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.

What’s the hype about @ egg Brooklyn?

Name: egg

NGM Rating: B

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://www.eggrestaurant.com/

Location: 109 N. 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249

Cuisine: Southern

Owner/Chef: Evan Hanczor and George Weld

When did it open: 2005

Ambiance: Power brunch spot for Brooklynites in Williamsburg. Show up at 11 a.m. on a Sunday and you’re already behind the curve. You walk in, add your party to the list, join the groups waiting on the sidewalk before you and wait as the hostess periodically comes out to call names. You’re hoping each time that your name will be the next called as your stomach grumbles and head aches from the night before. Parties of two probably have it the easiest in case you’re trying to be strategic about it. The interior reminds me of the very common farmhouse feel many restaurants try to emulate these days – white-washed exposed brick walls, minimalist decor and simple wood tables adorned with fresh flower vases. Of course the place is buzzing with as lively a brunch crowd as can be, with plates full of. … you guessed it. … EGGS!

Menu highlights: The biscuits were my favorite part of the meal, particularly with the homemade fig jam on the side. Bacon was pretty solid too. The organic pancakes would have been a nice treat if they came out warm. … as would the oatmeal. I was pretty excited to finally get to egg after many months of having it on my “hit list,” but unfortunately ended up underwhelmed by the preparations. Maybe I caught the restaurant on an off Sunday.

What I didn’t get to try: Eggs Rothko and Biscuits & Gravy

Constructive criticisms: The service could definitely be improved. We waited outside for a table for an hour and the hostess was less than inviting. One of those power situations where she knew she was the gatekeeper to a brunch power spot and didn’t think it was necessary to to extend an ounce of kindness or sympathy for the patrons patiently waiting to be seated. I get it –  you’re at the hip, hot spot. … but a smile here and there could go a long way. Beyond that, our food came out lukewarm and was hastily prepared. Cold eggs and oatmeal doesn’t make for a very enjoyable meal.

Best for: Weekend brunch and a hangover cure

Dress Code: Casual

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $12, Appetizers: $15 , Entrees: $28, Dessert: $9 . There is also a 5-course tasting menu offered Monday-Thursday for $65.

Reservations: Walk-ins only for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Be prepared for a long wait at prime brunch hours on the weekends.

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.

 

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.

 

Downtown “Cool” at Margaux

Checked out a relatively new spot in Greenwich Village Thursday night that will surely continue to get “hot” as the word spreads  about the hip, cool hangout hidden in the Marlton Hotel. Margaux boasts a seasonal Mediterranean menu and draws in the trendy downtown crowd looking to see and be seen. The hotel is the work of hotelier/restauranteur Sean MacPherson, who also brought this city The Jane and The Bowery Hotel (among others), so it’s really no wonder why the “cool kids” are flocking here. The Marlton hotel itself has a sleek, refined design that is also charming  and inviting.  The bar/lounge area is reminiscent of a Parisian brasserie with its dark wood and red leather, while the restaurant itself  is brightened by ivory walls, white marble tops and an assortment of green booths.

By 8 p.m. on Thursday the restaurant came to life and nearly every table both inside and out on the covered garden was humming. The bar scene began to heat up as well with small groups enjoying a light bite  in a banquet while others scattered the lounge area to enjoy one of the many inventive cocktail offerings.  I went with a couple of friends and we had a good booth location in the corner of the restaurant nearly looking into the covered veranda. It would have been nice to sit in the “outside” area, but I will leave that for another visit. The menu, which invariably changes by the season, contains an array of small-plate options, house-made pastas and hearty mains that should please many crowds. Our table went the sharing route in an attempt to sample as much as we could without killing each of our wallets and our stomachs. My one regret was not ordering Margaux’s signature Farmer’s Board, but otherwise I think we ordered well and tried a little bit of everything.

