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Love Cafe & Bar: Russian Home Cooking Comes to Kips Bay!

Love Cafe Interior
Interior Photo Courtesy of Leigh Cort. All Food Photos by Anne Raso.

If you are a lover of Russian comfort food who thinks you have to hike it all the way out to Brighton Beach to taste Perogies and Chicken Kiev “like Grandma used to make,” then you will flip for Love Cafe and Bar, which recently opened in Manhattan’s up-and-coming Kips Bay neighborhood to astoundingly positive Yelp Reviews. And that says so much right there, because those Yelpers can be brutal.

Kips Bay has been a bit of a culinary wasteland, so we love to see any new restaurants opening along that strip of Second Avenue between 23rd and 34th Streets, but to have a great new Russian restaurant owned and operated by a lady like Margarita Abramov — a native of Odessa, Ukraine — who literally cooks recipes handed down to her by her grandmother, Sara, is especially thrilling, because Russian food is awesome. Abramov previously operated the popular and highly successful Sara’s Crepe Cafe in St. Augustine Florida for many years before moving to New York and expanding her menu to include both sweet and savory favorites from her homeland.

Mango Ice Tea
Refreshing Homemade Mango Iced Tea is just one of the Tasty Beverages You’ll Find at Love Cafe and Bar

Love Cafe and Bar is an intimate, 18-seat establishment with bright red walls, charming decor, and a neighborhood feel, where you will be treated as if you are a valued member of the family. It’s this level of relaxed and friendly but attentive service which really sets Love Cafe and Bar apart from its peers. Here’s a peek at just a few dishes from their extensive menu which we sampled on a recent visit.

Olivier Potato Salad

The Olivier Vegetarian Salad ($8.95) is a take on potato salad containing carrots, pickle,  hard boiled egg and peas in mayonnaise-based dressing and garnished with plenty of fresh dill.

Beet Salad

We love Beet Salad so were delighted with the Vinaigrette Russian Beet Salad ($8.95) sauerkraut, carrots, onions, scallions, pickles, peas, potato and wine vinegar topped with more fresh dill. Super Fresh!

Chopped Liver

Chopped Liver fans will want try the House made Chicken Liver Pate Platter ($8.95) topped with pomegranate sauce and served with black Russian bread, tomato and onion. The serving is generous enough for the entire table to share.

Assorted Soups

Margarita’s hearty homemade soups are a highlight of the menu and we sampled three varieties: Both Hot and Cold Borscht as well as traditional French Onion Soup complete with a thick topping of melted Gruyere Cheese. All soups are priced at $3.95 for a cup and $4.95 for a bowl.

Potato Pierogies with Onions

Perogies and Pelmeni (another kind of Russian dumpling) have their own section on the menu and you can’t visit Love Cafe without trying at least one variety! We had the Potato and Fried Onions Perogies ($8.50). These are homemade daily and you will not find fresher Perogies in the city. Don’t skimp on the sour cream!

Stuffed Cabbage with Basmati Rice

For my main entree I chose the much-raved about Stuffed Cabbage served with Basmati Rice ($14.95). This dish is big enough to share, featuring two cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling of savory ground beef and pork, seasoned with garlic, onion and spices, accompanied by homemade tomato sauce and served with sour cream for topping. While each dish is made to order, the wait  is very reasonable and the food is rich but not heavy or greasy. You can really taste the love as well! Other recommended dishes are the classic dish Chicken Kiev (Breaded chicken breast pounded, rolled and stuffed with garlic butter and herbs, $14.50), Veal Schnitzel ($17.95), and Beef Stroganoff ($14.95).

Chocolate Crepe

Grandma Sara’s Dessert Crepes are a specialty of the house and we had the chance to try a couple of favorites. The Chocolate lovers choice is going to be La’Belle Chocolate Crepe, drizzled with chocolate sauce and dulce de leche and served with vanilla ice cream ($9.50). So decadent!

Apple Crepe with Caramel Sauce

Another of Margarita’s specialties is the Crepe aux Pomme et Caramel ($8.95), a warm apple crepe with two layers of caramel sauce that is made individually from scratch with fresh apples! It tastes even better than it looks!

