Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

The Cinnamon Snail: Vegan Food on Wheels

For my last blog post of the semester, I decided to try something a little different, and the Cinnamon Snail is definitely something out of the ordinary. The Cinnamon Snail is known for having vegan food trucks scattered throughout New York and New Jersey, but recently they opened a location in the Pennsy, a new food hall above Penn Station on the corner of 33rd street and 7th avenue. The food hall has numerous other options other than the Cinnamon Snail (and all of them looked great).

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Although their menu is limited, their food is truly spectacular. You will not regret visiting either their location at the Pennsy or one of their food trucks. I decided to order the Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich, which was made with roasted garlic aioli, marinated kale, tomato, onion, and of course, tempeh. They were very liberal with their use of garlic aioli along with all of the other ingredients used. The garlic aioli was delicious and tasted great with the maple marinated tempeh. This sandwich was filled to capacity and as a result, I left completely stuffed. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed this sandwich. All I can really say is that you must try this for yourself because you will not be disappointed!

Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich
Maple Mustard Tempeh Sandwich

Even though I was completely stuffed, I couldn’t resist trying their Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie because I could already tell from their display that it would taste good, but I didn’t realize just how good it would taste. It was probably one of the best brownies that I have ever had because the chocolate was very rich in flavor and the peanut butter cheesecake layer in the middle was utter perfection, especially with the contrast of the chocolate.

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownie

I’m so glad I got a chance to try the Cinnamon Snail because it is probably one of my favorite places I have tried thus far. There really is nothing quite like it in all of Manhattan. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a quick bite in a casual atmosphere (and of course great vegan food).

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Slurping in Midtown

If you know me, you probably know that I’m a bit of a momofuku noodle bar aficionado. Sometimes, though, a friend isn’t willing to make the trek to the Lower East Side (and wait an hour+), or I’m in midtown and need to eat dinner, Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is definitely a close second.

Ivan Orkin is unusual—a New Yorker who, thanks to a degree in Japanese language, opened a ramen shop in Tokyo. I met and was able to speak the chef recently; he was like any guy you might run into on the streets of New York – plus a deep knowledge of Japanese food, language, and culture.

I haven’t been to Orkin’s first restaurant in New York, Ivan Ramen, but I have been to the slurp shop, in the Gotham West Market, a number of times. Orkin’s ramen is unusual in that he uses a chicken based broth (as opposed to a pork one), and rye noodles. In general, I’ve found the flavors to be excellent but the soup to be a bit cold. You want ramen to be burn-your-mouth hot; this is not.

The slurp shop has changed their menu recently, and done away with rice bowls. Instead of automatically getting an egg on top of a bowl of ramen, you have a choice of one extra topping . These include: soft egg, toasted garlic bomb, enoki mushrooms, young bok choy, roasted tomato, pork belly, chicken, bamboo shoots, seaweed salad, shiso onions, field greens, bean sprouts, shaved cabbage, gluten free tofu noodle, and toasted nori; these are also available as extra toppings. “Mega meat” (either chicken or pork) is available as well. They’ve also added several buns.

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I had the pork belly buns ($9), with spicy teriyaki glaze and miso cabbage. Also available are veggie burger buns, shrimp buns, and pastrami buns (paying homage to Orkin’s heritage). These were excellent, though they could have used a pickle to cut the fat. Unfortunately, momofuku’s famous pork buns still beat all.

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I chose the Tokyo Shio Ramen ($13), whose broth is chicken and salt (as opposed to the Shoyu ramen, which has soy sauce added as well), topped with pork belly, bamboo shoots, and scallion. The flavor of the broth is perfect; chicken-y and salty, not too fatty. It was excellent; hotter than usual—the absence of an egg was not missed.

The drinks, as well, are not to be missed. Yuzu lemonade is unique and delicious; very tart and not too sweet.

The Clinton St. Ivan Ramen features a larger menu, as well as breakfast—so sometime when I’m craving momofuku soon, maybe I’ll try out Orkin’s first NYC location instead.