 

The initial amuse bouche of raw vegetable crudite was a nice touch and very “farm-to-table” of the restaurant. The burrata melted in my mouth and was everything you could want from that creamy delicacy. The artichoke salad was simple, but good and the winner was definitely the squid ink pasta with lobster. It was portioned correctly with the pasta cooked just right and served with chunky lobster bites and breadcrumbs. It also had a nice spicy kick to it at the end. … but not overpoweringly so.  We also sampled the Artic Char which was generously portioned  and served with sweet green peas and greens. Simple, healthy and no frills but very tasty. After the first two courses, we decided to prolong the meal and not head straight to dessert. We sampled the cheese plate which was displayed nicely on a long wooden board with four cheese offerings coupled with each’s own honey, nut or jam garnish. Finally, it was time for dessert. We were all torn about which way to go here as there were several appealing options. We all agreed on the Rhubard Crostata served with Feta ice cream. Sounded like a summer dessert – which is a season everyone in this city is yearning for at this point – and the Feta ice cream was strikingly unique. There was, however, one problem. The menu was mis-printed that night and the restaurant was still serving a Blueberry Crostata with Buttermilk ice cream. It remains a mystery whether that was the truth or we were really  just served an extra Blueberry Crostata that was a couple days old and mistaken for Rhubarb. If that were the case though I think we still would have received a dollop of Feta ice cream. Ours definitely tasted more of buttermilk. We still ate the entire thing, but were disappointed not to get the flavors of rhubard and feta.

Overall, the food was enjoyable and the atmosphere lively but I do need to make a quick comment on the service because I think it’s an area where Margaux could improve. While our waitress was friendly she was also frustratingly aloof and seemed to have little knowledge of what was going on with the menu, the restaurant or the kitchen. We would ask about the menu and she had difficulty describing each of the dishes and once we ordered she was pretty absent from the table. Additionally, when we approached her about the dessert slip up she openly admitted to seeing the wrong one placed on our table and rather than addressing the issue she just let us sit there and eat it without explanation. Um. … if you see something, say something. Or, at least make up a good lie. Maybe Margaux wants to be too cool for top service, but if the goal is to be a fun, lively and quality neighborhood spot I would suggest making sure that’s conveyed, in part, through a quality wait staff.

All in all, I enjoyed my meal and had a very pleasant Thursday evening with close friends. We ate, drank and were merry at Margaux. Had we all not been exhausted we would probably have lingered at the bar and enjoyed a few more cocktails. It is a tempting scene as you recess from the restaurant. As I do plan on going back at some point  – particularly to sample another season’s menu- I will leave that experience for a later date. Check it out, enjoy the central location, have a good time and good food, and be sure report back on your experience with the service.

Margaux, 5 W. 8th Street, NY, NY 10011. Phone: (212) 321-0111

When To Book: Our waitress claimed the restaurant does not take reservations, but that is false. We made a dinner reservation via e-mail @ margaux@marltonhotel.com. Margaux also accepts phone reservations and walk-ins. If you plan on going during peak weekend hours I would suggest reserving a table in advance. 

Colicchio’s Latest in Culinary Innovation @ The Topping Rose House

Two weeks ago I got a taste of one of the Hampton’s newest restaurant additions – The Topping Rose House. The Topping Rose has the promise to be the new luxe destination for summer weekenders this season. It’s going to come at a price, of course. Rooms go for ~$1,000 per night, but you will be able to decompress at what looks like it will be an impressive spa and enjoy the fine dining experience that comes with a Tom Colicchio restaurant. I am going to focus on the restaurant more than the Inn itself, but they did do a great job of restoring an historic landmark in the center of Bridgehampton. From the outside, the building fits in nicely with the town’s surroundings and does not stick out as a gaudy eye sore. I think this was some people’s concern upon fist hearing about the new luxury accommodations coming to town. The inn and spa are not in full swing yet, but promise to be by the summer rush not too far off. In the meantime, people, like myself, who sometimes make the trip out there in the off-season have the privilege of testing the restaurant before it becomes impossible to get a table. Come Memorial
Day that will surely be the case.

