Tag Archive | Restaurant Review

Dining at Uskudar, NYC’s Best Turkish Restaurant!

Uskudar Interior Shot
All Photos By Gail

Heavyweight Champion Mohammed Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” Promoting itself as a Taste of Istanbul in the Heart of New York City, Uskudar Turkish restaurant’s 30-year dedication to authentic and delicious dishes has earned them a reputation for serving the very best Turkish cuisine in the City. Stop in for a visit and you will soon discover that the food speaks for itself.

Olives

Uskudar’s Chef/Owner Ibrahim Ozdemir began his 40-year career in the restaurant industry baking bread in one of Istanbul’s biggest hotels. When he opened Uskudar on the upper East side in 1987, his objective was to serve dishes whose flavors could transport diners to his homeland, if only for a few hours.

Turkish Bread

Ozdemir still bakes the fluffy, chewy bread that arrives at your table hot from the oven, and he takes care that every dish he serves is as fresh and authentic as possible. Even the lamb they serve is butchered on site. Uskudar’s extensive menu offers something for every palate,  including chicken, seafood, lamb and an array of vegetarian dishes. The narrow space is warm and cosy, with exposed brick, and back & white photographs of Istanbul landmarks adorning the walls. With the attentive, friendly service, you will feel at home right away.

I dined at Uskudar with a friend who had been there many times before, and she had been talking to me about the restaurant for weeks before we were able to finally a make date. There were so many dishes that she wanted me to try that we ended up ordering way more food than two people could possibly eat, but it was worth it.

Mucver and Borek

Two must-try appetizers are the Mucver — shredded zucchini fritters fried to a golden brown crispiness on the outside, but moist on the inside —  and Borek — crispy pan-fried phyllo rolls, stuffed with crumbled feta and spinach. Both taste great topped with a little dollop of tangy homemade yogurt.

Meze Platter
Mediterranen Meze Platter

An excellent way to sample many different tastes is to opt for the Mediterranean Meze Platter, featuring generous portions of assorted vegetarian appetizers including Yalanci Dolma (Grape leaves stuffed with rice, black currants, onions, pine nuts), Spinach Tarator (Spinach dip made with  labne — a strained-yogurt cheese — with garlic, and minced walnuts), Hummus (traditional Chickpea dip with tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice), Fasulye Pilaki (White Kidney Beans with scallions, tomato, garlic), Ezme (Tomato, onion, parsley, and walnut spread), and Patlican (Smoky eggplant dip with garlic, yogurt, herbs). Two hungry diners could easily make a satisfying meal from this selection of exotic and flavorful dips, accompanied by a basket (or two) of fresh bread and a generous pour from the wine list. If you are dining with a group, the Meze Platter can easily serve as an appetizer for three to four people. It’s huge!

Chicken Yogurt and Rice
Chicken Yogurt and Rice Pilaf

For an entree, I wanted to try a dish that I had not tasted before, but which had familiar ingredients, so I chose the Chicken Yogurt, which is chunks of chicken breast baked with sautéed pita and yogurt in a little casserole dish. Like all entrees, it comes with a side of your choice of rice or vegetables, and I chose the fluffy rice pilaf.

Chicken Yogurt Close Up

Here’s a close-up shot, where you see that a few colorful peppers and tomatoes have been added for flavor and texture. The chicken in this dish is absolutely succulent, and perfectly season. The sautéed pita maintained the consistency of a firm noodle, and the yogurt blended with the natural juice of the chicken to create a light sauce. This dish was excellent, and it would also be a good choice for a non-adventurous diner (we all know them) who had not tried Turkish food before.

Vegetable Casserole

My dining companion wanted to try the Vegetable Casserole, because although she eats meat, it was one of the few dishes she had not tried before. This dish is very simple,  comprised of a variety of vegetables such as carrots zucchini, potatoes and onions stewed in a tomato sauce, and served with a side of rice or vegetables. My friend asked if she could have a bit of both rice and vegetables as her side, and they were happy to accommodate her.

I will admit that after enjoying so many delicious appetizers, I purposely ate only about half my entree (taking the leftovers home), because I knew what was coming up next: Dessert!

Uskudar Dessert Menu

Uskudar makes all of their authentic Turkish desserts on premises, and while they may have unfamiliar names, you will surely recognize Baklava, a pastry made with many layers of flakey filo dough, baked with nuts and honey syrup. There are also Turkish versions of Flan, Chocolate Pudding, and Rice Pudding on the menu.

