Carbone

The bill isn’t for the faint of heart, but for a lively Italian dinner featuring some of the best pastas in the city, Major Food Group‘s Carbone is still worth it. Unless you know Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, or Jeff Zalaznick personally, or are an A-lister, a prime time weekend reservation will elude you. If you send Carbone an e-mail exactly at 10am, one month in advance, though, us common folk can snag a 9:30pm, as I have several times now.

I like to describe Carbone as a caricature of an Italian restaurant, with its (bright red) tuxedoed servers and blaring Frankie Valli soundtrack, but with Spicy Rigatoni Vodka (and several other dishes) that will blow your mind. The spicy rigatoni is my favorite pasta in New York City, but the Lobster Ravioli is a up there as well. For you carnivores, the $64 price tag on the Veal Parmesan is not a misprint, and is also pretty spectacular.

Those tuxedoed servers do a wonderful job arranging the meal, recommending exactly the order of the dishes and offering to prepare half orders of dishes of  which everyone wants a taste (e.g. that famous spicy rigatoni). My only real complaint of Carbone is that the wine menu is not particularly accessible at lower price points, though there are great options for oenophiles as you work your way into more expensive bottles, and the sommelier has always been courteous and helpful.

I’ve finished each of my meals at Carbone with a gargantuan slice of carrot cake and an espresso. Every time I contemplate trying one of the other delicious looking desserts, I can’t bear the thought of the FOMO (fear of missing out) I might experience if I don’t stick to the carrot cake, but one of these days I’ll drum up the courage.

Summary:

  • Rating: 5/5 Stars
  • Pricing: $$$$ (Zagat)
  • Food: Italian
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
  • Website: www.carbonenewyork.com
  • Instagram: None, but you can see photos here
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Emilio’s Ballato

A few years ago, while volunteering at the Food Bank for New York City, I was fortunate to work the kitchen service next to Katie Lee. When I asked her what her favorite Italian restaurant was, she said Emilio’s Ballato, a place I had never heard of, despite having read about or been to most of the great New York red sauce joints by then.

I’ve since read most of the Emilio’s Ballato folklore, including the New York Times story that described when Lenny Kravitz bought the restaurant a new red awning. It’s best known as a celebrity hotspot, partly for the food, and partly for the discretion afforded to the rich and famous by the Vitolo family (from father and owner Emilio, to son and Executive Chef Anthony).

I finally made plans to visit the restaurant for my 25th birthday, and was frustrated when President Obama dined there a few weeks before, expecting that Obama’s media frenzy and Emilio’s no reservation policy would mean I couldn’t get a table. I was pleasantly surprised when my girlfriend and I snuck in and grabbed a table by the door around 6:30pm on a Sunday night, without a wait. Bear in mind that the restaurant filled up quickly, though, and before long the wait was an hour.

The food was solid and relatively affordable for NYC, and the ambiance is casual and authentic. Our bowls of pasta were prepared classically and very tasty, and Jonah Hill must think so too because he stopped in briefly to collect an order for pick up about halfway through our meal. That being said, there are other Italian restaurants with similar wait times that I prefer to Emilio’s. Perhaps if I were rich and famous – and needed discretion and had the opportunity to cook with the Vitolo’s in the restaurant’s kitchen as many of their VIP clients do – I would appreciate the restaurant as much as they do. Until then, Emilio’s is a solid Italian spot with a phenomenal atmosphere and an even cooler story, but isn’t my favorite in New York.

Summary:

Note: The feature photo of Emilio’s Ballato’s red awning is from Zagat.

Le Bernardin

I was fortunate enough to spend my 25th birthday dinner at Le Bernardin, and it was incredible as expected. Eric Ripert and his team are brilliant, and they made the occasion extra special with a delicious chocolate hazelnut dessert and candle at the end of the meal. They were also able to accommodate my father, who is allergic to shrimp, crab and lobster, and even modified one of the amouse-bouches for him.

We went with the prix fixe and ordered an affordable bottle of Chablis for the table, with the help of one of Aldo Sohm‘s sommeliers. I had previously tried Ripert’s signature Tuna from the “almost raw” section, so I went with the Geoduck this time. If only going once, order the Tuna, but the Geoduck was also delightful. In the “barely touched” section, I almost pulled the trigger on the Calamari (crab-filled, calamari, that is), but couldn’t resist ordering the Seafood Truffle Pasta with my mother and sister. None of us were disappointed, but I still want to try the Calamari another time. I finished with the Black Bass “Surf & Turf” in the “lightly cooked” section, but also managed to taste my father’s White Tuna-Japanese Wagyu and sister’s Lobster. All were excellent, but I suppose the Lobster was my favorite.

