Lilia

Lilia serves phenomenal, award-winning food. Missy Robbins, formerly of Chicago’s Spiaggia and New York’s A Voce (which sadly declined after Robbins left in 2013 and closed its final location in 2017 after a 10+ year run), won a James Beard for Best Chef in NYC for Lilia in 2018.  It’s the kind of restaurant for which you stay up until midnight and click furiously on the Resy platform thirty days before you want to dine there, if you want a shot at a decent reservation time on a weekend night. I’ve done it before, I did it for Lilia, and I’ll do it again; it’s all part of the game if you don’t have elite restaurant connections and still want prime time reservations at the best in the city, and that’s OK. Frankly, I don’t mind going out of my way for these reservations, I just wish the staff were a little friendlier once we were there.

Restaurants are machines, with many moving parts, and sometimes there’s nothing a restaurant can do about parties showing up late, or guests wanting to savor coffee at the end of a meal and holding up subsequent seatings. While I generally don’t love the idea of waiting past my reservation time, I know that it happens, and all I ask for is a little courtesy when it does. I didn’t appreciate being hurriedly shooed to the coffee shop waiting room in the back without an estimate as to how long it would be before they came to seat us. You can order snacks and drinks while there, but we weren’t sure if the wait might be only a couple minutes, in which case it would have been silly to order. It ended up being half an hour before I felt the need to ask the hostess about our table and we were finally seated, but I was both surprised and aggravated she didn’t so much as acknowledge the wait, much less utter a simple apology.

Once seated, our server was reasonably attentive and polite (as was the sommelier), and the food was, as expected, superb. We strategically wanted to try as many of the famed pastas as we could, so we went light with the appetizers and avoided the entrees. My suggestion is to skip the Cacio e Pepe Fritelle, which were tasty but nothing special, and get an extra order of the delicious Grilled Clams. Since there were only two of us, three pasta dishes were as many as we felt we could order without judging ourselves, and we went with the Rigatoni Diavola, Mafaldini with Pink Peppercorn, and Sheeps Milk Cheese Filled Agnolotti, which I expected to favor in that order. Interestingly, the agnolotti was the star for us, with the mafaldini a close second and the rigatoni earning bronze. Two tips: 1) the portions are not small, and we needed a doggy bag, but still did not regret ordering as many different pastas as we could and were very happy with our awesome leftovers the next day, and 2) the widely acclaimed mafaldini won’t disappoint, but is very rich, and, in my opinion, best when shared (a large bowl of peppercorns and Parmesan is a touch overwhelming). We finished the meal with Lilia’s solid rendition of olive oil cake, which may be my second favorite in NYC (nothing has yet come close to L’Artusi‘s olive oil cake with raisin marmellata and crème fraîche – speaking of, I need to publish a L’Artusi review ASAP).

All in all, Lilia was delicious, but I’d be lying if I said the beginning of our night didn’t taint our experience a bit. The food was great, and Lilia is known to have much more than pasta to offer, so I’m sure we will visit at least once more before offering a final verdict. However, we live on the west side of Manhattan, and if I’m going to play the Resy game a month in advance and head out to Brooklyn for a meal, I’d prefer to be treated with just a bit more grace, especially when L’Artusi and quite a few other Italian standouts are right in my backyard.

 

Summary:

 

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abcV

It was a stretch for my girlfriend to convince me to eat at abcV, which is Jean-Georges Vongerichten‘s latest addition to his ABC Carpet & Home partnership in NYC. I’d already been to and enjoyed his other two ABC-inspired restaurants, ABC Cocina and ABC Kitchen (reviews to come), but my carnivorous instincts quivered at the idea of an expensive meatless meal. If you didn’t know, the V stands for vegetable, and the closest you’ll get to a piece of meat might be the hen of the woods mushroom special we had on our first visit. You’ll notice I said first visit, though, because we’ve since been back, as that hen of the woods special was one of the best dishes I’ve had in any restaurant, vegetable-focused or otherwise, and because the food at abcV is impressive to eaters of all backgrounds.

It’s not that I have a problem with vegetarian meals – in fact, I’ve recently been trying to reduce my overall meat consumption, both for my health and the environment – but I will always appreciate a great steak, a Bolognese sauce, or an Italian Special from Faicco’s. Everything in moderation, though, right? Anyway, to all my carnivorous compadres skeptical of a meal at abcV, please allow me to put your fears to rest – if you like good food, you will like this place, and might even forget by the end of the meal that all of your proteins were of the vegetable variety.

