Tag Archive | Restaurant Review

Big Smoke Burger Opens Flagship Store in Chelsea

Big Smoke Burger Storefront
All Photos By Gail

Do you like Burgers? I sure do. Burgers have been a bit of a Thing for a while now, so there are many different places competing for your money when you want a red meat fix. There are a few places scattered around the city that I frequent, and each does something special with the simple culinary pleasure that is the hamburger. Now, I am adding a new favorite to that list.

Burger Prep

Canadian Burger Chain Big Smoke Burger has just opened its flagship store in Chelsea and I recently had the pleasure of being won over by their no-frills approach to creating a big, juicy burger the way you would make one to fire up on your own backyard grill.

This past Sunday, July 13th, Big Smoke Burger held a private event in their new home on 7th Avenue, at which owner Anthony Fauci pledged a $20 donation for every person in the door from 6-10 PM. All proceeds went to The National Urban Technology Center and the Legacy School for Integrated Studies, located on West 14th Street, to help to transform young lives through the use of technology. So, good burgers for a good cause, woo!

Poutine

During the fun evening, guests were invited to sample a full range of Big Smoke’s delicious sandwiches and sides, which include first rate hand-cut fries and also Poutine – a Canadian specialty similar to NYC’s own Disco Fries – which adds cheese curds and brown gravy atop a generous portion of fries. These indulgent fries are a meal on their own and are sure to win lots of fans!

Big Smoke Burgers on a Tray

The trays of fresh-from-the-grill burgers made the rounds every few minutes – it was sheer burger heaven!

Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke’s menu is divided into a Classic Burgers section featuring Cheese and Double Cheese Burgers, Veggie Burgers and Grilled Chicken Breast Burgers, and Signature Burgers, including the namesake Big Smoke Burger, dressed with Lettuce, tomato, caramelized onions, smoked cheddar cheese and horseradish mayo, which you see pictured above. This burger is amazing, so flavorful and juicy with fresh toppings. Plus, look how huge it is! A fresh Lamb Burger topped with Cilantro Feta spread is also on the menu and many other burgers include toppings such as goat cheese, roasted red peppers, avocado, sautéed mushrooms and variety of delicious mayonnaise-based sauces.

Big Smoke Menu Board

Milk Shake Shots

And who could resist a shot of one of Big Smoke Burger’s fresh and luscious Milkshakes? Not this girl!

Outdoor Patio Coming Soon
Outdoor Patio Coming Soon

There’s lots of room to dine in at communal tables and even a small bar, and the restaurant also has 880 square feet of outdoor space which should be open as a partially covered patio by fall 2014.

King
Meet King

Service is also friendly, quick and personal, which is important and very much appreciated! One of our servers at Sunday’s event was King, who was all about friendly service. Thanks King, I hope to see you again on my next visit!

Big Smoke Burger is Located at 70 7th Avenue, Between 14th and 15th Streets, in Chelsea, New York City. Visit them online at This Link.

Big Smoke Burger Signage

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The Derby: Southern-Inspired Dining on the Lower East Side

Front Door Signage
All Photos By Gail

The choice corner lot that formerly housed Tiny Fork Oyster Bar (RIP) is now home to a bright and casual Southern-Inspired bar and dining hall called The Derby. While this lower east side neighborhood has its share of up-and-coming eateries boasting a farm-to-table ethic, as far as location goes, you probably couldn’t ask for a better spot to enjoy an early summer evening dinner. Weather permitting, the front room keeps the doors and windows open to the street while the rear dining area remains flooded with natural light from its east-facing span of tall windows. The vibrant yellow-painted metal chairs, dark wood tables and antique bistro lighting (possibly left over from the space’s previous incarnation) add to The Derby’s welcoming vibe. Of course, the people watching is excellent.

Derby Dining Room

Vodka Lemonade

We started off a recent visit with a tall, refreshing Vodka Lemonade, but if you are a Whiskey fan, The Derby has an excellent selection of unique choices to enjoy in one of their house specialty cocktails or on its own.

BBQ Brisket Tacos

As a starter, we shared the BBQ Brisket Tacos ($12), stuffed with tender and flavorful dry rubbed meat, pickled onions and cabbage slaw and served with side of horseradish cream for topping them off. The crispy corn taco shells add a satisfying crunch to the appealing mix of textures going on in this great little plate.

Chopped Salad

We also shared the Carolina Chopped Salad ($12), featuring crisp romaine and a mix of delightfully diverse ingredients including hearts of palm, fresh sliced strawberries, pancetta, and abundant fresh herbs, dressed with a shallot-thyme vinaigrette. Salad offerings also include the Southern Living Lettuce Salad ($12) where bacon lardon, blue cheese and candied pecans steal the show!

Chicken and Waffles

Two house specialties at The Derby include their excellent Southern Fried Chicken entree ($16) and a Breakfast All Day dedicated menu section that includes three hearty Southern brunch entrees. We opted to enjoy a bit of both worlds with the Chicken and Waffles ($18) which did not disappoint! Loaded with three plump pieces of juicy chicken and a plate-sized waffle, this is a hearty entree that you could easily share. Fried Chicken has become a bit of a Thing in NYC recently, but this is exceptional. Having grown up with Southern grandmother who made the best skin-free fried chicken on the planet, I’d swear that The Derby’s is just as good (sorry, Grandma).

Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles
Here’s another “Elevation Shot” of that awesome Chicken, where you can see the herbs and seasonings in the light, crispy batter.

Rib Eye Steak

My dining companion indulged in the Cast Iron Ribeye Steak ($32), a huge slab of perfectly marbled, grass-fed beef served with an oven roasted garlic bulb! Marbling is what makes the Ribeye cut taste so special, but sometimes it can be a bit excessively fatty. This steak was expertly trimmed and, trust me, she ate every succulent, well-seasoned bite. This dish is very highly recommended for steak fans — it even surpasses the Ribeye we enjoyed at The Black Tree (just up the block) a week earlier. Round out your entree with a variety of fresh made sides (all $6) such as the Maple Smoked Cheddar Grits, Bourbon Yams or Yukon Mashed Potatoes. A daily choice of fresh Market Vegetable ls also offered.

Chalk Menu Board

We were actually too full to order dessert (which almost never happens) so we will have to make a return trip to The Derby for that. You can see by the above Chalkboard Menu on display out front that there are many other tempting dishes left try.

The Derby is Located at 167 Orchard Street (South West Corner at Stanton Street). Hours are Monday – Friday 4:00 PM -11:30 PM and Saturday – Sunday 12:00 Noon-11:30 PM. Phone 212-777-8469 for Reservations.

Corner Table

The Hudson Bond: Dining and Nightlife in Midtown

Hudson Bond Bar
Photos By Anne Raso (Click on Any Image to Enlarge)

Tucked away on West 40th Street, midway between the Times Square Subway Hub and Port Authority, The Hudson Bond is a restaurant that’s ideally located to attract both an “after work cocktails” commuter crowd and the destination dating set. Seamlessly incorporating the best aspects of a hip, high-end lounge, a neighborhood sports bar and a comfortable mid-priced eatery, The Hudson Bond is welcoming and trendy at the same time.

Hudson Bond Smokers Patio

A “smokers patio” – sealed off from the restaurant’s interior space but maintaining an open-air feel – has got to be a selling point for those who haven’t quite kicked the habit. And you have to love the topiary elephants and chimpanzees; a feature that surely no other restaurant in Manhattan can lay claim to.

Elephant Topiary

The Hudson Bond features a varied American menu and it is easy to tailor your meal to include items that you are in the mood for. My dining companion and I wanted to taste a variety of dishes to get an idea of what the restaurant does best. Here’s what we ordered.

Steak Tacos

We are always on the lookout for an excellent Taco, and there are a few contenders on Hudson Bond’s menu. We split orders of both the Buffalo Chicken (inventive!) and the Steak Tacos, priced at $11 and $14 respectively for two huge tacos in each order. The Steak Tacos (pictured above) include generous chunks of grilled, marinated flank steak, mashed avocado, homemade salsa, fresh lettuce, shredded cheese, all folded into soft flour tortillas and drizzled with sour cream for a very tasty and satisfying meal.

Buffalo Chicken Tacos

Buffalo Wing enthusiasts are definitely encouraged to order the Buffalo Chicken Tacos, which is everything you love about a spicy Hot Wing, stuffed into a soft flour tortilla. I would actually call these tacos “overstuffed,” as they are bursting with tender pulled chicken drenched in hot wing sauce, and topped with cool shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, crumbled fresh Blue cheese and homemade Ranch dressing. Delicious!

Avocado Frites

A fun alternative to French Fries or Mozzarella Sticks – and a side dish that complements an order of tacos – is a warm basket of freshly made Avocado Frites ($10), which are lightly breaded and fried avocado slices served with a Southwestern Ranch dipping sauce. The mix of crunchy vs creamy textures is very appealing and the tangy sauce perfectly accents the mild avocado flavor.

 

Spinach Salad

A delicious and healthy light lunch option, or a great starter for two diners to share, is the fresh Spinach Salad ($17), featuring an abundance of tender baby spinach, crunchy candied walnuts, dried cranberries and crumbled fresh goat cheese, tossed with a lightly fruity balsamic vinaigrette.

While we were looking forward to trying the heavenly-sounding Rib Eye Steak with Blue Cheese and Bacon Butter (sigh), sadly the restaurant had run out of that cut of steak by the early evening. This was disappointing but perhaps it is understandable, if this item is a popular lunch choice. Still, we hope it does not happen often, as we will definitely make a return visit just to try this steak!

Roasted Hen

Fortunately, we were able to comfort ourselves with a delicious Herb Roasted Hen, on the menu for just $23. The dish arrives at your table as half of a tender and juicy Cornish Hen, seasoned with sprigs of fresh Rosemary, its skin roasted all golden and irresistibly crispy, and resting on a bed of fluffy mashed potatoes with a side of fresh sautéed spinach. I implore you, please do not order this item if you do not intend to eat the skin, which is (almost) the best part. The potatoes needed a bit of seasoning, but otherwise this was a perfect dish!

On Saturday Night, The Hudson Bond turns into a bit of Nightclub scene, so be sure to visit This Link to find out what that’s all about.

