Tag Archive | Restaurant Review

Vandal Restaurant Launches Pop Art Gallery in its Vestibule!

Vandal Pop Gallery
Image Source for Above Photo. All Other Photos By Gail.

Opening an art gallery inside a restaurant may not be an entirely original idea, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen more often. In fact, I think it’s a spot-on idea whose time as arrived! In a thrilling and logical partnership, TAO Group and Pop International Galleries have joined together to create a new art gallery in the vestibule of Vandal, one of the coolest contemporary pop art-themed restaurants and lounges in New York City.

Front Gallery Walls
Art by Dom Pattinson (Left) and Flore (Right)

It’s worth noting that Pop International Galleries’ home base is located just a few doors down the street from Vandal, and the Pop gallery inside Vandal features works by a select handful of popular street artists that the gallery represents. Along with original artworks by UR New York, Sean “Layercake” Sullivan, Flore, Dom Pattinson and RESO, a portfolio of ten very affordable, signed and numbered limited-edition prints by this group of artists are on exhibit and available for purchase.

Pop Signage and Skull Print
Sean Sullivan’s Skull and Roses Signed Print

Redesigning Vandal’s vestibule entry as an art gallery perfectly reflects the restaurant interior’s decorative theme, as its walls feature large scale, site-specific murals and framed artwork by Street Artists from around the world. To celebrate their joint venture, Vandal and Pop held a fun launch party and yours-truly scored an invite. Yes! This event marked my first visit to Vandal, although I have been in the space during its previous incarnation as The General, an Asian restaurant by Top Chef contestant Hung Huynh, and I was also  there many times when it was home to Crash Mansion, a night club and live music venue. Somehow, Vandal manages to exceed either of its predecessors when it comes to serving up a good time. Let me show you around a bit.

Icy Grape Bunny

Once inside the restaurant proper you will find this guy, Icy Grape; an 11-foot tall breakdancing bunny custom designed for the vaulted entry hallway by Rockwell Group. The Bunny’s Icy Grape color is a reference to the discontinued Krylon spray paint color of the same name, which I understand is still coveted by the street artist community. Guests are encouraged to pose with Icy Grape for the Instagram feed, but you may not touch or crawl on him.

Crystal Decanter Light Fixtures

I explored every room of Vandal and took photos of all of the cool fixtures and artwork. I love these pendant lights that hang above the main bar, which are made from cut crystal liquor decanters. Gorgeous!

Stairwell

This array of porthole lights are installed against graffiti-covered walls of the stairwell between the restaurant’s main and lower levels. The arist is Apexer.

Tristan Eaton Mural

Vandal has a massive main dining room, which makes it an ideal destination for hosting any gathering from an intimate date to a huge group Birthday celebration! There’s lots of cool stuff to look at as well, and it is like eating in an art museum.

Tristan Eaton Mural Detail

Here is a detail of the mural seen above, which is by Los Angeles-based artist Tristan Eaton. His stuff is all over NYC. If you look closely you can see that the mural is painted against background of gold-painted shelved books.

Dining Room Face

This concrete relief wall sculpture and the one seen directly below bookend the dining space. They are by Portuguese graffiti/street artist Vhils (aka Alexandre Manuel Dias Farto). Very, very cool.

Dining Room Face

Dining Room

Wine Bar

The evening’s festivities took place in the lounge adjacent to the main bar as well as a roomy front lounge area. Featured artworks by the Pop-up aritists were exhibited alongside permanent works in the space.

Flatiron Building
Art By UR New York

Graffiti Art
Art By Flore

Robots Art
Art By Sean Sullivan

Triptych Left

This lovely lady, and her friend below, are part of a triptych mural by Hush.

Triptych Right

Wine Glass and Napkin

This might be a good time to mention that Vandal also features the delicious cuisine of Chef Chris Santos, select items of which were served at the event.

Pizza

Wild Mushroom Pizza, yum.

Poke Bowl

Poke Bowl with fresh, sushi-grade salmon and tuna – excellent!

Shepard Fairy Mural Bar

The front lounge features two wall murals by globally famous pop artist Shepard Fairy. His style is instantly recognizable.

Shepard Fairy Mural

Angel Mural
Angel Mural by Eelus

Thanks to Vandal and Pop International Galleries for very fun evening! I can’t wait to visit again when my friend Mary has her Birthday party there in just  few weeks!!