As basic as it is, I, too, suggest you start your meal with the delightful green chickpea hummus and/or smoky eggplant dip. For the rest of the meal, go with your gut and share everything, as we haven’t had a bad dish yet. All the mushroom dishes are excellent, especially the grilled donko shiitake, and the lauded whole roasted cauliflower is a treat (you probably only need a half order, though, as it is gigantic). The much-discussed dosa was good but not amazing, and the tofu was a little underwhelming, but there are so many tasty plates with unique flavors that there is something for everyone, from the carrots, to the artichokes, to the okinawa sweet potatoes and even the pasta dishes.

Despite whatever preconceptions you or your fellow diners may have, I assure you the food at abcV is not only for vegetarians. Further, the chic all-white dining room is trendy and inviting, and the servers are warm and full of helpful recommendations. If you head in with an open mind, you may be pleasantly surprised.

 

Summary:

Má Pêche & Fuku+

At the risk of posting back to back reviews for American restaurants with Asian influences, I am writing this (double review) now because I just read that both Má Pêche and fuku+ will unfortunately be closing later this summer, so you’ll need to visit while you still can. If I’m honest, the space the two David Chang restaurants occupied in the Chambers Hotel always felt a bit awkward to me, but the food was solid and the format (at Má Pêche, in particular) was differentiated. According to Eater NY,  Christina Tosi’s outpost of Milk Bar upstairs will remain, for those of you trying to get your b’day truffle fix in midtown.

At Má Pêche, the savory courses are generally pretty tasty, and the classy, quasi dim sum experience is both fun and original, though the service can be a touch on the slower side. If you’re unfamiliar with the way Má Pêche works, there is a traditional menu with small and large plates, but there are also staff who push around dim sum carts with a variety of passed plates for the table.  As a result, it’s great for groups, so long as everyone doesn’t mind being a bit surprised by the final bill, as the prices of the cart items remain a mystery unless you go out of your way to ask. This might have bothered me more, had I not ended up feeling like I got a good bang for my buck at the end of the night.

The smoked lamb ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, and the fried chicken was all kinds of crunchy and spicy, in just the right way.  Má Pêche steals a number of dishes from Ssäm Bar (e.g. porgy, fried brussels sprouts, pork bun) that are reliable, but I couldn’t help feeling like the pork buns weren’t quite as good at Má Pêche. We didn’t love the beef with broccoli, but the fried chicken skin with caviar and ranch was a treat.

Interestingly, the presence of the Milk Bar upstairs was my least favorite part of the three-headed Chang dining experience, because most of the desserts offered at Má Pêche and fuku+ are simply Milk Bar items, which made the whole ordeal feel a bit like I was visiting a Momofuku food court.

If you’re upstairs at Fuku+ (tucked behind the Milk Bar), you’re probably there for the lauded fuku chicken sandwich, and, if so, I recommend ordering it “Koreano” style, which means topped with refreshing pickled daikon radish. When you’re done, please let me know where you side on the great fuku vs. Chick-fil-A debate. If you’ve already had the chicken sandwich, the chicken fingers pack a flavorful punch, and actually go really well with a Ssäm sauce michelada. Speaking of Ssäm sauce, Momofuku just partnered with Heinz to sell it on Amazon. You have to hand it to Chang, despite these closures, the man is quite the empire builder. Hurry over to these two spots before the empire (temporarily) gets a bit smaller.

Má Pêche Summary:

Fuku+ Summary:

  • Rating: 3/4 Stars
  • Pricing: $ (Zagat)
  • Food: Chicken
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Neighborhood: Midtown West
  • Website: wwww.fukuplus.momofuku.com
  • Instagram: @fuku (not specific to this location)

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

Tuome

Tuome is a tiny, somewhat under the radar restaurant in the East Village that is bursting with flavor and is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. The story of how Tuome, and its name, came to be is almost too perfect not to share. After working for four years as an accountant, Thomas Chen left his job to pursue his dream of being a chef, worked his way up through Eleven Madison Park and Commerce, and finally, in 2014, opened his own restaurant. I’ll let Pete Wells of the the NY Times do the honor of explaining how to pronounce “Tuome” and why:

“…he was Tommy at home, but on his parents’ lips the nickname came out “tow me,” which is how Tuome is pronounced…”

American / Asian fusion is nothing new, but its usually executed pretty poorly and without originality, which is absolutely not the case at Tuome. Chen manages to introduce exciting flavor profiles in his small plates, which are best shared. There are so many unique bites of food on the menu that you’ll regret not tasting more of them if you don’t share.