The Hudson Bond is Located at 215 West 40th Street (Between 7th and 8th Avenues) New York, NY 10018. Phone (212)719-1200 or visit The Hudson Bond Dot Com for Reservations and Information.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Orale Mexican Kitchen

Jaritos Wall
“Pop Art”: Illuminated Wall of Jarritos Soda. All Interior Photos By Gail, Most Food Photos By Anne Raso

[Note: As of July 2014, Orale has changed its name to Chico Julio's Oceans of Flavor and is now focusing on a Seafood-themed / Mexican Menu]

Hey do you like Mexican Food? I sure do. While there’s always been a dearth of authentic Mexican – or even the revered California Style Mexican – cuisine in Manhattan (and, let’s be honest, in the entire tri-state area) the Upper West Side has a new contender for at least a Top Ten List fixture with the arrival of Orale Mexican Kitchen, which has been open for just under a month.

Skull on Wall

Orale UWS joins its popular sister location in Jersey City , which has been winning fans since April of 2013. The Manhattan space mimics the NJ location’s décor with fun barrio style graffiti and street art murals, which gives the restaurant a vibrant and festive feel as soon as you enter. There’s also the incredible illuminated wall of colorful Jarritos soda bottles, which is as cool a work of ‘Pop’ Art as anything I’ve seen in the Chelsea Gallery District.

Cow Skull

Orale’s engaging menu is a good mix of standard Mexican favorites and Latin-inspired fare, which might encourage you to extend your culinary comfort zone and experiment a bit. But it’s always a good idea to start your meal with some fresh Guacamole.

Guacamole Trio

Orale dresses up its Guacamole de la Casa (Avocado, Tomato, Cilantro, Onion, Jalapeno & Lime) with five different topping ($7 – 9), or you can select a tasting of three for $12, which is what we did. To the de la Casa we added a scoop of the El Naco (topped with so-close-to-bacon Crispy Braised Pork Belly) and the Blue Demon, topped with Cabrales Blue Cheese and Toasted Pepitas (pumpkin seeds). The Guacamole is served with a literal bucket of freshly made tortilla chips and a selection of three spicy sauces, which deliver varying degrees of heat, to your taste.

Holy Guacamole

Pork Tacos al Pastor

Tacos De la Calle (5 soft corn tortillas stuffed with varied fillings) are a popular dish at Orale and a tray of 5 will set you back $16, which, believe it or not, is competitively priced for these parts. We shared an order of the Tacos Al Pastor, which are made with tender marinated & Roasted Pork topped with Caramelized Pineapple, Chile de Arbol and Cilantro. Very satisfying and delicious! Other taco fillings include, Roasted Bone Marrow topped with Crispy Pork Belly, Beer Battered Fish, Vegetarian with sautéed Seitan, Chili Rubbed & Seared Tuna, and Spicy Beef Tinga. A great idea for a party of two or three diners would be to get two orders of different tacos and share them!

Rice and Beans

The menu leads one to believe that a side Rice & Beans come with the tacos, though that is not the case. However, a size appropriate for sharing is just $6.

Dinsaurio Short Rib

One of the house specialties, the intriguingly named Dinosaurio, is an entree of one huge Short Rib served on the bone, marinated in ancho and chipotle-chile and cooked until a tiny nudge of your fork frees the meat from that very serious bone (Dinosaurio, indeed). The meat is sublimely tender and flavorful, though it has a bit more “marbling” than I generally care for. My dining companion, on the other hand, absolutely raved about it. The plate arrives dressed with Tamal de Olla (a creamy polenta lightened with fresh corn) and a delicious Tomatillo Chipotle Compote.

Brussels Sprouts

Under the Bocadillos section of the menu, a large dish of fresh Brussels Sprouts ($5), quickly deep fried and then seasoned simply with salt & pepper, is an unorthodox but complementary side to both the traditional and Nuevo-Mex dishes.

Vanilla Flan with Caramel Sauce

We finished off our meal with a favorite traditional Mexican dessert, Vanilla Flan with a luscious Caramel Sauce ($7), which was recommended by our very friendly and helpful server. Again, after a hearty meal this portion was certainly big enough to share between two people (in fact, we could barely even finish it).

Orale also has an extensive drink menu featuring classic margaritas, specialty cocktails and a wide selection of Tequilas, Sangria and Beer. This place is a great addition to an already fun neighborhood. I’m looking forward to future visits to further explore the adventurous menu! Get your Cinco de Mayo reservation in now before they fill up!

Orale Mexican Kitchen is Located at 768 Amsterdam Avenue (near 98th Street), New York, New York 10025. Phone (212)749-2929 or visit Orale MK Dot Com for reservations.

Midtown Foodie Find: B & Co.

B and Co NYC
Exterior Photo Courtesy of B & Co. All Other Photos By Anne Raso. Click on any Image to Enlarge.

It was really by accident that we ended up at B & Co. on East 58th Street. Earlier in the day, plans called for us to dine on the lower east side, but electrical problems at that establishment saw our reservation moved to midtown. And what a fortuitous change of plans that turned out to be, because our meal at B & Co set a new bar for delicious food and very fine service in midtown Manhattan.

