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

Name: Alta

NGM Rating: B-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: Grade Pending

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

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

Cuisine: Mediterranean-Influenced Small Plates

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

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

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

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

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

Dress Code: City Chic

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

What’s New in Pasta @ Bar Primi

Name: Bar Primi

NGM Rating: A-

Restaurant Inspection Rating: A

Website: http://barprimi.com/home/

Location: 325 Bowery, NY, NY 10003

Cuisine: Italian Pasta Shop

Owner/Chef: Andrew Carmellini and NoHo Hospitality Group

When did it open: May 2014

Ambiance: Bar Primi is one of Andrew Carmellini’s more simplistic ventures and poses as a pasta shop. Even though the menu is pretty simple you still walk into the restaurant and get that sleek, new New York City restaurant vibe upon arrival. I would describe the decor as rustic chic and there’s a great bar to enjoy a pre-dinner drink at while waiting for a table on busy nights. The place is buzzing by 7 p.m., and on nice nights you can take advantage of the outdoor seating options as well.

Menu highlights: Don’t be fooled by the menu’s simplicity and think you’ll be getting spaghetti with tomato sauce. No, no, no. Bar Primi maintains an air of sophistication by giving you a sampling of pasta classics such as Spaghetti Pomodoro (doesn’t even sound better in Italian?) and Spaghetti with Clams, as well as seasonal classics like Pumpkin Agnolotti, Fiore di Carciofi and Squid Ink Campanelle. You can’t leave without eating pasta – so don’t go to Bar Primi if you’re on the Paleo diet. The Fiore di Carciofi was my favorite and definitely one of the more creative menu items. Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccolini was another winner, but I think it’s already been rotated off the menu for the season. Moving away from pasta, there are some great appetizers and salads too. Lastly, the wine selection is VERY reasonable by New York fine dining standards. Many solid options by the glass – whether you like red, white or sparkling – all priced between $10 and $15.

What I didn’t get to try: The Roast Beef Sandwich. It’s a Bar Primi signature and I unfortunately missed out on it because of lack of beef-eating. … can’t win ’em all. I would have also liked to try the Spaghetti and Clams and Pumpkin Agnolotti.

Constructive criticisms: Tables are a little cramped together and it can get pretty noisy. A couple inches of extra personal space would have been nice. Also, reservations can only be made for parties of six or more which leads to longer wait times during peak hours.

Best for: Casual meal at a trendy new spot, date night, carb loading and festive occasions

Dress Code: Trendy and casual

Average Pricing: Cocktails: $12, Appetizers: $13, Pasta: $17, Dessert: $8

Reservations: Reservations can only be made for parties of six or more

 

People Watching and Mexican in Dallas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

A Warm Aloha From Ka’ana Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Hampton Happy Places

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

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

WaterMill

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

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

 

Sag Harbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sagaponack/Wainscott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

East Hampton

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

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

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

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

 

Amagansett/Montauk

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

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

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

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

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

 

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. 

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.