Topping Rose is elegant but not in the same way Colicchio designed Craft or Riverpark where you enjoy a meal in a lavish dining room. The setting itself is rather quaint and it feels as though you are dining in the middle of a farmhouse. The decor is wonderful and brings forth a comfortable ambiance. The real elegance at Topping Rose lies rather in the preparation of the food. This is not my first Colicchio experience, so I know what to expect in terms of food quality and his general flare for modern and seasonally appropriate cooking. The off-summer menu was definitely reflective of winter and early spring flavors, so I will be interested to see what comes next in the summer time when Hampton tomatoes, corn and other farm-fresh goodies blossom in abundance.

The menu item of the night at our table was the Tilefish. I strayed from the other three and decided to try one of the pastas instead. Given the exuberance and high recommendation for the Tilefish, however, it’s probably worth a try. The fish is served with gold and blue potatoes, leeks and preserved lemons. Now, be careful here. When the server described the dish to us it was conveyed that there would be a puree of leeks beneath the fish and a noticeable serving of said preserved lemons. What actually came out was a delicately prepared fish with a light sauce infused with leek and lemon flavors. This was confusing to a few members of the table, who insisted they get to the bottom of this mystery and find out where the leeks and lemon resided. To their dismay, the puree was not missing just slightly misrepresented from the beginning. Nonetheless, the overall review for the fish was positive and all three people I dined with seemed to enjoy the light and flavorful dish.

I do not order pasta very often, but on this occasion I had a particular craving for a new and inventive carb creation. I tried the restaurant’s Smoked Pappardelle, which is topped with a slow poached egg. All of the pastas at Topping Rose are made in house and, in the case of the Pappardelle, they actually smoke the pasta noodles so they taste just the faintest bit of delicious smoked meats. The sauce is light and the poached egg adds a rich twist to the dish. I am glad I ordered the smaller portion because anything more may have been too decadent. For a starter, I had the Fennel, Radish, Celery and Cucumber Salad which is one of the appetizers I hope never comes off the menu. It’s great for every season and filled with fresh, refreshing greens and finished off with a light goat-yogurt herb dressing. While I enjoyed my entire meal this simple preparation was probably the highlight.

Additionally, we ordered the Fried Oysters with Braised Chili Bacon which were a nice twist the standard raw oyster. I am no huge fan of oysters myself, but these were delicious (maybe because they did not really taste like oysters!). The oysters were not over-fried and together with the bacon I could almost transport myself to a beach BBQ. Yet another good preparation for all seasons. The other must-do on the menu is checking out the side dishes. Generally side dishes are not a main attraction for any meal, but picking up the Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Cauliflower are a great way to round out a meal at Topping Rose. They are simple, but you won’t be disappointed.

 

There was, of course, some dessert to finish off the meal. By this time I was quite satisfied, but I did need something small and sweet to top me off for the evening. There were quite a few inventive ice cream flavors to sample and even though it seemed like the simple choice I went with a few scoops of coffee ice cream. There was also Lemon Meringue Tart and Apple Tarte Tatin at the table so I snagged a small taste of each. They were both great, but the Tarte Tatin beat out and would be my pick to anyone looking for a dessert suggestion. The restaurant also brings out petit fours of mini chocolate chip cookies and other small chocolate treats, so I doubled up on my ice cream and enjoyed a few of those. At the end of the meal, in true Colicchio fashion, you receive a small satchel of house made granola to remember the restaurant by as you enjoy breakfast the next morning.

Topping Rose will be a great addition to the Hampton restaurant scene, but it should definitely be reserved for a special occasion. To me, this is not a restaurant you bring the little kids on a random Friday evening or make a standing reservation at every weekend. Some people might do this, but I think it de-values the special nature of the place. It’s not gaudy, pretentious or over-the-top, but when you walk in you know you’re in for a treat so savor it that way. I would love to check out the brunch and will likely do so at some point this summer when occasion allows, so be sure to look for a Topping Rose update.

The Topping Rose House, One Bridgehampton – Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, NY, 11932. Phone: (631) 537-0870.

When To Book: I recommend booking a table at Topping Rose as early as you can plan. Even in the off-month of March, our options for a Saturday seating were 6 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. It will be even busier in the summer so get to planning sooner rather than later.