Vandal is located at 199 Bowery (at Spring Street), New York, NY 10002. For more information, please visit www.vandalnewyork.com.

Vandal Pop Post Card

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Benares Indian Restaurant: Cozy Fine Dining in Tribeca

Table Top Art Shot
All Photos By Gail

If you’re looking for delicious and authentic Indian cuisine in NYC, it really isn’t hard to find. There are even a few neighborhoods — like East 6th Street or Curry Hill — with a concentration of reliable eateries that can satisfy any craving you might have for Indian Cuisine from a variety of regions. Great Indian restaurants are everywhere, but I have a couple of favorite places that stand out for me as being worth going out of my way for, and one of those is Benares. My foodie friend Anne and I attended an event at Benares back in 2012 to celebrate the opening of its now-former midtown location, and I still recall the delicious small bites and refreshing craft cocktails, along with gracious service and a comfortable but classy vibe that we experienced. So I jumped at the chance to revisit Benares now that the restaurant has relocated to Murray Street in Tribeca. We felt welcome the minute we walked in the door.

Recessed Ceiling Lighting
Room Shot

Benares takes its name from the city located in the Western state of UP (Utter Pradesh), and the extensive menu includes a medley of Indian dishes, with an emphasis on the cuisine of that  region. The city of Benares is known for vegetarian dishes, and the restaurant features over 20 delicious and unique vegetarian specialties, making it an ideal destination for groups with diverse dining tastes or dietary restrictions.

Rice Puffs with Dipping Sauce

Benares‘ menu also has many unusual seafood and meat dishes. Chef Peter Beck (formerly of Tamarind) prepares his signature dishes such as the Sevai Tomato Kurma (mussels, scallops, rock shrimp and crab claws tossed in a garlic tomato sauce over Indian style rice noodles) and the Tandoori Hen ( whole Cornish hen marinated in lime, ginger, cumin, garlic and garam masala and cooked in the tandoor oven). These are dishes that you will not find in other NYC Indian restaurantsI I brought Anne along with me, and we are served a tasting menu that included an enormous amount of indian specialties. Here’s what we ate!

Cauliflower Khasta Gobhi

Among a half-dozen or so appetizer bites that started off the dinner, we especially loved this Khasta Gobi: lightly batterrd and crispy fried cauliflower with garland crushed pepper in a tangy sauce.

Chicken Tikka

Chicken Tikka: Tandoor grilled tender pieces of chicken marinated in yogurt and spices.

Spicy Lamb

Makkai Ka Soweta Lamb with Fresh Corn

Makkai Ka Soweta: Lamb Shoulder marinated in yogurt, tumeric, chili , ginger and glare (very spicy) with fresh corn. Delcious!

Spicy Shrimp

Spicy Grilled Shrimp!

Table View with Full Meal

Our feast of several entrees — both meat and vegetarian — arrived quickly and included many of our favorites!

Basmati Rice
Basmati Rice with Saffron and Peas

Naan Bread
Freshly Baked Naan Bread

Malai Kofta

One vegetarian dish that I had never tried before is the Malai Kofta: a Vegetable and Cheese Dumplings served in Cashew and Onion Gravy. It is perhaps comparable to an Indian Matzhoh Ball! Very tasty!

Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer is a popular dish that everyone loves: Cubes of Indian cottage cheese served in creamed fresh spinach with mild Indian spices.

Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken is another mildly spicy meat dish that is a universal favorite, and a great introductory entree choice for anyone who has not had Indian food before. In this dish, tandoori grilled tikka of chicken is cooked in a smooth tomato gravy, rich in cashews and, as the name implies, finished with butter. Sublime!

Lamb Rogan Josh

Lamb Rogan Josh is dish that always makes me think of the American journalist and political analyst, Josh Rogin, but the two are not related! Rogan Josh is signature dish from Kashmir, consisting of succulent pieces lamb in a sauce flavored with cardamom, aniseed and paprika. The meat is excellent quality and has the texture of very tender beef. If you think you aren’t going to like lamb, I would recommend that you try this dish, and be won over!

Atom Bomb

We were understandably stuffed after indulging in so many amazing dishes, but our host insisted that we have dessert, and how could we say no to this gorgeous creation which they call an Atom Bomb: Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Rose Petal Ice Cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup. It tasted as wonderful as it looks. Rose Petal ice cream is a delicate treat that I highly recommend. The subtle but distinguishable essence of rose gives this ice cream a very light and unique flavor. It is fun to try new things!

