Traditional Mexican Comes to NYC @ Rosie’s

Name: Rosie’s

NGM Rating: B

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://rosiesnyc.com/

Location: 29 E. 2nd Street, NY, NY 10003

Cuisine: Mexican

Owner/Chef: Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman

When did it open: April 2015

Ambiance: I’ve been to this particular restaurant location multiple times during the past five years, and every time it’s been a new restaurant. For some reason, this spot on the corner or 2nd and 2nd has serious turnover issues, but hopefully Rosie’s will reverse this streak. The restaurant occupies a large, open space and its floor-to-ceiling glass windows are great when the weather heats up and you can eat (semi) al fresco. You are immediately immersed in the traditional vibes the owners clearly tried to create with Rosie’s when you walk in the door and get a strong waft of corn tortillas being prepared at the comal bar. I ate very early on Tuesday evening, so the restaurant was relatively quiet but by the time I left around 7:30 p.m., the dining room was heating up and lively conversation could be heard throughout the space. Rosie’s is a pretty casual spot – come how you are, enjoy a cocktail and share some tasty food with friends.

Menu highlights: The comal is really the differentiator here. You’re not going to see the typical over-sized burritos, fajitas and quesadillas that fill up the menus of many other Americanized Mexican restaurants throughout New York. …and beyond for that matter. All of the tortillas are made in-house, and the the aromatic scent permeates the restaurant. I definitely recommend sharing plates to get a little taste of everything. I primarily stuck with the “Antojitos,” or little whims, section of the menu. We enjoyed the tasty quesadillas and inventive Tlacoyos to start. These quesadillas are not, however, what you’d expect. You get two small, warm homemade masas delicately stuffed with chicken and cheese. They are bite-sized, but try to eat slowly and savor every morsel. As with many Mexican restaurants, chips, guac and salsa are a must at Rosie’s. The salty tortilla chips are addicting, and the sweet and spicy salsas coupled with chunky avocado goodness are perfect for topping on that crunchy goodness.

What I didn’t get to try: Tacos, margaritas and everything else from the comal.

Constructive criticisms: I was disappointed when the hostess informed me that the tables by the window were reserved for larger parties (i.e. my table for two didn’t make the cut). It was a beautiful evening, and I really wanted the fresh air after a full day sitting at a desk. We were, however, seated around the comal bar, which was a good alternative because I felt like I was right in the action. I will warn, however, the comal bar get get quite steamy, so I would recommend trying to get seated away from the cooking as summer continues to heat up.

Best for: Date night, girls night out, group sharing, a traditional meal, checking out an NYC newbie

Dress Code: Casual

Average Pricing: Appetizers: $8,  Entree: $20 , Dessert $8:

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable.

Solid Small Plates, Sub-Standard Service and a Botched Dessert @ Alta

Name: Alta

NGM Rating: B-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: Grade Pending

Website: http://www.altarestaurant.com/

Location: 64 W. 10th Street, NY, NY 10011

Cuisine: Mediterranean-Influenced Small Plates

Ambiance: This Greenwich Village gem of a place (in terms of look and feel) combines rustic, elegance and romance all into one. The entrance is charming, and as you open the door you enter into a long bar room with hoards of people laughing, enjoying a cocktail and nibbling on small plates at the bar. Then you walk into the duplex dining room that has great high ceilings, ornate light fixtures and is very low lit. The abundance of candlelight gives the dining room a romantic touch. Very warm feeling and somewhere you would like to keep warm during the cold of winter. … and there’s even a working fireplace.

Menu highlights: House-marinated olives, fried goat cheese with lavender-infused honey, grilled smoked mozzarella skewer, seafood paella, pulled pork empanadas, sea bass tartare and kale salad.If you’re feeling really amibiitious you can order “The Whole Shebang” for $450 and literally try everything on the menu.

What I didn’t get to try:  My sister raved about the Philadelphia Truffle Surprise, so we were disappointed to hear that item had been removed from the menu. That was the one item I feel like I missed out on, but there were plenty of other small plates that could have been sampled as well. We had plenty on the table to keep me occupied.

