Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Food – Great Friends – Great Restaurant

After a bit of a restaurant hiatus (economic meltdown doesn’t really bode well for frequent restaurant visits), my fiancé and I went out with a bunch of our long-time friends for a semi-annual dinner and gabfest. Our friend chose a quaint French bistro in Chelsea as the meeting spot for all eight of us.

I know that eight young professionals at a dinner table can become a raucous group, but I will commend the restaurant for two things: seating us toward the back, separating us from the rest of the diners with a nice private curtain, and also for the service. The wait staff was very pleasant, and I know large groups can be tough to deal with sometimes.

What’s nice about group dining is that you have the opportunity to sample many of the dishes. And we didn’t realize that the portions at La Belle Vie would be so generous – especially for the prices. I think that comparatively to other restaurants, your dollar goes much further here (recession bonus)!

For appetizers, several of us got the French onion soup, and then we split the duck confit risotto. The soup had perfectly browned melted Swiss cheese on top, and was quite filling (eyes bigger than stomach syndrome). The duck risotto was – ducky! It was less creamy and meatier than I expected it to be. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, because I did. The flavor of the risotto was light and faintly cheesy, and the taste of duck and mushrooms were the stars of the show. Again, much more filling than I anticipated, especially since I was sharing it with three other people.

For the main dish, I opted to try something distinctly French – the Boeuf Bourguignon, which is beef cubes sautéed with red wine, vegetables, mashed potatoes. The plate was enormous. Even if I had skipped the apps, I still don’t think I could have finished this dish (pictured left). The beef was wonderfully tender, and you could really taste the red wine infused in the sauce. It was really delicious. The mashed potatoes were also good because they were not too salty, and served as a perfect subtle compliment to the super-flavorful sauce on the beef. And atop each of the three piles of mashed potatoes, a waffle potato chip was perched. Yum!

I also had the pleasure of sampling the Canard Rôti - crispy roasted half of duck with long grain wild rice, Grand Marnier sauce (pictured right). The surprising and delightful thing about this dish was the sweet, almost fruitiness of the sauce on the duck. But it wasn’t too sweet or offensive. It had just the right amount of zing. I also tried their fall-of-the-bone tender short ribs, which were also great, and enormous in portion (pictured left).

Since you can’t call yourself a French restaurant and not serve soufflé, we ordered ours at the same time we ordered our entrees so as to give the kitchen ample time to prepare the chocolate, praline, and Grand Marnier confections. We hoped that one of each flavor would be enough, but we should have known that just like everything else at this restaurant, the soufflés would be giant. Each one could easily feed three hungry people. They were all fluffy and light, which is how it should be. And the waiter brought over the soufflé, punctured it on top with a fork, and then poured in its respective sauce (see chocolate soufflé, in action, pictured right). The only disappointment I had was with the chocolate – it just did not have the richness that I would have expected. It was more of a subtle cocoa flavor that rich chocolaty goodness. But perhaps this worked to our advantage, since we were bursting at the seams at this point.

Also notable was the large selection of wine by the glass. I highly recommend the Montepulciano.

But of course, as good as the food was, the best part of the evening was being able to share it with good friends, to catch up and spend quality time together. And La Belle Vie was a great place to do just that.

La Belle Vie – 184 8th Avenue, 10011

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Charles - From Those Who Brought You the Waverly Inn

A friend of ours somehow managed to snag us reservations for four during the opening weekend of Charles. This restaurant is the creation of John DeLucie and John McAllister of Wavery Inn fame. And I foresee this place being successfully uber-trendy as well, with some comforting food to boot.

The restaurant is very small – it only seats about 60, and it currently still has newspapered windows, so when you arrive, you wonder if you have arrived at the right place. The ambiance inside is dark, cozy and intimate, and we appreciated the attentiveness and cordiality of the wait staff who were eager to please.

For our first course, we began with the Yukon Gold & Celeriac Soup with Roasted Hazelnuts & Cinnamon Oil. This was incredibly interesting with a very distinct flavor. I think the hazelnuts and cinnamon added a complex ethnic flavor to a soup that would otherwise be considered traditional comfort food. The soup was creamy, but not overwhelmingly so, and I found it to be delicious.

