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.

 

Getting into the Holiday Spirit @ Gramery Tavern

Name: Gramercy Tavern

NGM Rating: A/A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.gramercytavern.com/

Location: 42 East 20th St., NY, NY 10003

Cuisine: Seasonal Contemporary American

Owner/Chef: Danny Meyer and Michael Anthony

When did it open: 1994

Ambiance: There are two rooms at Gramercy Tavern – the Tavern and the Main Dining Room. The Tavern is bustling with walk-in patrons trying to get the more casual, relaxed experience in the bar room, but what’s nice about Gramercy Tavern is that you almost don’t notice a difference between the atmosphere there and the dining room.  The dining room is slightly more formal, with its white table cloths and elegant decor but pretension and snobbery are left at the door. The other major difference between the two is that the menu is completely different in one from the other other. You will experience fine dining at Gramercy Tavern but even in the dining room you feel more at ease in this warming environment than you might at some establishments where a coat-and-tie dress code is strictly enforced. I went for lunch but I am assuming even at dinner the restaurant tries to keep the pomp and circumstance to a minimum. Also, being that I was at Gramercy Tavern right smack in the middle of the holidays I got to see the restaurant in its most festive form. There were awesome planters hanging from the ceiling like over-sized green and red ornaments, and a giant tree lit atop the far side of the bar that surely caught everyone’s eye. The hospitality is what you would expect from Danny Meyer and Union Square Hospitality Group – friendly, attentive, insightful and the people there seem like they genuinely enjoy being part of the restaurant. Some at my table clamored that the lunch dragged a little, but it was fine with me since I enjoyed not being rushed for once and extending my stay. … I didn’t really want to leave when it was over.

Menu highlights: Let’s start with the cocktails. … since that’s where this particular lunch began. The seasonal cocktails were Mm Mm good, and I would highly recommend the Fall Classic before it gets rotated off the menu. There’s also a great wine list and the sommelier was very happy to assist in pairing our meals with the appropriate red. Now the food. At lunch, you get the good fortune of choosing either a tasting menu or a la carte. For this reason, I think lunch is the best way to get good bang for your buck at Gramercy Tavern. The pricing is actually pretty reasonable on the a la carte menu considering the quality of food that’s presented on your plate. The beet salad and squid ink spaghetti were fantastic. The lamb and snapper were the other table favorites. For dessert, the chocolate option won my favor (I am biased towards chocolate in general though).

What I didn’t get to try: When I was deciding on dessert I implored my server for a suggestion. She exclaimed that the pecan was her favorite, so I was anxious to try it. Unfortunately, she quickly came back to me with the bad news that the restaurant had just run out. Womp womp! I also would have liked to try the ruby red shrimp, chicken noodle soup and pork loin.

Constructive criticisms: As mentioned above, there was some murmuring at the table about the pace of our meal. It didn’t bother me so much, but I could see how the drawn out lunch in the middle of a workday would cause angst for New Yorkers.

Best for: Festive occasion, special occasion, business dining, splurge, date, dining on someone else’s dime and celebrations.

Dress Code: Business casual. Jacket and tie are optional.

Average Pricing: Lunch tasting: $58 for 5 courses, Dinner Tasting: $92-120, Tavern appetizers: $13, Tavern entrees: $22, Tavern dessert: $11, Dining room appetizers: $15, Dining room entrees: $24 , Dining room desserts: $12 , Cocktails: $14 , Wine by the glass: $17 . Keep in mind Gramercy Tavern only offers a tasting menu for dinner seatings.

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable. This is a tough table to get so I strongly suggest logging on 30 days in advance to snag a spot.

 

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.

 

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 New Take on Southern Comfort @ Root & Bone

***UPDATED ON 4/7/15 WITH NEW RATING AND OTHER COMMENTS***

Name: Root & Bone

NGM Rating: A-/B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.rootnbone.com/

Location: 200 E. 3rd Street, NY, NY 10009

Cuisine: Southern Cooking

Owner/Chef: Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth

When did it open: July 2014

Ambiance: Total rustic farmhouse feel. I am actually pretty fond of what they’ve done with the small space. Antique china, awesome light fixtures and lots of wood. … can’t say rustic without wood, right? If you are only with one other person, and the weather permits, definitely try to sit at the long high-top table along the window sill. Great for people-watching, fresh air and a relaxing way to enjoy a meal here.

