A Place I Actually Enjoyed in Las Vegas – Giada

Name: Giada

NGM Rating: B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: https://www.caesars.com/cromwell/giada#.VVzYUtNViko

Location: The Cromwell Hotel, 3595 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Giada De Laurentiis

When did it open: June 2014

Ambiance: I had pretty much reached my fill of smoky casinos and Vegas tackiness by the time I went to Giada – the first restaurant by Giada De Laurentiis. If you’ve been to Vegas, you’ll probably sympathize with my sentiment. Walking into Giada, however, I felt somewhat transported back into civilization as the clientele was more reminiscent of an upscale city crowd and the restaurant was actually well lit and breezy (everything is so dark in Vegas). Situated on the second floor of the sleek Cromwell Hotel, Giada is contained within a spacious dining room and adorned by eclectic lighting, huge open windows, great views of the strip and brightly colored decor that set the mood for a good time. My two favorite decorating details are the Warhol-esque portraits that hang along the walls, as well as the inscription that encircles each of the main light beam fixtures, “I eat a little bit of Everything and not a lot of Anything.” I wish I could live by that Giada mantra.

Menu highlights: The Giada menu is expansive and maneuvering through it is difficult, both because of the options and general price tag. We called upon our waitress for suggestions. … still felt overwhelmed. As I’ve mentioned in the past, a bread basket is a great way to give a good first impression, and Giada tries to win you over right away in just this way. The bread “display” consists of a warm serving of homemade rosemary bread, cheese crisps, herbed breadsticks and multiple fixings for dipping and smearing. Whether you’re a group of two or a party of eight, the meat and cheese selection is great. The Pecorino Toscano served with fig preserves was divine. They get you though. … everything is individually priced, and the select option for a cheese and charcuterie plate is limited and draws you right back to the main menu options. … well done making me spend more money. The grilled artichokes were also tasty, but could have been a bit meatier. We ordered two pastas – Giada’s signature spaghetti with shrimp, lemon and basil, and the papardelle with pork ragout. Even though the spaghetti was the “dish to try,” the papardelle was far more impressive with a succulent ragout of shredded pork in a tomato base topped with arugula that gave the dish just the right bite.

What I didn’t get to try: Cocktails, artichoke arancini, imported burrata, crostinis, pizzettes, the signature chicken cacciatore and the dessert cart.

Constructive criticisms: I am not a fan of iPad wine lists in general, so I am going to make a plea with Giada to get rid of those. Please don’t make me stare at one more screen during a meal. The service also left room for improvement. Once a server actually came to our table, there were few glitches and she was very sweet, but that was 20 minutes after being seated. We had to ask for water refills multiple times as well, which in the dry heat of Las Vegas can make anyone supremely uncomfortable.

Best for: Night on the town, escaping the typical Vegas crowd, expense account, personal splurge, groups, girls night

Dress Code: Vegas chic – bring out your best and dress to impress

Average Pricing: Appetizers: $15, Pasta: $30  Entree: $50 , Dessert $8:

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable. Tables are tough to come by at prime times, so try to book in advance. I could only secure a 9:15 p.m. on a TUESDAY.

The Old Five Points Gets a Fresh New Look (and Taste) With Vic’s

Name: Vic’s

NGM Rating: B/B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.vicsnewyork.com/

Location: 31 Great Jones Street, NY, NY 10012 (formerly Five Points)

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Victoria Freeman, Marc Meyer and Chris Paraskevaides (same people that bring us Hundred Acres and Cookshop). Chef: Hillary Sterling.

When did it open: October 2014

Ambiance: I have now been to Vic’s twice in the past two weeks and it was hoppin’ on both occasions. The bar area full of guests enjoying a drink before being seated while other couples just there to enjoy their meal bar side. The downtown chic, trendy and beautiful fill the dining room. … which, by the way, you barely recognize as the old Five Points. Vic’s is a step above in terms of its sophistication and I applaud the designer who reinvigorated the space Another difference between Vic’s and it’s predecessor: the focus away from brunch and toward dinner. New Yorkers far and wide knew Five Points for it’s vibrant brunch scene and hearty egg dishes (and churros), but Vic’s, while it serves a weekend brunch, is definitely more for the dinner crowd. Creative pastas, pizzas and meat dishes make up the majority of the menu. … and there’s a great cocktail list to go along with it.

Menu highlights: The garlic bread is a WOW here. I’ve never had such a thick slice of bread drenched in such a sinfully delicious garlic goat butter. Don’t come here if you’re trying to diet. Once you try that garlic bread, you’ll be coming back for more. As far as pasta goes, the Cacio e Pepe, “Card Driver,” and “Little Purse” are all great. All pastas can be ordered as half or full portions. The “Little Purse” is very rich, so either share a full portion or exercise some self-restraint and order the half. The pork shoulder, roasted squash and squid were also hits.

What I didn’t get to try: The pizzas (which look amazing), burrata appetizer, Rye Rigatoni and heirloom carrots. I didn’t really go for dessert either time either. Too full by the time I got through the pasta.