The precision and grace of the service, from the beginning amouse-bouches to the final petit fours, matched the quality of the food. We even received a copy of the 2017 Zagat guide for New York City from the attendant at the coat check when leaving. I noticed on the way out that the lounge was relatively empty, even on a Friday night. While absolutely worth it, the prix fixe (which is currently  $150 a pop) is something I can’t justify except for special occasions; the lounge menu, however, hits a much lower price point, and even has a “City Harvest” tasting menu for $55. It doesn’t offer the Calamari, so I’ll have to return to the dining room to taste that, but still looks delicious.

PS. Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, which is next door, is another great option is you want to taste Ripert’s food and Sohm’s wine at a more affordable price. If interested, I encourage you to read my 4 star review of Aldo Sohm Wine Bar.

PPS. I would also recommend Eric’s show, Avec Eric (on Youtube’s Reserve Channel), which is very interesting but also includes approachable dishes that can be made at home.

Summary:

  • Rating: 5/5 Stars
  • Pricing: $$$$ (Zagat)
  • Food: French / Seafood
  • Dress Code: Elegant Casual (Jacket is required for men in the main dining room during lunch and dinner, and is recommended but not required in the lounge)
  • Neighborhood: Midtown West 
  • Website: www.le-bernardin.com
  • Instagram: @lebernardinny

 

Tanoshi Sushi

I enjoy sushi and trying new types of fish, but I am a relative novice; I know enough not to saturate quality sushi with excessive wasabi and soy sauce, but haven’t yet learned all of the nuances of very high-end sushi. My visit to Tanoshi was, in fact, my first proper omakase, and one of the most appealing aspects of the restaurant was how approachable the environment was, even for a newcomer like me.

Our sushi chef was Oona – whom we recognized from the Eater NY video series hosted by David Bouhadana (of Sushi Dojo fame), “Shokunin” – and she was wonderful. She asked about how much experience we had had with omakase, what types of fish we liked, allergies, etc., without making us feel embarrassed by our lack of knowledge. Everything we ate was delicious, and we even ordered a few extra pieces a la carte.  Because Tanoshi is a more casual restaurant, the prices are more affordable than some of its more formal peers, which is a real plus.  With such a tasty service, my only real complaint was the trek up to 73rd and York, but it was definitely worth it. Perhaps next time we’ll have the opportunity to dine with head chef Toshio Oguma, even though Oona was fabulous and we would love to have her again too!

A few helpful tips for dining at Tanoshi include:

1) Tanoshi is BYOB, and if you’ve forgotten to pick up a bottle you can head across the street to East River Liquors for your wine / sake needs.
2) There are two sides to the restaurant, so you must specify if you have a preference .
3) They have three seatings per night: 6:00pm, 7:30pm and 9:00pm.  The early and late seatings are obviously easier to book, but with the late seating you run the risk of them potentially running out of some of the a la carte specials depending on what the diners before you order.

Summary:

  • Rating: 5/5 Stars
  • Pricing: $$$ (Zagat)
  • Food: Sushi
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Neighborhood: Yorkville / Upper East Side
  • Website: www.tanoshisushinyc.com
  • Instagram: None, but you can view photos here

 

Bohemian

Candidly, the first time I dined at Bohemian I expected the restaurant to overcharge and underdeliver for the opportunity to tell friends and colleagues you dined at “that secret restaurant behind the butcher shop“, but I could not have been more wrong. The food is excellent and affordable, the team is welcoming and the ambiance is second to none. The intimate dining room only seats 25 or so, with a few of those stools at the bar, so reservations should be made in advance.

If you’re curious about the menu, there are quite a few pictures posted on Yelp. You can either take advantage of the very reasonable $62 tasting, or order a la carte. You can’t go wrong with either, but I would encourage you to order the burger if you do the tasting, as the Washugyu or “Washu” beef is spectacular. The beef is a crossbreed of the renowned Japanese Black Wagyu and American Black Angus and is raised in Oregon; if you want to learn more there is a pretty fulsome description on the Japan Premium Beef website  (Japan Premium Beef is the butcher shop out front that sources all the beef for the restaurant).