Everyone should have one of the spicy, crispy deviled eggs to start, and then order a selection of other apps. Their rendition of octopus with brown butter espuma is great, and the chicken liver mousse is smooth and indulgent. Of the mains, the delicately balanced snow crab noodle dish might be my favorite, if not for the highly regarded Pig Out. The pork belly is crunchy and amazing and the sesame noodles that come with it are addictive, but it is heavy, and not ideal for a party of two. You’d be better served trying more of the dishes – including a side of the rice made with Chinese sausage and duck fat if you know what’s good for you – and ordering the Pig Out when you come back with a party of 3 or 4.

In fact, my only critique of Tuome is that, if you aren’t careful to counter some of the richer plates with a few of the more subtle ones, you could end up feeling like you need to roll yourself out.  However, I’ll take that dilemma over boring food any day – not too bad for an accountant.

Summary:

  • Rating: 4/4 Stars
  • Pricing: $$ (Zagat)
  • Food: American / Asian
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Neighborhood: East Village
  • Website: www.tuomenyc.com
  • Instagram: @tuomenyc

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

Locanda Verde

I’ve been looking forward to this review for a while, as Locanda Verde remains one of the best meals I’ve eaten in New York to date, complete with a cheerful, dedicated server who pulled out all of the stops to make my sister’s birthday dinner as special as possible. I’ve now had the pleasure of dining at a few of Andrew Carmellini‘s restaurants under the NoHo Hospitality Group banner, and Locanda Verde is my favorite, which is saying something because I’m also a big fan of The Dutch (particularly for brunch, review to come).

We began our night with a couple of the extremely share-able crostinis, an absolute must at Locanda Verde (especially the smooth and creamy sheep’s milk ricotta).  The lamb meatball sliders were another great starter if crostinis aren’t your thing.

For mains, we were in the mood for pasta (and a lot of it), so we skipped secondis and dove right into the carbs. The signature “My Grandmother’s Ravioli,” stuffed with short rib and pork and topped with tomato sauce and Parmesan, was predictably delicious. One minor detail I loved was that our waiter brought over extra bread for us to sop up the sauce, which might be a faux pas at a stuffier restaurant, but which felt oddly comfortable (and apparently encouraged) at Locanda Verde. For a restaurant with a chic interior and high-end food – it is located in The Greenwich Hotel, after all – Locanda Verde doesn’t have a hint of pretentiousness.

The desserts were also a hit, from the nutty, toasted hazelnut torta to the caramel robiola cheesecake, though I was surprisingly disappointed with the hyped up “La Fantasia di Cassata.”  It wasn’t bad, but was a bit bland and ordinary, or at least that’s what my taste buds were telling me on this particular night. A bit unfair for me to complain, though, when the dish came with a candle for the birthday girl, compliments of the chef. Finally, as if we hadn’t eaten enough, a petit four described as “Locanda Verde’s take on Rice Krispies treats” was brought to the table, which tasted of pumpkin seed and was a subtle but enjoyable way to round out a decadent meal.

In New York, it can be easy to fall into the trap of always visiting the latest hot restaurant, but I’m making a point of returning to Locanda Verde this summer, because it is an instant classic, not unlike co-owner Robert De Niro.

Summary:

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

Genuine Roadside

As you might have guessed from my rating system, where I somewhat boldly declare that it’s possible to give a place like Bauhaus the same 4/4 rating as Del Posto, I enjoy trying new sandwich shops and food stands just as much as fine dining establishments. Keeping with that trend is this review of Genuine Roadside, a fast casual food vendor in Gotham West Market with a heck of a chicken sandwich, even though they are billed as a burger joint. Interestingly, Genuine Roadside is another product of AvroKO, which also designed sister establishments Genuine Liquorette and Genuine Superette, as well as an interesting joint venture with the Dante team in Greenwich Village called Dante at Genuine. As an aside, AvroKO has also designed more upscale restaurants, such as another that I’ve reviewed, Park Avenue Winter.

Anyway, the Buttermilk Battered Chicken Sandwich at Genuine Roadside was awesome.  Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and not too greasy (they do all their frying with canola oil).  It was basically everything you look for in a chicken sandwich, which for me, includes a little bit of slaw on top for acidity. The heat from the sambal mayo is a nice touch, too. Even though it’s served on a hamburger-sized bun, the piece of chicken itself was pretty big, extending well past the edges of the bun.  For that size and quality, I can live with the ~$10 price tag, though I wish the sides were a bit cheaper. It’s hard for me to justify paying $4-$5 for a few fried pickle shears, but I’ll get over it.