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop,

600 11th Ave(212) 582-7942

Atmosphere: Casual, upbeat.

Noise Level: loud.

Recommended Dishes: Shio ramen, yuzu lemonade

Price range: $$

Hours: 11am–11pm, Sun-Thurs; 11am–12am, Fri-Sat

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Sweet Finds Underground

My time spent trying and writing about bakeries around New York City has given me the chance to explore new areas and venture outside of Morningside Heights, so it is only fitting that my last blog post of the year is focused on a brand-new space in New York City: Turnstyle.

Dubbed “a Main Street underground,” Turnstyle is a market of sorts located underneath Columbus Circle, attached to the subway station.  This modern thoroughfare is a blend of specialty shops and food options, from custom grilled cheeses to donuts to juice.  However, I was on the hunt specifically for bakeries, and Bosie Patisserie caught my eye.

charming French atmosphere
charming French atmosphere

This location is a smaller version of the Bosie Tea Parlor, situated downtown just off Bleecker.  With its vintage French posters, handwritten chalkboard menu, and weathered wood tables, the space offers a welcoming atmosphere, yet due to its location in Turnstyle, the focus is definitely more on finding something quick and delicious for those on the go.  The display case offered a wide variety of colorful and eye-catching desserts, and although I did not try any of the macarons on this visit, I now know that I have the option to purchase high-quality macarons without ever having to go aboveground.

the colorful options make it difficult to decide
the colorful options make it difficult to decide

I finally decided upon the Ispahan (mostly because of how beautiful it looked), a unique dessert composed of two large macaron shells filled with rose buttercream, lychee, and fresh raspberries.  At first, I was taken off guard by the lychee fruit tucked into the middle of the pastry, but its sweet, chewy texture offered a surprising departure from the basic rose flavor.

my Ispahan
my Ispahan

The opening of Turnstyle has just given me one more reason to love Columbus Circle, and I know that I will be back at Bosie Patisserie specifically to try both the macarons and the wide assortment of teas offered as well.

 

Village Natural: A Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant

When I walked into Village Natural, I was welcomed by a surprisingly casual and homey atmosphere, the type of atmosphere that is hard to find at a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. Village Natural encompassed everything I was looking for into one: vegan and vegetarian food, a homey atmosphere, a short wait time, and excellent food! The restaurant is located at 46 Greenwich Avenue in the West Village.

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When I sat down and got handed the menu, I realized I was going to have a problem; there were so many options that all sounded amazing. After spending a lot of time going through the menu, I decided to get the Breathe Classic Smoothie and the Veggie Cutlet Parmigiana, which also came with a salad. The smoothie was vegan and was made with strawberries, bananas, and orange juice. I could not tell that it wasn’t made with diary!

Breathe Classic Smoothie
Breathe Classic Smoothie

Almost immediately after ordering, my salad arrived. I was very hungry when I arrived at the restaurant, so I was very happy to get my salad right away! The salad was the perfect size and tasted great with their homemade tahini sauce.

Salad
Salad

Right after finishing my salad, my entrée arrived, and I knew just from the smell that it would taste amazing. I ordered the Veggie Cutlet Parmigiana with cheese, but it is also available without diary cheese to make it vegan. My entrée came with pasta as well as broccoli, leaving me with a lot of food to take back with me! The Veggie Cutlet Parmigiana itself tasted very similar to chicken. One of my favorite meals before becoming a vegetarian was chicken parmigiana and if I wasn’t at a vegetarian restaurant, I would have thought that I was eating chicken.

Veggie Cutlet Parmigiana
Veggie Cutlet Parmigiana

I will definitely be going back to Village Natural sometime very soon. So far, this is one of my favorite restaurants I have been to in Manhattan and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for good food, even if they aren’t vegetarian or vegan.

Soup Dumplings Part 2: Shanghai Cafe Deluxe

 

Shanghai Cafe Deluxe sits tucked in between several other eateries—as most restaurants in Chinatown do—with an unassuming neon sign. The restaurant is lit in tacky neon pink, and a rather unfriendly waitress led myself and my friend to a table in the corner, throwing down menus on a table.