A couple of other dishes I love from Bohemian are the Uni Croquette, Pan Roasted Branzini, Miso Black Cod and Ginger Pork, plus anything beef-related. I slightly prefer the Washu-Beef Tartar to the Washu-Beef Short Rib Sashimi, but they’re both phenomenal, and, if you don’t mind spending some money, definitely order one of the steaks. Also, the Vegetable Fondue is a nice way to start off the meal.

I suggest a later reservation, so that you might have the pleasure of hearing some live music from the bar area, but you’ll be happy no matter what time you visit.

Summary:

  • Rating: 5/5 Stars
  • Pricing: $$$ (Zagat)
  • Food: Japanese
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Neighborhood: NoHo
  • Website: www.playearth.jp
  • Instagram: None, but you can view photos here

Babbo

In my two visits to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich‘s Babbo, the food has been nothing short of excellent, including the Pasta Tasting (and wine pairing) this last time.  Babbo is white table cloth, but doesn’t feel that way with the blaring rock music for which the restaurant is famous.

There are three sections of seating at Babbo, and each feels a bit different. The bar area is best for a casual meal for two friends to catch up. The upstairs feels slightly more formal – perhaps the volume is even a touch lower – while the downstairs is happily in the middle. None are stuffy, though ,which is perhaps the most important aspect.

That being said, when I dined at Babbo the first time (admittedly, over a year ago), we had a server who nearly ruined the meal for us. Essentially, we ordered the Grilled Pork Chop and our server forgot to put the order in, and when we realized and mentioned it she insisted we were wrong and became very rude. We politely said it was fine and asked her to please place the order anyway, but from that point forward she wore an angry frown and used a bitter tone with us. It was all very bizarre and I never quite understood it, but thankfully the manager was very apologetic and the service was spectacular during this most recent visit.

Of the pasta dishes, I most enjoyed the Black Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta paired with a 2015 Brandini Langhe Arneis, and the Papardelle Bolognese paired with a 2011 Masciarelli “Marina Cvetic” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva. The Olive Oil Cake and Gelato was quite good, but I actually prefer L’Artusi‘s Olive Oil Cake a bit more.

Nonetheless, barring a peculiar service incident, you should have a wonderful meal at Babbo.

Summary:

Dining Etiquette Part 1 – American vs. Continental Style

My first foray into blogging began as a junior in college, while studying abroad in Barcelona through CEA, where I took a journalism course and as part of the curriculum had to start a blog. One piece I wrote focused on dining etiquette, and I thought I might use that as the inspiration to write a series of blogs on the topic. I hope you enjoy (and maybe even learn a thing or two).

We’ll start off with a little bit of philosophy on utensils. In New York, you’re likely to encounter one of two styles, the American (“Zigzag”) style or the Continental (“European”) style. Both methods involve holding the knife with your dominant hand and the fork with your weak hand. The difference is that in the American style, you then switch the fork from your weak to your dominant hand before eating, whereas in the Continental style you eat while keeping the fork in your weak hand, eliminating the need to switch hands. It is for this reason that the Continental style is considered to be a bit more efficient, however, both styles are perfectly acceptable, so long as you are consistent.

The way you set your utensils down on the plate indicates to the waitstaff whether you are finished with your meal or simply resting, and the American and Continental styles also differ in this regard as well. In the American style, when resting, the knife is set (blade in) on the upper right side of the plate in the 4 o’clock position, and the fork (tines up) is set on the left side of the plate in the 8 o’clock position. The knife is also placed in this position when switching your fork to your dominant hand to eat. When finished, the knife (blade in) and the fork (tines up) are set parallel on the right side in the 4 o’clock position. Please refer to the graphics below for a visual aid.

american

In the Continental style, when resting, the knife and fork are crossed in the center of the plate (blade still in, but this time tines down). When finished, the knife and fork are set in the same position as in the American style, parallel and on the right side of the plate in the 4 o’clock position, however with the fork’s tines facing down, as is illustrated below.

continental

When it comes to spoons, both styles are identical: scoop away from your body and, if the bowl is set on top of a plate, set it on the right side of the plate when finished, otherwise set it in the bowl. If using a spoon to eat dessert, and if a fork is also provided, the fork (in your weak hand) should be used to push the dessert onto your spoon (in your dominant hand). The dessert is then eaten from the spoon. This is more similar to the Continental style of eating with a knife in fork, but in this instance the rule applies to both styles. When finished with dessert, treat the spoon as your knife and follow the rules previously stated above.