Taking on L.A.’s Brunch Scene @ Blu Jam Cafe

I traveled to L.A. a few weeks back for a long weekend and discovered a new brunch spot that I have been craving ever since I left. It may have been my first time stumbling into Blu Jam, but its is by no means a hidden gem to those who regularly peruse the L.A. brunch scene. I thought I was being sly by trying the restaurant on a Monday afternoon in an attempt to avoid the Saturday and Sunday rush, but this, however, backfired and did not work out as planned. Apparently everyone else wanted to brunch of their day off too!

We arrived at Blu Jam around 1 p.m. and even from a couple blocks away I could see the groups of people crowded outside the restaurant waiting for their names to be called (Note: remember we are in California and it’s actually warm there in February). If I was in New York I might have called it quits right there and then – there’s always another time to stop by and there are also usually five other options within a three block radius.  Since I am only in California every couple of months, my friends and I decided to stick out the wait since we all wanted to give the place a try.

The host alerted us it would probably be an hour wait, but I thought this was just a ploy to discourage people and turn them away. I was starving, but I was also convinced the wait would be 40 minutes at worst so we sucked it up, put our name on the list and meandered around Melrose Ave to pass the time. When we arrived back at the restaurant a short 40 minutes later I expected we would be the next threesome called. Wrong again! We were still third. A couple of tables cleared shortly after and then we were next. I could almost taste the eggs! One hour passed, then one hour and ten minutes, and just as our hopes were dwindling at the one-hour-and-twenty-minute mark, the host called our name and I immediately felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders (and my stomach).

Normally popular restaurants with long waits feel no remorse. They are the “cool,” “trendy” and “hip” place to be so obviously you’re supposed to wait your turn before getting the opportunity to enjoy such a coveted experience. That’s what I expected from Blu Jam – a curt apology for the wait but nothing more. The restaurant, however, takes a different approach and actually finds a way to make patrons feel good even after an appetite-provoking wait time. Upon being seated there was a piping hot order of the restaurant’s signature Crispy French Toast compliments of the chef. Apparently Blu Jam believes that if you patiently wait for an inordinate amount of time you should be rewarded. I cannot remember a time where such a nice (and delicious) gesture was offered to me, and I commend the restaurant for its hospitality. Immediately sold! It also felt good not having to spend the extra $12.95 to try Blu Jam’s signature breakfast dish. The french toast is prepared with brioche toast that has been rolled in crunchy corn flakes and topped with berries, bananas and a vanilla bean sauce. I had not eaten french toast in a while, but this version was lights out. there should be an order on every table for each person to at least have a small taste.

 

In addition to the french toast Blu Jam offers a great menu of breakfast and lunch items. The best part is that breakfast is served all day seven days a week. I am a huge fan of breakfast/brunch food so any place with quality food that also offers breakfast options anytime I want gets a gold star in my book.   The menu is extensive so the decision process was daunting, but I think it’s difficult to go wrong. When we asked our server what his favorite egg dish was, he got so excited about the menu that by the time he finished running though his “top” picks we realized he had just spoken about 50 percent of the options. That did not really help narrow our decisions, but at least we knew he thought highly of the chef.

I had been eyeing the Eggwich since the beginning of our wait time so I stuck with my gut. An egg sandwich may seem generic for a place that has so many diverse choices, but this was anything but dull – over easy eggs with strips of crispy bacon, avocado, sliced tomatoes, arugula and pesto aioli on ciabatta. The sandwich was huge and I was not sure if I would even be able to pick it up, but I handled it just fine and there was not even one leaf of arugula left when I was through with it. I did not try the Norwegian Benedict or Make-Your-Own Scramble that my friends ordered, but they each seemed equally satisfied with their meals.

So what’s the verdict? Long waits can be a drag, but if you have the time on a sunny afternoon and want a hearty brunch or just have a random craving for breakfast I suggest stopping in at Blu Jam. You can probably be smarter than I was and go at off-peak times such as a random weekday or Saturday/Sunday before 11 a.m. and after 3 p.m. to expedite the process. The food was delicious and fresh with plenty of options for everyone, and the service was amicable. Even though the restaurant was extremely crowded and there continued to be a wait outside while we were dining, I did not feel hurried through our meal and the food was served within a very reasonable time frame.

