Saturday, August 30, 2014

BurgerFi: Yorkville, New York

It's been awhile since I last posted, but I'm ready to get back into the swing of things.  Last night I had a surprisingly awesome burger and just knew I had to post about it.  I pass BurgerFi on a nearly daily basis and have never really thought twice about it.  With other amazing burger places in the area like Bareburger (which I also should write about...) and Shake Shack, I never even considered stopping in BurgerFi when I had a burger craving.  However, last night I attended a painting class with some of my friends and we all found ourselves starving afterwards. Most food locations had already closed with the exception of bars, which were absolutely packed.  We decided to just walk up and down Second Ave until we all found something we could agree on and we stumbled upon BurgerFi.  I had pretty low expectations because it seemed like a Shake Shack wannabe and I'm never truly satisfied with fast food.

I ordered the BurgerFi Cheeseburger with fries, as did all of my friends and we all instantly agreed that it was the best burger we'd had in a long time.  The burger was perfectly juicy and amazingly cheesy. Additionally, they brand all the burger buns with their name, which we all thought was a nice touch. The fries were also delicious and didn't seem like generic fast food fries by any means.  I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't do more research into this place before going because I now see on their website that they have an entire secret menu full of amazing sauces and toppings for both their burgers and fries.  Next time I'm craving a burger, I'll definitely be returning to BurgerFi to try one of their other varieties.

BurgerFi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sriracha: Upper East Side, NY

It's been awhile since I've had time to make an entry.  I just finished up school, started a new job, and moved, so I haven't had much time to devote to blogging lately.  Luckily, that doesn't mean that I wasn't trying new places and taking down notes for future blogs.  I figured I'd start with one of the places I've visited most recently and work my way back so that I can revisit some of these locations and write an even more-detailed entry.

This past Friday night I visited Sriracha for dinner around 8:30pm.  I had a work event that went a bit later than I expected, so I wanted to go somewhere that wouldn't have a long wait and could get my entree out pretty quickly.  I had passed Sriracha a few times in the past, so we decided to stop in.  They were able to seat us right away and I would say the restaurant wasn't even half full.   It took a bit for a waiter to come by our table, so by the time he got there we had already picked out our drinks, appetizer and entrees.  He took our order and our drinks came out pretty quickly, but that's when the waiting started.  We were sitting there for quite awhile and our appetizer and waiter were nowhere in sight. About 20 minutes later, a food runner came out with our entrees.  It took our waiter about 5-10 minutes to check on us once we got our entrees, at which point we informed him that our appetizer had never come.  He laughed as if it happens all the time, but then our appetizer came out about 10 minutes later...halfway through our dinner.

Before I get to the food, I'll continue on the subject of the experience itself.  The ambiance of the restaurant was a bit confusing.  From the outside it seemed a bit like a lounge, but on the inside it reminded me more of a dive bar with asian-themed decor.  Overall, it seemed much more like a bar than a restaurant even though the bar area itself was extremely small.

Now, onto the food.  For an appetizer (which we got halfway through our meal) we ordered the spring roll sticks.  The order only came with three sticks and they were a bit greasy and overall unimpressive.

For an entree, I ordered the Thai Basil Chicken.  The entree itself was simply OK.  The chicken was ground chicken and a bit dry and I wish the fried egg had been mixed into the entree itself instead of just sitting on the side.  I probably wouldn't order this entree again only because there was nothing exciting or interesting about it.  My boyfriend ordered the Thai Drunken Noodle.  He really enjoyed his entree.  I got try a few bites and I have to say it was one of the better drunken noodles I've tried.  Overall, the restaurant struck me as the sort of place that I would rather get take-out for late night food than go out for dinner there.  I'd be willing to give it another try, but there seem to many other thai restaurants on the upper east side that I'll try before returning here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Empellon Taqueria: West Village, NYC