That should cover the majority of the nuances of the American vs. Continental etiquette styles. If you enjoyed the article and would like to read the original, please use this link. I even mention one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Barcelona, Da Greco, which surprisingly doesn’t have a website. Perhaps I’ll write a full review sometime soon. Please note that the images in this blog were pulled from this Huffington Post article.

Bonus: Can you spot what’s wrong with the featured picture comparing American and Continental styles of dining etiquette? Read part 2 to find out!

Aldo Sohm Wine Bar

It’s challenging to find a wine bar in midtown that doesn’t feel like it’s in midtown, and in that regard I don’t think Aldo Sohm Wine Bar is particularly successful. That being said, Aldo Sohm is so successful in creating an approachable channel for oenophiles and novices alike to drink excellent wine and sample Eric Ripert‘s food without a trip to Le Bernardin, that I couldn’t care less.

Everyone we interacted with was lovely, from the maitre d’  to Aldo himself, whom we met upon entering, and who seemed concerned it took more than 5 seconds for a member of his staff to greet us. We were planning to order a bottle of Malbec, and our server easily navigated the menu and helped us settle on a $60 un-oaked Argentinean bottle that we loved (2015 Colome Malbec). With respect to the food, we liked the House-Made “Tuna in a Can” tartine and loved the Whole Baked Cauliflower, but my coq au vin-style drumstick was unfortunately dry.

I happen to work nearby, and will certainly be back to try a few other dishes, and, more importantly,  a few (or many) other wines with the aid of friendly and educated staff.

PS. If you enjoyed this review, you may also enjoy my 5 star review of Le Bernardin.

Summary:

NYC Restaurant Week Menu Sins

NYC Restaurant Week Winter 2017 will be over in a few short days, as it ran from January 23 to February 10 this year. In my opinion, there is a right way for a restaurant to participate in Restaurant Week, and there is a wrong way, and while I have certainly had great Restaurant Week meals in the past at places such as Park Avenue Winter and Scarpetta, I wanted to share my take on the two major Restaurant Week menu sins.

  1. Offering only one or two options created specifically for Restaurant Week (i.e. you can’t order any of the dishes you read about that made you want to come to the restaurant in the first place).
  2. Attaching supplemental charges to a majority of the menu items (which defeats the purpose of the Restaurant Week discount, unless restricted to just a few special items).

A restaurant that would like to participate in Restaurant Week but feels, for one reason or another, it must commit one of the two sins above, should at least, hopefully, have the decency to post the menu online in advance. The only thing worse than a restricted, supplement-laden menu is a restricted, supplement-laden menu read for the first time at the dinner table.

If you want to check out my reviews for Restaurant Week meals, please use the following links for Park Avenue Winter and Scarpetta.

 

Scarpetta

I’ve read in a number of places that NYC’s Scarpetta has been mediocre since its expansion to other cities and the departure of its celebrity chef Scott Conant. That may be, but the famous Tomato & Basil Spaghetti is still delicious and the service at a recent visit during Restaurant Week was top-notch, so LDV Hospitality is at least doing something right.

We took advantage of Scarpetta’s $35 corkage fee (note that a second bottle would be $50) and ordered from the Restaurant Week menu. There were only three choices for each course, but the menu included all the hits, so it didn’t actually feel limited. You’re ordering the Tomato & Basil Spaghetti for your entree, so it’s a matter of deciding if you want to start with a lighter dish (go with the Raw Yellowtail) or a heavier dish (go with the Creamy Polenta). The polenta is quite rich, though, and is probably a bit much to combine with the spaghetti unless you want to split appetizers with someone else at the table, which was our approach. Dessert was solid but not spectacular; I preferred my Coconut Panna Cotta to the bite of Chocolate Cake I tasted.

I can’t entirely refute claims that the restaurant has declined, but if you order the right dishes at Scarpetta you can have a fine meal. Plus, if you like celebrity sightings, you might see Joakim Noah as we did when we visited.

Summary: