Tag Archives: Foodie Finds

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Before I start this review of Ayurveda Cafe, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Dena Cheng, and I am currently a first year student in Columbia College. For the culinary blog, I will focus on great vegan and vegetarian eats you can find throughout the city of New York. I am so excited to share my opinions and excitement for food with you this year. I hope you enjoy!

Ayurveda Cafe 

 706 Amsterdam Ave   New York, NY 10025

Monday thru Saturday 11:30am-10:30pm

Sunday 11:30am-10:00pm

Located just past 95th street, Ayurveda Cafe is a great location close (ish) to the Columbia campus. If you are looking for some delicious Indian food, look no further! With a serene ambience, delectable foods, and welcoming staff, the cafe does provide you with a wonderful eating experience.

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A dinner dish filled with beans, yogurt sauce, rice and more!

One of the most unique parts of the restaurant is that there is no set menu. The food constantly changes everyday, and you get to pick and choose from, essentially, a sampling platter. There is a range of different dishes within little bowls, so you can taste different types of beans, rice, and cooked vegetables. The price is very fair, with lunch at only $9.95 and dinner at $15.95. Moreover, one serving can feed more than one person. 

 

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The papadum (a crispy lentil treat)

I personally shared a dinner plate with two other people and was completely satisfied. The wonderful staff even offered papadum, lentil wafers, with various sauces beforehand. Servers also provided warm naan and a free chickpea dessert at the end. This was more than enough food for me.

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A very satisfying cup of mango lassi

I also ordered one of my favorite drinks, a mango lassi. Although it was not necessarily the best lassi I had ever tasted, it was quite delicious and sweet. The yogurt based drink was creamy and tangy without being overly syrupy.

Finally, I would probably rate my experience 4 Bobby Flays out of 5.

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Overall, my stay at the Ayurveda Cafe was pleasurable, and I would definitely go again. Check it out!

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Flor de Mayo

You are in for a treat this week! Flor de Mayo is one of my favorite restaurants around Columbia, located on Broadway between 100 and 101. The food is delicious and interesting. It is a Peruvian-Chinese (Chino-Latino) restaurant. These two cuisines seem be a strange mix at first, but there is a history that bridges the two. The earliest Chinese traveled to the Latin world as slaves or contracted laborers. Later, Chinese ventured to Peru in order to escape communism or anti-Chinese sentiment in their settled countries. Thus, Chinese culture and cuisine has become popular in Peru. Peru ‘s population is 5% from Asian background, which is the largest of any Latin American country.

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It was not until going to Flor de Mayo that I learned about this heterogeneous masterpiece. The dishes at Flor de Mayo do not portray a mix of Chinese and Peruvian flavors. Rather, there are Chinese and Peruvian dishes that are served alongside one another and, surprisingly, balance each other perfectly. The menu is even split in two, with one portion representing ‘Spanish Food’ and the other representing ‘Chinese Food.’

Among the Peruvian specialties is their pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken), which is beyond delicious. It is so simple, yet so flavorful and juicy. Their other great meat dish is the broiled pork chop, which comes out piping hot and crispy, yet moist. Both of these meat dishes are always cooked to perfection, with a golden outside, but never too dry.

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The cilantro rice compliments the chicken perfectly. The cilantro is subtle and gives the rice a refreshing taste. It is delicious to have a bite alone whilst eating all of the other abundantly flavored dishes. Another great Peruvian side dish is the plantain, which comes in sweet and green varieties. The green plantains are fried and mashed flat. They come with a pungent, garlic sauce, which goes well on everything. I love the strong garlic flavor so much that I tend to pour it over everything I serve myself.

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The Peruvian dishes on their own are enough to make anyone want to eat here, but there are other great Chinese dishes. The crispy shrimps are one of my favorites. They are shrimp cooked with the shell on (to maintain the flavor and texture) and scallions in a brown, ginger sauce. The Chinese fried rice is just like any that you could get at other restaurants, but it mixes with the food so well, that it is worth ordering .Who doesn’t like fried rice?