Last weekend my friends and I headed into New York to have a nice relaxing brunch and exchange our Christmas presents.  We were a bit worried about some brunch locations being packed because of the holidays so we made a reservation at Diablo Royale about 3 weeks in advance for 11am.  We arrived a bit late due to some train delays, so by the time we got to the restaurant it was 11:15.  When we walked in we were immediately told the restaurant wasn't open until 11:30 and to come back then. We all thought that was strange, particularly because I was able to pull up the email confirming the reservation I had made, but we decided to walk around for 15 minutes in the rain until 11:30.  We came back at 11:35 and were told that there was some "kitchen drama" and they had no clue when they would open or be able to serve food.  We decided not to dine there because some of us had plans for later in the day and couldn't afford an unknown time schedule.  I was pretty disappointed by the service at Diablo Royale and wouldn't even give the place a second try because of the way we were treated. Now we were stuck in a pretty tough situation given the circumstances: we were all on a budget and were planning on the $25 entree + bottomless drinks deal at Diablo Royale, one of the people I was dining with is gluten intolerant, it was now raining pretty hard and we were all lugging around Christmas presents, and none of us were too familiar with the West Village.  We all tried to use Yelp to find something in the area, but we always ended up rejecting a place because it was too far, not gluten-free, too expensive, or didn't offer brunch.  Finally, I suggested we check the place directly across the street from Diablo Royale to see if they offered brunch because it was also Mexican cuisine which tends to be naturally gluten-free.  I googled the name of the restaurant and the term gluten-free and luckily the website popped right to the top stating that they offer many gluten-free menu items AND they serve brunch.  So we had found our new brunch place!

Brunch at Empellon didn't start until 11:45, so we got there right as the place opened.  The decor and tables inside were really bright and clean looking and the staff was immediately welcoming.  It was practically noon, so we decided to go right for the chips, guacamole, and two salsas combo to share because we were all pretty hungry by this point.  My friend told the waiter about her gluten allergy and he was extremely knowledgable about the menu, explaining which dishes were gluten-free and which dishes could be altered to be made gluten-free.  He spent a few minutes going over the menu with her to make sure she was comfortable with what her choices were.  The chips, guacamole, and smoked cashew and arbol salsas came out pretty quickly, as did our bottle of champagne and carafe of orange juice to make mimosas.

The salsas were unlike any salsas I had ever tried before.  I wasn't immediately a fan of the smoked cashew salsa and the arbol salsa was a bit too spicy for one of my friends. However, I quickly discovered that if you mix the two together it has an amazing spicy, smoky flavor.  The guacamole was also really fresh and delicious, with just the right amount of seasoning in it.  We went through a couple bowls of chips rather quickly...

For my brunch entree I got the pork shoulder tacos.  I had my heart set on huevos rancheros, but unfortunately they didn't offer them.  I can be pretty particular about how my eggs are cooked, so I opted to get tacos instead of any of the egg dishes. The pork shoulder tacos were so rich and flavorful, I had no regrets about not opting for one of their many breakfast dishes. The rich, salty flavor of the pork shoulder was complemented by the sweet roasted pineapple and the bitter chopped onions. Additionally, I'm not sure exactly what sauce was drizzled overtop of the tacos, but it also had a spicy, smooth flavor that really added to the tacos.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to sample any of my friend's dishes, but everyone left extremely satisfied and happy that our bad luck at Diablo Royale had landed us here instead.

I would recommend Empellon to anyone looking for delicious, decadent Mexican cuisine.  We did end up spending a little more than we had originally planned, but it was well worth it.  The overall atmosphere of Empellon was a bit lounge-like, particularly because of the loud music that was playing and because of this I imagine it is much more of a nightlife location.  I'd gladly return for dinner to try out more of their dishes.