Diners at a Table

Benares‘s beautiful interiors and intimate dining spaces make it a perfect restaurant  choice for any occasion from a business lunch to a first date or just a get-together with friends. Theres something for everyone on the menu and they will make you feel so welcome you will return again again.

Benares is located at 45 Murray Street (take the 2, 3, A or C trains) in Tribeca, NYC. See more photos, full menus, and make a reservation to dine at Benares by visiting Benares NYC Dot Com!

Table View

Gramercy Kitchen: A NYC Diner With a Small Town Vibe!

Exterior Shot
All Photos By Gail

Diner culture is iconic across America, but in NYC, where the small business real estate landscape changes in a heartbeat, people whisper that the days of the old New York Coffee Shops are numbered. The value of a neighborhood gem, where the food is tasty, the prices fair, and —  at the risk of sounding cliche —  “everybody knows your name” cannot be taken for granted. Revelation: the owners and staff of a new eatery, Gramercy Kitchen, have warmly embraced that credo. Gramercy Kitchen just opened for business in January, exactly one year after the space’s former tenant, Gramercy Cafe, closed its doors after 24 years in business. Gramercy Kitchen is under new ownership and unaffiliated with its predecessor. Menu Detail 1

Gramercy Kitchen happens to be in my old ‘hood of Gramercy Park, and I was curious to pay them a visit, so I stopped in one evening on my way home from the office to grab a Burger. The restaurant was in that transitional lull before the dinner rush hits, and after being seated at the ‘family booth’ — with its massive curved banquette that takes up the entire front corner of the restaurant — I struck up a conversation with general manager John K., a relaxed and friendly guy who treated me like we were old friends. John was happy to answer my questions about the menu, what Gramercy Kitchen offers customers that its neighboring restaurants might not,  and the experience of opening a  new restaurant in one of Manhattan’s most historic neighborhoods.

Haloumi Salad

Halloumi cheese is one of my favorite things, and Gramercy Kitchen has a Halloumi Salad ($14) that is huge! This salad can easily be  shared, or made into a satisfying entree with the addition of grilled chicken.  Halloumi cheese has a high melting point, and it is served lightly grilled over abundant greens, chopped tomatoes, olives and slivered red onions, with a generous portion (6 pieces!) of fresh pita bread. John mentioned that the restauant’s chef/owner is from Cyprus, where halloumi is made. Oil and Vinegar dressing comes with the salad but there are other dressing choices you can ask for, such as Avocado Ranch, which is what I had.

Menu Detail 2

Gramercy Kitchen’s massive, 8-ounce sirloin burger is priced at $12 — which includes Lettuce and Tomato —  and you can build your own custom creation from there. Add your choice of Cheese for $2Sliced Onion for $1, and premium toppings such as Avocado or Bacon for $4 each. They also offer something called Mercy Mayo, which is mayonnaise mixed with ketchup and tabasco sauce, for a tangy kick on your burger or fries!

Cheese Burger and Fries

Here is a photo of my Cheddar Cheeseburger with sliced Avocado, which was amazing! And check out those Curly Steak Fries, which I’ve never seen on any other diner menu. They are out of control delicious! “While we don’t feature any ‘specialty’ burgers,” John explained, “we want our customers to feel comfortable to choose what they want, the way they want it, made to order!”

Tuna Melt and Fries

Another favorite on the menu is the classic Tuna Melt, served here with Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread ($10/ $15 with Fries). The Tuna Melt was added to the  menu based on customer demand. John said that a lot of people coming in were formerly customers of the previous diner, and Gramercy Kitchen wants everyone who might have been dining there for years to find familiar items on the new menu.

Fresh Orange Juice

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to drink, but John suggested a glass of their freshly squeezed Orange Juice, which was not only refreshingly sweet and tasty, but very reasonably priced at just $5 for a 12 ounce Glass,  or $7 for 16 ounces.

Counter Detail

Updated interior finishes include a new marble countertop with a Mediterranean-blue ceramic tile backsplash, as well as frosted globe light fixtures throughout the restaurant. The room maintains a cozy feel, but on sunny days an atrium ceiling skylight makes the most of natural light.