Turkish Dessert Trio
Trio of Desserts

Since my friend is a regular customer, she asked our server if the kitchen could put together smaller servings of three of her favorite desserts for us to share. Again, they were happy to do so. Here’s what we ate.

Baklava

This is the Baklava, which is studded with chopped pistachio nuts, gooey with honey, and very rich. One tiny piece was plenty after such a large meal.

Kadayif

This dessert is called Kadayif, which is a pastry that’s very similar to Baklava, except is it make with shredded wheat.

Kayisi 2

Last but not least, you must try the Kayisi: Pouched Apricots stuffed with a whole Almond, and topped with sweet Whipped Cream and finely chopped Pistachios. This sweet treat is simply divine, and I will order it every time I come back to Uskudar. Amazing.

While menu prices are very reasonable, Uskudar also offers a three-course price fixe lunch for just $19, and a three-course ‘early bird’ dinner (served 4 – 7 PM) for a mere $27 — which are unbelievable bargain prices for Manhattan restaurant dining. Whether Turkish cuisine is your favorite, or you’re just in the mood for trying something new, be sure to put Uskudar on your radar to enjoy an unforgettable culinary experience.

Uskudar is Located at 1405 2nd Avenue (Between 73rd & 74th Streets), Just One Block from the 72nd Street Q Stop, In NYC. Uskudar also offers outside catering, and they can host private parties, or small corporate events. Visit Their Website at This Link for More Information!

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Vatan Indian Restaurant Offers All You Can Eat Vegetarian Feast in an Authentic Setting!

Table and Menu
All Photos By Gail

One of the most enjoyable parts of dining in an Indian restaurant, especially if you possess an adventurous palate, is the experience of being able to taste many different dishes as part of one meal. If I am looking for an incentive to step beyond the comfort zone of my ‘stand by’ favorites, and the quality of the food is still reputably high, I might check out a place that has unique decor, or that features the dishes of a region or state whose food I haven’t yet tasted — because all Indian cuisine is definitely not the same.

Entry Hall

I was recently offered the opportunity to visit Vatan, a Vegetarian Indian Restaurant in Kips Bay which specializes in Gujarati cuisine. A little bit of Googling told me that Gujarat is a state on the western coastline of India, with a strong influence of Jain culture and philosophy, which explains why Vatan favors purely vegetarian dishes.  Vatan is also distinct for its  prix fixe dinner, which includes a thali-style arrangement (many servings of various foods all served together on a large silver platter) of appetizers and condiments, followed by a thali-style main course array, including bread, followed by dessert. The price is $34 per person and it includes all you can eat of any featured dish from any of the three courses. Exciting!

Left Side of Dining Room with Tree

As soon as you enter Vatan, it is clear that you will be dining in an immersive atmosphere unlike other Indian establishments in Manhattan. Vatan’s cozy main dining area emulates the look of a beautiful open courtyard, so you will almost feel that you are dining outside. There is even a tall, leafy tree in the center of the room, whose branches spread out across the ceiling. If you look closely, up high you will see a couple of monkeys perched among the leaves, ready to playfully pelt you with an orange! Just kidding, of course, but it does look that way!

Monkey in Tree
“Hi, There!”

Interior Courtyard Shot

Interior View with Ganesha

Two seating options are offered for your optimal comfort: you can either remove your shoes and sit cross-legged, or sit western style.

Ganesha

The focal point of the dining room has to be this glowing red monumental figure of Ganesha, the Elephant-headed God who is the Remover of Obstacles. It is really captivating!

Mural Indian Lady

The walls also feature may colorful murals like the one above, which is just outside the kitchen, and the mural  below, which was adjacent to our table.

Dining Room Mural

All of the staff are dressed in beautifully-detailed, traditional costumes, which gives the experience an even more immersive and authentic feel.

Merlot

Our server arrived promptly to take our drink order (beverages are not included the fixed price), and they do have both beer and wine on offer. I ordered a glass of this lovely, full-bodied Merlot, which provided a nice complement to the spicy food. Menus are not really necessary, since Vatan serves a fixed fare (though you can choose a vegan, or gluten-free option), but they do have a few specialty sides, which are available for an additional charge. With the Entree Thali, you also have the choice of your preferred degree of spiciness. I opted for mild (which trust me, was still quite spicy) while my dining companion went with medium spiciness.