Constructive criticisms: The service really crushed my experience at Alta. All in all, the food was quite good but the pace of the meal was very inconsistent – we were brought five small plates very, very quickly and then everything slowed down dramatically from there – and our server forgot to bring our drinks multiple times. Then to top it off, we ordered a Pumpkin S’More Sundae that was plopped on our table and had more the appearance of a soupy blob than ice cream. … or really anything I wanted to consume or pay for. There was zero acknowledgement from the waiter that this presentation was unacceptable and he really paid us no attention. To add insult to injury, when we asked for the bill he did not leave the receipt for us to review and, instead, took the credit card off the table and ran the check. Big no, no. It was a busy Saturday night, with the bar area packed with people waiting for tables, but this is still unacceptable and really tarnishes one’s opinion of what could have been a perfectly pleasant dining experience (and birthday celebration).

Best for: Group dining, dates, fun occasion and pre-weekend night out dinners

Dress Code: City Chic

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $12, Small Plates: $13, Dessert: $10

Reservations: Alta accepts reservations by phone 30 days in advance (212) 505-7777. Note: the restaurant only accepts cash and American Express (kind of odd).

 

A Recap of Recent Food Excursions: In Vino, Spotted Pig, Barraca, Mas (farmhouse) and Corton

I have been to a handful of restaurants recently that all deserve mentioning. Since I have lacked the time to do an in-depth write-up on each I have compiled a synopsis of each so you readers can just get enough of a taste for the restaurants. Yes, it is a random assortment that runs the gamut of casual to high elegance in terms of dining experiences and I have written this post accordingly in that order. There is everything Paul Liebrandt’s high-end Corton to the simplicity of an East Village wine bar, In Vino. There is something for everyone so enjoy reading and do not get too hungry in the process!

In Vino

In Vino is a casual buzzing wine bar in the East Village that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago with a couple girlfriends. We were looking for a place to go that was not very expensive, could satiate our appetite with good small plates to share and also provide us with some tasty grape. In Vino did the trick. We had a reservation but it was a Friday night and the restaurant was running behind, so we were not seated until 20 minutes after the stated reservation slot. Kind of annoying, but at least the host was apologetic and kept checking in on us. She actually went so far as to ask another table of two (that was at a table meant for four) to re-locate to a smaller table so we could finally be seated. I might be a little ticked off if I was that couple, but it worked out for everyone . … and I was hungry so this plan worked well for me. In terms of wine, there are 200 different varieties, predominately Italian from 20 different regions, from which to choose. Yes, it’s overwhelming but the server and bartender are well-versed in the offerings so just ask questions if needed. In terms of food, sharing is the way to go. The meatballs were the hit at my table, and although I did not try them I got a taste of the sauce and it was great. The Bruschetta di Pomodoro and fried artichokes are also tasty. The night I was there the restaurant also had a special pumpkin ravioli which was heavy and rich in flavor (maybe a tad too much butter), but I recommend it if you happen to be there at a time when this dish is being re-offered. In Vino has a great vibe even if its very cramped quarters in the restaurant. Good place to enjoy a light meal and sample a couple glasses (or bottles) of wine. The price is right and the location does not stink either. Its fairly well-situated around East Village nightlife, so if you’re evening continues post-dinner it should not be too difficult to find a fun place to go.  In Vino accepts reservations on  OpenTable, but as previously mentioned you may not get seated when you think you are supposed to during the weekend rush.

In Vino, 215 E. 4th Street, NY, NY, 10009. Phone: (212) 539-1011.

Spotted Pig

This April Bloomfield staple has been on my list of lists for some time. It’s probably not considered as popular as it was five years ago, but the wait time is still an hour (or more) even in the middle of week so I do not think it’s lost its stride. I finally realized it had been too long since I started saying “Gee, I should really try out the Spotted Pig,” so I found a girl friend and picked a night to go where I wouldn’t mind the long wait time in the cramped quarters of the small restaurant. We did end up waiting an hour for a table. Lucky for me, I was running late and in traffic so by the time I showed up it was only 20 minutes! I am usually quite punctual and felt badly my friend was on her own by the bar, but it definitely made the experience more enjoyable once I got there knowing the wait time was cut in half. It’s not a big restaurant by any means so tables are intimately close together and the restaurant has a great buzz to it. People rave about the burger at the Spotted Pig, but given my no-beef dietary restriction that was not on our table that evening. It did look good though. We decided to go the small plate route and shared a bunch of dishes to nibble on. The burrata was creamy deliciousness and there was a special red snapper crudo that was delicate and full of flavor. We also ordered the brussels sprouts, market salad and, of course, the shoestring fries. The latter should really be adopted as the Spotted Pig’s bread basket. No one should leave without trying at least a few of the shoestring fries.They are topped with garlic cloves so just watch your breath after consumption. The food is solid, the restaurant has no real frills to speak of and the scene is great from Thursday-Saturday night. There is a no-reservation policy so be prepared to wait (a decent amount of time). The earlier you get there, the better your chances are of getting lucky with a table. Next stop. … The Breslin!

The Spotted Pig, 311 W. 11th Street, NY, NY, 10011. 

Barraca

I have been to this West Village newcomer twice and think it’s a fun spot to go for sangria and tapas with a group of friends or a creative place to bring a date. The first thing to take note of is the design of the space. I think the restaurant did a good job of making it a lively and inviting atmosphere with a great bar lined with jugs of sangria, rustic exposed brick walls, bright-blue painted table chairs and other interesting ornamentation on the walls. Sangria and Paella are both musts. Barraca offers five different varieties of sangria of which I recommend the Rioja. I am partial to Rioja wine to begin with, but this refreshing cocktail also shows hints of cherry and guindilla pepper to give extra flavor. Go big and get pitchers if you’re with a group – they will go quickly. In terms of food, I recommend ordering a mix of tapas and sharing paella as the main event. If you are only a group of two go light on the tapas and get one paella to share. It will be plenty of food. I have sampled a variety of the menu offerings now that I have dined here twice and these are my top recommendations: Paella Negra (Mixed Seafood), Pulpo Salteado (Sauteed Octopus), Coles De Bruselas (Brussels Sprouts), Ensalada de Berza (Kale Salad) and Cordero Moruno (Lamb Cubes). There are plenty of other things to choose from, but these were my top hits with the Paella Negra being    No. 1. This is squid infused rice with artichoke, monkfish, squid and shrimp. Make sure you order it “socarrat” so you get the crispy crust of rice at the bottom of the pan. It may sound gross the way I just described it, but its traditional Spanish preparation and delicious. On a Friday or Saturday it may be hard to get a reservation the day of, but generally speaking you can get a table and the restaurant is on OpenTable.

Barraca, 81 Greenwich Ave, NY, NY, 10014. Phone: (212) 462-0080.

Mas (farmhouse)

Mas – a country house or farm in the South of France. The restaurant sets you in an elegant country farm setting in the middle of bustling downtown New York City. This one is special. A gem in the heart of the West Village which is known by foodies, but does not receive nearly as many public accolades as I believe it should. Prior to dining at Farmhouse I had been to its newer sister restaurant, Mas (la grillade). The two could not be more different but they each work in their own way. The concept is farm-to-table with local ingredients and I would describe the ambiance as understated elegance. It’s an intimate dining room that should be reserved for those there celebrating a special occasion or who can really appreciate a special meal.The great thing about Mas is that there is a tasting menu, but no one has to feel restricted by the menu choices contained in the suggested tasting. Each diner can use the a la carte dishes and/or the evening’s tasting options to create his/her own tasting menu. The restaurant gives you the flexibility to try a little bit of everything you actually want to eat. Many times with tasting menus I find I want to eat two-thirds of what’s being offered, but there is never the option to swap out. This was a pleasant surprise at Mas. The shrimp crusted with spaghetti squash and brussels sprouts were the highlights of my main meal. In terms of dessert, where do I begin. We pretty much ordered every option and they were all delicious. The white chocolate mousse with rhubarb compote was my least favorite, but someone else could find it to be fantastic.The dulce de leche semifreddo took the cake and Mas also offers creative ice cream flavors to supplement each dessert, which are well worth it as well. I particularly enjoyed the Greek frozen yogurt. The service is attentive, affable and very well-versed in the menu. I happen to know someone in the kitchen, which the restaurant became aware of, and we were taken care of very nicely. The experience was very pleasant, food excellent and I think the restaurant has done a very good job of finding a dining format that works for everyone, particularly with the lack of restriction in the menu. Mas (farmhouse) accepts reservations on OpenTable but it can be a tough table to score. I would suggest planning your visit weeks in advance.

