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. 

Mid-Week Lunching @ Jeffrey’s Grocery

I went to Jeffrey’s Grocery for the first time last week for lunch and my guess is that it’s quite a different experience lunching there in the middle of the week versus its Sunday brunch scene. Whenever I have heard people talk about the restaurant in the past it has been in reference to a great brunch. They don’t take reservations for lunch or brunch, so there’s always the wait anxiety but it was still always on my list of places to try. Plus, I am also a fan of sister restaurants Perla and Fedora. … with the need to check out some of the others as well. I still have yet to taste Jeffrey’s Grocery’s brunch, but I did have the opportunity to sample the lunch menu with a friend of mine mid-last week. It’s pretty quiet in the restaurant around noon on a Wednesday, but my guess is most West Village spots are sparsely attended at that time. Most people are in the office and it’s not really a neighborhood known for the “power lunch.” Quiet can be refreshing in the hustle-and-bustle of New York City, so I welcomed the emptiness and space with open arms and had an enjoyable lunch.

The corner spot where Jeffrey’s Grocery resides is the perfect locale for this rustic, charming and under-stated eatery that serves quite quite tasty food. The moment you walk in (at least when I was there) you immediately get hit with a strong bakery aroma as the chef whips up a coffee cake or croissants. The smells alone will make you tummy grumble and turn your gaze immediately to the pastry portion of the menu. I have been cutting back on the sweets (or trying to at least) so I did not sample any of those items, but let me tell you it took every ounce of self-restraint to not order that sour-cream coffee cake or almond croissant. With that being said, the menu has more depth to it than baked goods alone.

Since Jeffrey’s Grocery is known for its oysters and seafood I would probably be remiss without mentioning the plentiful raw bar menu offered there. I am not, however, the gal to rely on for oyster recommendations and I also do not tend to be the one diving into a seafood tower at lunch time. I will have to go there for dinner to do a follow up review on that! We kept our order pretty simple. My friend ordered the omelette and I the ham baguette. We also split a side of avocado toast because it sounded intriguing and we both dig that green power food. I would liken it to a guacamole spread over toast so do not expect sliced avocado to come out on bread. Simple but fresh, and if you like avocado I definitely recommend getting an order for the table. The ham baguette was a well-portioned sandwich that was a little more creative than your typical French jambon beurre.The country ham was places atop a buttered, split-open french baguette topped with a soft boiled egg from which the yolk slowly seeped out from the sides. I thought it would be a messier eating adventure given the egg, but the sandwich was quite manageable and satiating. The omelette was one of spinach and gruyere, and was also served with potatoes and toast. My friend enjoyed it and I only had a small taste of the crispy potatoes which were not too shabby either.

The menu has a little bit of everything for lunch and the portions, price points and tastes will not leave you disappointed. Also, anywhere that serves breakfast items on their lunch menu gets extra points in my book. I could always go for a hearty egg dish in the middle of the day to get me through to dinner. So, if you happen to have a day off and are wandering the streets of the West Village you might want to stop in to Jeffrey’s Grocery for a casual, quality lunch I would pop into Jeffrey’s Grocery. It may be easier than snagging a brunch or dinner table during coveted weekend times. And most importantly, let me know what you think!

Jeffrey’s Grocery, 172 Waverly Place, NY, NY 10014. Phone: (646) 398-7630.  

When To Book: Jeffrey’s Grocery does not accept reservations for brunch or lunch. The restaurant will take reservations by phone for tables up to six people two weeks prior to the date you wish to dine there. I recommend making the reservation sooner rather than later. 

A Recap of Recent Food Excursions: In Vino, Spotted Pig, Barraca, Mas (farmhouse) and Corton

I have been to a handful of restaurants recently that all deserve mentioning. Since I have lacked the time to do an in-depth write-up on each I have compiled a synopsis of each so you readers can just get enough of a taste for the restaurants. Yes, it is a random assortment that runs the gamut of casual to high elegance in terms of dining experiences and I have written this post accordingly in that order. There is everything Paul Liebrandt’s high-end Corton to the simplicity of an East Village wine bar, In Vino. There is something for everyone so enjoy reading and do not get too hungry in the process!

In Vino

In Vino is a casual buzzing wine bar in the East Village that I stumbled upon a few weeks ago with a couple girlfriends. We were looking for a place to go that was not very expensive, could satiate our appetite with good small plates to share and also provide us with some tasty grape. In Vino did the trick. We had a reservation but it was a Friday night and the restaurant was running behind, so we were not seated until 20 minutes after the stated reservation slot. Kind of annoying, but at least the host was apologetic and kept checking in on us. She actually went so far as to ask another table of two (that was at a table meant for four) to re-locate to a smaller table so we could finally be seated. I might be a little ticked off if I was that couple, but it worked out for everyone . … and I was hungry so this plan worked well for me. In terms of wine, there are 200 different varieties, predominately Italian from 20 different regions, from which to choose. Yes, it’s overwhelming but the server and bartender are well-versed in the offerings so just ask questions if needed. In terms of food, sharing is the way to go. The meatballs were the hit at my table, and although I did not try them I got a taste of the sauce and it was great. The Bruschetta di Pomodoro and fried artichokes are also tasty. The night I was there the restaurant also had a special pumpkin ravioli which was heavy and rich in flavor (maybe a tad too much butter), but I recommend it if you happen to be there at a time when this dish is being re-offered. In Vino has a great vibe even if its very cramped quarters in the restaurant. Good place to enjoy a light meal and sample a couple glasses (or bottles) of wine. The price is right and the location does not stink either. Its fairly well-situated around East Village nightlife, so if you’re evening continues post-dinner it should not be too difficult to find a fun place to go.  In Vino accepts reservations on  OpenTable, but as previously mentioned you may not get seated when you think you are supposed to during the weekend rush.

In Vino, 215 E. 4th Street, NY, NY, 10009. Phone: (212) 539-1011.

Spotted Pig

This April Bloomfield staple has been on my list of lists for some time. It’s probably not considered as popular as it was five years ago, but the wait time is still an hour (or more) even in the middle of week so I do not think it’s lost its stride. I finally realized it had been too long since I started saying “Gee, I should really try out the Spotted Pig,” so I found a girl friend and picked a night to go where I wouldn’t mind the long wait time in the cramped quarters of the small restaurant. We did end up waiting an hour for a table. Lucky for me, I was running late and in traffic so by the time I showed up it was only 20 minutes! I am usually quite punctual and felt badly my friend was on her own by the bar, but it definitely made the experience more enjoyable once I got there knowing the wait time was cut in half. It’s not a big restaurant by any means so tables are intimately close together and the restaurant has a great buzz to it. People rave about the burger at the Spotted Pig, but given my no-beef dietary restriction that was not on our table that evening. It did look good though. We decided to go the small plate route and shared a bunch of dishes to nibble on. The burrata was creamy deliciousness and there was a special red snapper crudo that was delicate and full of flavor. We also ordered the brussels sprouts, market salad and, of course, the shoestring fries. The latter should really be adopted as the Spotted Pig’s bread basket. No one should leave without trying at least a few of the shoestring fries.They are topped with garlic cloves so just watch your breath after consumption. The food is solid, the restaurant has no real frills to speak of and the scene is great from Thursday-Saturday night. There is a no-reservation policy so be prepared to wait (a decent amount of time). The earlier you get there, the better your chances are of getting lucky with a table. Next stop. … The Breslin!

The Spotted Pig, 311 W. 11th Street, NY, NY, 10011. 

Barraca

I have been to this West Village newcomer twice and think it’s a fun spot to go for sangria and tapas with a group of friends or a creative place to bring a date. The first thing to take note of is the design of the space. I think the restaurant did a good job of making it a lively and inviting atmosphere with a great bar lined with jugs of sangria, rustic exposed brick walls, bright-blue painted table chairs and other interesting ornamentation on the walls. Sangria and Paella are both musts. Barraca offers five different varieties of sangria of which I recommend the Rioja. I am partial to Rioja wine to begin with, but this refreshing cocktail also shows hints of cherry and guindilla pepper to give extra flavor. Go big and get pitchers if you’re with a group – they will go quickly. In terms of food, I recommend ordering a mix of tapas and sharing paella as the main event. If you are only a group of two go light on the tapas and get one paella to share. It will be plenty of food. I have sampled a variety of the menu offerings now that I have dined here twice and these are my top recommendations: Paella Negra (Mixed Seafood), Pulpo Salteado (Sauteed Octopus), Coles De Bruselas (Brussels Sprouts), Ensalada de Berza (Kale Salad) and Cordero Moruno (Lamb Cubes). There are plenty of other things to choose from, but these were my top hits with the Paella Negra being    No. 1. This is squid infused rice with artichoke, monkfish, squid and shrimp. Make sure you order it “socarrat” so you get the crispy crust of rice at the bottom of the pan. It may sound gross the way I just described it, but its traditional Spanish preparation and delicious. On a Friday or Saturday it may be hard to get a reservation the day of, but generally speaking you can get a table and the restaurant is on OpenTable.

