A Place I Actually Enjoyed in Las Vegas – Giada

Name: Giada

NGM Rating: B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

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

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

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Giada De Laurentiis

When did it open: June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Name: Vic’s

NGM Rating: B/B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.vicsnewyork.com/

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

Cuisine: Italian

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

When did it open: October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Dress Code: City chic

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

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

 

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.

 

A New(ish) Frenchie on Bowery: Cherche Midi

Name: Cherche Midi

NGM Rating: B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: (*new request*): A

Website: http://www.cherchemidiny.com/

Location: 282 Bowery, NY, NY 10012

Cuisine: French Bistro

Owner/Chef: Keith McNally, Shane McBride and Daniel Parilla

When did it open: June 2014

Ambiance: Think Balthazar with a facelift – that’s Cherche Midi. Balthazar has been a McNally classic in NYC for some time, and Cherche Midi is a new variation on the same theme. Balthazar, not too far down the road, has more recently become overrun with tourists and lost some of its luster with the local crowd anyway, so this was a nice way to spruce things up. That being said, however, I was saddened when McNally decided to pivot Pulino’s into this new venture. I quite enjoyed the casual pizza joint, particularly in the warm-weather months when outdoor seating was plentiful. In contrast, Cherche Midi has all the makings of an upscale bistro. The people watching, the line of tres chic patrons waiting at the door for a coveted table, the servers in formal attire, the red-leather banquets and tables with white tablecloths, stained glass and extensive bar with bottles backlit for effect. These are also quintessential qualities of other McNally restaurants as well, particularly those related to decor. The service was very pleasant, from the hostess to the bartender and ending with our table server.

Menu highlights: Steak Frites (my friend enjoyed), Grilled Lamb Saddle, Frites, Apple Tarte Tatin and brussels sprouts cooked in bone marrow and truffles. Really. … anything with meat from here is bound to be tasty. Simple preparations and no real frills on plate execution. I have heard thumbs up reviews about the Prime Rib Burger which sounds absolutely sinful, topped with bacon marmalade, roasted mushrooms and gruyere cheese. Obviously, you get a nice side of Frites on the side as well.

What I didn’t get to try: Pot de Fromage, Bouchot Mussels and homemade lobster ravioli.

Constructive criticisms: If you enjoy a classic french bistro/brasserie experience with the added McNally touch then you’ll fawn over Cherche Midi. It has that old Parisian feel and the downtown people-watching to go with it. I, however, have become somewhat disenchanted and bored with this kind of dining experience. Don’t get me wrong, the food, service and ambiance all come together at Cherche Midi, but the menu does remind me of numerous other French bistros scattered throughout the City. As I said before. … no real vibrance to the preparations and the plates are very simple. … whereas the bill is not! The tables are packed tightly too, so not a lot of elbow room or space for you to finagle your way out if you end up on the inside seat.

Best for: People watching, checking out the new hot spots, date night, gossiping with the gals, a splurge, celebratory occasion.

Dress Code: Urban chic

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $15 , Appetizers: $18 , Entrees: $32, Dessert: $10 .

Reservations: Reservations are available on OpenTable, but like many of McNally’s other restaurants tables can be hard to come by. I would plan ahead or be prepared for the very early/late shifts.

A Happy Birthday Review For Maialino

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

Name: Maialino

NGM Rating: A

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://maialinonyc.com/

Location: 2 Lexington Avenue, NY, NY 10010

Cuisine: Italian

Owner/Chef: Danny Meyer and Nick Anderer

When did it open: November 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Dress Code: Business Casual

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

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

 

What’s New In Pizza @ Marta

Name: Marta

NGM Rating: A-/B+

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://martamanhattan.com/

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

Cuisine: Trendy Pizza Joint

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

When did it open: September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

Mixing Old World with the New @ Carbone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Hampton Happy Places

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

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

WaterMill

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

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

 

Sag Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sagaponack/Wainscott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

East Hampton

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

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

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

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

 

Amagansett/Montauk

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

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

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

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

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

 

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. 

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