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These are only a few among the incredible variety that Flor de Mayo offers, and I can confidently say that the majority of their dishes are delicious, because all of the ones I have tried are! I have never had a bad meal here, and I always leave excited for the next meal I’ll enjoy at Flor de Mayo.

Divino – A new kind of gelato!

Lauren Weiss is an alumnus of Columbia whom I met at the media networking night a few weeks ago. She is currently working for Divino, a unique gelato start-up. Divino’s trademark is gelato-stuffed fruit coming in five different flavors: amalfi lemon, black diamond plum, ciaculli tangerine, roman kiwi, and apulian peach. Each of the names points to the place in Italy from where the fruit comes, in an effort to transport you to these locations when eating the gelato. Lauren was kind enough to give me her two highest recommendations, the ciaculli tangerine and the apulian peach.

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http://www.lawyerloveslunch.com/2015/01/fun-finds-at-fancy-food-show-2015.html

The packaging of the gelato is very nice. The colors are bright, and each fruit is placed in its own box with a spoon and a paper holder for the fruit. Once the fruit is taken out of the box, it is meant to be opened along the pre-cut lines so that you can eat out of each half. Divino is trying to put its own spin on gelato, working in competition with the many other gelato brands that have recently become popular.

Gelato means ‘ice cream’ in Italian. In Italy, there is a standard amount of butterfat that an ice cream must have to be considered gelato. However, the FDA has not issued any requirement for gelato so most frozen ice cream or sorbet treats can be considered gelato. Gelato is usually healthier than ice cream, because it often times contains fewer calories, sugar, and fat than ice cream. The Italian city of Varese is where gelato gained much of its popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. Today, it is very well known and widely loved.

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The flavors of Divino that I tried were not creamy, but very refreshing and light. They resembled sorbets, since they did not have the creaminess usually associated with gelatos. The tangerine was tangy and sweet with a slight bitter after taste, which helped to balance the sweetness. The apulian peach had a smoother texture than the tangerine, which was more icy. The flavor of the peach gelato tasted fresh, and not as if it were from concentrate. It was very sweet, for me a bit too much so, but my friends did not mind. The fun part is that the gelato is in the skin of the fruit, so you can scrape around the edge to get even more flavor. The skin of the peach can even be eaten, but, be warned, it is cold and can chill your teeth!

It was a treat to get to try these gelatos. They were both delicious and refreshing. The sizes are quite small, about the size of a small scoop of ice cream, so make sure to have your own.

London Fare: NOPI

After a full day of classes, a pharmacy without Band-Aids, and an alarming run-in with the London premiere of 50 Shades of Grey, it was with great relief that I stepped onto a quiet side street just north of Piccadilly Circus. At the end of the street, past a small French bookstore and several stationary shops, was my destination, NOPI. NOPI, which stands for “north of Piccadilly”, is one of four London restaurants owned by Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, author of Jerusalem, Plenty, and Plenty More.

Upon arrival, the hostess escorted me to the bar area to wait for my friend. She handed me a plate of marinated olives and spiced nuts and informed me that there was a photographer present to take photos for Ottolenghi’s newest cookbook. Casual.

Marinated olives and Ottolenghi roasted spiced nuts
Marinated olives and Ottolenghi roasted spiced nuts

After my friend arrived a couple minutes later (most of the olives were gone by that point) the hostess led us down a flight of stairs. The downstairs seating stood in stark contrast to the traditional upstairs set-up; there were two large communal tables fitted into a small, darker room lined with jars of olive oil, bread, and preserved lemons. We could see into the open kitchen, where, sure enough, a man with a huge camera snapped actions shots of the cooking staff.

