Tag Archive | Fine Dining

Brasserie 8 1/2 Scores a 10 For Fine Dining in NYC!

View of Atrium Lounge from Dining Room
All Photos By Gail

A commitment to enjoying life in Manhattan means taking advantage of the many finer things that New York City has to offer. One of those fine things is visiting unique restaurants where you can linger over a delicious meal in a relaxed and beautiful setting, with gracious service that elevates you from the daily grind, and creates a memorable experience. Because you only live once! Recently, the Worley Gig was invited to dine at Brassiere 8/12, a true hidden gem in the heart of midtown: and when we say hidden, we mean it, as the restaurant is tucked away just below street level in the famous Solow Building on West 57th Street (you know, the one with the big red 9 out front)!

Brasserie 8 1/1 View from Street

Just enter through the revolving door and follow the spiral steps down the your destination, where a lovely evening awaits you!

View Down to Lounge

While our visit to Brasserie 8 /12 was all about tasting the excellent French cuisine of Chef Franck Deletrain, my dinner date and I were instantly charmed by the restaurant’s classy-cool décor.  The Solow Building was built in the mid-70s and the décor pays homage to that distinctive era of design . If Mad Men had taken place in the ’70s, you might have seen this place used for more than a few 3-Martini-Lunch location shoots! Please enjoy our many interior shots, along with highlights of the food we enjoyed on or visit!

Front Bar

Whether you’re enjoying a cocktail while waiting for your party to arrive, or  having after-work drinks, there’s lots of room in the spacious cocktail lounge/bar area to sip or sup. Take a seat at the bar, grab a small table or sit back and relax on a plush leather sofa. You won’t be waiting long before a friendly waitress arrives to take your drink order, and they also have an appetizing bar food menu with items to please a range of palates. Happy Hour, which includes a $1.00 Oyster Special, runs weeknights from 4:30 to 7:30 PM.

View of Dining Room from Front

Extending naturally from the circular, atrium-like anterior lounge area, the dining room maintains an  expansive feel, and the open stairway design adds light and warmth to the space. Already a popular spot for a midtown Business Lunch, Brasserie 8 1/2 is an absolutely ideal date destination.

Booth View

Along with well-spaced, round tables (for ease of conversation)  the many large booths are luxuriously comfortable and spacious enough for party of four to enjoy lots of elbow room. The  booths also offer more privacy for business discussions or cozy encounters, but a mirror mounted high on the wall adds a sense of openness.

And now to the food!

Royal Bourgeois Cocktail
Royal Bourgeois Cocktail

The first order of business is the cocktail order, and we started off with the special Cocktail of the Day, the Royal Bourgeois. Made with 2 ounces of run, orange juice, sparkling wine and a little grenadine for color, it tastes as good as it looks: fruity, tropical, and very potent! The bartender creates a different off-menu cocktail each day, so be sure to ask what he has concocted on the day of your visit!

BYOB Lobster Dinner
Click Image to Enlarge for Detail

For Lobster lovers, Brasserie 8  1/2 offers a BYOB Lobster Dinner on Sunday and Monday nights, which includes your choice of appetizer and a main course (each featuring lobster prepared in a unique way way) for just $45 per person. Bring your own bottle of wine and enjoy no corkage fee! Additional sides and desserts are not included in the price, but with the cash you save on drinks, you can afford to splurge!

There is also a regular Prix Fixe menu, which is very reasonably priced at $42, that includes three courses. I liked the look of that, while my dining companion chose to order à la carte from an extensive array of Angus Beef steaks and French specialties.

Mushroom Soup

While we waited for our appetizers, we were served a delightful amuse-bouche of creamy Mushroom Soup!

Asparagus Risotta

My appetizer was a rich Asparagus Risotto with Tomatoes, Black Truffle Essence and a generous shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. It was excellent.