Mas (farmhouse), 39 Downing Street, NY, NY, 10014. Phone: (212) 255-0279.

Corton

This is a restaurant for those with a refined palate and the desire for a culinary adventure. Paul Liebrandt’s Corton is elegant and pristine with food preparations that are done with unique precision and grace. It baffled me how every little detail down to the minuscule edible flower buds set atop my crab salad could be so thoughtfully placed on the plate. The dining room is elegant with white walls embossed with tree branches and faint hints of gold. Color is added to the room from the intricate light fixtures and pale green upholstered dining chairs. When you dine at Corton you are bound to the tasting format of which there are two options – the seasonal six-course (approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes) or the traditional eight-course tasting (significantly longer in duration). My view is go with the seasonal. It’s shorter, plenty of food to really experience Corton and it will only be around for a couple of months so take advantage of it while you still can. Before my experience at the restaurant I will admit of hearing mixed reviews. Some regale in Liebrandt’s innovative mastery of cuisine while others find it over-hyped. I’m somewhere in between the spectrum. Those who have a high appreciation for fine dining will find this restaurant a haven and every bite will evoke a different emotion from the one before. As I said before, it really is amazing what Liebrandt and his staff are able to create in the kitchen and you get the sense that it is all done with great passion and love of cuisine. There were definitely a few very impressive parts of the tasting where I was wow-ed by the privilege to have tasted that particular morsel. There were other times, however, during the first three courses where I was not as thrilled and felt the meal should pick up in terms of flavor. The turning point was the Arctic Char. I typically do not get excited over any fish in the “salmon” family, but this was quite exquisite. The other two highlights were the squab torte and panna cotta dessert. The restaurant presents the squab torte in its entirety to your table at which point I thought I was about to consume and destroy a work of art. It was beautifully prepared and the flavor was like nothing I have really experienced prior. Dessert is always a highlight of any meal for me, but it’s usually the very rich or chocolate treats that grab my attention. Not at Corton. They found a way to make a very light, simple preparation of panna cotta exude excellence in just a few small bites. Do not come to Corton thinking you will experience anything close to an ordinary meal. It may be a little much, but if you have a passion for food and are willing to go outside the box then Corton should be a stop on your New York City foodie adventures. This is also a restaurant suitable for wine connoisseurs as the selection is quite extensive. The plethora of Burgundy was a highlight for me as its one of the wine regions that I actually know something about and can appreciate. It also happens to be the variety of wine that can be the most difficult to find in great selection at restaurants. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth it for a good bottle. The final note to make is that the restaurant has never lost sight of its roots. Take a quick glance left as you enter the restaurant and notice the somewhat tarnished gold plate engraved with the name “Montrachet,” which is of course the formerly acclaimed restaurant that resided in that location prior. Corton accepts reservations on OpenTable and typically has availability if you plan a week in advance. If you want a prime seating time on weekends I would suggest booking a bit more ahead of time.

Corton, 239 W. Broadway, NY, NY, 10013. Phone: (212) 219-2777.

Finding Warmth @ A Casa Fox

I stumbled across a Lower East Side gem last night and I wish I had found it sooner. A Casa Fox is a homey, unpretentious tapas restaurant on Orchard street not far from the main Houston strip. I was sold when I walked in yesterday evening from the biting cold and saw the wood-burning fireplace exuding hear in the dining room. Luckily I found a way to have the host seat us at a table right in front of the fire which immediately de-frosted my hands and face.

As my sister and I waited for the rest of the table to arrive we were greeted by a friendly server and enjoyed a glass of Spanish wine. We could not resist the tortilla chips with guacamole, pico de gallo and bean dip either so we put in for an order so we had something to nosh on while waiting. As we sat, I took in the setting which for a New York City restaurant was surprisingly soothing. It is not a big restaurant – probably 15 tables – so it feels quite familial and cozy. The menus are handmade out of mini photo albums (I found this quite clever) and  the napkins are vibrantly colored handkerchiefs.  And then of course, there was the fireplace which could not be more perfect for New York City dining in the winter. Everything was simple and not overdone.