Sweet potato, burnt aubergine yoghurt, pomegranate seeds
Sweet potato, burnt aubergine yoghurt, pomegranate seeds
Golden and candy beetroot, labneh, pistachio
Golden and candy beetroot, labneh, pistachio

My father grew up in Israel and when my grandparents were alive I spent a lot of time there so suffice it to say I’m quite picky about my hummus. What the menu offered was not traditional Israeli per se, but rather an eclectic and modern take on Mediterranean cuisine. In an effort to try as many things as possible we opted to order several small plates as opposed to one entrée-sized dish apiece. Each plate was a seamless combination of flavors and textures, each ingredient melting into the rest in a way both surprising and satisfying. The flavors of pistachios, labneh, and tahini were all still there, but amplified in new and exciting ways. Needless to say, the food exceeded my palate’s very demanding expectations and Yotam Ottolenghi instantly became my hero.

Skordalia, chilli, garlic confit
Skordalia, chilli, garlic confit

I’m looking forward to trying out all the other Ottolenghi locations around town. My next stop on the quest for the culinary Holy Grail will be for brunch at the Islington location. I hear they do a killer take on French toast. My taste buds are already dancing in joy.

Twice-cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt, chilli sauce
Twice-cooked baby chicken, lemon myrtle salt, chilli sauce
Pork belly, apple pureé, pickled cedro lemon
Pork belly, apple pureé, pickled cedro lemon

The New French: Lafayette

Mesdames et Messieurs, the reviews are in: Lafayette you are juste magnifique!

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 If there’s one culinary bite of wisdom I’ve managed to chew off over my relatively short life it’s one thing: Taste is place. What first drew me to food was travel, that is to say when I experienced that one dish could so deliciously convey a history, a people, and capture the spice of most importantly, a culture. Food is no other than the expression of a land and of a certain terroir. When we savour a slice of Camembert, we’re tasting the beauty of the pastureland, plains and rolling hills that the creamy cows of the île de France and shores of Normandy are grazing on. In a glass of a really good Burgundy pinot noir, it’s the Jurassic period limestone soil and thousand year old vines unique to one of the world’s most geographically distinct regions that our palettes are really sipping on. And the best authentic French food, is of course going to taste the best in none other than the land of France. So what’s the point of trying to find “authentic” french restaurants in another country? Isn’t it all going to be a sort of sad copy, a nostalgic crusade for all deprived francophones, in search of their own culinary golden age? Well this week, Noho’s infamous Lafayette showed two staunchy traditionalists the beauty of culinary translation and of the American-French restaurant variation.There’s no going back to France, but there is a way to appreciate the value of cultural interpretation, and what American chefs might add to the interpretation of French flavors. This week we’re here to celebrate one of our new favorite culinary breeds: le nouveau style, “American-French.”Cher Lafayette, you are a beautiful hybrid.

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                                  Lafayette

DSC_0419380 Lafayette St.

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So here’s the deal, Lafayette reigns currently as one of NYC’s top French restaurants and we’re stamping it with our wholehearted francophone seal of approval. And not because you’ll find the most authentic French food there, but rather because it offers innovative, delicious spins on traditional regional french classic dishes. Now we’ll be honest, we’re not on the “Boulud” bandwagon these days. Instead we’re joining “team Lafayette” for their ability to produce delicious, creative spins on the best of French cuisine. It’s that creamy quail egg on their “New Orleans” tabasco aioli beef tartare that really revamps original flavors and makes the classics, well, fun again! The quail egg is not a culinary face lift, but rather an inspired addition. Just like that refreshing layer of sweet sauternes gelée on good ole chicken liver paté done right on a light brioche was then “razzle dazzled” into the modern age with balsamic dressed frisée.  And the best New York-Franco translation of the night that we’re recommending: Duck au Poivre, a riff on French steak au poivre (filet mignon cooked with peppercorns) but reinvented with a meaty, double stuffed Muscovy duck breast and topped with vibrant bursts of orange candied kumquat, radishes, and smoked bacon. No disrespect to Duck à l’Orange, but Lafayette’s unique kumquat announces a new burst of tart citrus flavor with an added raw crunch to pair perfectly with your duck cooked to a perfect pink. It was one subtle ingredient that didn’t renovate one of my favorite dishes, but rather re-translated a transition.