Constructive criticisms: So, I hate to have to talk about this because I enjoyed the ambiance, staff and food both times I was here, BUT the restaurant is clearly still trying to work out some of the kinks in terms of dining room operation. Either the service has been a little slow (friendly nonetheless) or, like my second time, the reservations get backed up and multiple tables are not seated on time. Luckily, the management at Vic’s is no team of first-timers. They definitely know how to make the best of a not-so-great situation. Two examples. Last week when I ate at the bar, the bartenders were jammed and slow on taking our orders. No big deal as I was enjoying my conversation, but instead of ignoring the problem the bartender instead took our drinks off the tab at the end of the night (without a single complaint from either of us). The second example comes from my most recent experience. As my friend and I walked in it was very clear there was a back up with the tables. Parties were paying, deciding they wanted another drink. … or two, and then lingering. The host staff was clearly concerned. After 40 minutes, we were greeted with sincere apologies and had drinks taken care of at the bar. We were seated an hour after our reservation time – which should really never happen – but the service was more than attentive and amicable during our meal. They took care of us more than even necessary. … and most of the bill basically evaporated into thin air as a further apology. I couldn’t even be annoyed or mad at that point, and left Vic’s (almost) forgetting about the slip up earlier in the night.

Best for: Date night, girls night out, celebratory occasion, groups, checking out NYC’s new hot spots, carb loading, dine & drink at the bar

Dress Code: City chic

Average Pricing: Appetizers: $10, Pizza: $15, Pasta: $12 (half)/ $18 (full), Entree: $26, Wine/Cocktails: $13, Dessert: $9

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable. Vic’s is a hot spot right now, so I suggest booking a reservation in advance.

 

Modern Italian in a City of Southern Charm @ Indaco

Name: Indaco 

NGM Rating: A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.indacocharleston.com/

Location: 526 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403

Cuisine: Rustic Italian

Owner/Chef: Steve Palmer and Michael Perez

When did it open: August 2013

Ambiance: Rustic feel all around. Wooden floors, wooden tables, wood-top bar and wooden bar stools. Notice a theme? The restaurant is very warm in ambiance, and it all starts the moment you walk in the door. The host greets you with an abundance of southern hospitality and every server you encounter does the same. … even the ones not assigned to your table. There’s no air of pretension and the vibe is generally casual. All it needs is a wood-burning fire for those cooler winter nights. When the weather suits there is a great outdoor seating area that overlooks the lively nightlife on Charleston’s King Street.

Menu highlights: The pizza is great. Awesome crust and inventive creations that lead you to consume every last bite (at least I did). I thoroughly enjoyed the brussels sprouts pizza, which was a white pizza topped with Fontina, brussels sprouts, honey crisp apples and Pecorino Romano. You may be like my little sister and think the combination sounds strange – particularly the apple bit – but the flavor truly impressed. You’re supposed to explore different flavors in food-centric cities like Charleston, so try this one out. The Cerignola Olives pizza was another table favorite in the pizza department. Our starters were great too. Definitely check out the burrata. The cheese gets two thumbs up and the dish is served with over-sized green olives and house-made flatbread. Really good. The simple Bibb lettuce salad didn’t disappoint as well. Fresh greens done right.

What I didn’t get to try: I was too full for dessert, so I missed the signature toasted almond budino. I could have probably tried each of the other pizzas as well. Pastas were enticing as well. I also missed out on the cocktails. They have quite the list and I probably should have sampled at least one of them.

Constructive criticisms: Not much to criticize here. Very pleasant experience, particularly considering the terrible Thanksgiving-holiday travel endured prior to our arrival at Indaco.

Best for: Date night, dinner with friends, casual occasion, thin-crust pizza fiends

Dress Code: Smart casual

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $10, Appetizers: $13 , Pizza: $15, Entrees: $25 , Dessert: $8 .

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable.

 

A Happy Birthday Review For Maialino

**Today is Maialino’s 5th birthday. Happy birthday and congratulations to the team there! Coincidentally, I went to the restaurant two weeks ago for my sister’s birthday, so it seems a fitting day to write this review.**

Name: Maialino

NGM Rating: A

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://maialinonyc.com/

Location: 2 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY 10010

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Danny Meyer and Nick Anderer

When did it open: November 2009

Ambiance: Rustic trattoria bustling with business types and the City’s chic enjoying the Roman-inspired menu. You can smell Danny Meyer’s influence from a mile away. … a fine dining establishment in a more subdued, casual setting that doesn’t lose its classy touch. This one reminded me of the Italian rendition of Union Square Cafe. The other tell-tale sign of a Meyer restaurant – and it was true of Marta as well – is amicable and knowledgable service. Our server at Maialino was very friendly, happy to offer up suggestions and was attentive throughout the meal.

Menu highlights: There was so much on this menu I wanted to try. … and many recommendations I received beforehand. For starters, the Carciofini Fritti were delicious – lightly fried artichokes with a hint of lemon. I also enjoyed the fluke crudo as well as a selection of the house meats and cheeses. I suggest keeping it light on the appetizers because the rest of your meal will be sure to fill you up quickly. On the entrees, I veered in the pasta direction. Upon the wise guidance of my server I ordered the Malfatti, and it was delicious. Thick noodles – similar almost to a Papardelle – in a rich sauce of braised suckling pig and garnished with arugula. The Fettuccine alla Bolognese was also a table favorite. Lastly, the Tartufo won the dessert award. Shaved chocolate shavings encased the rich chocolate ice cream and a sour cherry surprise to top it off.