White Asparagus

My friend chose the White Asparagus appetizer ($17.00) featuring tender steamed white asparagus, Chanterelles Mushrooms, a tiny Fromage Blanc Flan, and a very generous portion of slice Smoked Duck in a flavorful broth. I snagged a slice of the duck, which was perfectly cooked, juicy and tender with a tantalizingly crispy skin! This is a very hearty starter which you might even order to share.

Filet Prix Fixe

It is true that I can never resist a prime cut of meat, so I had to choose the Filet Mignon au Poivre Vert: a Roasted 6-ounce Petit Filet, served with  Bordelaise Sauce, Potato Lyonnaise and possibly the most delicious Green Asparagus I have enjoyed to date. When it comes to scrumptious tenderness, it is hard to go wrong with a filet, but that does not mean that meat quality is to be taken for granted, and Brasserie 8 1/2 serves only prime, grass-fed Angus beef. So good! This entree can be ordered accompanied by a Half Lobster on the prixe fix menu for an additional $12.

10 Ounce Filet

For the serious red meat craving, choose a generous 10-ounce Filet Mignon au Poivre ($45.00) which comes with Pommes Frites and Béarnaise Sauce. Brasserie 8 1/2  is famous for this french fries, which have a reputation as being among the best in New York, but when our waitress overheard my dining companion mention that she was counting calories, she  cheerfully offered the option of  substituting a salad for the fries, which was very accommodating and much appreciated. (I will have to order those fries for myself on a future trip!)

Field Greens with Oranges
A Field Green Salad with Fresh Citrus

Macaroni and Cheese

I also could not resist ordering a side Macaroni & Cheese with Truffle Butter ($8.00), which is a steak house go-to side dish for me.  Served straight for the oven, all golden brown and crunchy on top, tender and creamy inside, this Mac & Cheese is made with small shell pasta, which cradles the creamy sauce for an extra rich flavor. This side is sized to share, but since I was with a calorie counter, I got to take half of it home to be enjoyed the following evening. It was amazing!

Tarte Tatin

For my dessert, I chose the classic French Tarte Tatin, made with generous layers of  tart Granny Smith Apples in a delicate Puff Pastry, a Caramel Drizzle garnish, and Caramel Ice Cream on the side. This dessert manages to be both light and decadent!

Pear Tart

Even though I suspected I would be eating it by myself,  I couldn’t resist ordering a second dessert, which was the Pear Tartelette ($9), baked on an ultra-rich Almond Frangipane filling (so delicious), also drizzled with Caramel and served a scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream. If you are fan of any dessert flavored with almonds, this is the choice for you. I did end up enjoying all but two bites of it at home the next night, and I am still thinking about it.

Table Scape with Glass Mural
The Restaurant is Filled with Lots of Cool Art, Including This Glass Mural at the Rear of the Dining Room Depicting Marlon Brando from the film The Wild One

Rear Bar
The Dining Room Has its Own Bar as Well!

We had a wonderful evening at Brasserie  8 1/2 and, while it is not in my neighborhood, I will be adding this plaice to my list of preferred dining destination in the future, for sure. Their Sunday Buffet Brunch is also garnering rave reviews on Yelp, so we may have to plan a return visit to check that out sooner rather than later!

Front of Restaurant

Brasserie 8 1/2 is located downstairs at 9 West 57th St (in the famous Solow Building) between 5th and 6th Avenues in New York City. Phone 212-829-0812 for reservations or visit them on the web at This link!

Table Top with Menu

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Bobby Van’s Grill: Fine Dining Made Easy

Bobby Vans Interior Shot
All Photos By Gail Unless Noted

Fine Dining in New York City does not have to mean sitting in pretentious surroundings faced with unfamiliar food choices that sound more like works of art than something delicious to put in your mouth.  More often than not, the greatest dining pleasures are derived from simple choices, such as a nicely cooked steak accompanied by a few favorite side dishes, and served in the comfort of a warm and classic old school atmosphere.