Empellón Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sun Tavern: Roselle Park, NJ

How have I not blogged about Sun Tavern before? New York may be famous for its pizza, but I think that New Jersey is truly where the best pizza comes from. Northern and Central New Jersey, to be exact. Anyway, pizza is one of my favorite foods because who doesn't love a piece of bread slathered in cheese? I could go on about pizza for days, but I'll stop here. Sort of. I'll start talking about one specific pizza instead. It seems that everyone has their favorite pizzeria around town for one reason or another: place A has the biggest slices, place B has the best sicilian, place C has amazing seasonings and so on.  While I'm a big fan of traditional pizzeria pizza, there's something completely different about Sun Tavern's pizza.  It somehow manages to strike the perfect balance between being a traditional New Jersey pizza pie and being an artisan pizza.

First of all, Sun Tavern doesn't just have pizza; it has a full menu of delicious foods that vary from traditional bar food to a nice Italian dinner. Additionally, the location itself has both a large bar area and a large dining room, so it has a place to sit whether you're there for football, beer, and pizza or for a nice dinner with your family or friends.  My absolute favorite pizza there is the Old World Pizza.  Ever
since I started ordering it about 6 years ago, I've been ordering my Old World Pizza the exact same way: double dough with sauce.  The Old World Pizza doesn't come with any sauce on it, instead using a layer of garlic as the buffer between the crust and the cheese.  I always used to order the pizza as-is, but after the first time I tried it with sauce, I never went back.  They don't coat it with sauce, but instead add sauce to a few spots throughout the slice. All of Sun Tavern's pizza is thin crust, but they offer the option of making it "double dough" which essentially makes the crust the same thickness as your average slice of pizza.  The Old World Pizza is deliciously cheesy and garlicky.  I've never had another slice of pizza quite like it.  My boyfriend is a big fan of toppings on his pizza, so we usually get half with sausage, which also tastes amazing.

I can't recommend Sun Tavern enough to those pizza-lovers out there.  It's great for takeout, bar food, family parties, or a casual dinner with friends.  It's got a friendly staff, great food, and a great atmosphere.  I've only ever tried the Roselle Park location, but I've heard their other locations are great as well!

Urban Burger: Cranford, NJ

Over this past summer the Italian Pantry Bistro, which was one of my favorite restaurants, closed for a few weeks for renovations, but when they reopened they had done an entire transformation.  The Italian Pantry Bistro had become Urban Burger.  I was actually pretty upset to hear that the owners had decided to go a different direction, but I'd been hearing great things about Urban Burger over the past few months so I decided to give it a try.  My boyfriend and I had plans to go see Catching Fire at 8:50 in the next town over, so we figured we should go get dinner around 7:15 to play it safe and make sure we gave ourselves enough time to eat, park, get tickets and find seats.  Turns out this was waaaay too much time to leave.  When we got to Urban Burger we found out that it wasn't wait service, which I was a little disappointed about.  We perused the large menus hung on the walls and then walked up to the counter to place our order.  I got the Speedy Gonzalez, which was a chorizo-seasoned patty topped with pulled pork in BBQ sauce, apple slaw, and gruyere cheese.  My boyfriend ordered the Liberty Bell, which was a patty topped with grilled peppers and onions, provolone cheese, and garlic mayo. We also decided to get a side of fried pickles because: why not?

After we ordered at the front counter, they gave us a number to put on our table so that they could bring the food out to us.  Our fried pickles came out first.  In my opinion, fried pickles only come in two varieties: awesome or you did something very wrong.  These fried pickles definitely fell into the awesome category.  The buttermilk ranch was delicious and the pickles had just the right amount of batter on them.  I also proceeded to use the ranch to dip my french fries in, which was also awesome.