Barraca, 81 Greenwich Ave, NY, NY, 10014. Phone: (212) 462-0080.

Mas (farmhouse)

Mas – a country house or farm in the South of France. The restaurant sets you in an elegant country farm setting in the middle of bustling downtown New York City. This one is special. A gem in the heart of the West Village which is known by foodies, but does not receive nearly as many public accolades as I believe it should. Prior to dining at Farmhouse I had been to its newer sister restaurant, Mas (la grillade). The two could not be more different but they each work in their own way. The concept is farm-to-table with local ingredients and I would describe the ambiance as understated elegance. It’s an intimate dining room that should be reserved for those there celebrating a special occasion or who can really appreciate a special meal.The great thing about Mas is that there is a tasting menu, but no one has to feel restricted by the menu choices contained in the suggested tasting. Each diner can use the a la carte dishes and/or the evening’s tasting options to create his/her own tasting menu. The restaurant gives you the flexibility to try a little bit of everything you actually want to eat. Many times with tasting menus I find I want to eat two-thirds of what’s being offered, but there is never the option to swap out. This was a pleasant surprise at Mas. The shrimp crusted with spaghetti squash and brussels sprouts were the highlights of my main meal. In terms of dessert, where do I begin. We pretty much ordered every option and they were all delicious. The white chocolate mousse with rhubarb compote was my least favorite, but someone else could find it to be fantastic.The dulce de leche semifreddo took the cake and Mas also offers creative ice cream flavors to supplement each dessert, which are well worth it as well. I particularly enjoyed the Greek frozen yogurt. The service is attentive, affable and very well-versed in the menu. I happen to know someone in the kitchen, which the restaurant became aware of, and we were taken care of very nicely. The experience was very pleasant, food excellent and I think the restaurant has done a very good job of finding a dining format that works for everyone, particularly with the lack of restriction in the menu. Mas (farmhouse) accepts reservations on OpenTable but it can be a tough table to score. I would suggest planning your visit weeks in advance.

Mas (farmhouse), 39 Downing Street, NY, NY, 10014. Phone: (212) 255-0279.

Corton

This is a restaurant for those with a refined palate and the desire for a culinary adventure. Paul Liebrandt’s Corton is elegant and pristine with food preparations that are done with unique precision and grace. It baffled me how every little detail down to the minuscule edible flower buds set atop my crab salad could be so thoughtfully placed on the plate. The dining room is elegant with white walls embossed with tree branches and faint hints of gold. Color is added to the room from the intricate light fixtures and pale green upholstered dining chairs. When you dine at Corton you are bound to the tasting format of which there are two options – the seasonal six-course (approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes) or the traditional eight-course tasting (significantly longer in duration). My view is go with the seasonal. It’s shorter, plenty of food to really experience Corton and it will only be around for a couple of months so take advantage of it while you still can. Before my experience at the restaurant I will admit of hearing mixed reviews. Some regale in Liebrandt’s innovative mastery of cuisine while others find it over-hyped. I’m somewhere in between the spectrum. Those who have a high appreciation for fine dining will find this restaurant a haven and every bite will evoke a different emotion from the one before. As I said before, it really is amazing what Liebrandt and his staff are able to create in the kitchen and you get the sense that it is all done with great passion and love of cuisine. There were definitely a few very impressive parts of the tasting where I was wow-ed by the privilege to have tasted that particular morsel. There were other times, however, during the first three courses where I was not as thrilled and felt the meal should pick up in terms of flavor. The turning point was the Arctic Char. I typically do not get excited over any fish in the “salmon” family, but this was quite exquisite. The other two highlights were the squab torte and panna cotta dessert. The restaurant presents the squab torte in its entirety to your table at which point I thought I was about to consume and destroy a work of art. It was beautifully prepared and the flavor was like nothing I have really experienced prior. Dessert is always a highlight of any meal for me, but it’s usually the very rich or chocolate treats that grab my attention. Not at Corton. They found a way to make a very light, simple preparation of panna cotta exude excellence in just a few small bites. Do not come to Corton thinking you will experience anything close to an ordinary meal. It may be a little much, but if you have a passion for food and are willing to go outside the box then Corton should be a stop on your New York City foodie adventures. This is also a restaurant suitable for wine connoisseurs as the selection is quite extensive. The plethora of Burgundy was a highlight for me as its one of the wine regions that I actually know something about and can appreciate. It also happens to be the variety of wine that can be the most difficult to find in great selection at restaurants. It doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth it for a good bottle. The final note to make is that the restaurant has never lost sight of its roots. Take a quick glance left as you enter the restaurant and notice the somewhat tarnished gold plate engraved with the name “Montrachet,” which is of course the formerly acclaimed restaurant that resided in that location prior. Corton accepts reservations on OpenTable and typically has availability if you plan a week in advance. If you want a prime seating time on weekends I would suggest booking a bit more ahead of time.