To start off—because I have a weakness for scallion pancakes—do not order them at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe. They’re under-seasoned, not super crispy, and just unsatisfying. Do order pea tendrils sautéed in garlic, though, as an accompaniment to the little sacks of piping hot crab and pork broth that are Shanghai Cafe’s magical soup dumplings.

My friend and I got one order of pork soup dumplings, and one of pork and crab.

In comparison to Joe’s Shanghai, the Shanghai Cafe Deluxe dumplings are much sturdier. Even after having sat for a while, they tend not to rip as easily, and it’s possible to peel them apart from each other without ripping multiple dumplings. They’re slightly less fatty, as well, but seasoned perfectly—leaving the diner feeling slightly less regretful after consuming far too many. The dumplings are served with two sauces—the classic vinegar-ginger, and a spicy sauce.

At this restaurant, the dumplings are made to order. The skin is chewy—which I like; they’re not as good when they break so easily—and the broth is porky, but not overpowering. The filling is perfect.

The crab dumplings are especially good. The fatty pork marries with the ocean taste of the crab, held together by a slight hint of curry and the ever-umami pork broth. The taste was unique, but more interesting than  the pork. I would definitely recommend these—though the pork is classic.

The key with this restaurant is to get there  early and eat fast. We arrived at about 6:20, and snagged one of the last two person tables—within minutes of our arrival, the restaurant was full and there was a line. Even if you don’t get there early enough to avoid the line, however, stay. It’s worth it. And if you’re venturing out on your own to find a different soup dumpling place, beware: xiao long bao are a Shanghai specialty, and while they might be on the menu at Sichuan or Hunan or Beijing-style restaurants, they’re probably not going to be very good.

 

Joe’s Shanghai

100 Mott St, (212) 966-3988

Atmosphere: Casual.

Credit Card: no.

Noise Level: moderate.

Recommended Dishes: crab soup dumplings, pork soup dumplings, sautéed pea tendrils.

Hours: 11:30am–10pm, Sun–Thurs; 11:30am–11pm, Fri-Sat.

Ferrara Bakery and Cafe in Little Italy

Pleasantly full from an earlier dinner of pasta and surrounded by a quiet murmur of Italian, I scoured the streets of Little Italy for my destination: Ferrara Bakery and Cafe.  Night was setting in on this Tuesday evening, but then, all of a sudden, Ferrara emerged out of the darkness with a large, dazzling sign and a bold red awning.  Everything about the exterior distinguished it from its surroundings, from the antique car replica balanced atop the awning to the light and laughter that emanated from within.  It was even bigger than I expected, and I quickened my pace to get inside faster.

The bright exterior of Ferrara
The bright exterior of Ferrara

I had actually stumbled upon Ferrara online while researching another article that I was writing for the Barnard Bulletin.  Ferrara first opened in 1892 as a small neighborhood cafe that quickly earned praise for the freshness and quality of its products.  The bakery is now in its fifth generation of family ownership and still going strong after over 120 years of business.

The full display cases
The full display cases

Once entering, you have the option to either choose bakery items to go or sit down at one of the many tables.  Deciding to make a night out of it, we sat down and were greeted by a very large, varied menu offering everything from specialty pastries to gelato flavors.

The many options (not even including the drink and coffee menu)
The many options (not even including the drink and coffee menu)

Faced with so many options, I decided to go with the trio of miniatures in order to try more of a variety.  I chose the chocolate cannoli, Dacquoise, and raspberry tart in order to balance out my love for both chocolate and berries.

My trio of miniatures
My trio of miniatures

The raspberry tart was a classic combination of a creamy base topped with fresh raspberries and powdered sugar, all contained within a tart.  The chocolate cannoli satisfied my desire for a “quintessential Italian dessert” with a thick layer of dark chocolate encasing the shell.  The most unique dessert that I chose was the specialty pastry Dacquoise, a bittersweet chocolate purse filled with praline and gianduia cream.  The beautifully crafted chocolate exterior gave way to a mousse-like interior with a rich flavor.  If I didn’t have to get back to campus to finish work, I would have stayed much longer in the friendly atmosphere of Ferrara and ordered a coffee too.  As if I needed more motivation to return, Ferrara also offers brunch, so I will be venturing downtown much more often.