Our burgers came out just a few minutes later, so we didn't have time to finish the fried pickles before we started our burgers.  Now, I need to be up front about something here.  I was just recovering from a cold that had me pretty congested, so I'm afraid that my tastebuds may have been a bit dulled.  I'm trying to take that into account in my review of my burger.  First of all, the toppings were piled high on the burger, so I opted to cut the burger in half before even attempting to pick it up.  I was afraid the pulled pork and apple slaw would slide right off the burger if I even so much as lifted the burger off the tray.  However, once I cut the burger it was a completely manageable size to both pick up and take a bite out of.  I had ordered my burger cooked medium and it was cooked perfectly, in my opinion.  Now here's the tough part: I could barely taste the chorizo seasoning.  Again, my tastebuds may have been dulled, but I had found myself able to distinguish other flavors quite easily, so I'm thinking that there was just not enough seasoning for my taste.  The pulled pork was really delicious and tender and the apple slaw was great, as usual (it was frequently a side on the Italian Pantry menu, so I was happy to see some things hadn't changed).  I ate the first half of the burger no problem, but I found myself dissecting the second half a bit with a knife and fork.  The bread was sturdy enough to hold the burger together, which a standard hamburger bun would not have been, but it also didn't add much to the burger.  I found myself eating just the pulled pork and burger by the end and I'm usually all about eating as much bread as possible.  The burger also came with a side of fries, which were actually some of the better fries I've had in awhile.

Onto my boyfriend's burger.  Usually I take a bite of his food so that I can accurately blog about it, but seeing as I was just getting over that cold, I decided not to contaminate his food on him. Instead, I asked his opinion on the burger.  He said that the burger was a bit undercooked, but that by no means ruined the flavor of the burger.  He thought that the flavors on the burger didn't quite mesh well together and he thinks it may have been because of the garlic mayo.  Disclaimer: he usually doesn't put mayo on anything.  He thought that the individual flavors were great, but that there was something a little off about all of the flavors mixing together. He also thought that the peppers and onions were cooked really nicely because they still had just a little bit of crunch left in them.

Finally, I thought the atmosphere of Urban Burger was a bit disappointing.  Italian Pantry had been a lovely, romantic sit-down dinner and I expected some element of that to stay in the new restaurant. Urban Burger had a bit too much of a fast-food sort of feel to it, which I wasn't quite expecting.  I knew that it had become a much more casual, family-friendly restaurant, but I still expected there to be wait staff or at least real utensils. The plastic knives, plastic forks, napkins, and ketchup were located near the front of the restaurant in a self-serve basket.  Tap water was located in a large self-serve container alongside plastic cups at the front counter.  Something was just missing for me, especially since this had been such a nice, fine-dining location previously.  I understand that this is probably a more successful business model, for the place was 3/4 full while we were there and we were in and out of there in less than 45 minutes.  Italian Pantry had a much pricier menu, but I never saw the place more than half full. Another thing I noticed was that a few couples had brought wine with them, but the only cups that were available to drink out of were the plastic water cups, which just feels a little tacky. The couple right next to us had brought beer, which was definitely the way to go.

My final recommendations?  I'm all about supporting local business, so definitely go give Urban Burger a chance.  However, if you're one of the Italian Pantry's former patrons, be prepared that even though it's the same owners, it's a completely different place.  The burgers were great, but it truly is a casual dining location and probably more well-suited for a quick lunch or dinner than a night out on the town.

Urban Burger on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bice Ristorante: Manhattan, NY

A couple weekends ago my boyfriend and I decided we were in the mood to go out for a nicer dinner, but were stuck on where to go.  Luckily, I remembered that we had purchased a LivingSocial deal a few months earlier for Bice Ristorante that was about to expire.  The deal was for a bottle of wine, two appetizers, two pastas, and two entrees.  I had heard some good things about the restaurant while doing Restaurant Week research earlier in the summer, so we were really excited to go try it.  We made a reservation for 7pm, but got there closer to 6:45 and they were able to take us immediately.  The restaurant was pretty empty, especially for a Friday night, but had a really romantic ambiance.  The waitstaff was dressed all in white, and the table was set very simply with a white tablecloth and a candle.  Our waiter was extremely well-versed in the LivingSocial deal, which doesn't often happen at restaurants.  He explained exactly what was included in the deal and what wasn't.  We decided to start with the crispy calamari and the asparagus with parmesan cheese.  The asparagus was cooked perfectly so that it had just the right amount of crunch still left in it.  The calamari was also cooked well, but wasn't anything spectacular. 