Bobby Van’s has perfected  this approach to earn the reputation as one of the top Steak Houses in the city. At their midtown location, Bobby Van’s Grill, you’ll find all of their steak house and seafood specialties sharing an expanded menu that includes wood fired pizzas and pastas, catering to the tastes of the family-oriented clientele that frequents this Broadway-adjacent neighborhood. When we stopped in to BVG on a recent, seasonably chilly December evening however, we were there for one thing: a delicious steak dinner. We got just what we came for.

Artichoke Salad

We find it is best to stay on the lighter side with starters when a steak is imminent, so we looked for an interesting salad to share. Warm Crispy Artichokes and Fresh Greens ($15.95) surprised and delighted us with its fresh and innovative use of chopped, flash-fried artichoke hearts tossed in a lemon vinaigrette with frisee, diced tomatoes and parmigiano reggiano, topped with a Parmesan crisp. Very highly recommended.

Filet Mignon

We will never pass up the opportunity to order a fine Filet Mignon and Bobby Van’s, priced at $49.95, is an outstanding value (a petite filet is $43.95, but I say if you are going to go, go all the way). The tasty char seared on the outside of this medium rare baby conceals the perfectly pink center of a buttery meat mountain. The accompanying Béarnaise sauce is a terrific complement, but we also enjoyed dipping alternate bites into Bobby Van’s own house steak sauce, which is the perfect blend of tomatoey sweetness with a horseradish kick.

Hashed Browns by Anne
 Above Photo By Anne Raso

We’ve come to think of Hash Brown potatoes as a traditional complementary side to a good steak. Bobby Van’s Hash Browns are lightly infused with flavorful bits of sauteed onion and green pepper and browned in clarified butter to ensure that they are crisp but not greasy. Creamed Spinach
Creamed Spinach: Simple and Classic.

Mac & Cheese

The baked Macaroni and Cheese, made with white cheddar, has become a new favorite (how could we have forgotten the fact that beef and cheese taste so great together?). This dish has a delicious homemade essence but somehow also manages to taste light and delicate. If you are trying not to go crazy on the carbs, I would certainly suggest Mac and Cheese as a suitable potato-side substitute.

All side dishes are portioned generously enough for two and priced to share at $11.95 each.

Crepe Layer Cake

It goes without saying that there is no room for dessert after such a sumptuous meal, but we were so intrigued by the 21 Layer Crepe Cake that we could not resist on the possibility that we could manage even a single bite. This very light and luscious treat is comprised simply of whipped cream sandwiched  between layers of thin, tender crepes and topped with fresh strawberries and strawberry coulis. Point being, even if you think you are too stuffed for dessert, you can likely finish this one as it is lighter than air, yet very satisfying to the sweet tooth.

Pumpkin Nuage

Our very attentive and enthusiastic waiter also recommended we sample an off-menu special dessert on the night of our visit, the Pumpkin Nuage: a cheesecake with a traditional graham cracker crust whose filling’s texture is somewhat like that of a pie. If you are a fan of cheesecake and pumpkin pie, this dessert will knock your socks off.

Bobby Vans Steak Sauce
Bobby Van’s delicious bottled steak sauce is sweet but spiked with horseradish for a tasty kick. 

For its delicious delivery of our favorite comfort foods in a festive and comfortable atmosphere, Worleygig.com recommends Bobby Van’s Grill for your midtown dining engagements, but especially when you want to have the best.

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.
Bobby Vans Bag

Junoon Offers Fine Indian Cuisine Amid Understated Elegance

“Passion is no ordinary word,” so musician Graham Parker once mused. In Hindi, the word Junoon means “passion,” so it follows that this restaurant, located just west of the trending Madison Square Park neighborhood, demonstrates passion for creating a memorable dining experience. From the decor to the service and of course, the delicious food, a visit to Junoon means it’s time to relax and indulge all of your senses.

Decorated in a palette of muted earth tones (and featuring, we heard, choice items found in ABC Carpet and Home), two reflecting pools – one taking center stage in the foyer and another adjacent to the dining room (see top photo) – provide additional mood-enhancement to Junoon’s beautiful interior, while a row of intricately carved Indian sandstone panels contribute to the subdued elegance of the open dining space. Ambient noise level is low to moderate, so be assured you should not have any trouble hearing the conversation at your table while being spared from hearing that of those seated near you.