Naya’s: A Piece of Lebanon in New York City

Lebanese is the one cuisine I can never tire of! Even after my holidays in Lebanon in which every family visit is accompanied by a plentiful feast, I come back craving the food. Having been spoiled with the best Lebanese food, my family and I have always struggled to find an authentic and delicious Lebanese restaurant in New York city. That is until we found Naya’s in midtown.

In celebration, I brought my friends for a well-prepared feast on Easter. Traditionally, the standard Lebanese meal at a restaurant is all about sharing. It begins with the mezze, which are small sharing platters. My family, one who loves food, usually overdoes this course and is even too full to move onto the hot dishes. Nonetheless, the meal is finished off with a platter of grilled meat and vegetables and rice with vermicelli.

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Common mezze include hummus, taboule, babaghanoush, spinach pies, fatoush (salad with pomegranate syrup and sumac), falafel, kibbe (meat and cracked wheat stuffed with spiced ground meat), sambousac (fried pastry filled with spiced ground meet), grilled haloumi cheese, among many other dishes. The variety is so expansive that a different combination of dishes can always be ordered.

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I have found it nearly impossible to not leave a meal like this full beyond belief. However, the food itself is actually quite light. Butter and cream are rarely used. Each dish usually contains a large amount of olive oil, garlic, and lemon. For the most part, dishes are prepared through grilling, baking, or sautéing. There is an abundance of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits in every meal. Fish and poultry are more often used than red meat, which when used is most commonly lamb.

Naya’s menu offers a broad representation of Lebanese cuisine. They are true to the original flavors and preparation. With the plentiful choices, there is sure to be a dish for everyone to love. Go to Naya and allow yourself the opportunity to become acquainted with the mastery of a Lebanese kitchen.

 

Rockin’ Raw: Vegan Peruvian Creole Food

One of the things that I definitely take for granted since moving to the city is the opportunity to try so many different vegan restaurants. Even though all vegan restaurants only serve vegan food, they are all very different. On my most recent adventure to find a vegan restaurant, I stumbled upon Rockin’ Raw located at 171 Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village, which serves Peruvian Creole food that is both vegan and gluten free.

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Being that it is close to Washington Square Park, it is a great place to get takeout and eat in the park, now that it has gotten warmer outside. Although I would definitely recommend eating in the restaurant as well, because it is very nice and cozy inside. It is small though, so it definitely will get crowded.

I decided to try the lasagna and I also got a chocolate shake to go with it. For their shakes, you have the choice of either almond milk or coconut milk. I decided to try it with coconut milk. The taste of the coconut milk was very obvious in the shake, but it definitely gave it a unique flavor, and actually made it even sweeter. I would guess that with the almond milk, a customer probably couldn’t detect that diary milk wasn’t used. Ultimately, the shake was very good and definitely satisfied my chocolate craving. I would definitely recommend trying it!

Chocolate Shake
Chocolate Shake

The lasagna I had was excellent because it tasted amazing and also the portion size was quite big. I’m not sure how, but it definitely tasted like there was meat in the lasagna, which made it much better than most vegan lasagnas you will find at other vegan restaurants. The lasagna was made with layers and layers of zucchini, mushrooms, red bell peppers, marinara sauce, and sunflower ricotta cheese.

Lasagna
Lasagna

Before going to Rockin’ Raw I had pretty high expectations, but the meal I had was even better than what I expected it would be. I highly recommend trying Rockin’ Raw; you will not be disappointed!