Honeycomb Mirror Ceiling Detail

B & Co. is a months-old establishment, situated mid-block, directly across the street from FAO Schwartz Flagship store, that features not only a fine restaurant but also a lounge and a private club area – all on separate floors. We sat in the restaurant’s front bar area, where we could enjoy the mesmerizing honeycomb mirror that travels up the wall to the ceiling, while we lost ourselves in the ever-changing, farm-to-table fresh Northern Italian / Mediterranean cuisine.

Let me show you what we ate, and tell you a little bit about each dish, so you will have some good ideas of what to order for when you go there.

Burrata Pugliese

Have you ever had Burrata cheese? If not, you need to try it, because it is just insane. Burrata starts out as a mozzarella ball, to which mozzarella curd scraps are stuffed into the inside of the ball of cheese and topped off with fresh cream. The Burrata Pugliese ($24) pictured above is accompanied by locally farmed beefsteak tomatoes, drizzled with balsamic reduction and extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with shredded fresh basil. It’s a perfect appetizer to share.

Red and Yellow Beet Salad

I never miss a chance to enjoy a beet salad and B&Co’s Barbabietola Red & Yellow Beet Salad ($16), with chunks of Brin d’Amour cheese and extra virgin olive oil, is satisfyingly delicious. It’s a very healthy choice and another great dish to share with a dining companion. And look how beautiful it is!

Risotto Invernale

Look at the huge, tender sweet chunks of Butternut Squash nestled in this dish which is called Risotto Invernale ($40), a Northern Italian specialty that is suitable for vegetarians but oh so decadent and rich tasting. One of the more popular items on the menu, this risotto also features porcini mushroom and black truffle, cheese, cream and truffle oil. It smells as good as it tastes!

Steak and Potatos

For a tasty red meat fix we ordered the Tagliata ($39), grassfed New York Strip Steak which features roasted golden fingerling potatoes and a flavorful Calvados sauce made with Apples, Apple Brandy and Heavy Cream. This dish is usually prepared with bone-in filet mignon, which was sadly unavailable on the night of our visit, but the NY Strip was cooked perfectly, surprisingly tender and juicy.

Broccoli Rabe

We ordered a side of gorgeous Broccoli Rabe ($9) to go with the steak, and it was easily the best broccoli rabe I have ever eaten. Sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and a tiny bit of garlic, proprietor Max Burgio told us that they deliberately use very little garlic in B & Co’s kitchen so that the natural flavors of the food are just enhanced and not overwhelmed.

Imperial Cannolo

And this beautiful thing, (sigh) this is how we ended our meal, with B & Co’s special house made Imperial Cannolo ($12), a delicate, crispy fried pastry shell stuffed with divinely light sweetened Ricotta filling (the key: less sugar) and garnished with fragrant candied Orange Peel, that will ruin you for any other type of traditional cannoli (the plural of cannolo) pastry ever again in your life. It was so huge, the two of us could not even finish it. Seriously, I could talk about this dessert for the rest of my life.

I can’t wait to go back to B & Co. and take all of my Foodie Friends with me. Every dish we ordered was like the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten and the service was just amazing. It may be in what I would call a “Destination neighborhood,” but the trip is totally worth it.

B & Co. is Located at 18 East 58th Street (Between Fifth and Madison) New York, NY 10022. Call (212) 838-3200 for Reservations or visit B and Co NYC Dot Com.

Dine and Dream at NYC’s Row Hotel!

Row Hotel District M
District M Image Courtesy of Row Hotel. Food Images By Anne Raso. Other Interior Shots By Gail. (Click on Any Image to Enlarge for Detail).

Just mention the name Milford Plaza to anyone who’s lived in or visited New York City (or ever watched an original cast episode of Saturday Night Live) and they’ll likely offer an enthusiastic and nostalgia-tinged memory of that hotel’s Iconic TV Commercial featuring the popular tune “The Lullabye of Broadway.” I know this, because that is exactly what happened to me this past week when I started telling friends about my visit to the new Row Hotel, formerly the Milford Plaza, which reopened on March 1st following a years-long renovation to the tune of $140 million dollars. To call the transformation wildly impressive is an understatement.

We started off our visit with dinner at The Row’s hip and chic Restaurant and Lounge, District M, where the limited menu is simple but highly satisfying. We started off the evening with one of The Row’s seven signature cocktails, “I’m Walking Here,” made with the can’t-miss combination of vodka and Elderflower liqueur plus white grape juice and lime ($13). This refreshing elixir is as delicious as it potent! I had two of them.

District M Cheese Plate

We wanted to sample a good cross section of the menu, so ordered way more than we could comfortably eat, starting with the Cheese Plate ($15), featuring selections procured from Murray’s cheese shop in Greenwich Village. This is an excellent choice as a snack with evening cocktails before heading out to a Broadway show!

District M Charcuterie Plate

The hearty Charcuterie Platter ($16) also provides a generous portion of gourmet cured meats for sharing with one or more companions.

District M Croque Monseur

We couldn’t resist indulging in the absolutely gorgeous Croque Monsieur sandwich (grilled Gruyere and thinly sliced ham with béchamel sauce, $16), accompanied by a small field greens salad and a creamy herb sauce for dipping. It tastes even better than it looks.