Aromatic Apricot: Best Cocktail of the Summer! (All Food Photos By Anne Raso)

It’s always advisable to sample a restaurant’s signature cocktails and Junoon is no exception to that rule. We enjoyed immensely the Aromatic Apricot, fragrant with muddled cilantro and potent with apricot infused gin, with added refreshing sweetness from a mix of lime simple syrup and lemon juice. This is one of the standout specialty cocktails we have tasted on our many culinary adventures this summer, so be advised that Junoon will be changing from summer to fall cocktails at the end of September, leaving you a very brief window remaining to taste this simply amazing cocktail!

If the grape is what you crave, the restaurant offers wine pairings, priced at $45 and $75, with its tasting menu — with additional wine pairings accommodated upon request. Wine lovers, and especially those wishing to know more about wines, should consider taking advantage of Junoon’s brilliant Sommelier, Robin Lewis. Lewis is so knowledgeable he even related the back story /history on the vineyard which produced the grapes for our dessert wine! His wine selections for each of our set of courses are noted below.

Junoon makes its own paneer, a mild Indian cheese of which we are big fans, so we enthusiastically sampled two paneer appetizers. The Spiced Paneer Salad was an appropriate start to our meal with its spice-studded, seared paneer slices alongside a salad of greens, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, thinly-sliced radishes and toasted pine nuts ($10).

We also tried the Hyderabadi Patthar Paneer, seasoned with roasted onion chutney (which had a distinctive flavor of sesame), turmeric, mint leaves and lime ($12). Another popular item among the appetizers is the Lahsooni Gobi (translates to Tree of Life): Crispy Cauliflower, lightly quick-fried in a garman masala crust, topped with aromatic and mildly fiery garlic tomato chutney ($12). All three choices are recommended for both Indian Food Fanatics and those seeking an introduction to this exotic and flavorful cuisine.


Crispy Cauliflower

Wine Selection: NV Patagonia Extra Brut (Argentina)

More Food and Photos After The Jump!

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Donatella Offers Gourmet Pizza and Fine Italian Dining in Chelsea!


From The Golden Oven Comes What Could Be NYC’s Best Pizza  (All Photos By Anne Raso – Click on Any Image to Enlarge)

Italian food is a cuisine for which New York City is deservedly famous. From the upper west side to Little Italy, there is certainly no shortage of Italian dining establishments to frequent. But if you’re looking for one restaurant offering an updated take on tradition that can also satisfy the diverse cravings of every member of your party – whether it be for pizza, pasta, meat or fish you might want to check out Donatella, located right in the heart of Chelsea, because this place is really something special.  Proprietor Donatella Arpaia (formerly of David Burke & Donatella fame) has created a down-to-earth yet classy culinary experience where the wood-fired pizzas are joined by more-formal fare, all served in a modern, well-lit and highly inviting space.

The menu at Donatella is pleasantly varied without becoming overwhelming. You can exquisitely customize your meal by choosing what piques your interest from a broad selection of courses ranging from Bruschette ($4, $10, or a trio for $12), Meats & Cheeses ($8-10), Salads ($10–13), Fried Appetizers ($8, $9 and $12), Antipasti ($12, $13 and $15) plus Pizzas ($10 – $21), Pasta ($15 – 18), Meat  or Fish ($25/MP), Sides ($4, $7) and Desserts ($9). No matter how you choose to build your feast, you will not leave hungry!

Having brought along our heartiest appetites, we started our evening with the Chopped Vegetable Salad (above, $13.00) – generously portioned for sharing – featuring a selection of seasonal vegetables  such as crisp red cabbage, slivers of endive, crunchy snap peas, carrots, cauliflower (parboiled to a tender crispness) red and golden beets and halved cherry tomatoes in a light but slightly creamy  vinaigrette dressing. We also enjoyed the Mesclun Salad with Candied Walnuts and Pecorino ($10).

Next up was the super tasty Arancini ($9): a trio of deep-fried rice balls stuffed with fresh mozzarella, sausage and peas – crispy on the outside with no trace of greasiness, and so tempting we wolfed it down before it even had the chance to pose for a photograph!

 Pizza Polpette  – So Good!

You only need to get one look at the gilt-tiled, wood burning pizza oven which dominates the open kitchen at the rear  of the restaurant to understand that Donatella’s specialty is their pizza: cooked at 700 degrees to create a pizza baked in the authentic Neapolitan tradition. Our selection for the evening was the Pizza Polpette ($17), topped with caciocavallo cheese (a southern Italian cheese similar to provolone), fresh basil, tomato and Donatella’s famous veal meatballs. After only several bites, my dining companion and I both agreed that this thin crust pie was arguably the most delicious pizza we had ever eaten. As promised, the crust was slightly charred and chewy-crisp and the meatballs were light, succulent and mouthwatering. If you chose to forgo meatballs on your pizza in favor of another topping, I’d suggest ordering the Antipasti of Polpette Di Vitello ($18) because you really should not leave without having tried them. They are so good!

For our pasta course, it was no contest to decide on the day’s special: Homemade Cavatelli in a pea pesto sauce (no basil!) with tiny chunks of crispy, thick-cut pancetta, sweet peas, and Parmesan cheese. Pea pesto was definitely something new for me and I enjoyed its lighter, creamier texture  (easy on the olive oil) while the pancetta added a delightful saltiness to the dish. The cavatelli is served al dente, so if you prefer your pasta softer, mention that when placing your order.

Pronounced “Swag-a-tell”

Unwisely, we had left no room in our tummies for dessert, but that does not mean we didn’t engorge ourselves further with two of the menu’s sweet selections. My dining companion had spotted one of her favorite Italian pastry dishes, which she identified as Sfogliatelle Riccia, at a neighboring table and insisted we order one to share. To our great delight the Sfog, as she called it, arrived warm from the oven. This classic Italian dessert consists of multiple layers of flakey pastry stuffed with fresh, orange-infused ricotta cheese filling. It was unlike anything I’ve tasted and absolutely delicious. Highly  recommended!

The Bittersweet Chocolate Parfait: a layered dessert consisting of bittersweet Valrhona chocolate pudding resting atop fresh raspberries in gelee, then topped with a mascarpone cream and thin layer of  burnt sugar, similar to that found on a crème brulee, was very rich but not overly sweet.

Bittersweet Chocolate Parfait

While Donatella is a great “Date Spot” and a fun place for just catching up over dinner with a friend, I’d recommend you try to go with a group of three or more so you can order many different dishes and then share, because here the rule seems to be “If Some is Good, More is Better!”

Donatella is Located at 184 Eighth Ave. (Between 19th & 20th Streets), New York, NY. Phone (212) 493-5150 for Reservations!

Fine Dining at Philippe: Haute Chinese Cuisine By Philippe Chow

Fine Dining in Manhattan isn’t always all about molecular gastronomy and tiny portions served on over-sized plates. While “Fine Dining Bargain” is not a phrase you are likely to hear at any time other than during restaurant week, there are upscale restaurants in town where you can get an exceptional value for your hard earned cash while also indulging your inner Foodie. One such destination is Philippe on East 60th Street, which has become a favorite of celebrity clientele from Lady Gaga to President Obama, and we think we know why: the location is discreet and food is off the hook.

Mango Ice Tea Cocktail: Potent & Refreshing (Photos By Anne Raso)

The creation of Chinese-born owner and executive chef Philippe Chow, Philippe takes traditional Chinese dishes that you might find on any storefront take out menu – from Shrimp Toast to Sweet & Sour Pork to Prawns in Black Bean Sauce – and elevates each to the realm of the gourmet. The dishes are uncomplicated; often featuring just few key ingredients, but prepared in a flavorful and creative manner that indicate you are in for some seriously exquisite food. Likewise, the tastefully minimalist interior decor allows diners to lend all of their sensory attention to the food. And while the prices may seem steep at first glance, be aware that all dishes are portioned for two, so you can easily compare an entree priced at $40 to two entrees at $20. Add a couple of appetizers and you will leave satisfied and smiling, without emptying your wallet.

