue Smoke, and my wine was very good.

The couple sitting next to us–the male half had a staring problem–at the bar was ahead of us on the seating list, but declined their table, and opened up the opportunity for MDP and I to sit down, about 15 minutes ahead of time.

We were seated at a busy intersection, near the bathroom, but we were comfortable. For an appetizer, we ordered the eggplant involtini, which was eggplant stuffed with ricotta and then topped with a light marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese. Rolled into little loaves, the eggplant was mild and soft, and the gooey mozzarella cheese was amply spread across the three eggplant loaves. The dish was delicious, and I’m very glad we ordered it.

nizza chicken milanese

chicken milanese

For his entree, MDP opted for the the picante pizza, which featured hot peppers, smoked mozzarella and spicy sausage. The crust was slightly more bloated than your typical thin-crust pizza, but it was delicious.

I ordered the chicken milanese, which came with a caprese salad on top of a large breast of crisp, thin chicken. I had tried this dish at Nizza on another occasion, and I liked it as much this time around as I did last time.

For dessert, we got the tortoni, which is, according to the menu, Italian frozen custard with crumbled biscotti and rhubarb composta, but the composta tasted of strawberry, not rhubarb. I also tried the cappuccino, while MDP got an espresso. Like the other two courses, dessert was fantastic.

I highly recommend Nizza, especially if you’re in the Hell’s Kitchen area and have some time to kill before a theatre engagement. Oh, and Nizza has a gluten-free menu, so you and your GF friends can enjoy it!

Nizza

630 9th Avenue, between 44th and 45th streets

Hell’s Kitchen, New York

Take the A/C/E to 42nd Street and walk east one avenue and north about two blocks. 

Recipe Attempted: Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peanut Butter Cinnamon Cream

The name of these cookies is a mouthful, but then again, the cookies themselves are, too. In the original recipe, it appears that the baker made small sandwiches. I’m not sure how the baker did this. I followed her instructions to make tablespoon-size balls and to squash them with the bottom of a glass. I situated each ball two inches from its neighbor. Still, they baked into one another.

My batch yielded 15 cookies, not 16, which made seven sandwiches with one bruised and broken cookie leftover. Flourless, the cookies were hard to roll into balls, but tasted delicious. The filling, made with a recipe lifted from the heralded Bouchon Bakery, is sweet and light, tasting of cinnamon cream instead of the heavy flavor of peanut butter.

As you can see, my cookies are on the large side.

flourless peanut butter sandwich cookie

flourless peanut butter sandwich cookies

What would I do differently? First, I’d use a teaspoon instead of tablespoon to measure the size of the balls. Second, I might refrigerate the cookie batter so that it’s less gooey and easier to roll. Third, I’d let the cookies take their own shape instead of molding them into a circle with the bottom of the glass. (Many of the cookies ended up exploding into non-circles anyway.)

The recipe isn’t great, but the results are pretty good. I’m fairly sure this recipe is gluten-free, also.