For the pasta course, I had the whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce, chicken, and julienne vegetables.  That's how the dish was described on the menu, anyway.  I was really not at all a fan of this dish.  It reminded me of the first time I attempted to make pasta primavera when I was a teenager.  The whole wheat spaghetti wasn't cooked properly and ended up being too tough and the dish was just overrun with peas and carrots.  The chicken was extremely tough and tasted like they had just microwaved a bunch of those Tyson grilled chicken strips.  I was actually grossed out by this dish and it nearly ruined the rest of the meal for me.  I actually can't even recall what my boyfriend ate because I was so distracted by the mushy peas all over my pasta.

For the main course, I had the risotto with shrimp, squid, and scallops in light tomato sauce.  After I recovered from how gross the pasta was, I truly got to enjoy this dish.  This dish was extremely delicious and I wish I had saved more room for it because risotto and seafood really doesn't make for good leftovers. The dish was really flavorful and had the perfect balance between seafood and risotto.  My boyfriend got the branzino, which was also really delicious.  I only had a small bite, but the sea bass was extremely rich and well-seasoned.

Overall,  Bice just gets a so-so rating in my book.  The waitstaff and ambiance were quite nice, but the food was more expensive than it's worth.  Even using the LivingSocial deal, I felt like we had overpaid for our meal.  There are so many amazing restaurants in New York City and Bice just falls short.  I wouldn't recommend Bice, but if you do end up going there then I'd definitely recommend trying the branzino!

Bice on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Loaded: Garwood, NJ

Last week my friend and I were out for a walk when we decided we should go walk to get lunch.  She'd heard a lot of great things about Loaded in Garwood, so we decided to go give it a try.  I'd just noticed it's storefront for the first time a week or two before because it's a bit off the beaten path in Garwood, but it had piqued my interest.   The restaurant was much smaller than I had anticipated because the food prep takes place right out in front, not in the back of the store.  It's bar-style seating for the most part, with just one or two tables in the corner.  The menu itself isn't too extensive, but it certainly all sounded delicious!  The menu options included a number of BBQ options that are served on a cornbread waffle bun, as well as burgers, fries, mac and cheese, beans and soup.  I opted for the Loaded burger, which comes with two toppings and cheese of your choice.  I topped mine with avocado, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese.  They make the burgers right in front of you, which is actually pretty cool and reassuring.  The meat looked nice and fresh and I watched as they mixed it with spices and formed it into a patty.  I'm a total germaphobe, so it was really awesome to watch my food being made and know that they were properly handling all of the food.  It was also awesome to know that they hand-make the patties and I'm not paying for just another frozen burger.  My burger was perfectly cooked, fresh, juicy and delicious.  I don't typically order burgers when I go out to eat, but I'll be having dreams about this burger for weeks to come.  I devoured the whole thing and I was actually sad when it was over.  I immediately started thinking about the next time I could come back.

We hadn't ordered any sides, but the guy working behind the counter, who I believe was the owner or manager, had made some extra for a takeout order and gave us the leftovers.  I saw on the menu that the fries can be coated in "Fry Dust" which ranged from a sweet mix to a spicy mixture along with a number of dipping sauces.  While our fries were dustless, we did get to try the dipping sauces and they were amazing.  He also gave us some mac and cheese to sample, which was also absolutely delicious.  We were told it wasn't his best batch because usually there's some smoked gouda in the cheese mixture and they had just run out, so I can't wait to go back and try it with the smoked gouda included.

Overall,  the service was amazing and the staff was so friendly.  The food was delicious and I can't wait to go back and sample more of the menu items.  It definitely attracts more of a casual lunch crowd and I got the feeling that a lot of local businesses order takeout for lunch.  I would suggest it for a rich, delicious lunch any day of the week with some friends or coworkers.  I'm definitely going to start spreading the word about Loaded!