What I didn’t get to try:  I was slightly disappointed to hear the chocolate bread pudding had been taken off the menu. Numerous people told me it was not to be missed and unfortunately it is no longer a Maialino staple. New pastry chef, new desserts. Oh well! There were plenty of pastas I will need to go back to sample: Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe, Spaghetti alla Carbonara and Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Scottadita is a Meyer classic from Union Square Cafe and would have been a treat, as well as the suckling pig special and Pollo alla Diavola from the entree section. There’s also a family-style tasting menu for $75 per person.

Constructive criticisms: You already heard my dessert woes. It’s definitely a lively restaurant, so expect noise and, with that, comes difficulty in getting a table in the first place. Plan in advance and make the reservation early. Other than that it was a really lovely experience.

Best for: Group dining, business dining, special occasion, hotel dining and dates

Dress Code: Business Casual

Average Pricing: Wine/Cocktails: $15 , Appetizers: $14, Pasta: $19 , Entrees: $35 , Dessert: $10

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable 30 days in advance. Again, book early because it’s a tough table to get at peak times.

 

What’s New In Pizza @ Marta

Name: Marta

NGM Rating: A-/B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://martamanhattan.com/

Location: 29 E. 29th Street, NY, NY 10016

Cuisine: Trendy Pizza Joint

Owner/Chef: Danny Meyer and Nick Anderer (also the chef from Maialino)

When did it open: September 2014

Ambiance: Cool, trendy and bustling with fun. The restaurant fits very well with the sleek look of the boutique Martha Washington Hotel. The restaurant’s dining room is very open when you walk into the lobby and all the tables are filled with the NYC chic enjoying their wood-oven pies. Simple and yet clearly all the rage.

Menu highlights: Tartufato pizza…wow! ‘Tis the season for white truffles after all. Typically, I  am opposed to spending $60 for pizza – and yes, I still realize how obscene it sounds – but Marta really did this one right. …and I was out for a celebratory occasion.  Melts in the mouth, not too overpowering and a great combination of ricotta, fontina and, of course, those delectable truffles. The chef actually comes out and shaves the truffles table side. That must be where the extra $30 goes! The “pasta” meatballs were also a cool, new concept – fried balls of pasta topped with Marta’s house made tomato sauce and parmesan. Other menu highlights include: the Bruschetta Strappata, Capricciosa Pizza, Mized Autumn Squash and Ice Cream Panino.

What I didn’t get to try: Coppa Cotta Pizza, Patate all Carbonara Pizza and Abbacchio Misto.

Constructive criticisms: It gets really noisy in the dining room. A great sign for a new restaurant, but difficult to hear when you’re trying to have an engaging conversation at your table. The bar area is a little cramped, so I wouldn’t suggest waiting for a table and expecting to have an easy-going drink at the bar while you wait. There is, however, another bar in the hotel’s ground floor so the key may be to put your name down and chill there. Lastly, Marta could also up the dessert game. … not enough optionality in that department.

Best for: A fun night out, checking out a new hot spot, hotel dining, group occasion or you’re in the mood for food as simple as pizza in an environment where you still feel chic and “in the scene.”

Dress Code: The best version of your trendy self. It’s a pizza joint, but it’s an upscale one, and one where patrons dress to impress.

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $11, Appetizers: $13, Pizza: $17 , Entrees:  $28, Dessert: $7

Reservations: Marta accepts reservations on OpenTable but it’s already a hard seat to get. If you look online right now through the next 30 days you’ll see a lot of 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. slots available. A tell-tale sign that this place has taken off very quickly. Book early or show up and brave the wait times.

 

What’s New in Pasta @ Bar Primi

Name: Bar Primi

NGM Rating: A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://barprimi.com/home/

Location: 325 Bowery, NY, NY 10003

Cuisine: Italian Pasta Shop

Owner/Chef: Andrew Carmellini and NoHo Hospitality Group

When did it open: May 2014

Ambiance: Bar Primi is one of Andrew Carmellini’s more simplistic ventures and poses as a pasta shop. Even though the menu is pretty simple you still walk into the restaurant and get that sleek, new New York City restaurant vibe upon arrival. I would describe the decor as rustic chic and there’s a great bar to enjoy a pre-dinner drink at while waiting for a table on busy nights. The place is buzzing by 7 p.m., and on nice nights you can take advantage of the outdoor seating options as well.

Menu highlights: Don’t be fooled by the menu’s simplicity and think you’ll be getting spaghetti with tomato sauce. No, no, no. Bar Primi maintains an air of sophistication by giving you a sampling of pasta classics such as Spaghetti Pomodoro (doesn’t even sound better in Italian?) and Spaghetti with Clams, as well as seasonal classics like Pumpkin Agnolotti, Fiore di Carciofi and Squid Ink Campanelle. You can’t leave without eating pasta – so don’t go to Bar Primi if you’re on the Paleo diet. The Fiore di Carciofi was my favorite and definitely one of the more creative menu items. Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccolini was another winner, but I think it’s already been rotated off the menu for the season. Moving away from pasta, there are some great appetizers and salads too. Lastly, the wine selection is VERY reasonable by New York fine dining standards. Many solid options by the glass – whether you like red, white or sparkling – all priced between $10 and $15.