Roadside also earns bonus points for great employees. I mistakenly thought they were open until 11:00pm the night I placed my pick-up order, and when I arrived around 10:15pm realized that they actually closed at 10:00pm, but were nice enough to accommodate me with a smile even while in the process of cleaning up and closing, which I appreciated.

It’s not like me to not order the dish a food establishment is known for, so I suppose I need to go back for the burger, but the chicken sandwich is a winner.

Summary:

  • Rating: 3/4 Stars
  • Pricing: $
  • Food: American
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen
  • Website: www.eatgenuine.com
  • Instagram: None, but you can see photos here

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

Little Owl

New York is filled with 20 and 30-somethings who spent many a night watching Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Joey and Phoebe gather in “Central Perk” on the iconic Friends television series. If you think back to the facade of that quintessential coffee shop, and then have a look the facade of the Little Owl, you will likely find them eerily similar, and that’s because they are one and the same. The Little Owl is a tiny West Village spot with a ton of fanfare, and Chef Joey Campanaro is quietly making a name for himself in the West Village, with two other popular restaurants in The Market Table and The Clam. I can confirm that the in demand brunch is good, but I’ve heard that dinner is also solid (the meatball sliders and pork chop are supposedly delectable).

On my recent brunch visit, I went with the Chilaquiles and my girlfriend went with the Mini Kale & Potato Fritatti (with salmon). The portions were a bit on the small side, but we enjoyed both dishes and the staff was absolutely lovely. We weren’t in the mood for drinks, but the “cocktail” (no liquor license) and beer lists are interesting and eclectic, and I plan to take advantage next time around. The meatball sliders really do sound great, so I think the next time I visit will be for dinner.

Summary:

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

BaoHaus

I’ve been meaning to get to this review for some time now, because BaoHaus was one of the first NYC gems I discovered when I moved to the city in 2014. The storefront looks like any other mundane Chinese or Taiwanese restaurant in the East Village, but head inside to find a graffiti-filled room blasting hip-hop music and serving awesome gua baos, or “baos” for short. BaoHaus is owned by Eddie Huang, a Taiwanese-American restaurateur you may have heard of via ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat, a television series loosely based on Huang’s autobiographical memoir, Fresh Off The Boat: A Memoir.

Once inside, get in line at the counter and pick your preferred bao, which, you might be surprised to see cost $5.00-$5.50. They used to be ~$1 cheaper, but trust me, they’re still worth it. The pillowy pork buns, tender meat, and crunchy peanuts are balanced, textured and overall just really tasty. If you want a standard pork belly bao, you’re looking for the Chairman Bao, but I actually prefer the fried chicken baos (either the Birdhaus Bao or the Spiceland Bao, which is essentially the same as the Birdhaus Bao but with Szechuan chili oil and packs quite a punch).

If you’ve never had a “bao,” you may have heard it by one of its other names, which include steamed bao, steamed bun, steamed pork bun or just pork bun. If you live in New York (and not under a rock), you are familiar with the Momofuku empire of restaurants and their legendary proprietor David Chang, who has also popularized pork buns. Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar have been serving iconic pork buns since 2004 and 2006, respectively, and I plan to publish reviews for those spots very soon.

If you’ve ever taken the time to read my star rating guidelines, you already know BaoHaus is a 4/4 for me, so I encourage you to check it out. Lastly, while you can certainly make a full meal of BaoHaus by ordering a few baos and perhaps a side of taro fries, it’s actually more conducive to a light lunch or late afternoon snack. I haven’t had a chance to try their bowls yet, so I encourage you to let me know!

Summary:

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

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 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: 4/4 Stars
  • Pricing: $$$$ (Zagat)
  • Food: Italian
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
  • Website: www.carbonenewyork.com
  • Instagram: None, but you can see photos here

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

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:

Rating System Guidelines:
4 Stars: outstanding, cannot wait to return
3 Stars: great, would be happy to return
2 Stars: good, though not necessary to seek out
1 Star: forgettable, ought to dine elsewhere

My rating is meant to account for not just the quality of the meal and experience, but also the value, without favoring the ultra expensive. In other words, a high-end restaurant (e.g. Del Posto) and a casual eatery (e.g. BaoHaus) can both receive 4/4 stars, even though they are extremely different atmospheres and the former is clearly “nicer.”

 

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