Love Cafe and Bar serves Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch and Dinner. With so many favorite and tempting dishes left to try, we can’t wait for our return visit!

UPDATE JUNE 2017: LOVE CAFE IS NOW CLOSED FOR BUSINESS

The Love Café and Bar is located at 430 Second Avenue (Between 24th and 25th Streets), New York, NY 10010. Hours are 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM Daily.Phone (212) 779-7300 for more information, and peruse their extensive menu at This Link.

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A Visit to Prandial Means a Memorable Meal

Prandial Bar
Happy Hour 4:00 – 7:00 PM (Interior Photos By Gail. Food Photos By Anne Raso).

NOTE: This venue has closed as of August 2013

In the twenty five years I’ve lived in Manhattan, I’ve never known there to be a dearth of inventive new restaurants popping up in the trendy Flatiron District. Of course, there’s always room for one more, especially when that place does everything as impressively as Prandial. This American Bistro flaunts an interior that’s a perfect balance of rustic and elegant, and a kitchen expertly helmed by Executive Chef Pierre Rougey (formerly of Raoul’s) – a man whose firm handshake is as memorable as his cuisine.

Prandial Booth Seating

Old World New York charm abounds in a mix of Industrial materials (check out the iron railings along the perimeters of the raised dining area) combined with vintage decorative flourishes (mirrors, clocks), soft lighting and both table seating and comfy booths. I was a fan before we even ordered. Once I tasted the food, however, it was love at first bite.

Artichoke Salad

The menu offers a full page of enticing starters, so it was hard to chose, but we settled first on the Artichoke Salad ($12), a very creative way to do a green vegetable salad. In addition to frisee, arugula and the promised tender artichoke hearts, we also discovered asparagus, fennel and hearts palm (decoratively shaved into spiral ribbons) all nesting on our plates. A sprinkling of parmesan highlights an emulsified, lemony French dressing that’s a refreshing break from traditional vinaigrette.

Pork Belly

We were also tempted by the crispy, luscious Pork Belly ($15.00), served with Haricots Verts, Beet Salad and Pickled Chanterelle Mushrooms (Chef Rougey does all of his own pickling and canning in house). Assuage any feeling of caloric guilt by splitting this dish with a dining companion!

Roasted Chicken

They say that you can tell a lot about a restaurant by how it does Roast Chicken, and Prandial’s Roasted Chicken ($23.00) earns high marks. Served in its natural jus (accented with a hint of Rosemary), with Broccoli and a generous portion of Potato Gratin on the side, the skin on this chicken is so crispy you would swear it had been deep fried. The secret, according to the Chef, is just to close the oven door and keep it closed. Basting, he offered, is the worst thing you can do to a roasting bird if you want a crispy skin that will seal in the natural juices. Remember that when Thanksgiving comes around!

Grilled Ribeye

Red meat fans will also flip over the Grilled Ribeye ($35.00), a massive slab of tender beef served with House Fries and Watercress Salad and accompanied by a side of mild Black Peppercorn Sauce. The creamy sauce is Chef Rougey’s way of Americanizing the black peppercorn crusted Au Poivre preparation which, he says, many diners find too peppery for their taste. We suggested that a bit more black pepper could safely be added to the sauce without fear of offending any delicate taste buds. Alternately, you can always ask for a twist or two of cracked black pepper, if that is how you roll.

Caluiflower Gratin

A side of Cauliflower Gratin ($8.00) baked in an iron ramekin with light béchamel sauce and swiss cheese arrived at our table near-bubbling with an appealing oven browned top. This portion is generous enough to share with a dining companion.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

It is not easy to “make room for” dessert after such a feast, but we did our best to sample two of Prandial’s sweet treats (all desserts are $9.00). We were surprised by the decadent deliciousness of the Buttermilk Panna Cotta, served in a canning jar with a sweet Berry Gelee at the bottom and topped with Port Wine-poached Berries. This rich and creamy Italian pudding has a tangy-sweet flavor (think: cheese cake) and a slightly less custardy texture, which we enjoyed very much.

Banana Upside Down Tart

If you are looking for truly unforgettable dessert, order the Banana Upside Down Tart, a phylo pastry and Bananas Foster amalgam topped by bruleed bananas, caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream and garnished with a white chocolate straw. This dessert is huge and, again, perfect for sharing (possibly with several people) after the type of rich delicious meal you are going to be enjoying at Prandial.

We are currently dieting for a return visit.

Prandial is Located at 31 West 21st St. (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), New York, NY 10010. Visit their Website at This link or Phone 212-510-8722 for Reservations.

Prandial Tables

Neapolitan Pies Hit the Upper West Side at Fratelli La Bufala

Fratelli la Bufala Restaurant Logo

Note Fratelli La Bufala Closed in 2014:
In Italian, the word Bufala (if you couldn’t guess) means Buffalo: as in the mighty animal and the delicious mozzarella cheese, but the word can also signify something that is meant to be a joke, or a humorous story. At least that’s what I was told when I visited Fratelli La Bufala, a new European-based chain Pizza restaurant that opened its doors on Broadway and 76th Street on April 27th. One might ask if New York City really needs another pizza restaurant, let alone a chain restaurant just getting its feet wet in America. But early signs point to Fratelli la Bufala having something unique to offer.

The Fratelli La Bufala brand (FLB) was established in Naples, Italy in 2003 by three partners, who created a whimsical back-story for their road to success, recounted as an old-fashioned fairy tale. The story goes that, after the loss of their father, the young and brave Fratelli brothers emigrated to different corners of the world in search of fame and adventure. After many years of hard work, they joined together their respective successful pizza restaurant ventures, which today account for 100 Fratelli La Bufala (literal translation: Brothers of the Buffalo) restaurants in major cities across Europe, and now in the US (the NYC location is only the second in the US after Miami) with plans to expand further.

Le Reale Pizza at Fratelli la Buffala

La Reale Pizza With Prosciutto (Food Photos By Anne Raso)

As soon as you enter the lively and bustling space, you’ll see the impressive black pizza oven attended to by three authentically regional chefs, who came over from Naples to work and train new employees in the ways of pizza making. Once we gazed upon these hot and deliciously fragrant pies travelling from the oven to various tables across the restaurant, we knew we had to taste them. Since we had brought only a modest appetite, we chose to focus on sharing one pie, knowing that future visits were likely so we could sample many other selections. Our choice was the La Reale ($20.50), a white (sauce-less) pie covered with mozzarella, provola and ricotta cheeses, cherry tomatoes, and plentiful portions of salty prosciutto. To us, there is no such thing as too much cheese, and this was one of the most luxuriously cheesey pizzas we’ve tasted. Dare we say it: Best on the Upper West Side! The pizza also has a wonderfully chewy-crisp thin crust, which is what you expect from old fashioned oven-baked pies like these. Add a big green salad and you’ve got a feast that will satisfy any appetite. Of course, we also had to try a dessert, and their rich and creamy Tiramisu ($9) ranks among the best. Mangia!

Tiramisu at Fratelli la Buffala

Tiramisu

With Fratelli La Bufalo open for just under a month, as expected, they still have a few wrinkles to iron out, which we’ll make you aware of now. When we visited, the gas grill was not yet in operation, which meant that none of the menu’s featured meat dishes (including the mashed potato-stuffed meatballs and the rib eye steak) were available. Likewise, several pasta dishes (and even a featured dessert) were unavailable for whatever reason, so it’s advisable to either stick to ordering the pizza, or be sure to ask before you start perusing the menu’s many color photo-studded pages if there are certain dishes which are ‘off menu’ that day.

On the upside, the NYC location is lovely and comfortable with an engaging ambiance. The interiors were designed by Lelia Castellano and include colorful murals and pop art paintings by Antonio Montariello. It’s simple, but chic, modern and unpretentious. And the pizza really is delicious.

Fratelli La Bufala is Located at 2161 Broadway at the Northwest Corner of 76th Street, New York, NY 10024 ( just blocks from the 1, 2 and 3 trains at 72nd Street). Phone 212-496-5303 or visit their website at This Link for more information. The Restaurant does not accept reservations at this time.

Eolo: Contemporary Sicilian Fare in the Heart of Chelsea

As the story goes, the name Eolo is Italian for Aeolus, ruler of the wind. According to Greek mythology, Eolo lived on a small, volcanic island off the coast of Sicily. He gave Odysseus a wine bag filled with wind to speed his historic voyage home. Nearly there, Odysseus’s curious crew opened the bag, the winds escaped and their ship was pulled back to the Sicilian archipelago. Located in a neighborhood where restaurants can come and go in a matter of months, Eolo Sicilia a Tavola, a Sicilian-inspired Bistro now moving into its second year, is Chef Melissa Muller Daka’s love letter to the region of Sicily. What distinguishes Eolo from other neighborhood trattorias is Chef Melissa’s playful experimentation with tradition that still keeps her dishes in the realm of the familiar.

Chef Melissa Muller Daka

The Appetizer menu is varied and eclectic, featuring plenty of opportunity to be adventurous with your palate. From the Plates for Sharing that includes Crostini di lu Iornu (Grilled Bread with various toppings changing daily, Priced Accordingly) Mini Rice Balls (Various fillings changing daily, Priced Accordingly), Selections of Cold Vegetable Antipastos ($5, $13 and $25) to the Zuppa di Cuccuzza (Pureed Pumpkin Soup, $8), Purpetti ala Giuggiulena (Seared Lamb & Beef Meatballs with cauliflower, onions & sesame seed cream, $13) Purpu cu Ciciri (Seared octopus with lentils, mint, potatoes & cherry tomatoes, $14), and on to unique salads like the ‘Nsalata di Pira (Bosc Pear stuffed with mascarpone & gorgonzola with mixed lettuces and toasted pumpkins seeds, $14), you can step out of your culinary comfort zone with the confidence that Chef Melissa’s inspired ingredient pairings will result something delicious.

All Food Photos By Anne Raso

We quickly devoured the daily special Foccacia, Sfincione ($6) topped with tomato sauce, fontina cheese, radicchio and sliced fresh mushrooms. This foccacia was tender and delicious with generous toppings and crispness to the crust which gave it the presentation of a perfectly sized appetizer pizza.

Being big fans of the Beet, we were excited by the colorful ‘Nsalata Grigliata (Grilled Salad) with Radicchio & Arugula, roasted beets, grilled corn & asparagus, herbed yogurt cheese and grilled bread ($14). We had, however, forgotten that radicchio – while quite lovely – can be a bitter green, and probably should have asked for a bit of additional dressing on the side to curb that bitterness.

Pastas : (L to R) Ravioli, Cavatelli, Spaghetti

House made pasta is a restaurant specialty and, again, some ingredients can be a bit off the beaten path of what you might find in the average kitchen. Since all pastas are available in half or full order, we decided to indulge in half orders of several tempting choices. Feeling adventurous, we first opted for a special pasta of the day, Spachetti d’Ortica cu Melanzone ($12/$24)– spaghetti of stinging nettle, (a flowering plant) which gives the pasta a mild herb flavor – dressed with pesto, fresh eggplant, tomato and ricotta. The Ravioli di Eolo (stuffed with mascarpone & fontina cheese, topped with bold broccoli rabe and ground spicy lamb sausage, $12) was a hearty contrast to the more delicately-flavored spaghetti,  and the Cavatieddi Agrodulci (Cavatelli pasta with a flavorful cauliflower ragu, sweet caramelized onions, currants, toasted pine nuts and parmigiano, $12) was our favorite of the three.

If you are a regular reader of our restaurant adventures, then you know that we always like to order a steak as a benchmark of how a kitchen handles a popular, non-regional dish. Eolo’s Carni cu Pepperonata (Hangar Steak drizzled with garlic, lemon and herb extra virgin olive oil, ($27) was a serious pleasure with its zesty accompaniment of grilled mixed peppers and decadently crispy green olive potato gallete. The Potato Gallette, which is amazing, is also available as a side dish ($7).

Click the Pink Link Below to Read More of This Review and See Photos of What We Had for Dessert!

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