District M M is for Musroom Pizza

A specialty of District M is a selection of Neapolitan-style, hand-stretched pizzas, so we had to add one of those to our order. On our waitress’s recommendation, we chose the M is for Mushroom ($16), a thin crust white pie loaded with Fontina cheese and generously topped with fresh cremini mushrooms and “melted” leeks. I was expecting a smaller “Personal” sized pizza, but this one was huge – more than enough for two people to share. We could only eat one slice each after our meat and cheese fest, so most of this pie came home with me, where it fed me for two additional meals!

While you’re drinking, dining and relaxing in cool comfort, you can also enjoy the digital art gallery projected on District M’s rear wall featuring famed paparazzo Ron Gallela’s most infamous shots. For additional dining options, The Row will open City Kitchen, a food market similar to the popular Chelsea Market, in the Fall of 2014.

Animated Light Sculpture by video artist Yorgo Alexopolus

These two Animated Light Sculptures by Video Artist Yorgo Alexopolus are located on the wall behind the concierge desk and directly across the check in area on the opposite wall. The images change continuously.

Animated Light Sculpture by video artist Yorgo Alexopolus

After our extremely satisfying dinner, the hotel’s super friendly and accommodating Guest Relations Manager took us on a fun tour of select guest room. All I can say is, Wow, what a cool hotel! If you are planning a trip to NYC and want a comfortable and modern hotel that has an ideal location and terrific rates, look no further than The Row.

NYC Slogan
Assorted Clever Sayings Adorn the Walls Behind Most of the Beds

Conceived and executed by architectural and interior design firm Gabellini Sheppard Associates, The Row Hotel’s 28 floors feature 1,331 rooms and suites of various sizes that maintain a contemporary, “Boutique” feel while offering a generous amount of space at surprisingly reasonable rates. All rooms feature Complimentary Wi-Fi, iPod Docking Station, Flat screen LCD TVs, Cable and HBO and a Desk with Ergonomic chair.

Tortilla Flats Mural
Tortilla Flats Restaurant in the Meat Packing District

While the hotel is located “In The Center of It All,” the idea is to inspire guests to explore Manhattan’s many compelling downtown neighborhoods through streetscape photographic murals showcasing images of Soho, Greenwich Village and Lower East Side hot spots painted directly on the walls of guestroom floor corridors.

Balthazar Mural
Balthazar Restaurant, Greenwich Village

Yellow RoomBright Red Room
Bold Room Colors Match those of the City’s Subway Lines

Times Square View

It goes without saying, but you can see I am about to, that the higher floor rooms have an unbeatable view of Times Square!

Rates on standard room can start as low as $150 per night or even lower (what a bargain!) so be sure to consult travel sites like Priceline to see if they are running any specials before booking.

King Room

The Row Hotel, Featuring District M Restaurant and Lounge, is Located at 700 Eighth Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets in Times Square, NYC. More cool photos and lots of additional information is available at Row NYC Dot Com. Email reservations@rownyc.com, or call Toll Free in the U.S. and Canada: 888-352-3650 or 212-869-3600 for Reservations.

Executive Suite Livigg Area

Executive Suite Living Area (Above) and Bedroom (Below).

Row Hotel Suite Bedroom

Top Ten Things I Love About Bobby Van’s Grill

Bobby Vans Grill Interior
I Love This Place (Photo Courtesy Bobby Van’s Grill)

It’s been more than a year since our previous review of Bobby Van’s Grill on West 50th Street, so it was a special treat to be invited back again for another taste of what we here at The Gig consider to be the Best Filet Mignon in Manhattan. Just being serious. Here are a few of the reasons why this surely won’t be our last visit to this Midtown gem.

First of all, the place is gorgeous. Bobby Van’s is an old school steakhouse fitted out in warm woods, polished brass fixtures and classic lighting moderated by decorative glass shades. As soon as you enter the restaurant, which is fronted by a spectacular long bar, you feel comfortable and welcome, but also like you are in for a very special dining experience.

Which brings us to  service that is exceptional on every level. Our waiter and additional wait staff were all friendly and attentive, but also confident and invested in making sure each customer has a memorable meal at Bobby Van’s. General Manager Paul Modica even stopped by our table to make sure we were being taken care of. Paul, who has a professional background like something out of a movie, also entertained us briefly with engaging stories of his impressive career in the restaurant business, which began when he was just 14 years old. Paul is the coolest.

Warm Crispy Artichoke Salad

Among an exhaustive list of tempting appetizers and salads, the Warm, Crispy Artichoke Salad ($15.95) stands out — served as a portion generous enough to split with your dining companion, but also hearty enough to satisfy as a main dish at a lunch visit. These lightly battered and quick fried, tender artichoke hearts mixed with frisee greens are tossed with tangy Parmesan cheese and then garnished with another slice of cheese. This is a very special salad the likes of which I’ve not encountered at other steakhouse restaurants.

Brussels Sprouts

When it comes to choosing your accompanying vegetable side dishes you will not have an easy time of it, as there are so many good things to try. On this visit we opted for the Brussels Sprouts, which are sauteed in garlic, rosemary and olive oil before being lightly braise and crisped  with a quick trip to the oven, for an elegant presentation.