For the main dishes, I ordered the Braised Short Rib of Beef with Swiss Chard, Golden Raisins & Pine Nuts, while Ron ordered the Seared Duck Breast with Roasted Grapes & Escarole. My short ribs were exactly what I would have expected. Juicy and tender in a light beef gravy, sitting atop a bed of sautéed escarole. The raisins and pine nuts added nice, subtle hints of sweetness and nuttiness to the dish that complimented the beef very nicely. And the portion was very reasonable as well. When finished, you are full without being stuffed.

Ron’s seared duck was also fabulous. The dish was sweeter than I would have expected, but it worked very well, and the duck was cooked to perfection with a slightly crispy crust and very moist meat inside. As a side dish, we ordered the White Polenta with Aged Goat Cheese – and it did not disappoint. I loved this dish. The polenta was creamy and cheesy, but only subtly so. There was nothing overwhelming about it – I thought it was perfect.

Our dining companions ordered the Potato Gnocci with Squash, Spinach & Percorino Romano, and the Charles Burger with Gruyere, Roasted Cipolini Onions & Hand Cut Pomme Frites. They both seemed very pleased with their meals as well. The French fries in homemade “ketchup” were very nice. The ketchup tasted like a smoky marinara sauce, which made for a unique dipping experience.

If you can get reservations, I’d highly recommend checking this place out.

Charles – 234 West 4th Street, 10014

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cure for the Wintertime Blues

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

As the temperature begins to drop, this recipe is a great one, and one of my all time favorites. My fiancé also happens to love it, and I make it every time we have a craving for the perfect wintertime comfort food. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

One kosher chicken, cut up
6 carrots
6 celery stalks
2 parsnips
1 turnip
dill, bunch
parsley, bunch
1 large onion
(celery salt, optional)

In a large stock pot, place the chicken pieces (skin removed), and cover with water so that the chicken is completely covered, and there is an additional 1-2 inches of water above the chicken. Bring to a boil and allow the chicken to cook for about an hour on a medium-low heat. Skim off the fat while the chicken is cooking.

Meanwhile, cut into chunks 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, parsnips, turnip and onion, and wash and prepare bunches of dill and parsley.

After an hour, remove the chicken from the water and reserve, and add the rest of the ingredients, including salt, pepper and celery salt to the pot to cook on medium-low heat. Once the chicken pieces have cooled somewhat, remove the meat from the chicken and cut it into small pieces to reserve for the soup later. You can throw the bones back into the stock pot to cook with the vegetables to maximize the flavor of the broth. Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

In the meantime, chop the remaining carrots and celery into small pieces and reserve.

Once the vegetables have all softened completely, strain and reserve the broth, and discard all the cooking vegetables and chicken bones. Put the broth back in the pot, and add the fresh chopped carrots and celery and pieces of reserved chicken. Cook on medium-low heat, covered, for about a half hour.

In the meantime, in a separate pot, cook your favorite soup noodles (egg noodles preferred) according to the package so they are al dente. Then, strain and run the noodles under cold water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Reserve the noodles.

Once the carrots and celery in the soup are tender, and the broth seasoned with salt and pepper to your liking, the soup is ready to eat. Serve the soup with the noodles. I like to keep the soup and noodles separate until you are ready to serve so the noodles do not get soggy. Enjoy!

Serves about 8

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pita Joe - For the Schnitzel Lover in You

After having recently traveled to Israel and still experiencing falafel withdrawal pangs, I was excited to receive an invitation to the preview party for a brand new falafel and schnitzel joint in Union Square. The opening party provided a sampling of all the staple menu items from Pita Joe, including falafel, grilled chicken, schnitzel, with all the necessary accompanying salads and sides, and, of course, pita.

Most of the time, when I eat falafel, the inside of the falafel ball is mostly green. This falafel is not – they are the color I would expect a chick pea to be. But they are very flavorful. Most notable is the garlic flavor permeating throughout. I found them to be really good, and different than the typical falafel I’ve found in the city.