What I didn’t get to try: The Roast Beef Sandwich. It’s a Bar Primi signature and I unfortunately missed out on it because of lack of beef-eating. … can’t win ’em all. I would have also liked to try the Spaghetti and Clams and Pumpkin Agnolotti.

Constructive criticisms: Tables are a little cramped together and it can get pretty noisy. A couple inches of extra personal space would have been nice. Also, reservations can only be made for parties of six or more which leads to longer wait times during peak hours.

Best for: Casual meal at a trendy new spot, date night, carb loading and festive occasions

Dress Code: Trendy and casual

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $12, Appetizers: $13, Pasta: $17, Dessert: $8

Reservations: Reservations can only be made for parties of six or more

 

Mixing Old World with the New @ Carbone

Get out your wallets. … it’s time for Carbone. Yes, Carbone is a splurge but in a pretty fantastic way. Even though you can’t get out of there with any sort of a cheap meal I will try to give you some tips on what to order to get the best bang for your buck. … and hopefully not (completely) break the bank. Before getting into the food – which is really what you’re here for – I will briefly make note of the ambiance. Think old school Italian without the cheese-ball and add extra class and sophistication. That is the kind of vibe you get from Carbone. White tablecloths, hand-painted Italian serving dishes and dark walls to give the restaurant that sleek finish. All the servers are suited up and fancy with everything neatly pressed  – I do not think I saw one waitress now that I think about it – and everyone acts like you’re part of the family. It’s authentic, not over-the-top and the people take care of you. Italian hospitality. … what else do you need?

Family style is the way to go. Don’t fight it – just do it. If you try to order by yourself you will be disappointed, probably over-order and end up with a bill you’re not pleased with. You’ll want to try a little bit from each section of the menu anyway. The menu is divided into six sections (eight if you include the daily seafood selection and dessert): Antipasti, Zuppa e Insalate, Macaroni, Pesci, Carni and Contorni. Let’s start from the top. Before you even get the food you order there will be a pleasant surprise coming to your table. A fresh bread basket with several varietals, thick chunks of parmesan, a little charcuterie and some pickled cauliflower for noshing purposes. A generous touch and a pleasant pre-dinner snack. Now, on to the main event. The Baked Clams appetizer is great for sharing. You get nine clams baked in three different styles – classic, casino and one variety topped with sea urchin. It was a little much for two people, but don’t worry we cleaned the plate. On the topic of salad, Carbone has a pretty impressive Caesar. Not too much dressing, not too heavy, great croutons and well portioned. I glanced at the Caprese served at the table next to us which looked delicious as well. Fresh mozzarella that the server sliced in front of the table with very ripe and fresh-looking tomatoes. A perfect summer treat and I am sure it tasted just as it would if you were on the Italian coast. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough.

Macaroni, Macaroni! This is no Kraft or Velveeta. … these pastas are far more impressive. There are many options, but I received a lot of menu guidance from friends before going to Carbone and every single person said Spicy Rigatoni Vodka. At first I thought this was too simple. Can’t you get any more original about what is considered the best pasta on the menu? And maybe it’s not THE best. … after all it’s the only one I got to try. … but it was a pretty tasty vodka. First of all, the portion was not overwhelming. Second of all, the sauce was used sparingly. This was no Penne alla Vodka with a sauce that is so thick it’s hard to muster up the energy to consume more than three bites. Carbone’s sauce used just enough cream and the spicy kick really makes the dish come alive. My mouth was a little bit on fire (I am more sensitive to spice than many people), but I think that’s what kept me coming back for more. All the pasta dishes are portioned as a middle courses and, therefore, your meal is not overwhelmed by carbs and you have room in your stomach for the rest of the menu. To round out the meal we went with something off the Carni section. Our server did recommend a number of the Pesci dishes, including the Shrimp Su’modo, but we went with the meat after seeing so much of it floating around us. Now, I am not a beef eater so we did not get to follow up with friendly pre-dinner advice regarding the Veal Parmesan. The table next to us – yes, the same one with the Caprese- got it though and it looked damn good. Huge piece of pounded and breaded meat topped with sauce and plenty of mozzarella. I almost went for it. …almost. In an attempt to not overwhelm ourselves at the end of our meal we kept it simple with Chicken Scarpariello. A classic with plenty of flavor and served with very tender white and dark meat, but it wasn’t necessarily the highlight of the meal. A good way to finish and not over-stuff ourselves.

So, we ended there and didn’t feel compelled to dive into dessert. It was that perfectly full feeling. The one where if you consume one more bite it could take you over the edge. A sage piece of advice. … always stop there. Easier said than done. Anyway, the most compelling sweet was the carrot cake. If it tastes nearly as good as it was displayed I am sure it was thoroughly moist with a perfectly creamy icing and sure to induce a sugar coma. There were other options as well, with the standard Tiramisu not to be forgotten, but Italian desserts never do excite me much so we saved the extra bucks and got the bill.