Menu highlights: Fried chicken, fried chicken, fried chicken. Get it? Order it! And if you really want to go over the top, order the cheddar buckwheat waffles to accompany the chicken. Yes, there are a lot of other delicious things on the menu here too. Like, fried chicken and waffles of course! Biscuits also complement the chicken well. The restaurant has changed the menu since I went but there was also a delicious grilled peach “Caprese” salad. The Caprese part wasn’t your typical buffalo mozzarella, but rather a fried ball of pimiento cheese – inventive, over-the-top and delicious all in one bite. On my most recent visit, the menu was updated and Root & Bone served an amazing butternut squash served with a pepper marshmallow. Sounds a little strange, but the flavor made my eyes pop (in a good way). Lastly, don’t leave without a cocktail. Men, you’re officially warned, some of the drinks come in very girly glasses (or teacups even) so you might want some guidance from your server.

What I didn’t get to try: Waffle fries, cheese grits, deviled eggs, and, most importantly, DESSERT! I was too full by the end of the meal both times i’ve dined at the restaurant. They had some killer looking ones.

Constructive criticisms: The major disappointment for me was the BLT, which Root & Bone has since rotated out of the menu. While I had solid service on my first visit to Root & Bone, I have since been disappointed on a subsequent visit. My waitress was short, rude and clearly had no interest in her job. We were in the middle of eating our appetizers when she brought out our entrees and just tried to shove them on our already over-crowded table. When we asked her to send them back to the kitchen, she refused and left the food there to get cold as we finished our appetizers. I really like the food here and think the ambiance is great, but this experience tarnished my high opinion of the place.  Go at an off-peak time so you avoid long waits due to lack of reservations. Generally, my feeling is this place is a newcomer that’s sure to be a hot spot for some time.

Best for: Fun night out, casual meal with friends (small groups are better), casual date, weekend brunch, fun celebration and for those yearning to try out a great new spot. Also, Root & Bone has a late-night menu, live music and bar specials during the weekend until 2 a.m. I haven’t taken advantage of this yet, but hope to soon.

Dress Code: Flannel and jeans. Ladies, throw on some fun boots or heels to make it interesting.

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $13, Appetizers: $12, Entrees: $25

Reservations: Reservations now available on OpenTable.

 

 

 

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).

A Modern Turn For Dim Sum @ RedFarm

You voted and I listened. Well, kind of. Last week’s poll results were a toss up between the West Village’s RedFarm and Williamsburg’s Pies N’ Thighs. I decided to break the tie myself and checked out RedFarm last night for some dim sum and modern Chinese fare. This small West Village restaurant has surely made a name for itself since opening in 2011. It’s always on someone I know’s “list” or my friends go and say: “Wow, you haven’t been yet?!? YOU need to check it out.” So, I finally did. In addition to the West Village location, RedFarm has now expanded to the Upper West Side and also added a Peking Duck mini restaurant, Decoy, located just below the original restaurant.

You can usually count on a wait time at RedFarm since the restaurant only take reservations for large parties and the dining room is constantly buzzing with customers conversing at the large communal table that takes up the majority of the seating space. Off times are the way to go, unless you are not in a rush or it’s a nice night to wait outside. Even with a wait and the cramped quarters it’s probably still worth it as you’re sure to be moved by the flavors that come out of RedFarm’s inventive menu.

In an attempt to avoid a long wait time my sister and I decided to venture down to RedFarm for an early Sunday night dinner. … early bird special style at 6 p.m. The strategy worked. We walked right in and were even able to snag one of the booth tables that encircle the large communal table. I can never decide how I really feel about communal seating, but it seems to fit at RedFarm. There were groups minding their own business chatting with one another, while others commingled and shared pleasantries (and obviously advice on which dishes the other should order). For me, the real irony of the place is how the menu is structured for sharing plates yet the restaurant really is not all that big to accommodate many larger parties. I guess that gives smaller groups incentive to try what they can and come back for more once they’ve gotten the initial RedFarm tasted.  Speaking from this experience, there will definitely be a re-visit as I did not nearly have the stomach or the wallet last night to consume everything I wanted.