Pork Dumplings: Super Yummy

Philippe’s menu is extensive and exciting. Perhaps being a bit overwhelmed with so many choices  is what prompted us to just go with familiar favorites with our appetizer selection, with mixed results. The Wok Fried Pork Dumplings ($12) were delicious and put their take-out kin to shame, but the Scallion Pancake ($12) was a bit doughy/undercooked and lacking in distinct scallion flavor. Better options would have been to go with Philippe’s acclaimed appetizer selections, such as the Chicken Satay ($18) – whose reddish color hinted at it having been cooked in a Tandoori oven – or the Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($18) – a very popular choice, served in what looked like main dish-sized portion, which was enjoyed by diners at tables on either side of us. “Next Time,” as they say!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps: Recommended

Beijing Chicken

For our entrees we were delighted with the tender Beijing Chicken with candied walnuts in a sweet brown sauce ($44/2), but we would recommend that meat lovers bypass the Crispy Beef ($56/2) which, though a house favorite, and admittedly lovely to look at, tasted predominately of its white flour coating and thus was very disappointing.

Crispy Beef: Looks Great, Yes. Tastes Great, Not So Much.

Instead, red meat fans should head directly for the melt-in-your mouth House Mignon ($75/2). Craving a green vegetable, we spotted this dish at a neighboring table and added a side order of Sauteed String Beans in a light Black Bean Sauce ($10), which were the best I’ve ever tasted.

String Beans: Delish

We were also distracted by an unidentified, deep fried prawn dish which the couple seated adjacent to us confessed is the pivotal reason they visit Philippe regularly. “We order it ever time we eat here, and we love it!” they exclaimed. (I just wish I could recall the name of the dish!).  Another specialty of Philippe is the whole Peking Duck served table side (allow 45 minute for this dish) which has been rated “Best Peking Duck in the City” by The NY Observer, New York Magazine and several other notable food critics. Prices for this special, crispy-skinned treat range from $55 to $75 depending on the weight of the duck.

Service at Philippe is top notch. Our waiter was very friendly, super attentive and offered suggestions as well as happily answering any questions we had about the ingredients of specific dishes. The food also arrived at our table with remarkable swiftness, yet you could tell each dish was made fresh to order. Between each course we were presented with steaming hot, lemongrass-scented hand towels, which added a touch of pampered luxury to the dining experience. Philippe’s polished attentiveness with regard to every facet of customer care allows the staff to turn over tables multiple times during dinner service, though we never felt rushed.

Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. Moo.

After rounding out the meal with coffees and a couple of decadent dessert selections, we were beyond full but couldn’t stop babbling about all of the delicious dishes we wished we could have tasted. Philippe is definitely a place where stage whispers of “I want what they’re having” are overheard a lot. But one can only eat so much in one sitting, which is why repeat visits are in order.

Philippe By Philippe Chow is located at 33 East 60th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues in New York City. Phone 212-644-8885 for Reservations.

Rasputin Restaurant & Cabaret: A Taste of Russia!


Welcome to Rasputin! ( Image Source)

On the topic of a visit to Brooklyn’s famous Russian hotspot, Rasputin Restaurant & Cabaret, whether you read an online review or ask people who’ve been there what to expect, what you’ll likely hear is that you are in for a real “Experience” – capital E intentional. Rasputin successfully combines an evening of multi-course fine dining with a full sensory night of entertainment that progresses from live singers to a Las Vegas Style floor show to an afterhours disco inferno. Every step of the way you can immerse yourself in an authentic slice of Russian American culture.