Speaking of bucks, other than ordering in family style and skimping on dessert, another way to save some cash if you’re on a budget is to go light on the booze. The cocktails and wine are quite pricey so maybe  limit yourself to one hearty glass of wine that you can enjoy throughout the meal. If you’re at a larger table order reasonable (oxymoron) bottles in accordance with that same rule – enough for everyone to have one. I had a red from the Umbria region and it coupled well with pretty much everything we ate. … and more importantly, I was able to stretch one glass throughout the meal’s entirety. It was skillful, but I promise you can do it too. Sorry Carbone, I am sure you don’t like my thrifty advice! If you have a special celebration, work affair or you’re a food fanatic like me, and save up for such decadent meals, then think ahead and plan a trip to Carbone. It took me a while to get there, but I am glad I did. Next one to add to the list. … the latest from this restaurant crew, Dirty French.

Carbone, 181 Thompson Street, New York, NY, 10012. Phone: (212) 933-0707.

When To Book: Carbone accepts reservations 30 days in advance on OpenTable. Yes, you need to book 30 days in advance if you want a shot at a normal eating time. … and even then it’s not a sure thing. You can also call the reservation line at (212) 254-3000. 

My Hampton Happy Places

So. … I may be a bit picky when it comes to dining out in the Hamptons. I’ve been coming out to the East End for as long as I can remember and, unfortunately, feel as though the restaurant quality has been on the decline for the past several years. Maybe it’s just the way of the world. … the truly local businesses cannot afford to stay with rising rent costs and therefore the only option is to fill vacant spaces with big names like Nobu or BLT East. But these places being pushed out are some of the same places that help keep the economy out there alive during the off-season when coming out to the Hamptons is not necessarily “en vogue.”

I just like to keep it simple. And while I lament the current trends, that does not mean I have not found Hampton dining establishments where simplicity and good food thrive. So, rather than rant and lament current trends (which I definitely could do), I will instead give you a list of my Hampton Happy Places. Hopefully after reading you will feel inspired to check out a few of these gems if you have not yet already. I cannot list all the wonderful farm stands, but these businesses are so, so, so important to life on the East End and we should always remember to support the farms by buying their local produce. And finally, if you read this and are reminded of your favorite Hamptons spot please let me hear about it! I am sure I am still missing some of the special ones.

WaterMill

The Green Thumb
829 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY. Phone: (631) 726-1900.

The Green Thumb is a Hamptons icon and the Halsey family has got to be one of the oldest family of farmers in the area. Right off 27 in Water Mill, the Green Thumb offers fresh, local and sustainable produce that you can easily pick up on your way out from the City. It offers select other grocery items as well, but it’s the place’s history and farm-fresh produce that keeps people coming back year-after-year-after-year. I hope this place and other farms like it are able to survive the times because they are truly what makes this area special.

 

Sag Harbor

Beacon
8 W. Water Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7088.

The restaurant does not take reservations and the wait time is sometimes painful, but the ambiance is one of my Hampton favorites. Situated atop the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, Beacon provides great waterfront views and a sunset that cannot be beat. Even if you have to endure the long wait times on a Saturday night, you can still enjoy a nice glass of Rose as the sun slips away from the sky. My favorite dishes are the Lobster Rigatoni and Halibut, but you cannot really go wrong with the menu. David Loewenberg and Sam McCleland have other restaurants in the Hamptons that also provide very solid meals, but Beacon has always been the one to stick out in my mind.

Big Olaf Ice Cream
8 Wharf Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7505.

Who does not love an ice cream cone on a hot summer day (or night)? There are plenty of places for fro-yo, ice cream, smoothies, etc… but Big Olaf is a Hampton classic for sure. Situated on Sag Harbor’s Wharf near the water, this small ice-cream shop is best known for the wafting breeze of homemade waffle cones that you can catch a whiff of from down the block. The line on a Saturday after dinner time usually goes well outside the entrance, but a bite of one of those freshly made cones makes the wait worth it. They have plenty of ice cream flavors too. There’s nothing fancy about it except the price tag for a small cone. … but hey, you’re in the Hamptons. Expect Hampton prices.

Dockside
26 Bay Street, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-7100.

No frills here. Just simple, reliable American fare that can be enjoyed al fresco facing the water. The menu is quite eclectic and offers anything from chicken dumplings to fresh fish and paella. Clearly, the menu is influenced for a diverse range of cuisines. I recommend either eating in the bar area or outside as that’s where the restaurant really comes to life. It’s a great setting, even if the food is not super fancy, and a place that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Estia’s Little Kitchen
1615 Bridgehampton Sag Harbor Turnpike, Sag Harbor, NY. Phone: (631) 725-1048.

Little is right. This small restaurant on the side of the Bridge/Sag Turnpike is open for Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner and offers breakfast through the lunch hours (always a plus in my book). There is nothing particularly special about the decor, but the restaurant is cozy, welcoming and familial. Sometimes it’s a little too crowded for comfort. … but that means the food is good, right? If you have to wait during the rush times there is a garden out back which provides a more pleasant place to pass the time. I have only eaten here for breakfast/lunch, and am close to being addicted to the breakfast burrito. The predominately American cuisine carries Mexican influences throughout the menu, and all the flavors are really great. This place is still a little gem, so make sure you do not just pass it by when you’re whizzing down the highway on the way to Sag Harbor.

 

Sagaponack/Wainscott

Breadzilla
84 Wainscott Northwest Road, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-0955.

First of all, the name is great. Second of all, the signs posted around the bakery always make me chuckle (go in for yourself and check them out). Thirdly, the bread kills it. Especially the cinnamon, sunflower, challah and gruyere. The handmade bagels are pretty solid too. But the real deal at this spot is the awesome lunch served all year round. Every day (except Monday when it’s closed. … yes, even on the long weekends) around 11:30 the barely legible daily lunch menu is posted online. There is an assortment of soups, sandwiches and salads to choose from. Don’t worry about the carbs here. … the fresh bread is SO worth it in this case. The sesame noodles are a must as well. I go here so often they know my name and, at this point, can pretty much figure out what I am going to order too. The classic “TMP” (Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto) or a Veggie du Jour, and then I am always looking for those sesame noodles. Throw a chocolate chip cookie on top and we’ve got ourself the perfect lunch.

Levain Bakery
354 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-8570.

It’s all about the cookies. …well. … and the chocolate chip brioche. I generally would not advise spending $4 for a cookie, but these are (nearly) life-changing. There are four cookie varietals and I think the two “musts” are by far and away the Chocolate Chip Walnut and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Divine. And definitely meant for sharing. Eat one of these yourself and you’ll be feeling it for the rest of the day.

The Fairway at Poxabogue
3556 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631) 521-7100.

Dan Murray and his crew know how to serve a good weekend breakfast or lunch at the Fairway (Disclaimer: I have been coming here since I was probably 12 years old, so I have a lot of affection for this place and its people). Breakfast is served all day and many of the menu items correspond to a “hole” on a golf course. Makes sense since Poxabogue is Sagaponack’s public course. If you like your simple eggs, a bespoke omelette, hearty french toast or maybe a burger is your fancy then this is your place. Try to avoid the rush and go at slightly off times so you don’t have to wait and can snag a prime outdoor seat when the weather suits.

The Seafood Shop
356 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-0633.

This one may come as a surprise, but the Seafood Shop has the best guacamole and pico de gallo around. Yes, the fish is great too, but MAN that guac. The amount of that stuff consumed in my house over the years would probably disturb most people. So when you go in there to get your tuna, swordfish or lobster. … make sure you pick up at least a pint of that other good stuff too. The Seafood Shop also has great take-out options and will even organize a clambake on the beach for you and your friends.

Twice Upon a Bagel
358 Montauk Highway, Wainscott, NY. Phone: (631) 537-5553.

Fresh bagels. What else could you want? This place has been here for years and is open year-round for both the seasonal crowd and the locals. In addition to bagels, this place provides full deli service at lunch to get whatever sandwich creation you please. Oh, and they make a MASSIVE iced coffee that is sure to keep you buzzing on the beach all day long.

Wolffer Vineyard and Wine Stand
Vineyard: 139 Sagg Road, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631) 537-5106. Wine Stand: 3312 Montauk Highway, Sagaponack, NY. Phone: (631)-537-5106.

Famed for its Rose, Wolffer is one of the premier vineyards on the East End. This place is so much more than wine though. There are events at the Vineyard and Wine Stand weekly and it’s always a treat so stop by on the weekends. The Wine Stand is really my favorite spot, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening in the summer when the lawn is filled with families and friends enjoying live music and taking a load off with a nice glass or bottle of wine. You can do full tastings thee as well. I promise you’ll relax immediately upon arrival and want to stay for hours. Oh. … and the wine goes far beyond the Rose. My personal favorite is the Caya – check it out and report back.

 

East Hampton

Nichol’s
100 Montauk Highway, East Hampton, NY. Phone: (631) 324-3939.

This one is definitely a locals hang out. Whether you’re looking for an easy meal or a cold pint Nichol’s will have you covered. The menu almost has too much to choose from. You can really get close to any sort of pub/comfort food you want. The bread is delicious (definitely not good for you) and comes out piping hot. I usually stick with a solid quesadilla, which comes as a generous portion and of which there are a number of varietals to choose from. It’s simple, easy and sometimes just what the doctor ordered. And. … being an occasional sucker for small details I really like how the restaurant’s interior walls have been formed with old wooden wine cases. A small touch that I always notice and keeps me amused.

Nick and Toni’s
136 N. Main Street, East Hampton, NY. Phone: (631) 324-3550.

OK, I am sure there will be some people who look at this name on the list and think “What is she talking about. … Nick and Toni’s definitely hosts the trendy scene during the summer months.” And yes, that’s true, but it’s far more subdued than some of the other restaurants on the East End. Nick and Toni’s delivers a solid product with amicable service and an ambiance that is somewhat calming. From the bread to the pasta to the enormous tartufo dessert you really cannot go wrong with the food there. Don’t even think about leaving without trying that tartufo. It can feed a table of four and it is so, so good.

 

Amagansett/Montauk

Jack’s Coffee
146 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, NY. Phone: (631) 267-5555.

I am not a big coffee gal, but I do enjoy a cold one from Jack’s on a summer day. Jack’s boasts its stir brew technique and that the product supports fairtrade and is organic. All things people love in their food and beverage products these days. On a Saturday morning the line is almost out the door as the place seems to have acquired almost a cult following. I am guessing a number of those guests are also bemoaning the night before and desperate for a quick caffeine fix.

South Edison
17 South Edison Street, Montauk, NY. (631) 668-4200.

This is a newer addition to Montauk, but one that is great and really fits. South Edison is situated steps away from the beach and offers a seasonal menu focused on seafood and local produce. The restaurant has a great menu, awesome vibe and I have not run into problems with the service either. It definitely draws the crowds (in a good way) and is a fun place to go with a group during the weekends. The shishito peppers, street corn, baked clams and South Edison Clam Bake are all solid picks. Don’t forget the 5-Year Anniversary Sundae as a top off either. Make sure you ask for plenty of extra spoons with that one.

The Lobster Roll
1980 Montauk Highway, Amagansett, NY. Phone: (631) 267-3740.
It’s all about the lobster rolls at this casual eats joint on the way out to Montauk. This place has been around for nearly 50 years and the feature has always been its lobster rolls. The restaurant has a full lunch and dinner menu with many fried fish goodies and other sorts of things, but with a place named after one specific menu item it only seems fitting to get one of those rolls. Note: Great place to walk and grab a quick bite after a couple notorious BBCs at Cyril’s.

 

Michael White’s Upper East Side Newcomer: Ristorante Morini

Trying out Michael White’s new venture on the Upper East Side was an easy decision for me given its convenient location near my apartment. I had also been anxiously awaiting the restaurant’s opening for months. Anyone who follows Michael White will be able to tell you he has been a busy man the past couple years opening anything from  a casual osteria to pizzeria and even an Italian steakhouse. While I am a huge fan of his culinary feats at Marea, I do think some of the more recent openings deviate from that which he is so good at – high quality Italian ingredients with a focus on seafood and an overall pristine dining experience. I feel like he got his focus back with this one –  Ristorante Morini – and believe it represents where White truly excels.

The space is elegant and fit for a festive occasion. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, business meal or other celebratory occasions Ristorante Morini should be added to the list of Upper East Side Side possibilities. The bottom floor is a slightly more casual bar room with a number of tables as well as a sophisticated bar that’s great for enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail or an alternative place for two-somes to more casually take a meal. I have written before about the wonderful experience I had eating dinner at Marea’s bar and the scene at Ristorante Morini felt very familiar. The staff was very friendly and professional. I arrived earlier than the rest of my party and sat at the bar for a hearty glass of Brunello di Montalcino while waiting. The bartender was very friendly and was kind enough to engage me in conversation for the fifteen minutes I was sitting on my own.

After my drink, everyone arrived and we were escorted upstairs to the main dining room. The decor is understated, but elegant and the tables are well spaced so you do not feel like you are having dinner with the table next to you, which always makes for a more pleasant NYC dining experience. When our waitress arrived she was clearly attentive, knowledgeable about the menu and able to offer up a number of suggestions to us based on what we each described our likes and dislikes were. As far as service is concerned, from the host at the front door to the bartender to the runners and up to the wait staff I can safely say there were no complaints from my table.

As far as the menu is concerned, there is a defining focus on seafood at Ristorante Morini. Whether you get your fix from the Crudo, the Sea Urchin Gramigna pasta, Branzino or any of the other offerings there is a definite need to test your palate with the chef’s seafood creations. The big-eye tuna and calamari appetizers were delicious. I highly recommend the tuna which is garnished with blood orange and fennel, and simply spectacular. Most of us ordered pastas for entrees and those did not disappoint either. I went with a personal favorite: Ferratini alla Carbonara. It was just the right portion size and was not overwhelmingly rich like carbonaras can be at times.The bolognese was a huge hit at the table as well. And even after all that food we were still ready to test out a couple of the dessert offerings. The semifreddo was light and took care of the chocolate fix. The pear tart was like a delicate apple tarte tatin and a good choice for those who prefer fruit-based desserts. As a final touch, you will receive a small plate of bite-sized treats with your bill of which I highly recommend indulging in the house-made caramels that very literally will melt in your mouth.

Ristorante Morini should be a neighborhood winner and attract not only local Upper East Siders, but also those who want to explore fine dining options throughout New York City. The restaurant is accessible, welcoming, pristine and serves well-prepared and distinct Italian dishes. So if you have an occasion or are just in the neighborhood and are in the mood to splurge I would definitely check out Ristorante Morini before it becomes a lot more difficult to snag a table.

Ristorante Morini, 1167 Madison Avenue, NY, NY, 10028. Phone: (212) 249-0444. 

When To Book: Ristorante Morini accepts reservations on OpenTable. It is easier to snag a table during the week and if you plan on dining here during a peak weekend time I suggest making a reservation two-to-three weeks in advance.

Brooklyn Does Pizza Right @ Roberta’s

If your mission was not to find Roberta’s walking down Moore Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn you would not think twice when walking by the facade of an abandoned old garage building. For those on the look out, however, you’ll know you’ve reached the destination when you take the chance to glance up and see the discreet sign reading “Roberta’s” above the entrance. Here’s where you might take pause. Could this really be THE Roberta’s? How could this hole in the wall really be the pizza utopia I have heard so much about? Then you take the first step inside and suddenly the world makes sense again.