Before diving into the dumplings and fried rice let’s briefly discuss the ambiance. I already mentioned the small dining area with a large communal table and several booths on the perimeter. There’s nothing particularly special about the decor but it does give off a rustic country house vibe with potted plants hanging from the ceiling and a long wooden table meant for a family-style, freshly prepared meal. Like mom used to make on a summer weekend. The booth banquets are upholstered in red-and-white checkered fabric giving them a relaxed touch, and another, somewhat subtle, detail is the copper holders hanging from the ceiling filled with RedFarm labeled chopsticks. Most of the wait staff is dressed in plaid giving off the laid back, farm-to-table vibe and nothing about the restaurant gives off the vibe of a Chinese restaurant. That is, of course, until you see the plates being carried around the room or even take a glimpse at the menu. Even then, however, is RedFarm anything even remotely close to what New Yorkers are so accustomed to calling Chinese food. And for that I am very thankful.

Maybe the reason it has taken me some time to get to RedFarm has to do with the fact that I am truly not a huge fan of Chinese food. It gets too greasy and never leaves me feeling quite right afterwards. I know coming from someone born and raised in this city that comes as a shock and could be perceived as blasphemy, but at least I eat pizza and bagels. … right? But as already mentioned, RedFarm is far from what I know to be traditional Chinese food. The restaurant prides itself on Greenmarket sustainability which kind of goes along with what’s all the rage in the farm-to-table genre these days. Each menu item puts an innovative twist on what people may be used to as dim sum and Chinese cuisine. I mean, it’s got to be hard to come by Pac Man Shrimp Dumplings anywhere else.

Maneuvering the menu is difficult at a table for two because there are many intriguing options and, in my case at least, it can be hard to create a meal that adheres to each person’s food preferences. For example, I missed out on those Pac Man Shrimp Dumplings because my sister does not eat seafood and I could not stomach eating them all by myself. There’s always next time. We agreed on plenty, though, and settled on the following four dishes: Crunchy Vegetable and Peanut Dumplings, Pan-Fried Pork Buns, Bentons Bacon and Egg Fried Rice and Diced Lamb with Chinese Broccoli and White Asparagus. And they came out in that order. The first dumplings were light and not over-greased, with tastes of fresh vegetables and a welcoming crunch in each bite from the peanuts. The mini pork buns brought out a completely different palate of flavors. Each was pleasantly doughy and every bite surprised me with a nice hoisin barbecue type of kick to it. After the dumplings came a very generous portion of fried rice.  I know it’s just rice, but this was awesome. Full of flavor and the chef did not skimp out on the bacon or fried egg, which is always appreciated. We finished with the lamb which had a great sauce and was paired well with the white asparagus. None of these dishes was remotely bland and each could probably use a palate cleanser as the flavors changed drastically as we moved from course-to-course.

By the end of all that we were too full to think about eating another thing and asked for the bill instead. It was pretty reasonable for the quality and judging by how full my belly felt. Always nice when you feel like you haven’t broken the bank dining out in New York. And by the time we left at 7:15 the wait list was underway and guests were patiently waiting outside for their chance at Sunday supper. If you like Chinese, and even if you’re like me and don’t, RedFarm should be added to your list. The ingredients are fresh, seemingly local and the eclectic menu will grab and keep your attention throughout the entire meal. You can even check it out for weekend brunch if you’re looking for something other than classic Eggs Benedict on a Sunday afternoon.

RedFarm, 529 Hudson Street,  NY, NY 10014. Phone: (212) 792-9700

When To Book:  RedFarm does not accept reservations unless you are a party of eight or more and groups of this size are on a prix-fixe menu. I recommend being prepared for some sort wait time – unless you go at an off-peak time – and being flexible about a communal dining experience.