Corton, 239 W. Broadway, NY, NY, 10013. Phone: (212) 219-2777.

Uptown and Downtown Italian with Spigolo and L’Artusi

Sorry for being “off the grid” there for a couple of weeks. Between travel and my day job, not much time to get to some good new places. I have, however, been to two Italian spots recently that are worth telling you all about. For those of you uptown, Spigolo might be for you and then for the downtown crowd L’Artusi should be a name that rings a bell. Two completely different restaurants and atmosphere, but while I am on the Italian theme it makes sense to take note of both at the same time.

Spigolo first. I recently went there for a small birthday dinner and was pleasantly surprised with the quality of food. I have lived uptown for ~12 years now and when Spigolo opened in 2005 I remember there being a decent amount of hype and it being very difficult to get a table. I never got myself there, but finally decided to take the dive as it is one of the few “known” Upper East Side restaurants that I have not yet hit. I went there for a birthday, but I would only suggest that if you are looking for an intimate experience. Spigolo is probably better served for couples looking for a quiet meal or a nice spot to take someone on a date. It’s a small dining room with a rustic feel and one of those places that will warm you right up on a cold winter night (there will be plenty of those coming up soon). I was impressed by quality and presentation of each dish, and would put the restaurant in the category of a small gem nestled in the chaos that is Second Avenue on the Upper East Side. Anyone who has walked up Second Avenue in the 80s and 90s recently would feel sorry for the businesses that have been disrupted for years by what seems to be never-ending subway construction. Spigolo doesn’t appear to have missed a beat.

For starters, the regular and eggplant meatballs are a must. I did not eat any of the regular meatballs but judging by how quickly that plate went from full to empty leads me to believe they were pretty darn good. I enjoyed the eggplant meatballs, which were topped with a sweet tomato sauce that was very clearly hand crafted and quite tasty. Definitely try some pastas. There was a special Carbonara on the menu the evening I was there and if I were in charge of creating Spigolo’s menu I would put this on permanently. The Garganelli with Sweet Fennel Sausage Ragu was a richer dish and akin to a hearty Bolognese. For those trying to avoid carb overload there are some other meat and fish options to choose from. I tried the Chicken Scarpariello which was served with sausage, cherry tomatoes and a creamy polenta. The chicken was juicy and tender with the accompaniments fitting in just right. If you were tempted to try the sides the baby brussels sprouts with pecans are the way to go. In terms of the meal’s finale, look no further than the Sticky Toffee Bread Pudding. It’s definitely sweet, sticky and overly indulgent but worth sharing with the table and having a taste, or two. … or maybe even three.

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Moving from the Upper East Side to the West Village where you’ll find another Italian gem in L’Artusi. I’ve been to L’Artusi twice now and  enjoy it in part because it’s one of those places that is good for almost anything. Dinner with friends, a nice date, a place to go for a business-related meal, celebrations, you name it. The restaurant is casual but elegant and the design of the dining room is very well done. At first glance, the menu may look simple and maybe even somewhat limiting, but start ordering and you’ll soon realize it’s fine just the way it is. Unless you are hoarder of pasta, I would highly suggest ordering everything to share for the table. That way you cover more ground with the menu and everyone gets to try a variety of dishes. A strategic way to go about tackling the menu is to pick your targets from each section: Crudo, Verdura, Pasta, Pesce and Carne.

