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.

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.

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.

 

People Watching and Mexican in Dallas

If you’re looking for a place to see and be seen in Dallas then Mi Cocina in Highland Park Village may be the place to be. You wouldn’t expect to see stilettos, suits and cocktail dresses for a casual Mexican meal, but I guess things are done differently in Texas. I went here on a Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. and there was already a wait time for tables. Usually Tuesday – and early on a Tuesday – is a good time to snag a table anywhere, but Mi Cocina was already hopping with tables of all sorts – couples, single gals, families, college students and the tables of guys having a night out on the town. The restaurant really works for anyone, but remember to dress to impress. My t-shirt and jeans felt out of dress code and I would have been better off dressing the outfit up with some pumps and a nice top.  I probably stuck out like a sore Northerner thumb. … but it was a fun experience nonetheless.

So, I think I made the point that this place is fun for the people watching. One of those restaurants you could sit at the bar for hours and just watch who comes in and out. If you’re there long enough there’s a probably a good chance you get a celeb sighting of Troy Aikman sighting or another local of equal fame. Speaking of bar. … if you come to Mi Cocina you definitely need to ask for the cocktail list. Margaritas galore. … a flavor for anything you fancy. I took it easy on the drinking since it was ONLY Tuesday night, but the signature Mambo Taxi was pretty tasty. A classic frozen margarita topped with sangria. A couple of those and I would have been toast! I also tried the sangria which was refreshing but came in a glass better served for a fountain soda, not a drink. I probably got 3 glasses of sangria for the price of one though, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. And no. … I couldn’t finish it. Plenty of tequila and other cocktails to go around.

On to the food. There’s really nothing fancy or unexpected here. Pretty much all the Mexican staples you know well with a little added Mi Cocina flare. Guac and chips are a must. It’s pretty much a sin to leave a Mexican restaurant without trying the Guac. … this place is no different. I would also add-on an order of Queso to nosh on before the main meal. The next decision: quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas or tamales. This was, I admit, a tough decision. There’s no going really “healthy” at this kind of place, but since everyone was so dressed up and looking their best I felt it would be poor form to really splurge. No one wants to be the fat kid at the restaurant. I went with the Sunset Enchiladas, which consisted of two sizable enchiladas filled with your choice of meat or spinach, jack cheese, topped with the restaurant’s signature Sunset Sauce and served with refried beans and rice on the side. It was pretty big. … and I devoured the whole thing. Proud member of the clean plate club here. I can’t say the quality of the food blew me away, but it was good and I would go back to eat it again. And on the topic of sauces, Mi Cocina makes a number of signature sauces in-house that you can order along with any meal. Definitely worth testing a few out and adding some extra flavor to whatever you’re eating. Someone else at my table got the Fish Tacos that looked tasty too. Might have been a slightly lighter option as well. I know for next time!

There was no room for dessert and we got the check after cleaning all our plates. A fun experience overall and one that I will probably repeat when I go back to Dallas at some point. Dinner won’t break the bank – unless you’re feeling really thirsty – and it’s a good atmosphere for just about anyone. Just make sure you dress the part and remember you’ll probably have to wait a little bit for a table. The place seems to be hopping any night of the week.

Mi Cocina, 77 Highland Park Village, Dallas, TX, 75205. Phone: (214) 521-6426.

When to Book: Mi Cocina does not accept reservations, so you;ll just have to show up and try your luck!

A Warm Aloha From Ka’ana Kitchen

I spent the better part of the past two weeks on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui. While I did not go out on the town very often – mainly because food there is very $$$ – there was one dinner I had that’s definitely worth mention. Ka’ana Kitchen is one of the restaurants at the recently opened Andaz hotel in Wailea. Ka’ana means “to share” and that theme permeates the dining experience at this chic hotel restaurant. The dining room and guest attire can be described as casual chic, the menu eclectic and featuring local fare while the atmosphere remained lively. I would definitely have to say Ka’ana Kitchen is a very nice change of pace compared to some other more generic hotel restaurants I have dined at in the past.

Let’s dive right into the food. We did a lot of sharing at my table. That’s the point of the restaurant anyway, right? The menu is a little hard to navigate if your server doesn’t explain it upon seating you (luckily ours was right on point). It’s subdivided into six sections: Ka’ana Classics, Surfing Goat Dairy, Kona Cold Lobsters, Craig Nihei and Bryan Otani Local Farmers, Taguma Wagyu and Vegetarian. The initial thought. … what does this all mean? Each section corresponds to the local farm or food producer that provides the ingredients for each of the corresponding dishes. None of the menu items are generic and, in many instances, you may not even initially believe that all the ingredients could blend well together, but I bet Ka’ana Kitchen will serve you up a pleasant surprise. … I know I was impressed. Also, for those parents out there, the restaurant has a Keiki (aka children’s) menu for the young ones, so don’t feel like you need to leave part of the family at home. It is a sophisticated restaurant, but the staff makes an effort to make all parties feel welcome. We had two children at our table who ordered off the kid’s menu and I must say, the waffle fries were some of the best I ever tasted (yes, I am somewhat embarrassed to say I enjoyed the kid’s menu. … but that means your children should like the food too!)