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So why are we sending you on a date with duck at Lafayette next weekend? Quality, delicious dishes that fit a creative American-Franco fused menu. La service? Superbe. Lafayette’s waiters are well tasted and eager to talk you through their Holy Bible of a wine list. L’Atmosphere? It’s no comfy cave bistrot, but their art deco inspired interior and suspender strap wearin’ waiters will whisk you and your palette back to a time when dining was truly a celebration, an elegant affair, and a moment to shine your shoes for. A time when waiters still serve a “lady” first and will even delicately crack open your warm soufflé to pour in just the perfect amount of crème anglaise. Lafayette preserves the grace, tradition, and dedication to the craft of preparing and serving food in a way that embodies the very génie of the French Haute Cuisine. So come for cultural culinary innovation, but let yourself be transported back in time to a restaurant that preserves the very essence of Julia Child’s legacy.

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Menu Must Haves:

Winter Paté, foie gras, red cabbage, apple cider

Escarole Salad, pomegranate, hazelnut, parmesan, truffle vinaigrette

Prime Beef Tartare “New Orleans,” tabasco aioli, quail egg

Girandole, braised rabbit, picholine olives, oregano

Duck au Poivre, organic grains, radish, smoked bacon

Petite Orange Soufflé with earl grey crème anglaise, mandarin salad

*And supposively we hear the pommes frites sont divine!

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 French Check-In: An Afterthought from a Parisian Palette

What was your favorite Lafayette spin?

The French restaurant in NYC? Lafayette, definitely. And maybe because it’s not exactly a French restaurant serving very “typical” dishes that we don’t even really eat back at home.

The restaurant in NYC? Well, that’s a really tricky question obviously, but Lafayette could be in the top five, and considering that there are 16,251 restaurants in NYC (yes actual number), that’s something.

Seriously, this place is everything you can look for when it comes to food: simplicity and quality. I had the Girandole, braised rabbit, picholine olives, oregano (by the way, cheapest dish on the menu, 22 dollars, does it get better than that… ?). It’s a dish I regularly have, from time to time, at home or out. It basically contains pasta and rabbit, that’s it. But this version of it was the real thing because the pasta was perfectly cooked, the rabbit was tender and flavorful. Simple comme bonjour.

PS: Oh, and don’t even get me started on the bread.

-Jeanne Bernard

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 PARIS SUGGESTIONS: WHERE TO FIND JULIA CHILD OLD SCHOOL ROMANCE THESE DAYS:

Chez Dumonet (Josephine)
117, rue du Cherche-Midi (6th)

 

 

New York’s Delicatessen

This week, I took a trip with a big group of friends downtown to New York’s Delicatessen. Delicatessen, in short, is upscale comfort food. You should make a reservation beforehand due to this place’s popularity.

The Truffle Spinach and Artichoke Dip check out that cheese crust on top being pierced to unveil the cheesy goodness inside.

For appetizers we ordered the cheeseburger spring rolls and the truffle spinach and artichoke dip. The cheeseburger spring rolls were crispy on the outside. On the in the inside there was ground beef with melted cheese – and yes I had a whole order to myself. The truffle spinach and artichoke dip had the melted cheese on top that slightly hardened – the amazing part was when you open it up and even more cheese would ooze out. The starters were small enough not to make us completely full as we waited for our entrees.

For my entree, I ordered the “Fresh Kale Salad” (from the appetizer menu), and I must admit that I had low expectations as in the case whenever one orders a salad for dinner. However, the salad had an amazing dressing and exceeded my expectation. It had golden raisins, cashews, shitake mushrooms, and sprouts. If you’re looking for a vegan meal at Delicatessen, I would highly recommend this salad.