Blu Jam Cafe, 7371 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA, 90046. Phone: (323) 951-9191

When to Book: Blu Jam Cafe does not take reservations and can be extremely busy during peak hours. Expect to wait thirty minutes to one hour during brunch rush hour. 

A New Twist to Pastrami on Rye @ Kutsher’s

A few weekends ago – at the suggestion of my little sister – I tried a new brunch spot in TriBeCa that brings a new twist to traditional Jewish eats. We all know the classics – Pastrami on Rye, Latkas, Matzo Brei and Lox – but Kutsher’s gives these classics some modern flare in a comfortable and casual setting. The restaurant is new to TriBeCa’s trendy restaurant scene, and while Kutsher’s attempts to fit in with the likes of Locanda VerdeMarc ForgioneTamarind or Nobu it does not really run at the same speed. This is the type of place you stop into when you need a break from the hustle, are craving some comfort food or need a place that’s family friendly and welcomes all ages.

I cannot remember the last time I was in a New York City restaurant with so many small children. When did TriBeCa become prime destination for families? I always thought it was just the hip place for singles and young couples. Who knew! Well, if you live in the neighborhood and have trouble finding restaurants that will welcome your strollers and a table full of toddlers, no need to look any further. Kutsher’s Sunday brunch scene was a diverse mix of such tables, as well as those filled with adults catching up with their friends and then there were the groups of twenty-somethings in desperate need of a mimosa post-Saturday night. I felt like I was somewhere in between – scoping out a relatively new restaurant while catching up with a good friend over casual brunch. The restaurant gets a little noisy with all the kids, but at least it’s lively and has a buzz to it.

Choosing what to eat was a challenge. It took the waiter a couple trips over to the table before I decided whether to go down the path of sweet or savory. The Smoked Fish Platter seemed wildly appropriate, but the Challah French Toast with fresh berries and whipped cream was also enticing. Since my taste buds were feeling quite indecisive that afternoon, I ended up making my decision based on what looked to be the best mix of sweet and savory – Matzo Brei. As I was told when I ordered it: “This is not the same kind of Matzo Brei mom used to make.” I will agree with that statement. This version is served with a “brick” of softened matzo topped with scrambled eggs and a sweet berry compote to drizzle over the top. While it would have been a little bland without the berry compote – and typically I enjoy a little maple syrup drizzle on my brei – this was one way in which Kutsher’s gets creative with what is typically a very simply prepared, traditional Jewish dish. My friend strayed away from the breakfast eats and went straight for the Pastrami on Rye. This one looked – and she said tasted – pretty authentic. The restaurant house-cures the pastrami and is not skimpy with the portions. The sandwich is sizable so bring a hearty appetite. Lastly, the pickles.  I am a huge fan of pickles and I do not much discriminate between sweet or sour – they just need to 1) taste fresh and 2) not look as though they have been sitting in a jar of pickled juice for months on end. I saw a plate of pickles at the table next to us, and even though I knew they would not be the best complement my eggs and matzo I felt inclined to test them out. The pickles were pretty darn good. It was clear they were pickled by the chefs at Kutsher’s and I was pleasantly surprised by the freshness in taste. We skipped out on dessert – which I rarely do – but don’t things such as Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding and Black and White Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich sound intriguing? Maybe next time!

Overall, I think this newcomer is worth a shot. There were plenty of other menu selections enticing enough to make me go back at some point and give them a whirl. It’s always refreshing to find a new place that thinks outside the box and creates a fresh concept. There are plenty of delis around New York City to grab a Pastrami on Rye but at Kutsher’s you will not just be met with a hearty sandwich, but also ambiance and character. The restaurant may be loud and have a lot of kids running around, but at least it welcomes the whole family (and I mean family in a very broad sense of the word) which I do not think can be said for many other “hip” New York City up-and comers.

Kutsher’s, 186 Franklin Street, NY, NY 10013. Phone: (212) 431-0606

When to Book: Kutsher’s accepts reservations on OpenTable. You can typically find availability or just walk in.

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