Globe Light Detail

Interior

No matter what you are in the mood for, you will find something yummy to satisfy that craving. Gramercy Kitchen’s menu features a wide selection of fresh seafood, including muscles, shrimp, salmon and lobster dishes. “Our seafood is freshly delivered by Bayside Seas,” John told me. “They’re huge supporters of the restaurant and are dedicated  to supplying us with the best quality fish.” For the morning crowd, the restaurant offers a breakfast special that includes eggs, home fries, toast and your choice of organic hot coffee or hot tea, all for just $7.00 —  a price point that’s even competitive with fast food joints!

Rice Pudding

The dessert menu includes irresistible favorites like Carrot Cake, Cheese Cake and Apple Crumb Pie. I was too stuffed from my salad and burger to eat one more bite, but, on John’s recommendation, I took home the made-in-house Rice Pudding ($5) to snack on while I watched TV. There is some kind of secret flavor profile going on with this Rice Pudding (seen above) that I think might includes orange, lavender or something wildly exotic, which makes it taste exceptionally delicious. John refused to divulge the secret recipe even though I contacted him the day after my visit to ask him what was in it.  Rice Pudding: Recommended!

“The best thing about this restaurant is the community and our great staff, “John confessed. Gramercy Kitchen provides great service in a warm atmosphere. Once you come in for a meal, we think you’ll find many reasons to come back again!” I know I’ll be back!

Gramercy Kitchen is Located at 184 Third Avenue, on the Southwest Corner of East 17th Street, NYC.

Gramercy Kitchen Signage

Eats of The Week: Le Marais Kosher Steakhouse!

Steak On Carving Board Close Up
All Photos By Gail

Do you love Steak? I sure do. Shortly before the Christmas Holidays, I was invited to dine at Le Marais, one of NYC’s most highly-rated steakhouses, which also just happens to be Kosher. While there is certainly no shortage of excellent steakhouses across Manhattan, if you enjoy the old school, dark wood interiors and high quality beef of Peter Luger, but would prefer to avoid the endless waiting for a table, accompanying brusk service, and the trip to Brooklyn, then Le Marais is well worth a visit. This is especially true if you keep Kosher, because finding an excellent steakhouse which adheres to Kosher dietary law is not so easy to do.

Interior Corner Table

Le Marais has a charming old New York feel to its decor, with exposed brick, dark leather upholstered banquets, original tile flooring in the bar area, art deco glass wall sconces, and French languge posters that adorn and brighten the walls. They can easily accommodate a large party, or an intimate dinner for two.

Interior Corner With Posters

Cocktail

I started off my meal with this refreshing and generously-sized (read: potent) beverage, which was one of their signature cocktails, the Absolut Fruit Punch. All cocktails are $15, and a good value.

Interior Long Tables

Steaks really the star of the show at Le Marais, and since it is Kosher you won’t find Macaroni and Cheese, my favorite go-to side dish on any steakhouse visit, on their menu, so my advice is to skip the appetizers and heavy sides (perhaps saving room for dessert) and go right for the beef. In our case, my dining companion and I decided on the Prime Rib, or côte de bœuf , which is a thick, bone-in rib steak. Prime Rib for two is priced at $120 and includes a generous portion of French Fries and a side of salad greens in a light vinaigrette dressing. A side of dairy-free Béarnaise sauce is also included. This cut of steak is close to a 32 ounces, so splitting it means you’ll be very well fed.

Steak On Carving Board

We ordered the meat done medium to medium rare, and it came out very pink with a warm center, and a nice, flavorful exterior char — just way we like it! This cut was carved and portioned table side, which is a nice personal touch.

Steak On Plate

Look at all of that delicious beef. Just look at it.

Steak On Plate Close Up

What a feast! The rib eye is perfectly marbled but also lean and tender. No sauce or additional seasoning is even necessary. Le Marais is a beef lover’s paradise!

Frites

This giant mound of Frites accompanies the steak, and they are perfectly done: crispy and crunchy on the outside, but moist and tender on the inside, and not greasy at all. You will want to eat them all, but you will probably not be able to, because you will be so stuffed with delicious meat.

Crusty Bread

You also get this fresh-baked and served-hot crusty french bread. Amazing.

String Beans with Sautéed Onions

If you feel like to need to eat a green thing, this side of String Beans with Sautéed Onions ($10) is exceptional, and serves two easily.