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The “Mac Lobsta'” and the “Mac Quack” right behind it

Because I ordered a salad, my loving friends took pity on me and allowed me to taste their entrees. And I must say that nothing could beat the macaroni and cheese, not even the kale salad. The two kinds of “Macs” we ordered were the “Mac Quack” and “Mac Lobsta’”, containing duck confit, white cheddar & fontina, caramelized onion, and tender chunks of fresh lobster, cognac, tarragon & marscapone, respectively. I’m not a huge fan of duck, so saying that I loved the “Mac Quack” should convince you to go try it. Even when not chewing on a piece of lobster or duck, the flavor was infused into the macaroni, so that every bite was full of flavors.

The “Mac Lobsta'” and the “Mac Quack” right behind it

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The Korean Skirt Steak & Spinach Salad.

You would think we would all be full by this time, but NOPE! I have not been able to find the name of the dessert we ordered – it was chocolate pudding with pieces of chocolate cake in it and whipped cream. I have never been a fan of chocolate pudding, but this pudding had great consistency and the bits of cake won me over. There were chocolate balls on the surface which added a crunch. The combination of the crunchiness of the balls, the softness of cakes, and the smoothness of the pudding worked well together to make this dish the best part of the meal.

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Behold: the anonymous dessert that won me over.

If you’re not convinced to go try Delicatessen, I’m not sure what will. It is definitely worth the trek downtown.

Quick and Delicious Indian

Indian food! We all love it, at least I do. But I rarely get to enjoy it. My entire life I have been fascinated by the colors of India – both in the textiles and in the food. I have been craving Indian food for the past few weeks and when the time came for me to choose what cuisine to explore next, there was no better option. In order to find a good Indian food place around Columbia, I decided to ask a natural expert in all things Indian, my friend from Delhi. I ceaselessly ask her questions about the different festivals that she celebrates, the kind of food she eats, the way she eats it, and Bollywood films. Luckily, she is eager to teach me everything. Thus, I came to her with one request – bring me out for a good Indian meal, please. And so she brought me to Doaba Deli on 107th street and Columbus Ave.

She warned me that the restaurant was very casual (and by that, she meant very casual) and different from Indian food commonly served at restaurants, but more like home-cooked food. I had a feeling I was in for a treat, and boy was I right!

We walked into a make shift seating area with three tables, each with four chairs, and an area to stand to quickly eat. Up two steps was the way into the kitchen where you order your meal. There is a cart with the daily specials. The basic order is a tray with four special options and a side of naan or rice. Additionally there is an entire menu of different vegetarian dishes, different bread sides, and different desserts to order.

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During my meal, I got to try a large selection of different dishes and they were all absolutely delicious. If you tend to shy away from Indian food because of the heavy spices, then you would prefer the food at this place as it was relatively less spiced than other Indian food I have had and it definitely did not feel as heavy. The list of the dishes is as follows: gourd squash, yellow curry yogurt sauce, mashed greens, spinach and potato, eggplant and potato, dal (lentils), paneer with peas, and chickpeas.

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We also ordered a dish called ‘samosa chaat’, which was samosa (fried, potato-stuffed pastry triangles) and chickpeas topped with yogurt, coriander sauce, tamarind sauce, and a spicy red sauce. It was a burst of flavors, but well balanced. This is a typical Indian street food dish. The warmness and heaviness of the samosas was cut by the tanginess of the yogurt and the fresh flavor of the coriander.

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I apologize for not being able to particularly point out each individual flavor in the dishes, but Indian food is all about the mixture of spices. To make up for this, I have done some research about the typical spices used in Indian dishes. Cardamom adds a fragrant flavor, chilies add spice, coriander adds a fresh and earthy flavor, cloves give a rich flavor, tamarind gives a tart flavor, and turmeric gives a bright yellow color. Most of the dishes include a variety of these spices in different proportions. Thus, each dish has a hint of each of these flavors, and depending on the dominating flavor it is evident which spice was used most heavily.

There is no fork or knife served with the dish, only a spoon for the rice. The rest of the meal is eaten with your hands. You rip a piece of naan and scoop up food into your mouth or spoon food into your bowl of rice and mix it.