I skip the Crudo because raw fish isn’t my “thing,” but others in my party enjoyed the Hamachi Tartare and Dayboat Scallops. Verdura is more my speed and the Market Salad gets my stamp of approval. It’s light and fresh, topped with walnuts, feta and a yogurt dressing. The big hit at the table, however, were the Roasted Mushrooms with pancetta, fried egg and Ricotta Salata. Everyone liked them so much we had to order another. We also ordered L’Artusi’s special appetizer that evening which was a house made ricotta cheese served with toasts and preserves. It literally melts in your mouth and if it happens to be on the menu when you dine there I would recommend giving it a try. The Pasta section comes next and the relieving thing about  L’Artusi is that there is some sense of portion control, so even if you were to eat one plate for yourself there would (or at least should be) some room left in your stomach to try other dishes that come to the table.  I truly do not think you can go wrong here, but here are my two cents. The Bucatini, Orecchiette and Spagetti were my three favorites, in that order (and take note. … we had a lot of food on that table). The Bucatini is prepared like an Amatriciana with tomato, pancetta and pecorino. The Orecchiette fits into my motto that pretty much anything tastes better when topped with a good sweet sausage as this dish is prepared with salumi, sausage and pecorino in a light sauce. Very flavorful. Finally, the Spaghetti. This is probably the simplest of the pasta selections, but in this case simple is quite good. The dish is served with a sauce of garlic, parmesan and chilis so that even with the simplest of preparations the pasta has a little kick to it. Pesce was next and our server recommended the Striped Bass and Roasted Cod. I chose the bass which was a light follow-up to the bowls of pasta previously consumed and served with tomato, cannellini beans and kale. I skipped Carne, but two of my colleagues ordered the Pork Chop and Hangar Steak. Judging by the little left on their plate by the end of the course I would venture to say they enjoyed it. Even after all of this some of us still had an inch of room left for dessert. For a seasonal treat, I recommend the Pumpkin Tiramisu. The other two we ordered were good, but a serious second and third place to the pumpkin. The Hazelnut Chocolate Torta serves the chocolate lover well and the Olive Oil Cake is best for those looking to try something new and different. I will say I was initially drawn away from the Olive Oil Cake, but after trying it I would say it’s worth a taste.

There you have it. Two short reviews on Italian restaurants located at opposite ends of Manhattan. There are hundreds of choices when it comes to this cuisine and I won’t even pretend that these are No.1 and No.2, but they are each solid meals and should give you a little direction if you are ever on the Upper East Side or down in the West Village and start to have that craving for a good pasta with good atmosphere on the side.

Spigolo, 1561 Second Avenue, NY, NY 10028. Phone: (212) 744-1100

When To Book: Spigolo accepts reservations on OpenTable. If you are planning to dine with them on a Friday or Saturday night I would suggest thinking a couple weeks in advance to get a preferred seating time. It’s easier with tables of two since the restaurant is so small. 

L’Artusi, 228 W. 10th Street, NY, NY, 10014. Phone: (212) 255-5757

When To Book:  L’Artusi accepts reservations on OpenTable. It can be difficult to get a weekend table at L’Artusi so booking three-to-four weeks in advance for a Saturday or Sunday reservation would be advised. The middle of the week and Sundays generally have more availability so you should have better luck checking a few days in advance. 

Thursday Tapas @ Tertulia

I don’t know about all of you, but in my group of friends tapas/small plates reign as the preferred way to eat out. Probably because small plates work for larger groups and everyone can have a little taste of everything. But don’t think just because it’s shared plates that your meal will be any smaller than if you went for Italian and ordered a big plate of pasta. Those “small” nibbles of everything on the table can end up being quite filling, so don’t kid yourself and think you’re in for a “light” meal.  Nonetheless, tapas restaurants can be fun with groups and quite tasty. My most recent sampling of the cuisine was in the West Village at Tertulia .

Tertulia is one of the newer restaurants to enter the tapas scene in New York City (opened in 2011). And of course it’s got a cool vibe, it’s in the West Village after all! Walking by you might not think twice from the simple exterior, but once you walk in the door the constant buzz will tell you immediately there’s something vibrant about this place. I went with two girl friends a couple of weeks ago. I knew I had to pick somewhere fun and interesting because one of them had just moved to New York from Los Angeles, and she too has a knack for inventive cuisine. I arrived early and found myself a seat at the bar. The restaurant does not take reservations for dinner, and because it was a Thursday night I knew I should put our name down early.