Truth be told, I am generally not a huge fan of schnitzel. For those of you who may not know, schnitzel (pictured) is essentially a breaded poultry cutlet, most often chicken. After years of attempting to make healthier choices, I have weaned myself off of breaded menu items and have lost my affection for many of them. But I figured I’d give it a shot anyway. The chicken cutlet is thinly sliced, and the breading is adequately seasoned without being overwhelmingly greasy. I enjoyed this far more than I expected.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the head chef of the restaurant, who is of the belief that his pitas are the best I have ever tasted. I told him this was a tall order to fill, and I’d need some evidence. He told me that he spent several days in Israel at a school studying the art of pita making. I wondered to myself where I might find such a pita university (PU?), and how I might sign up for coursework. He kindly sent me home with a bag of freshly baked pitas for my experiment. And after six trials (for consistency purposes, or course), I determined that he might be right. They were fluffy, with just the right amount of brown crispy spots, and a hint of sweetness. I ate them with ease and I am looking forward to my next visit to Pita Joe to alert the chef to my findings.

Pita Joe - 2 West 14th Street, 10011

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Turkey Osso Buco

In addition to my restaurant and food reviews, I will be posting recipes that I have either made or tasted and loved, so that you can partake in the deliciousness as well, right from your own home. And you can submit your own favorite recipes for possible future posts on Your Omnivore!

Turkey Osso Buco with Parsley and Rosemary Gremolata

To give credit where it is due, I got this recipe from an episode of Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network. When I cooked it, I left out the Gremolata portion altogether, and I thought it was fantastic. I love this recipe, and it is especially great if you are entertaining, or if you want to have excellent leftovers for the next day. The turkey becomes so tender and flavorful in the recipe – you can cut it easily with a fork. Also, when I made the recipe, I used an entire boneless turkey breast only (skinless), cut into about 6 pieces. I served it on top of whole wheat pasta, and it came out great!

1/2 breast of turkey (cut into 3 pieces, preferably by the butcher)
2 turkey thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups reduce-sodium chicken broth
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, zested
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced rosemary leaves
Pinch salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

For the Turkey Osso Bucco: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pat the turkey with paper towels to dry and ensure even browning. Season the turkey with salt and pepper. Dredge the turkey in the flour to coat.

In a heavy roasting pan large enough to fit the turkey in a single layer, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey and cook until brown on both sides, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the turkey to a plate and reserve.

In the same pan, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Season vegetables with salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Return the turkey to the pan. Add enough chicken broth to come 2/3 up the sides of the turkey. Add the herb sprigs, bay leaf, and cloves to the broth mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan tightly with foil and transfer to the oven. Braise until the turkey is fork-tender, turning the turkey after 1 hour.

Meanwhile, for the Gremolata: Combine the chopped parsley, lemon zest, garlic, minced rosemary, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Cover and reserve until serving the turkey.

To serve, transfer the turkey to shallow serving bowls. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the sauce over the meat. Sprinkle each piece of turkey with a large pinch of Gremolata. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

C’est Magnifique!

I have lived on the Upper East Side for over a year, and have passed this restaurant many times. Each time, I had a different excuse for not stopping in. “I don’t know… it’s late and the food seems heavy”, “I don’t know… it looks really expensive, let’s just do something cheap and local…”, “Meh…I don’t think I’m dressed the part… some other time, maybe”, etc. So finally, Ron and I decided to plan a date to L’Absinthe. And we did not regret it.

We sat at our table, and as we began to peruse the menu, the waiter brought us a plate with two hot parmesan encrusted biscuits. It was then that I knew that this was going to be a good night. Fluffy inside, and cheesy and crusty outside. Yum! They also brought fresh baguette bread and butter. I normally don’t comment on bread because usually it is nothing special, but this time, it was hot and super soft inside and the outside was crisp and flaking all over the table. Our table must have looked like a crumby disaster when we were done, but it was so worth it.