Creamed Spinach

And if you’re going for Classic Steakhouse Meal sides all the way, their Creamed Spinach cannot be topped.

Mac and Cheese

Look at this Macaroni and Cheese. Just look at it. Bobby Van’s serves an authentic baked Macaroni and Cheese, created with two different kinds of White Cheddar (English and American) plus Parmesan cheeses and topped with bread crumbs and seasonings. This dish is culinary perfection in a white ramekin.

Filet Mignon

Here it is, the star of our show: The Filet Migon! You can see the masterful result of perfect cooking in the lightly charred and caramelized crust on the filet’s exterior, which reveals a perfect, juicy medium pink inside (medium rare is also recommended, depending on your preference). At approximately 16 ounces pre-cooked weight, this steak is a bargain at $49.95.   Bobby Van’s signature Filet is so flavorful, buttery tender and outrageously delicious that it tastes perfect on its own, though a side of rich Bearnaise sauce comes with the entree. You may want to also try…

Bobby Vans Steak Sauce

Bobby Van’s Original Homemade Steak Sauce, just to change it up and keep your palate amused. A little bit sweet, a little bit tangy, so so so good.

21 Layer Crepe Cake

OK, it’s time for dessert and that means just one thing: 21 Layer Crepe Cake! Trust me, this pastry treat tastes even better than it looks — and it looks pretty great! You can see in this photo how whipped cream-like custard is layered between stacks of tender crepes to create a dessert that is both decadent and yet light. While Bobby Van’s does procure these cakes from an outside vendor, they make it their own with garnishes of  mint leaves, fresh sliced Strawberries and tart Raspberry Coulis. This is a must have on any visit and is perfect to share after an indulgent meal.

Finally, we love the value of a visit to Bobby Van’s Grill. Considering the high quality, consistently delicious food and generous portions of all their dishes, the prices are quite reasonable, and the menu is so extensive and varied that you can find dining choices to suit  any budget. We recommend that you consider Bobby Van’s Grill to be a desired destination for all celebratory events as well as just a rewarding weeknight  break from the grind!

Bobby Van’s Grill is located 135 West 50th Street (Between 6th and 7th Avenues), New York, NY 10020, and is convenient to many subways including the 1, N and R Trains. Hours are Monday to Friday: 11:30 AM – 11 PM, Saturday and Sunday: 4:00 PM – 11:00 PM. Phone (212) 957-5050 for Reservations.

Zengo Previews Its New Test Kitchen Menu for “Japan to Mexico”

Zengo Interior
Zengo Serves Gorgeous Food in a Gorgeous Setting (Photos By Gail, Cocktail Photos Courtesy of Burke Communications)

Foodie Fans of The Worley Gig know that one of our very favorite dining destinations is the Asian-Latin fusion restaurant, Zengo, conveniently located adjacent to Grand Central Station. While the menu is consistently delicious, Zengo is dedicated to continually changing things up. And in this case, change is good!

Every few months, Chef Richard Sandoval and his culinary team at Zengo research and develop new recipes featuring the cuisine and spirits of one Latin and one Asian country. The result is a menu of specialty plates and cocktails that showcase the flavors and techniques from each region. The featured new dishes are marked with a special “TK” symbol on the menu, noting that they are exclusive and available for a limited time. The current “Test Kitchen” menu, unveiled at Zengo in January, is dubbed “Japan to Mexico,” for which Chef Sandoval drew inspiration from the rich and flavorful street foods of Japan and Mexico to create the new Test Kitchen menu.

Recently we were invited to enjoy a Tasting of the Japan to Mexico Test Kitchen Menu and were wowed once again by the Chef’s finely honed skill at blending and accenting the flavors of these two distinct cuisines. Here’s a review of what we ate:

Calamansi Old-Fashioned

It’s always fun to start off a meal with a potent and refreshing cocktail and Zengo features two new ones for Japan to Mexico. The Calamansi Old-Fashioned is made with Japanese whiskey, fresh Calamansi juice (similar to Orange Juice) and Agave Bitters. Surprisingly, this tastes like a fresh Blood Orange cocktail with no overpowering Whiskey taste and not one hint of bitterness. Delicious!

Shiro Margarita

Also on the cocktail menus is the Shiro Margarita blending Nigori Saki with 100% Agave Blanco Tequila, fresh lime juice, simple syrup and house-made sour mix. The Shiro Margarita is light and tart and will brighten the taste of whatever you are eating. These go down very smooth!

Octopus Carpaccio

Next up on our selection of TK small plates was the outstanding Octopus Aguachile Tiradito: an unbelievably tender Octopus carpaccio flavored with Ginger Green Chile broth and White Soy, tossed with crisp Asian Pear and luscious, ripe Avocado and garnished with sprinkling of Nori and Sesame Seeds. This was the most delicious and visually appealing presentation of Octopus I have yet tried — and that includes the Octopus and Chickpea Salad at MP Taverna, which is just insane.

Shrimp Tempura Rolls

Zengo is famous for its excellent sushi and vegetarian maki rolls and they’ve come up with another excellent offering in the Achiote Shrimp Tempura Roll – a Tempura Fried Shrimp with Avocado, Jicama Chile Lemon, Charred Scallion and dressed with a light Chile Toreado Aioli. I enjoyed dipping pieces of this roll in the dressing from the Octopus dish!