Appetizer Thali
Appetizer Thali and Condiments

When our appetizer course arrived, our server took a few moments to describe the ingredients in each dish, as well as brief details of how each was prepared (boiled, fried etc). She even offered suggestions as to which condiments went best with which appetizers, or main course dishes. The service was truly impeccable throughout the meal. Here’s a description of everything on the Appetizer Thali:

Chana Masala (Chickpeas With Onions And Coriander)

Khaman (Puffed Cream Of Wheat Flour Cakes)

Muthia (Steamed Flour With Spinach)

Mirchi Bhajia (Fried Hot Peppers With Garam Masala)

Batatavada (Fried Potato Balls In A Chickpea Flour Batter)

Ragda Patis (Potato Cutlet In A White Bean Sauce)

Sev Puri (Potatoes, Garbanzo Beans, Yogurt, And Chutney Filled In A Crispy Bread)

Samosa (Triangular Savory Pastries Filled With Spicy Potatoes And Green Peas)

Despite what you may be “used to” when dining out, I encourage you to just surrender to this unique experience. You may be tempted to ask for bread and raita (popular cucumber yogurt dip), since many Indian restaurants serve those items with the appetizer course, but sit tight, because that’s coming up.

Appetizer Thali

Detail shot of the Chana Masala (foreground), Muthia (right rear), Khaman (left front ) and Batatavada (left rear).

I enjoyed every dish on my tray, though I did offer my hot pepper to my friend, since I did not want to tempt fate. We were asked if we would like seconds of anything, but not knowing how much food was still coming, we declined.

Entree Thali 1

The Entree Thali arrived next, and it was just as beautiful as the previous tray. Here’s what we ate, as seen in the photo above:

Toor Dal (Boiled Lentils Cooked With Indian Spices)

Bhaji (Sautéed Spinach And Corn)

Ful-Cobi (Cauliflower And Green Peas Sautéed In A Savory Sauce)

Batakanu Sak (Potatoes Cooked In A Mild Red Gravy)

Chole (Chickpeas Cooked With Garam Masala)

Puri/Roti (Puffed Whole Wheat Bread/Whole Wheat Flatbread)

Papadam (Thin Lentil Wafers)

Kheer (Rice Pudding With Dry Fruits)

Aam Rus (Mango Soup)

It is not uncommon in Gujarati cuisine to have both savory and sweet dishes in the same course, such as the entree dishes of Rice Pudding and Mango Soup, which I enjoyed mixing together in a single bite.

Entree Thali 2

The little puffed Puri breads are ideal for holding small bites of food and making little tacos with them. Super tasty, and also, fun!

Rice and Yogurt Soup

Because you are not quite exploding just yet, they also bring you delicious Entree Complements (Seen Above):

Pulao (Boiled White Rice With Peas)

Khichdi (Lentils Mixed With Rice And Assorted Vegetables)

Kadhi (Soup With Yogurt And Chickpea Flour In Authentic Spices), which is close raita and which we shared for use as a sauce to cool the fire of the spicier dishes.

Roti Plus Two Dishes
Roti Flat Bread

Everything was delicious.

Indian Ice Cream

After a short break to let our food ‘settle’ a bit, it was time for the final Dessert And Chai course, consisting of mango and one other flavor of Homemade Indian Ice Cream, which we split evenly.

Gulub Jamun

There is also Gulab Jamun , a warm Donut Ball in a Sugar and Rose Syrup, which I just added to my ice cream because I thought would be more fun, and it was.

Masala Chai

Masala Chai is a sweet Indian Tea with Cardamom, Ginger and Milk; the perfect ending to a perfect meal. While we were advised that we could have as much as we wanted of everything, frankly, the cumulative portions served were very generous. The fixed price menu is an excellent value and I could not possibly have eaten one more bite. .We really enjoyed our evening at Vatan, and I am looking forward to returning for future visits with new friends!

Indian Lady Artwork

Vatan is Located at 409 3rd Avenue (Between 28th and 29th Streets), in the Kips Bay Neighborhood, New York City. Visit Vatan NY Dot Com for more Information and to Make a Reservation.

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

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!

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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!

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