For our first course, we decided to share the Casserole of Fresh Peas (pictured - I apologize for the photo quality, as these were taken with an iPhone) which is a dish of pea dumplings (think soft pea gnocci), English peas, pea shoots, and pieces of chicken wings in a savory chicken broth base. This dish was so flavorful, and the chicken was incredibly tender and juicy. The dish is small to share, but it was a wonderful beginning to our meal. We nearly licked the plate clean, the broth was so good. At the same time, we also had our second helping of the fresh baguette.

For our main courses, Ron ordered the Orange Marinated and Glazed Black Cod (pictured) which came with corn cilantro pancakes and bok choy. His fish was really excellent. Very moist and flaky, and the citrus flavor was infused throughout the fish which gave it amazing flavor. According to the waitress, the fish is marinated in the orange marinade overnight so that it really soaks up all that citrus goodness. And the pancakes were very interesting. Ron has a severe distaste for cilantro, so that was the deal breaker for him, but I thought they were quite good.

For my dish, I ordered the Papillote of Salmon in Phyllo Dough with Vegetable Minestrone Couscous and arugula dressing (pictured). This was unusual for me, because I’ve never had salmon wrapped in fried phyllo before. It was a really unique combination and I enjoyed the amalgam of textures within this dish. The vegetable minestrone with large couscous pearls was delightful. Whatever type of stock the side dish was cooked in made it really savory (I wonder if it was similar to the broth in the casserole) and it was really tasty.

And if we weren’t piggy enough, we decided that we needed to see how the restaurant fared on the dessert front, if the meal was any indication. Ron ordered the Warm Crust Dark Chocolate Cake with Carmelized Bananas and Rum Sorbet (pictured), which was outrageous. The cake was decadent and chocolaty without being “too” rich. And we’ve never had rum sorbet before – so the cold creaminess with the hint of alcohol was surprising.

I ordered their special dessert of the day which was a mint soufflé with a warm vanilla sauce. The soufflé was very fluffy and light and the mint added a really distinct flavor. The desserts did not disappoint, and as a wonderful added bonus, we got a plate of homemade chocolate truffles (pictured) when we ordered tea or coffee. The truffles were delightfully cool, and melted in your mouth.

We thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate at this restaurant, and the service was pleasant and attentive as well – especially since we didn’t have a reservation. I would highly recommend L’Absinthe for your next romantic dinner, celebration, or anytime you just want a really delicious meal.

L’Absinthe; 227 E 67th St, 10065

Thursday, October 30, 2008


For lunch during the week, it is always a luxury to find a nice, sit down restaurant that offers reasonably priced fare in Midtown. Which is why I was so pleased to discover Cabana Midtown so many months ago. This restaurant boasts cuisine which it calls “Nuevo Latina”, which seems to be mostly Cuban food. Since my discovery of this place, I have been converting friends and colleagues into frequent diners. My most recent visit was no exception.

I brought my new coworker, Brittany, to sample one of my favorite lunchtime locations that I go to when I grow tired of grabbing a salad from the deli downstairs and eating it at my desk (blah). The restaurant had closed a few months ago for renovations, but has since reopened with a very “Miami chic” atmosphere. Bright red and yellow colors surrounding us with Latin music playing in the background, the décor is vibrant and lively. The food is as much a feast for the stomach as a feast for the eyes.

One of my favorite things to order here are the salads from their lunch menu (all lunch menu items cost between $10 and $14, and come with either soup or salad, depending on what you order). Since I’m trying to be all “figure friendly”, I tend to believe that salads are generally the way to go. The soup we had was a plantain vegetable soup, which was unusual, but nothing to write home about. It was sort of neither here nor there – we ate it because we were hungry and it was in front of us.

For my main attraction, I ordered the Tangerine salad (pictured) which features a bed of field greens topped with grilled salmon and a mango salsa (mango, cantaloupe, pineapple, red peppers) in a delicious dressing, which I believe is comprised of some kind of fruit and honey, which gives it its fresh, sweet taste. And I have to comment on the presentation – you can find nearly every color of the rainbow in this salad, and I almost had difficulty taking the time to photograph it before digging right in.

Brittany ordered the Tropicana salad (pictured), also of field greens and with the same dressing, but topped with grilled chicken, orange slices, cantaloupe, mango and pineapple. To me, these salads are a perfectly refreshing and satisfying lunch or dinner, and I think she was in agreement with me on that sentiment.