Pomegranate Bliss Cocktail: Drink a few of these to start the night off right! (All Photos By Anne Raso)

Upon arriving, my friend Anne and I were greeted warmly by the manager, Serge, who promptly seated us at the “best seats in the house” –  one of two tables arranged at the front of a beautiful, horseshoe-shaped second floor balcony overlooking the stage, dance floor and all the diners down below. From where we sat, we felt like we were spying on a very lavish wedding feast and its accompanying reception; and though we were slightlyremoved from the immediate festivities (being seated away from the dance floor) we felt very much a part of the jubilant atmosphere permeating Rasputin on a Saturday night.  It did seem apparent that many people come to Rasputin specifically to celebrate a special occasion (birthday, anniversary or whatever), or at the very least to just enjoy dining with a large group of friends. With the plentiful food served family-style on huge platters, this place is the ideal venue for a one-stop festive evening of dining and dancing.

An evening at Rasputin is as much about the entertainment as it is about the food, and while the two take place simlutaneous, let’s get to the food first. Since there were just two of us, the restaurant staff tailored one of the simpler “banquet” menus to accommodate our small party. I would recommend dining at Rasputin with a minimum party of four, because this place definitely has a “the more the merrier” vibe, which is reflected in the menu’s array of “banquet” prix fix menus ranging in price and extravagance from The Noble Banquet, which we were served ($75 pp Friday and Sunday, $100 pp Saturdays and Special Events) up to the Banquet Rasputin ($145 pp Friday and Sunday, $165 Saturdays and Special Events). Each Banquet features literally dozens of dishes including appetizers, first and second courses, entrees and desserts – so no one is leaving hungry, that is for sure. They do offer an ala carte menu, but if you really want to taste a lot of different Russian foods, as we did,  you’ll get the best value by choosing one of the banquets. Drinks are another matter entirely. Anne and I cut ourselves off after two cocktails, but it is customary to order a bottle of vodka chilled on ice for the table and just let it flow freely throughout the evening.

Our first courses consisted of an array of mayonnaise-based salads such as potato salad with boiled eggs and vegetables, chicken salad studded with sliced grape tomatoes (seasoned with just a pinch cayenne pepper) and a delicious shredded crab salad served with boiled shrimp (pictured above). Of note was a delicious selection of Seared Ahi Tuna with a Sesame Seed Crust served with Creamy Wasabi Sauce that was absolutely mouthwatering. The hot foods were up next!

Yukon Gold Potatoes & Mushrooms a la Moscow were hearty and delicious.

Parisian Pierogi stuff with Mushrooms, Meat and Cheese. The flaky croissant pastry elevated these pierogis to a level above the boiled or fried variety that you’ll find at a Ukrainian diner such as Veselka.

Roasted Quail with Wild Rice: The bird was tiny but tender.

Next up: Lambchops and Chicken Kabob with Whipped Potatos. The chicken was super tender while the lamb came off the bone easily and was perfectly juicy. The fresh rings of raw onion added a kick of flavor.

A “light” dessert of mixed fresh fruit and mini, mousse filled pastries was challenging to sample because we were so stuffed from all of the delicious foods we’d already indulged in. Most of the portions could have easily fed two more people. Fortunately, our attentive waiters were happy to pack up most of our leftovers so that the feast could continue the next day.

And now, a few words about the entertainment!

The pre-show entertainment features a variety of talented nightclub singers who take turns performing solo or in duets, accompanied by a live guitarist and backed by prerecorded rhythm tracks. The two female singers performed what might have been Russian pop dance standards (we could not understand the lyrics but everyone in the place seemed to know the songs very well) mixed with American pop favorites, and even a medley of Gypsy Kings covers which packed the dance floor with energetic couples. The music was great and we were soon swept up in a feeling of celebration. It is easy to see that Rasputin is where many Russians go not only to be reminded of their home country, but also to seriously party!