By the time our cousins arrived my sister and I had leafed through the multiple-paged menu and still could not decide what we were going to order for the table. There were plenty of choices and the food being served at the tables around us looked delicious. At this point we had already devoured the chips and dips – just in case you were wondering where those wen – but we were ravenous and ready for the main meal. We started easy with cocktails. The margarita was a no brainer but A Casa Fox also had some more inventive concoctions such as El Manzanero, which is a whiskey-based drink with warm apple cider and cinnamon. Great choice for a cold winter night. Once our libations were under control it was back to tackling the menu.

Since the majority of the menu at A Casa Fox consists of tapas style dishes we thought it best to just order everything to share. I would recommend the same if you decide to dine there. I had heard about the empanadas, so instead of choosing between the variety of options we went with the mini sampler that came with six different types of the restaurant’s signature. They were quite tasty and perfect for sharing. If you are more decisive than we were you can order the biggie-sized empanadas as well. The other items were a chorizo and Manchego cheese plate, avocado and hearts of palm salad, caramelized onion pizette, garlic shrimp and one of what they call “Clay Pots” of the Arroz con Pollo variety. The Clay Pots are the entree dishes and ours came with shredded chicken with rice, stewed tomatoes, plantain chips and other accouterments. The food was authentic and flavorful, with portions that were just enough that you felt satisfied but not overly full. We were a table of four girls so I am sure if there were guys in the mix the order would have been larger. Just keep in mind, the tables are very small so if you end up ordering a lot of food tell your server to space out the courses so you do not have plates falling off the table.

Then it was time for dessert. The restaurant does not have a menu, but the options change daily and it was very clear that everything was house made. My sister predicted chocolate empanadas and she was right. Naturally, since she guessed it we had to get an order for the table. This dainty empanadas were stuffed with dark chocolate and then there was a side of dulce de leche for extra dipping. They are small, but one is the perfect indulgence after a good meal. We also tried the other dessert offered that evening which was a warm mango crumble. It was prepared in an individual pie dish with lots of crumble on the top and a warm fruit filling. Mango crumb might sound a little off-the-beaten path but it tasted just as good as the apple version.

While I have seen A Casa Fox from time-to-time when sifting the OpenTable options it was never a restaurant I really thought twice about. I am glad my cousin so firmly suggested it because it was a really nice experience with food that was quite high in quality. It’s perfect for a nice date, a meal to catch up with friends or to even have a more low key celebration (there were one or two larger tables set up). It will be on the list of restaurants to go back to and I am glad to have found a new special place in the heart of the Lower East Side.

A Casa Fox, 173 Orchard Street, New York, NY , 10002. Phone: (212) 253-1900.

When To Book: A Casa Fox accepts reservations on OpenTable and I did not have a hard time getting a table on short notice. It is, however, a small restaurant so if you know you will be dining with a larger party I would suggest reserving in advance.

Thursday Tapas @ Tertulia

I don’t know about all of you, but in my group of friends tapas/small plates reign as the preferred way to eat out. Probably because small plates work for larger groups and everyone can have a little taste of everything. But don’t think just because it’s shared plates that your meal will be any smaller than if you went for Italian and ordered a big plate of pasta. Those “small” nibbles of everything on the table can end up being quite filling, so don’t kid yourself and think you’re in for a “light” meal.  Nonetheless, tapas restaurants can be fun with groups and quite tasty. My most recent sampling of the cuisine was in the West Village at Tertulia .

Tertulia is one of the newer restaurants to enter the tapas scene in New York City (opened in 2011). And of course it’s got a cool vibe, it’s in the West Village after all! Walking by you might not think twice from the simple exterior, but once you walk in the door the constant buzz will tell you immediately there’s something vibrant about this place. I went with two girl friends a couple of weeks ago. I knew I had to pick somewhere fun and interesting because one of them had just moved to New York from Los Angeles, and she too has a knack for inventive cuisine. I arrived early and found myself a seat at the bar. The restaurant does not take reservations for dinner, and because it was a Thursday night I knew I should put our name down early.