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During the meal, I could not help but notice all of the Indians coming in to get a quick dinner or chai tea. They were definitely regulars and were friendly with the old lady who served the dishes. It did not feel as if I were eating in public, but rather as if I was in someone’s kitchen. Many people shared their tables, if there was no other room. Do not expect to have a private or served meal. Instead, expect a very comfortable and casual atmosphere with no pretentions.

For dessert we ordered a gulab jamun (fried dough ball soaked in sugar and oil). It is good, but nothing extraordinary. In fact, it is quite bland compared to the rest of the meal. Before taking a bite, you should press it down to squeeze out the oil.

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Overall, the meal was an incredible experience full of satisfying food and cultural immersion. It feels as if you have left New York walking into Doaba Deli and have stepped into a true Indian corner shop with the smells of the local cuisine and the sounds of the local language. There is even a small section to buy all sorts of Indian biscuits. Another benefit are the very low prices. A generous meal can easily cost between five to ten dollars per person. I am so glad to have found such a good, casual eat-out place right by Columbia. I definitely plan on coming again, and highly recommend it to anyone.

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Manzo in Eataly

No one usually looks to a marketplace for a great date night. There are too many people just standing around clogging the aisles with their hungry, indecisive bodies. There are too many kids running around screaming and begging for ice cream. But take a step into Eataly and you might see more than just a market.

Though there are many great restaurants in Eataly, I went to Manzo. Service was friendly and attentive. Waiters waltzed in between tables, ties dangling from their necks, and two men in suits strolled around, making sure everything was in order. The staff carried themselves with an air of professionalism, not often akin to marketplaces. After a while, I got the sense that the restaurant was not built in the market; rather the market was built around the restaurant.

I started my meal with a plate of carpaccio. The plate was covered entirely in thin circles of meat, striped here and there with tender, marbled fat. Peppered across the dish, shards of parmigiano reggiano provided a salty and nutty compliment to the meat. A clump of watercress rested in the center. The color and the taste of its citrus vinaigrette gave a pleasant contrast to the slices of meat. I meant to take a picture of the carpaccio, for it looked quite lovely. Yet, I already finished half the dish before I remembered to do so.

Next -and yes, I did get a picture of this one – I had a duck ragu with foie gras. The very essence of duck seemed to have soaked into the casarecce pasta. The dish was indescribably savory, rich, and hearty, but delicate as well. It was the type of dish you could picture both in the fanciest of restaurants and at a casual meal made by that great aunt from Sicily, who wanted to visit you while she was in New York even though you’ve really only seen her once or twice in your lifetime. Since I find myself grasping for words to describe this ragu, take a look at the picture and go to Manzo to get it for yourself.

Manzod Duck Ragu

At last, I got a wonderful lemon meringue, appropriately named Leggero. That’s Italian for “light.” Topping the meringue was a sweet blackberry swirl, a fresh blackberry, a tangy dab of lemon gelato, and a few sprigs of basil. Indeed it was a lemon meringue, but the basil made the dish. It added a certain complexity to the dish that forced you to keep eating in order to understand how it fit so well on top of a dessert. All in all, I found the meringue to be a delightful, palate-cleansing end to the meal. And just look at it. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Manzo's Lemon Meringue

Manzo is a gem hidden in plain sight. Ignorant of the bustling shoppers all around, this restaurant provides a warm and friendly dining experience with tastes to satisfy most everyone…except vegetarians. Sorry, Manzo’s specialty is meat.

Manzo

200 5th Ave

New York, NY 10010

Tel: 212.229.2180

Rafele Ristorante

With winter quickly descending on the cold, steel structures of the city, the last sight I expected to see from Rafele Ristorante was a warm, summery environment. But look for yourself.

Rafele Ristorante

Thick, green stalks and stems draping over the shelves. Cute, little flowers poking up from the center of the rustic, wooden tables. Bottles of wine and olive oil lining the walls. I can’t help but to think of a warm meal in a summer garden in Tuscany. Although I have never had the pleasure of visiting Italy, Rafele Ristorante brought a little piece of Italy to America, almost as good as a real trip.