All of the other dishes I have tried here are good, some better than others. Last time, when I went with my friend Carrie, I ordered the Coco Cabana Pollo from their regular menu, which is chicken breast, broccoli, carrots, spinach and Caribbean root vegetables (yuca, calabaza, and yautia) simmered in coconut milk, flavored with curry and habanero peppers. The dish was really different from anything I have tried before, and I rather enjoyed it. The sauce is light, made of a yellow curry, and was not overly creamy which I appreciated. Carrie ordered the Picadillo, which is a traditional Cuban dish of ground beef and potatoes sautéed with garlic, plum tomatoes, onion, bell peppers, olives and capers, served with rice and black beans. She liked it, but we both deemed it a bit under seasoned.

The empanadas here are also very good, but I’ve only tried them from other people’s orders because I have yet to bring myself to order a plate of this fried doughy goodness. And one thing I can rave about are the mojitos (after work only, folks!) I had the watermelon mojito and Carrie ordered the lemon-lime. Both were delicious and hit the spot nicely. Their Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice) is another winner, and being my fiancé’s favorite dish, he loves it. And though I didn’t get to try it, our neighbors had a scrumptious looking basket of fried plantains in front of them, which I may need to test the next time I go. Overall, I would definitely recommend this place, especially for lunchtime.

Cabana, 1022 Third Avenue, NYC, 10021

Friday, October 17, 2008

Walking the Plank

If you ask me, there isn’t enough fish served on a plank in this city. But luckily, this is exactly what I enjoyed at Gemma. Gemma is one of those places I’ve walked by a number of times but never managed to stop in for a meal. Either the place was packed, or the time was off, etc. This time, it was around 6pm on a Saturday, and although my fiancé and I are relatively young folks, we tend to enjoy earlybird dinner hours. Just one of those things…

For our meal, we decided to start by sharing an order of spaghetti with pomodoro sauce. The spaghetti was deliciously al dente, and the tomato sauce was slightly creamy and garlicky. I think the creaminess came from the olive oil mixed with the tomatoes, and perhaps a hint of parmigiano cheese and basil mixed in. Very tasty.

For my main course, I ordered the Branzino cooked and served on a cedar plank, with a side of string beans. The filet was perfectly seasoned – with just enough salt and aromatic spices, and the flavor that the cedar plank infused into the fish added a perfect smoky taste that I rarely experience in seafood. And the beans, though cooked, still had a nice bite to them, and they had a really good garlic and oil sauce on them as well.

My fiancé ordered the cod over Sardinian couscous and spinach. The cod was cooked perfectly – moist and flaky, and the couscous was like none I have ever tried. It seemed to be more like mini versions of the dumplings you might find in a southern chicken and dumplings dish. They were delightfully gummy, and the dish came in a lemon butter sauce that added nice taste to everything.

No dessert needed after this hearty meal. We left feeling satiated, but not overwhelmingly full, and I would definitely return to try some more of their dishes.

Gemma, 335 Bowery, 10003

Monday, October 13, 2008

Welcome...to Your Omnivore

Welcome to my blog! This endeavor is something I have wanted to do for some time, and have finally gotten up the nerve to begin. I live in New York City and food is a great inspiration for me. I love all kinds of food and eating is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve never met a carb I didn’t like, and when I’m not eating, I am usually thinking about what my next meal will be, and where it will come from.

One of my favorite pastimes is exploring my city and all the fabulous cuisines that reside within it. I am in no way trying to pass myself off as a gourmand. Sure, I appreciate a fancy, intricately prepared meal from time to time. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like to indulge in a little Kraft Mac & Cheese every now and again. As you can probably tell, my taste range runs the gamut, and I’m willing to try most things at least once.

What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to share my food related experiences, and hopefully you will share yours with me, too. This site will include restaurant reviews, recipes and general food-related information. I’d love feedback from you, dear reader, as well.

I hope you will enjoy taking this culinary journey with me, and maybe we’ll even pick up some tips for our next meal along the way!

Omnivorously Yours,