Chocolate Mousse

Of course, I made room for dessert by saving half of my meat to take home for a second meal (score)! Le Marais has an extensive dessert menu with so many scrumptious choices, such as the the Fresh Lemon Tart ($9.50), Profiteroles ($11.50), Olive Oil Pistachio Cake with Sabayon ($12.00), a Warm Chocolate Cake with Ice Cream (prepared to order, $11.50) and so many more. I went with one of my favorites: a classic Chocolate Mousse with a non-dairy whipped Chantilly topping ($9.50), which was as rich and delicious to eat as it is beautiful to behold. A perfect end to a perfectly indulgent meal!

Le Marais Kosher Steakhouse is located at 150 West 46th Street (Between 6th and 7th Avenues) Adjacent to the Theater District in Midtown Manhattan.

Cocina Del Sur: A South American Grill Specializing in Healthy Indulgence!

Eat What Makes You Happy Signage
All Photos By Gail

As we become increasingly health conscious when it comes to dining out, the concept of fast food that can be prepared on-demand from fresh ingredients has been popularized by chains like Chipotle, and Moe’s, among others. It’s no accident that these restaurants feature southwestern flavors, because — let’s face it — Mexican food is awesome, and the variety of preferred-ingredient combinations is almost endless. Who misses a Burger when you can do a Burrito Bowl dozens of different ways? What’s really fun and exciting for a foodie like me is to see the Chipotle model emulated to expand beyond Mexican into tasty Mediterranean and Latin cuisines. Recently, I was invited to visit Cocina Del Sur, a midtown fast-casual restaurant specializing in Latin dining that is both healthy and indulgent. Let’s check it out!

Store View from Front Door

Aside from the food, the Latin flare extends to the music and decor of the restaurant, which customers seem to enjoy.

Menu Interior

Open since 2016, owner Ronny Abenhaim draws on his South American roots to create Cocina Del Sur’s simple menu of fresh and vibrantly flavorful ingredients. Ronny explains, “although Cocina Del Sur has a bit of every country in South America, it has a heavy Colombian influence since that’s were I grew up. You can find many of my childhood favorite dishes and ingredients on the menu.”

Diners can custom-build a meal from two basic starter options: a Plate, which includes your choice of two side dishes and a sauce for $10.95; or a Salad or Bowl, which includes a base of Lettuce, Rice or Quinoa, plus three additional ingredients and one sauce for $8.95. A selection of seven different proteins, with choices like grilled organic chicken, organic tofu, and grass-fed hangar steak can be added to your meal for a nominal extra charge ($1.00 to $4.50). All meats are brined and marinated overnight to be extra flavorful and tender.

Front Counter Ordering

If this seems confusing at all, the staff is very friendly (on my visit I met Kevin and Daisy, who are both really nice and excited to be working with Ronny at Cocina Del Sur), and they will be happy to explain how ordering works or to answer any questions about how the food is prepared.

Sauces
Customize your level of spice with a choice of sauces that include Green Chimichurri, Pico Del Gallo, House BBQ, Tomatillo (with little Avocado in it), Chili Pepper, Mango Salsa, or the House Dressing.

Chicken and Rice Plate
Pictured: Bowl with Cilantro Rice and topped with Organic Grilled Chicken, Roasted Corn, Black Beans, Fried Onions and Sliced Avocado. Amazingly Delicious!

On my visit, I brought along my foodie friend Anne and we had fun customizing our meals from so many delicious options. I chose the Bowl option (pictured above) with a base of cilantro rice, with roasted corn, black beans, crispy fried onions as my ingredients, and garden-fresh pico de gallo as my sauce (total $8.95). I then added the organic grilled Chicken ($1.00) and a sliced half ($2.00), which brought my total to just $11.95 for  a huge, healthy and delicious meal!

Steak and Rice

Anne also chose a bowl with cilantro rice, roasted corn (which is cut from the cob after roasting in-house), caramelized onions and black beans, adding sliced, grass-fed hanger steak to her meal for an additional $3.00, bringing her total to $11.95 as well. If you dine regularly at Chipotle, Chop’t or Sweet Green you can see that Cocina Del Sur’s prices are very competitive.