Pork Belly Sliders

Elevating Mexican Street Food are the Terikayi Pork Belly Gorditas “Sliders” – Fried Pork Belly with a sweet Teriyaki glaze, nested on a crispy Masa cake “Bun” with Oaxaca cheese, Guacamole, Caramelized Pineapple and Pickled Chiles for just a little bit of heat. If you’re a Bacon fan who’s looking to try something new and different, you’ll want to give this a try.

Lamb Shank

In the realm of hearty entrees, Zengo adds the Kabayaki Glazed Lamb Shank Barbacoa – fork-tender lamb marinated in a Ginger, Chiles and Tamarind glaze, served atop a bed of fragrant Arroz Verde and garnished with tender-crisp Pickled Carrots. The bones in this look intimidating, but the meat literally just falls away as soon as you prod it a bit with your fork. I loved the contrast of textures and flavors in this delightful dish.

Avocado Panna Cotta

And last but not least we sampled an unusual take on a traditional dessert, the Avocado Panna Cotta – Fresh Avocado Custard, served with tangy-sweet Tropical Fruit Salad and garnished an added crunch of Chocolate Cookie Crumbs. The mildly sweet true-Avocado taste of the Panna Cotta gets a kick from the chopped fruit and syrup accompaniment and the unexpected crunch of the cookie morsels add a fun texture to this not-overly-sweet ending to a fine meal.

Please note that all food photos in this post are representative of a group tasting presentation and expect the dish may look somewhat different when ordered for just one person.

Zengo is located at 622 Third Avenue (at the corner of 40th Street). Dinner is served Monday through Saturday from 5:00 PM onward. Lunch is served Monday – Friday from 11:30 AM -2:30 PM. For reservations, please call 212-808-8110 or visit their website at This Link. The Mexico-Japan menu is featured through March 31st, 2013 at all Zengo locations including New York City, Denver, Santa Monica and Washington D.C.

Teqa Revisited: Murray Hill Modern Mexican Gets a New Chef!

Teqa Pulled Pork Tacos
Sure, Teqa Still Does a Mean Taco, But There’s So Much More You’ll Want to Try (All Food Photos By Anne Raso)

It’s a fact that Foodies can get Fickle Fast. Even restaurants that have laser-like focus on a successful culinary groove may need to change things up in the kitchen sooner than anticipated. On a review visit to traditional Mexican eatery Teqa back in the late summer of 2011, this self-proclaimed ‘Taqueria & Tequileria’ was savoring its position as a hip newcomer and was all about promoting a ‘Tacos and Tequila’ vibe that would attract a fresh crowd to its Murray Hill neighborhood. But it wasn’t long before anyone with a Mexican food hankering could find Tacos and Tequila every few blocks. It was clearly time for a re-think, as Teqa came under new ownership, bringing in a new Chef, 28-year-old Steven Cruz (a private catering expert also formerly of the Lower East Side’s Orchard House).

Earlier this month, we were part of a large group of bloggers and journalists invited to dine at Teqa, meet Chef Cruz and sample many of his new dishes for ourselves. And while the menu has been revamped (think now of Teqa as a culinary equivalent alternative to Dos Caminos for when you’d rather not drop $100 on dinner and drinks), Teqa still feels comfortable and familiar. The cocktail menu still includes a full page, triple column listing of specialty tequilas offered behind the bar; and yes, Teqa’s cozy yet modern dining room still flaunts that amazing Tequila Bottle Chandelier by designer Johnny Swing. Here’s a walk through some of our favorite new items!

Teqa Avocado Ensalada

Our dinner kicked off with potent cocktails and a “family style” service of many of Teqa’s new featured appetizers, so everyone got a chance to try many things. The Avocado Ensalada (pictured above, $12) is a refreshing mix of carrots, frisee, cucumber, hearts of palm and chives dressed with a pleasantly sweet cilantro lime vinaigrette and, of course, a generous portion of rich ripe avocado.

Teqa Chips and Dips

The Chips & Dips ($15) deliver three varieties of Salsa, plus freshly-made Guacamole to be scooped up by both quick fried plantain and house-made tortilla chips, which is a nice take on a traditional antojito!

Teqa Guava Chicken Wings

Another sure to please starter is the Guava Chicken Wings ($10) — a generous portion of tender chicken drumettes grilled in a Guava BBQ Sauce with cilantro chimichurri dipping sauce on the side. Finger lickin’ good!

We also really enjoyed the Crispy Calamari ($12.00), which is lightly cornmeal crusted and served almost like a salad tossed with crisp Nappa Cabbage and a Chipotle Agave Aoili. Honestly, this is the best Calamari appetizer we’ve had in any NYC restaurant, ever. Tuna crudo lovers will absolutely want to try the Tuna on Crack ($16.00): Sushi Grade Tuna, avocado, cucumber, Sriracha, toasted sesame seeds and chive cilantro oil served with tortilla chips! Delicious!