While waiting I ordered a glass of sangria from the friendly bartender. He went over to this large wine barrel that had a number of spouts sticking out at the bottom (I later found out this was used for all their house wines). As an aesthetic touch I thought it looked pretty cool. He poured the red wine into a glass, went to mixing and then scooped out citrus fruits that had been marinated in liquor from a glass jar placed on top of the bar. (Note:If you end up going to the restaurant, you must report back as to whether or not the sangria fruit is still in this large jar at the very rightmost part of the bar. There was quite the debate between the bartender and one of the wait staff as to whether it looked “strange” to have all these fruits sitting out on the bar. I didn’t think so, but interested to know what ended up being the fate for those fruits.)

After the sangria, my friends arrived and we were seated at our table. There are two options for seating. There are a number of high-topped communal tables where they squeeze you in like sardines next to a number of other groups or you may be seated at wooden-topped dining room tables, which line the perimeter of the main room. There are also some tables in the bar room, which may be a way to avoid some of the noise and bumping elbows -It can get a bit noisy in the restaurant once it fills in. We ended up at one of the communal tables and even though I felt a little too close  with my neighbors, and could hear most of their conversation, the energy of the place was definitely a nice pick-me-up after a long day at work.

As I have emphasized before, a diverse and wide-ranging menu is key. Tertulia does a good job of composing a menu that combines creativity with tradition. There are a number of inventive tapas dishes coupled with the old standbys such as: Pan Con Tomate, Jamon Serrano or traditional Spanish Tortilla. With menus like this I usually find it helpful to call upon the waiter/waitress to explain the more popular or personal favorite items listed. Otherwise there is far too much to choose from. After our waitress’ assist, and a bit of our own input, we decided on a number of dishes: Jamon Serrano (18-month cured Serrano ham), Tosta Mejillones (Grilled mussels, fennel jam, raisins, all I oli), Surtido De Quesos Atresenales (Selection of three cheeses), Nuestra Tortilla Espanola (Classic tortilla: egg, potato, onion and olive oil), Pimientos De Padron (Fried Padron peppers with lots of sea salt), Cogollos (Gem lettuce, asparagus, crispy quinoa, Meyer lemon, quail eggs), Pan Con Tomate (Toasted bread rubbed with tomato) and a special Trout dish the restaurant had prepared that evening. The mussels definitely stood out. Each one was prepared on a delicate piece of toast that was covered with the sweet fennel jam and raisins, topped off by the savory mussels. It was a shame there were only enough for each of us to have one! I am also a fan of the classics, so the Pan Con Tomate, Jamon Serrano and Padron peppers brought back memories to my travels in Spain. I wasn’t crazy about the trout as it tasted just a bit too much like it came right out of the sea. Some people enjoy their fish that way, but I prefer less “fishiness.” My two friends seemed to enjoy it. 

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To round off the meal we ordered the Torta De Arandanos (Mutti’s blueberry boy bait, lemon, creme fraiche ice-cream) and the Tarta de Chocolate (Dark chocolate and coffee ganache, almond crust and sea salt). Usually I don’t get enthused by Spanish desserts, but there were some intriguing ones to choose from and my sweet tooth could not say no. The chocolate ganache was dense, heavy and rich. Everything a chocolate lover desires from dessert. The sea salt was a nice touch. Even though I love chocolate, the blueberry boy bait won my favor that night. For those who are unfamiliar with “boy bait” (because I was) I would liken it to a moist blueberry pound cake. The lemon and creme fraiche ice-cream were great additives, and the sweet refreshing taste made me forget, for just a moment, that it was one of the hottest, most humid evenings of the summer.

Trust me, I am fully aware the West Village has a lot to offer in the way of dining options. Tertulia caught my attention for its unassuming nature, rustic ambience and lively atmosphere. If you don’t like noise or feeling cramped, I would not recommend this restaurant for you. But if that does not bother you, it’s worth making the stop by for some tapas with friends. Plus, the price is right and you won’t feel like you’ve got an empty wallet afterward.  Try the mussels, the blueberry boy bait, go with some classics and definitely indulge yourself and order a pitcher of sangria. Ciao!

Tertulia, 359 Sixth Avenue, NY, NY 10014. Phone: (212) 559-9909.

When To Book: Tertulia does not take reservations for dinner, except for groups of six or more up to two weeks prior. Reservations for brunch and lunch can be made by phone.