Trio of Salsas

Anne chose the Green Chmichurri sauce, which goes so well with hanger steak, and they gave us an extra Pico De Gallo to share! You can see how fresh it is. “The sauces are what takes you to a certain country in South America,” Ronny explains. “What sauce you add to your meal is kind of what decides ‘which ride you will take.’ For this reason, everything is made from scratch, chopped and prepped in house; since our lunch hours are very busy, nothing stays on the shelves for long and everything feels very fresh. We don’t own freezers or microwaves and we don’t allow cans in our kitchen. We use seasonal and quality ingredients to get better flavor and keep the menu healthy.”

Sweet Plantains

We also ordered a side of Sweet Plantains ($3.50) to share. These plump plantains were fried up just the way we like them: sweet, moist and tender and just slightly caramelized on the outside. Perfect!

Juices Sign

If you want to add a healthy beverage to your meal, why not try one of Cocina Del Sur’s fresh juices, which are a specialty that Ronny wanted to have on the menu, as they are made with exotic fruits imported  from South America. “Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil are right on the equator line,” Ronny explained, “so the climate is perfect for all the delicious, exotic  fruits in the world. Growing up, I would have breakfast and lunch accompanied always by a different juice freshly made in the blender minutes before. I can’t always find Passion fruit, Guanabana, Honeydew, Watermelon, Mango, Blackberry, Nispero, Lulo, Tamarind here in the US, so the fresh juices is the only category on the menu where we are always looking for ways to bring these beautiful fruit flavors from South America.”

Blackberry Juice

I tried the Blackberry Juice, made with a Colombian Blackberry which is a bit different in color and flavor from the Blackberry in the states. Ronny described it as being “like a combination of a raspberry and a blackberry,” which is flash frozen at its peak ripeness, then vacuum sealed and sent to the restaurant. The juice was sweet and light and very refreshing. All juices are $5.50 and come in a bottle for grab-and-go-convenience.

Hallway

Our order was ready in about ten minutes and we sat at one of the small tables in front to dig in to our Latin feasts! Everything in the bowl was bursting with fresh flavor! The rice was fluffy, the black beans tender from hours of slow-cooking, and the corn had that just-picked sweetness with a subtle roasted flavor, while the crispy texture of the fried onions added such a perfect compliment to the other flavors. The very generous portion of creamy avocado was perfectly ripe as well. Most importantly, the chicken was grilled to perfection, moist and tender.

Steak and Rice

Anne also loved her meal and noted that the hanger steak was perfectly cooked: seared on the outside and just a little pink in the center. If you’ve eaten food that is so good, you wish you could eat the plate, that is how I felt about my meal at Cocina Del Sur. Eating their health but undeniably indulgent food made me feel comforted and happy, but also excited about a return visit! “Our customers tell us how fresh and flavorful the food is at Del Sur,”says Ronny. “In Midtown, it’s hard to find good food at a decent price, and served quickly, so we can offer a freshly-made, healthy meal for around $15 dollars in under 15 minutes. And our menu is so flexible, you can visit us 30 days in a row and have a different meal every day!” Asked what he enjoys most about operating Cocina Del Sur, Ronny didn’t hesitate, “I get to do what I love, and I get to feed a lot of people each day and remind them that it is food that makes them happy!”

Catering Sign

Cocina Del Sur can also cater your Holiday party! Contact them at the email address or phone number shown above to get all the details!

Cocina Del Sur is Located at 40 West 38th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) in NYC. Hours are from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday through Friday (Closed Weekends). Connect with them online at Del Sur Dot Com and Follow them on Instagram at @delsurnyc! You can order from them on Seamless as well!

Pick Up Here Sign

Wall Paper Design

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

Restaurant Review: Vis a Vis, French-Inspired Fine Dining in Brighton Beach

Front of House
Photos By Gail and Anne Raso

When you think of visiting Brighton Beach, Brooklyn as a dining destination, what usually comes to mind is enjoying some of the finest Russian cuisine that you can find stateside. The surprise is that there’s a new fine dining restaurant in Brighton Beach called Vis a Vis that specializes in Global Contemporary Cuisine rooted in French techniques, and it’s worth the trip all the way in from Manhattan just to check it out. We dined at Vis a Vis on a Sunday evening just a couple of weeks back, when the restaurant’s doors had only been open for three weeks, and were pleasantly surprised that they already appear to be getting everything right!