Close to Midnight, it was time for the main event! The lights went down as projections on the screen behind the stage announced that we were about to be treated to “Pure Emotions.” Pure Emotions consisted of a series of elaborately costumed and choreographed musical dance numbers, meant to interpret various emotions, such as Joy, Love and Ecstasy among others. Despite the show’s overt cheese factor (think: Chris Angel), I have to admit it was a lot of fun! The dance numbers range from a traditional Russian dance by a lone male dancer to a quartet of dancers clad in black robes and white, glow-in-the-dark Phantom of the Opera-style face masks, to a group that Anne and I nicknamed the “Russian St. Pauli Girls,” who danced an upbeat routine to Madonna’s “Respect Yourself.” One of my favorite sections of Pure Emotions was entitled Ecstasy, where a stage full of dancing gypsy girls dressed in peasant blouses and full  skirts somehow managed to reveal layer upon layer of different colored fabric so that their skirts changed color  from black to green to red to a floral print as they danced. The finale, Triumph, was soundtracked by an earnest cover of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” and featured actual aerial acrobatics – not as impressive as Spiderman: Turn off The Dark, but still pretty cool!  

According to Michael Levitis, Vice-President of Entertainment and Marketing, and part of the family that owns the restaurant, “Rasputin is modeled after the leading Moscow cabarets and nightclubs.” We called it a night close to 2 AM with the disco dancing still in full swing, feeling that we had just experienced a little bit of Moscow’s nightlife in Brooklyn!

Rasputin is located at 2670 Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn, NY. Phone (718) 332-8111 for Reservations. Expect a well-dressed crowd and plan your wardrobe to impress!

Gail Meets Chef Jonathan Waxman!

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2011 is to enjoy the company of good friends while dining in fine restaurants as often as possible. No one can accuse me of not sticking to my resolutions, because last night I had an amazing meal at chef Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto Restaurant on Washington Street near the Meatpacking District. My dining companions were my longtime friend Ivy, her charming husband Rick and their adorable daughter Violet, who is the best kid you could ever hope to have, let me tell you. We’re all huge fans of Bravo’s Top Chef, and having enjoyed the most recent season of Top Chef Masters we are also admirers of Waxman’s “keep it simple” philosophy/approach to gourmet cooking. Dining out is always so much more fun, and a much richer experience, when you are accompanied by true foodies like Ivy, Rick and Violet. We had an amazing meal and a really fantastic time catching up.

When we were seated, Violet asked our server if Chef Waxman was in the restaurant that evening. She replied that he had been there earlier that afternoon, but had left to run some errands, though he might be back later. Less than five minutes passed before she returned to our table saying that the chef had come back into the restaurant and would we like to meet him? Of course, we enthusiastically confirmed that we would. Because celebrity chefs are the new Rock Stars. After our meal, Chef Waxman came over to our table, dressed casually in his signature pink polo shirt and khakis and looking very adorable. He spoke to us for several minutes and answered some of our questions about the time he spent as a contestant on Top Chef Masters. He was super cool and friendly and also very, very cute! Jonathan Waxman!

Here are some of foods we enjoyed eating:

Appetizers:
Soft polenta with lamb ragu
Bruschetta with chickpeas and fresh mushrooms
Smoked trout salad with frise, black rice and orange (amazing!)

Main Courses:
Barbuto’s signature roast chicken with salsa Verde
Scallops, which were delicious but I’m not sure how they were cooked
Homemade Gnocchi with walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese

Sides:
Roasted Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, to die for
Crispy fried potatoes with pecorino cheese

Alcohol:
Two bottles of amazing red wine, which by the time I was on my third glass I could not tell you what variety it was. (Rick would know.)

Desserts:
Lemon Crema with coconut crisps
Chocolate pudding with whipped creme and biscotti
Two kinds of Gelato: toasted pistachio and maple cinnamon

Barbuto’s menu changes seasonally, so you never know what delicious creations Chef Waxman will be serving up. You can only rest assured that whatever you put in your mouth will blow your mind. Be prepared to throw down some serious cash, but to feel that it was totally worth it.

Barbuto is located at 775 Washington Street New York, NY 10014 @ West 12th Street. Phone 212-924-9700 for Reservations.