A Middle Eastern Salad Concoction at Sweetgreen

If you’re not familiar with the way it works at Sweetgreen, you can either make your own salad from a set of “bases” and “toppings,” or you can choose from one of their own combinations of bases and toppings. Since the mighty chickpea has become a staple of the American health nut’s diet, it comes up in as many as three different toppings: plain chickpeas, falafel, and hummus. The latter two are featured in Sweetgreen’s Hummus Tahina salad. An updated Greek salad, this concoction starts with a romaine lettuce and kale base, and is topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, pita chips, red onions, and falafel. Dressed with a tangy tahini dressing, and slapped with a scoop of hummus, this salad reaches the end of the assembly line, ready to eat. I went to Sweetgreen to try it out, and got a weird look for ordering the salad without any tweaks. Is that a bad sign? Oh my.

Do I need a better camera or is there no way to make this look appetizing?
Do I need a better camera or is there no way to make this look appetizing?

Usually in these posts I talk about authenticity, but I feel like it is kind of futile in this case. I mean do Guacamole Greens take you back to Mexico? What about the Rad Thai?

When I go to sweetgreen, I don’t expect my taste buds to be dazzled. It seems to be Sweetgreen’s objective to cover each part of the food pyramid in every one of their salads. Unfortunately, this means that their combinations can be very crowded. The list of ingredients that went into my Hummus Tahina is unnecessarily long. I don’t need hummus AND falafel AND tahini. Individually, the hummus is creamy and nutty, the falafel is warm, chunky, and hearty, and the tahini is light and tangy. But together you get tahini and chickpea overload. Romaine is traditional, and kale is a cool update, but again, why put them together? That being said, some ingredients were essential, like pita chips that give crunch, and cherry tomatoes that add color and sweetness.

Overall, it was an okay lunch. Next time, I’d take out the hummus, keep the falafel, and go for an all-kale base.

Also, I promise, I will have at least one home cooked Middle Eastern recipe before the end of the semester!

Happy spring!

Soup Dumplings Part 1: Joe’s Shanghai

There are few things I love more than spontaneously going on adventures in the city—reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to decide at 7 pm on a Tuesday that I want to go to Central Park, or a museum, or in this case, down to Chinatown for xiaolong bao, or soup dumplings.

I was late to soup dumplings. Friends have been raving about them for years, but I rarely go out for Chinese food, so I only had them for the first time about a year ago. Pork and garlic, broth and dough—there are few combinations that are such excellent complements.

There is, as well, a certain magic to the art of eating the dumplings; a technique, definitely, to biting in the right place, managing to get the Chinkiang vinegar into the broth, to slurping the broth without spilling—all while keeping one’s mouth from being severely burned (if they’re good, they’ll be scaldingly hot). For a more scientific breakdown of technique, as well as a list of best soup dumplings in the city, please refer to J. Kenji López-Alt.

The first of two soup dumpling posts is about Joe’s Shanghai; specifically, the location in Chinatown. It’s my roommate’s go-to soup dumpling place, and I spontaneously tagged along

Scallion pancakes and soup dumplings—you know, I’m all for fine dining, but sometimes there’s really nothing better than some salt, pork, and starch, especially on a cold December night after wandering up and down Fifth Ave for hours (my roommate’s friend was visiting).

Upon entering Joe’s Shanghai, you will most likely be sent back out into the cold—there are a bunch of people already in line. But once in a while, when your group has an uncommon number—three, perhaps—you’ll get seated at a shared table and within about five seconds, there are a multitude of menus and both tea and water in front of you.

Get a couple of orders of the soup dumplings. Don’t expect particularly kind waiters, but do expect piping hot food that arrives quickly. Eat the dumplings fast, though—otherwise they’ll stick to the steamer and you won’t be able to use your new xiaolongbao-eating techniques.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the soup dumpling adventures, where I’ll compare Joe’s to a rival…

Can anyone resist these?
Can anyone resist these?

Joe’s Shanghai

9 Pell St, (212) 233-8888

Atmosphere: Casual.

Credit Card: no.

Noise Level: loud.

Recommended Dishes: soup dumplings, scallion pancakes.

Hours: 11am–11pm, 7 days a week.