Being a Friday night at 8 p.m. I definitely expected a long wait time at Roberta’s. I had heard anywhere between 30 minutes and four hours from people I know who already made the trip. Anything under two hours was fine for me. … everyone said it was worth it, so why not! When we walked in the restaurant was bustling, but the entrance was not overcrowded by pizza-craving customers waiting for tables to open up. The scene was very pleasant. The hostess took our name and told us it would be approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. That was within the two hour threshold. … DONE! She instructed us to go out to the garden bar where we could sit, have a drink and even order some appetizers. This already sounded like the best one hour wait time I have ever had.

Walking through the main dining area I took note of the quirky and very random decor, which included long strands of Christmas lights strung along the walls. It almost looked like an assortment of mismatched tag sale gems that somehow came together, worked in the space and were able to create a hip but very warm environment. The seating arrangement is nothing fancy either. Simple picnic tables with benches, no table cloths, paper napkins and sodas served in recycled jam jars (Note: There are no backs on the benches so be prepared to engage those muscles in your back. … and test your posture). The patio area with the bar is very cool. The bar set up and decor is as creative as the main restaurant’s interior. Cocktail menus written on the walls on colorful chalkboards that are illuminated by more obscure neon lighting. There were even a few token pumpkins atop the bar as an added festive touch. Everybody out there seemed to be enjoying themselves – no matter how long they had been waiting for a table – and it was a completely different vibe from the hustle-and-bustle of inside. Also, over the fencing is a full garden where Roberta’s grows some of its vegetables, herbs, etc. There was a private event back there on Friday so I did not get to sneak a peak for myself, but it’s no wonder the greens tasted so fresh

We were able to snag a picnic table for our group so we could kick back, enjoy a drink and get right on ordering a couple apps to satiate our hunger for the ensuing hour. There’s a good selection of charcuterie and cheeses to nosh on that come with bread in addition to other nibbles. The fried cauliflower dish was pretty tasty. After getting through our snacks and two rounds of drinks our wait was up and we were called for a table. The greatest part about Roberta’s whole system is that the hostess actually comes to the back and finds you once a table is ready. This totally beats walking back and forth to the front of the restaurant and periodically asking how many more parties of six would be seated before we did. I was perfectly content at this point and anxiously anticipating the pizza to come.

When it comes to the menu you would be cheating yourself if you did not order pizza. Nearly every table I saw had at least one pizza on it. That being said, there are other things to try that make great supplements to your carb-loaded meal. The broccoli was the most impressive non-pizza item on our table. My cousin put it perfectly: “How did they make something this simple taste so delicious.” Great question. The menu reads: “Broccoli: Kale, kohlrabi and anchovy.” Ok, maybe the addition of kohlrobi makes the idea of a simple broccoli dish sound intriguing, but trust me this combination of flavors does even more to surprise you to the upside. The anchovy in the dressing is subtle but gives the dish a great flavor, and the crunchy kale complements the marinated broccoli quite well. A very simple vegetable medley that perked up all our taste buds. When it came to pizza the decision was not easy. Luckily there were six of us so we were able to get a nice sampling. As an aside, I recommend asking your server for suggestions. Ours was very friendly, happy to help and also let us know about a couple “off-the-menu” pizzas.

We ordered quite the assortment, but general consensus at the table was that the simple Margherita classic ironically took first place. The tomato sauce was faintly sweet with bubbling fresh mozzarella and a near-perfect crust. Simply delicious. The Amatriciana with pecorino, guanciale, onion and chile was a close second with its spicier tomato sauce that gave it just the right kick. Importantly, all the pizzas came out piping hot and all the ingredients were clearly fresh. My only minor complaint was how not all the pizzas came to the table at the same time. The staggering was a little off since our server brought one pizza, and then there was a good five minute lag before anything else came to the table. It’s great that the pizza arrives hot right out of the oven, but it was a tad awkward only having one pizza on the table for all of us (Note: these pies are individual-sized). I was sufficiently stuffed after the pizza and while intrigued by the dessert offerings could not get myself to take the plunge this time.

Are you convinced yet? Roberta’s has the food, the service, a hip atmosphere and constant buzz. Yes, you will have to wait but get over it. Every good thing in life is worth a little wait time. Manhattanites may be reading this and thinking, “Is she serious? Why would I need to go all the way to Bushwick to get a good slice?” And yes, there are plenty of great pizza joints, but Roberta’s has a special spark that makes this trip worth it. So if you’re feeling up to a foodie adventure and are seeking a great night full of fun and great people I would suggest hopping on the L-Train ASAP. Those in Brooklyn are the more fortuitous as they have a great neighbor in Roberta’s.

Roberta’s, 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11206. Phone: (718) 417-1118. 

When To Book: Roberta’s does not take reservations so you just show up and prepare to wait. Wait times vary and will obviously be longer at peak times such as Friday and Saturday night. If you are a group of 10-16 people, however, the restaurant will try to accommodate a reservation so call a week in advance. 

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