For my appetizer, I had burrata frita. Burrata is a soft, buttery combination of mozzarella and cream, and of course, frita means fried. So yes, I just ate fried cheese. Personally, I could eat cheese all day in replacement of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but the restaurant fried it for me. Everything is better fried. This cheese is no exception. That sweet, gooey cheese was a godsend.

After I finished my cheese, the waiter smiled wide, asked how everything was, and whisked away my plate. Even the waiter seemed warm and summery! Not too long after, my margherita pizza was brought out. Some people get upset when you get something as simple as a margherita pizza. After all, it is basically just a normal cheese pizza with a few leaves of basil thrown on top. Yet, its simplicity allows you to better appreciate the two main actors that influence a pizza’s quality: the sauce and the crust.

margherita pizza

The sauce tickled the tongue with its sweet, herby flavor. It tasted of tomatoes, onions, and garlic, slow-cooked all day as if they had waited for my arrival before being put to use. And the crust was exactly what any New Yorker wants: thick enough to support the rest of the pizza, but thin enough to give a satisfying crunch. The edges were blackened and crispy from the wood fired oven. Yes, it was a simple margherita pizza. Simple and delicious.

Sadly, I didn’t have room for dessert. I was really in the mood for tiramisu, but I ate an entire pizza… so that didn’t happen. Regardless, I highly recommend Rafele Ristorante. Winter is coming. We need a reminder of the happy, summer days.

Rafele Ristorante

www.rafele.com

hospitality@rafele.com

(212) 242-1999

29 7th Ave South, New York, NY 10014

Chocolàt Restaurant Lounge

Okay, so not everyone is a hopeless romantic like me. Some of you prefer a more lively dinner with bass-heavy hip-hop music and dark, blue lighting. Some of you would rather have a couple of cocktails instead of a nice glass of wine. And there are some of you who appreciate the chance to look over your date’s shoulder and watch the Giants play on either of two flatscreen TVs. Well, for you, I’d like to introduce Chocolàt Restaurant Lounge at 2223 Frederick Douglas Boulevard in Harlem.

While the word “lounge” implies relaxation, I felt a more energetic vibe. The restaurant was full and bouncing to the beat of the DJ. The bar cranked out drinks of every kind. Even the moody, blue lights seemed like preparation for a night dancing in clubs.

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To start, I had the fried calamari. Freshened up by a tangy lemon aioli, the calamari was light and crispy. It rested happily on the line between fine dining and simple finger food. Sadly, I was forced to share the sweet, tender squid.

Fortunately, the main course was all mine. I had grilled lamb chops with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. Sharp on the tongue with herbs and spices, the meat soaked in a pool of sauce, thin, but rich. The mashed potatoes were plump, cheesy, warm and delightful. The spinach was spinach. It took the flavor of the rest of the meal. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because at the end of the day, you can ignore all the fattening foods you’ve eaten and say that you had at least one healthy item.

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To end the meal, I decided upon a slice of red velvet cake. Now, I must offer a warning. Do not attempt to eat this by yourself after having an entire meal. You can’t do it. The cake is moist and the frosting is not overly sweet. A raspberry syrup is drizzled across the slice, adding a bit of complexity and variety depending on where you put your fork. The only problem is that this slice is more like a slab. The cake is four layers high and generous in width. Unless you share, you will not finish.

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Although I felt a little out of my element, I had a great time. The owner Leon Ellis says, “This is an emerging area in Harlem, it was designated to be ‘Restaurant Row’ on the west side, with the resurgence that started in Harlem. We were the first to open in the vicinity, because nobody wanted to come over here.” Chocolàt sets a wonderful standard for restaurants to come and I look forward to seeing the area develop as time passes.

Chocolàt Restaurant Lounge

223 Frederick Douglas Blvd (120 Street), Harlem, NYC 10026

T: 212-222-4545   F: 212-222-9594

www.chocolatharlem.com   zuri@chocolatharlem.com