Teqa Boneless Short Rib

The night’s superstar entrée selection proved to be the Boneless Short Rib ($25) one of Chef Cruz’s specialties. Preparation begins on this truly outstanding dish when Cruz arrives at the restaurant at 10 AM to begin braising the ribs for a total of seven hours. Tamarind BBQ Sauce adds flavor before and the dish is served simply over a roasted corn puree and topped with cilantro oil. Even though this is just one rib, it is a huge portion and the meat is so tender and lean it would fall off the bone if it was not already boneless! High Fives all around on this one.

Teqa Grilled Skirt Steak

Meat lovers should also check out the ample Grilled Skirt Steak ($28), marinated in chipotle adobe for 14 hours, then grilled to order and served with grilled scallions, yucca fries and chimichurri sauce.

Teqa Churros

Stand out desserts include a plate of traditional Mexican Churros (yummy donut sticks, $6) which arrived to the table crispy and hot from the fryer, dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with both dulce de leche and chocolate tequila sauces for dipping.

Teqa Chocolate Pudding

Another of Cruz’s new additions to the Teqa menu is the Crema De Chocolata ($8), a divine milk chocolate pudding which was light and luxurious but more substantial than a mousse. Just a dollop of whipped cream kicked it up a notch to sheer perfection. Cruz confessed that he adds a splash of tequila to all of his desserts!

Teqa is open late most nights and has what looks like a fantastic Brunch on the weekends that we are looking forward to checking out. Thanks to Teqa and Chef Cruz for hosting such a fun and delicious dinner!

Teqa is located at 443 Third Avenue (near 30th Street). Hours are Sunday and Monday 4:00 – 10:00 PM, Tuesday and Wednesday 4:00 PM – Midnight, and Thursday to Saturday 4:00 PM to 2:00 AM Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday starting at 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Phone 212)213-3223 for reservations or visit their website at Teqa Dot Com for menus and information on special events.

Zengo’s Latest Test Kitchen Presents the Flavors of Peru to Malaysia!

Zengo Test Kitchen Menu
Above Photo By Gail, All Food Photos Courtesy of Berk Communications

I can’t be the only fan who was disappointed see Chef and Restaurateur Richard Sandoval get eliminated so early in the competition on the most recent season of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters. Hopefully there will be a next time for this talented and enterprising chef to compete on the show, because Sandoval’s Zengo and Raymi are two of my favorite restaurants in New York City!

Right now, Zengo is taking its ever-revolving blend of Latin-Asian cuisines on an adventure with Peru and Malaysia. I was recently invited to a press dinner where we sampled select new items on the Test Kitchen Menu. Here’s a preview of what’s new at Zengo!

Pisco Elevation CocktailShiso Mojito at Zengo
Left: Pisco Elevation Cocktail, Right: Shiso Mojito

Made with the popular Peruvian Grape Brandy, the Pisco Elevation ($13) blends this potent liquor with Sweet Elderflower and fresh Lychee for a refreshing kick that goes down smooth. Mojito fans can enjoy the Shiso Mojito, ($14) featuring rum, shiso and citrus and garnished with Fuji Apple!

Spicy Crab Potato Sushi
Spicy Crab Potato Sushi

A tasty and multi-textured addition to the Dim Sum and Antojitos menu is the Spicy Crab Potato Sushi ($10): Sweet shredded Crab flavored with Malay Curry, nested atop layers of soft Yukon Potato Cake and fresh Avocado, topped with a crispy Corn Cancha — which is like a Peruvian Corn Nut! Very unique and tasty!

Chicken A La Brasa Satay at Zengo
Chicken A La Brasa Satay

A take on traditional Peruvian roasted chicken, or Chicken A La Brasa, ($13) is presented as a skewered appetizer, loaded with tender chicken thigh meat grilled with a black bean glaze. This hearty starter is served with another traditional favorite, Potatoes Huancaina, which I have previously enjoyed on a visit to Raymi. Additional flavor and texture is added by the fresh Cucumber Rocoto Salsa and finely chopped toasted peanuts!

Arroz with Maiscos at ZENGO
Arroz Con Mariscos

Arroz Con Mariscos (Rice with Seafood, $14) is Zengo’s take on paella: Malay rice studded with a generous portion of Mussels, Shrimp, Scallops and Clams dressed with Thai Basil. This dish was a hit with everyone at the table, and the gently-cooked seafood is extremely tender and tastes fresh-caught.

Char Roased Skate at Zengo
Char Roasted Skate

Skate may sound like an exotic dish, but you don’t have to be too adventurous to love Zengo’s Char Roasted Skate in a ginger chile marinade ($28). This flaky white fish is mild but has a distinctive flavor. The dish is served with a Crispy Lentil Rice Cake and Sambal Butter Sauce — delicious!

Profiteroles at Zengo
Profiteroles

While is is not commonly considered appropriate to lick ones plate in public, the above dish of Profiteroles ($9), stuffed with Toasted Coconut Ice Cream and served with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and fresh, ripe strawberries had everyone at the table scraping the plate with their forks to get an extra drop of the dulce de leche flavored Manjar Blanco that was puddled under each delicious morsel. What a fantastic ending to a very special meal!

Zengo is located at 622 Third Avenue on the Northwest Corner of 40th Street. Dinner is served Monday to Saturday from 5:00 to 11:00 PM. Lunch is served Monday to Friday from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. For Reservations and More Information call 212-808-8110 or visit This Link.