Vis a Vis Bar Scene Darker

Vis a Vis features two distinct dining spaces. The front of the house flaunts gorgeous, plush red velvet seating, a lively bar scene and a bit of a night club vibe once the DJ takes over with modern House Music. Sunday Brunch turns into a real party atmosphere and everybody has a great time! We’d recommend making your dinner reservations post 7 PM on a weekend  if you’d prefer a quieter atmosphere, as the music and festivities can bleed over into the equally elegant but considerably calmer adjoining dining room, which looks like this:

Vis a Vis Dining Room

In this refined setting, the focus is very much on excellent food and first class services. At the helm of the Vis a Vis‘ kitchen is multi-award winning Chef Charles Disanayake, who hails from Sri Lanka. Having studied under Anita Lo (Top Chef Masters) at her Michelin-starred Annisa restaurant, Chef Charles has launched multiple restaurants around the world. Aside from his impressive work at Vis a Vis, he is well known for his exclusive New York supper club dinners, and catering services for private and corporate events. Chef Charles‘ creative finesse and finely-honed culinary skills are apparent from the first bite of any dish he prepares as Vis a Vis. It was a great pleasure to meet and speak with him on the evening of our visit.

Chef Charles Disanayake
Chef Charles

The menu offers so many tempting specialties that it was hard to make a final decision on the evening’s dishes, but let me tell you about what we ended up ordering.

Chicken Bacon Lollipops with Sauce

Herb & Pretzel Crusted Chicken & Bacon Lollipops with House Made Ranch ($10). For this fun appetizer, succulent chicken is wrapped in bacon and fried crisp before being rolled in a pretzel crumb coating and baked perfectly. The cool Ranch house dressing is an excellent accompaniment. Everyone in the family will love these.

Chicken Bacon Lollipop
Chicken Bacon Lollipop Detail

Stuffed Zuchini Blossoms

We had heard great things about the Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with Mozzarella and Figs and served with a Mint Chutney ($14) and this dish was just fantastic! The Zucchini Blossoms are tempura battered and quick fried to maintain their delicate texture. The Mint Chutney is the consistency of a pesto sauce, so the flavor is subtle but distinctive, and there are also a few tender chickpeas on the plate. If you’ve not yet tasted fried stuffed Zucchini flowers, you’re in for a treat.

Beet Salad

You can’t go wrong with a roasted beet salad. This one has rosettes of Herb Infused Goat Cheese & Roasted Beets with Micro Greens, Balsamic Pearls, Mandarin Orange Segments and Pecans ($13). The balsamic pearls are what look like Blackberry clusters in the above photo. The crunchy pecans provide a terrific contrast in texture to the tender beets and juicy orange segments. A winning combination of farm-to-table ingredients!

Filet Mignon

For my entree, I could not resist the Steak of The Day, which was a generous, 9 Ounce Filet Mignon served with Grilled Asparagus, Truffled Mashed Potatos and Red Wine Sauce (Market Priced). Absolutely everything about this dish was perfect.

Rib Eye Steak

My dining companion, also being a red meat lover like myself, chose the Rib Eye — which, as you can see from the above photo, is massive. Her Steak was served with Grilled Vegetables and unusual sides such as a Potato Nest with a Foie Gras center, and Cabbage Stuffed with Tomato Rice. This dish is an excellent example of how Chef Charles elevates even the most classic bistro dishes into the realm of haute cuisine.

After a brief respite, it was time for dessert.

Peach Panacotta

If you are so stuffed from your delicious meal that you do not even think you can eat dessert, you will still be able to enjoy this light and luscious Peach Panna Cotta, with Orange Blossom Water and Pistachio Crumbles ($11). I do love a good panna cotta, and this one is excellent.

Beignets Alternate View

Another decadent choice — but perfect for sharing! — is the Bourbon Butterscotch-Filled Cashew & Almond Beignets with Bourbon Ice Milk ($10). How does Chef Charles think of such delicious and unique creations? We do not know, but we would love to return for further investigation.

Vis a Vis features an extensive wine list, and offers elaborate, multi-course banquets for between $100 to $150 per person. Why not consider them as a special destination for your holiday season dining and celebrations?

Vis a Vis Signage

Vis a Vis is Located at 3100 Ocean Parkway (corner of Sea Breeze Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11235 (Take the Q Train to Brighton Beach). Phone 718-333-0003 for reservations or visit them online at Vis a Vis NY Dot Com.

Cognac Display
Cognac Display