We began the meal with the Ahi Tataki, Rib-Eye Cap, Watermelon Salad, Chorizo and Peekytoe Crab. The Ahi Tataki was by far the first-round winner. It also happens to be one of the dishes where the flavor mixture did not make much sense to me at first glance – sliced seared tuna with heirloom tomatoes and burratta cheese. I do not really associate mozzarella with fish. Do you? It was a kind of Caprese with a twist. And it really did all work together. The creamy deliciousness coupled with sweet, ripe tomatoes, topped off with the savory fish prepared to near perfection. Melt-in-your mouth type of dish. Round one was not enough food (or it was but we all just wanted to sample some more), so we added the Vegetable Steam Buns, another round of Chorizo and the Makawao Farms Chicken to our order. CHICKEN ALL THE WAY. This dish epitomizes how to effectively complement the savory with the sweet. A gourmet fried chicken served with lavender malasadas (aka fancy donuts) and an asian slaw. Just rich enough without being overwhelming and sinfully delicious. After all that food you think we would be done. Not this group. We never end a meal without dessert. It was a tough call but we deliberated and agreed upon the Coconut Sundae. Coconut ice cream, hot fudge, macadamia nuts and pieces of chocolate cake hidden beneath the mound of ice cream. And you get to add the toppings as you wish. What’s not to like? My only regret is I forgot to snap a photo.

This is when the food coma started to really set in. … and then I felt like I couldn’t move. That’s a sign of a great meal. Or maybe just over-eating. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with Ka’ana Kitchen and felt refreshed by the fact that the experience did not feel sterile and stereotypically hotel-esque. The service was attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. The restaurant has a great vibe and a good scene for people-watching. You should arrive early and enjoy a cocktail at the outdoor bar during sunset. There are great cocktails at the restaurant when you arrive as well. I wouldn’t stay in the Wailea area of the island without giving Ka’ana Kitchen a shot. The price tag may sting, but the quality justifies the sticker shock. Even though the restaurant is fairly new it already has a positive buzz about it and I am sure its popularity will only continue to grow. Mahalo Ka’ana Kitchen! I hope to return again soon.

Ka’ana Kitchen, 3550 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, HI 96753. Phone: (808) 573-1234

When To Book:  Ka’ana Kitchen accepts reservations on OpenTable. We did not have a problem booking a table a couple of days in advance for a party of six, but I would recommend trying to make a reservation in advance of your travels to Maui (assuming you do not live there full-time).

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.

 

It’s Always A Happy Hour @ Mermaid Inn

If you like seafood and are looking for a low key place to meet up with some of your friends in the Lower East Side then take a gander at Mermaid Inn. This “upscale” seafood shack serves well-priced eats in a friendly and fun dining environment. Mermaid Inn also has locations in Greenwich Village and the Upper West Side, but this review will focus mainly on its Second Avenue spot between Fifth and Sixth Streets.

One of the best deals going on at Mermaid Inn is the Happy Hour-And-A-Half. Beers are $5, wine is $6 and cocktails go for $7. But the variety of bar snacks from the sea at reasonable prices will really be what grabs your attention.  Fried calamari and sliders go for $7, oysters and clams for $1 and fish tacos for $3! And there’s much more. So if you have some friends looking for a new happy hour spot that will also satiate your appetite then stop by Mermaid Inn from 5:30-7 p.m. and take a advantage of one of the better NYC deals I have run into in recent memory,

Moving forward to dinner. I went to Mermaid Inn with some girlfriends and after our experience I would recommend the restaurant mostly for groups of friends getting together for a no-fuss, reasonably-priced meal. It’s not a spot for business diners or even really a first date type of setting. Just go there for a fun time. Be sure to come with a full stomach too because the food is not exactly “light.”  We enjoyed the diverse cocktail menu and plenty of plates filled with lobster, seafood ceviche and a number of fried seafood goodies. Any place that serves Pacifico beer and a good Dark and Stormy is a winner in my book.  Figuring out the best way to order presented a bit of a dilemma. The appealing appetizer selection made it difficult to decide whether or not we should forego entrees altogether.

I happened to be starving, so while the rest of my friends went with a number of things to share (which I clearly dipped my fingers into), I added a lobster sandwich to the order as my main course. I do not call it a lobster roll because those should really be served on some variation of a hot dog bun, but this rendition came with a generous portion of lobster salad sandwiched between a thick brioche bun and cajun-spiced fries. It was awesome. Other dishes on the table included: lobster knuckle escargot, crab cakes, a special ceviche dish being served that evening, hush puppies and soft-shell crabs. The lobster knuckle escargot was the most creative with small pieces of lobster meat – which were supposed to mimic what the snail version would look like – that were drenched in rich garlic butter and served with bread. The soft-shell crabs were a tasty summer treat,  and the crab cakes and hush puppies were an over-fried indulgence.

The end of the meal brought a pleasantly sweet surprise. The server brought out complimentary chocolate pudding with a dollop of cream served in an espresso cup. Since there are no dessert menu selections (bummer!) this was a yummy gesture in the right direction. We also received a fortune-telling plastic fish to tell you your personality type. Place the fish on the palm of your hand and depending on which way it moves you will “learn” something about yourself. I think mine moved in such a way that meant I was “fickle.” Not sure I buy it! While the plastic fish may sound a bit kitschy it’s an entertaining way to end the meal. When you pay the bill you get some Swedish Fish as well. …Double bonus! 

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The menu is fun and the food good, albeit at times a tad over-fried but I guess that’s part of the whole seafood shack experience. The service is attentive and helpful, and we had no qualms in that department. Mermaid Inn also pays attention to the details. Almost everything that comes to your table has the restaurant’s mermaid logo on it. These small finishing touches along with the chocolate pudding, fortune-telling fish and fish candies all give the place some added charm.  In the warm-weather months there is outdoor seating and the restaurant is larger than it might appear from street view as there is a second dining room in the back area. Since the restaurant is in the heart of the Lower East Side there will be plenty of post-dinner activities in the area to keep you entertained on weekend nights.

The Mermaid Inn, 96 Second Avenue, NY, NY 10003. Phone: (212) 674-5870.

When to Book: The Mermaid Inn accepts reservations on OpenTable. You do not need to plan too far in advance to get a table and you can always try your luck as a walk-in.