While waiting I ordered a glass of sangria from the friendly bartender. He went over to this large wine barrel that had a number of spouts sticking out at the bottom (I later found out this was used for all their house wines). As an aesthetic touch I thought it looked pretty cool. He poured the red wine into a glass, went to mixing and then scooped out citrus fruits that had been marinated in liquor from a glass jar placed on top of the bar. (Note:If you end up going to the restaurant, you must report back as to whether or not the sangria fruit is still in this large jar at the very rightmost part of the bar. There was quite the debate between the bartender and one of the wait staff as to whether it looked “strange” to have all these fruits sitting out on the bar. I didn’t think so, but interested to know what ended up being the fate for those fruits.)

After the sangria, my friends arrived and we were seated at our table. There are two options for seating. There are a number of high-topped communal tables where they squeeze you in like sardines next to a number of other groups or you may be seated at wooden-topped dining room tables, which line the perimeter of the main room. There are also some tables in the bar room, which may be a way to avoid some of the noise and bumping elbows -It can get a bit noisy in the restaurant once it fills in. We ended up at one of the communal tables and even though I felt a little too close  with my neighbors, and could hear most of their conversation, the energy of the place was definitely a nice pick-me-up after a long day at work.

As I have emphasized before, a diverse and wide-ranging menu is key. Tertulia does a good job of composing a menu that combines creativity with tradition. There are a number of inventive tapas dishes coupled with the old standbys such as: Pan Con Tomate, Jamon Serrano or traditional Spanish Tortilla. With menus like this I usually find it helpful to call upon the waiter/waitress to explain the more popular or personal favorite items listed. Otherwise there is far too much to choose from. After our waitress’ assist, and a bit of our own input, we decided on a number of dishes: Jamon Serrano (18-month cured Serrano ham), Tosta Mejillones (Grilled mussels, fennel jam, raisins, all I oli), Surtido De Quesos Atresenales (Selection of three cheeses), Nuestra Tortilla Espanola (Classic tortilla: egg, potato, onion and olive oil), Pimientos De Padron (Fried Padron peppers with lots of sea salt), Cogollos (Gem lettuce, asparagus, crispy quinoa, Meyer lemon, quail eggs), Pan Con Tomate (Toasted bread rubbed with tomato) and a special Trout dish the restaurant had prepared that evening. The mussels definitely stood out. Each one was prepared on a delicate piece of toast that was covered with the sweet fennel jam and raisins, topped off by the savory mussels. It was a shame there were only enough for each of us to have one! I am also a fan of the classics, so the Pan Con Tomate, Jamon Serrano and Padron peppers brought back memories to my travels in Spain. I wasn’t crazy about the trout as it tasted just a bit too much like it came right out of the sea. Some people enjoy their fish that way, but I prefer less “fishiness.” My two friends seemed to enjoy it. 

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To round off the meal we ordered the Torta De Arandanos (Mutti’s blueberry boy bait, lemon, creme fraiche ice-cream) and the Tarta de Chocolate (Dark chocolate and coffee ganache, almond crust and sea salt). Usually I don’t get enthused by Spanish desserts, but there were some intriguing ones to choose from and my sweet tooth could not say no. The chocolate ganache was dense, heavy and rich. Everything a chocolate lover desires from dessert. The sea salt was a nice touch. Even though I love chocolate, the blueberry boy bait won my favor that night. For those who are unfamiliar with “boy bait” (because I was) I would liken it to a moist blueberry pound cake. The lemon and creme fraiche ice-cream were great additives, and the sweet refreshing taste made me forget, for just a moment, that it was one of the hottest, most humid evenings of the summer.

Trust me, I am fully aware the West Village has a lot to offer in the way of dining options. Tertulia caught my attention for its unassuming nature, rustic ambience and lively atmosphere. If you don’t like noise or feeling cramped, I would not recommend this restaurant for you. But if that does not bother you, it’s worth making the stop by for some tapas with friends. Plus, the price is right and you won’t feel like you’ve got an empty wallet afterward.  Try the mussels, the blueberry boy bait, go with some classics and definitely indulge yourself and order a pitcher of sangria. Ciao!

Tertulia, 359 Sixth Avenue, NY, NY 10014. Phone: (212) 559-9909.

When To Book: Tertulia does not take reservations for dinner, except for groups of six or more up to two weeks prior. Reservations for brunch and lunch can be made by phone.