A Fall Pie Party Potluck in NYC!


Pecan Pie

On the first Fall weekend in October, a bunch of food bloggers showed off their pie baking and eating skills at an event that was fun, informative and filling. Pie Party Potluck was in its third year, hosted by Jackie Gordon and Ken Leung. I’m happy to say I schlepped a chocolate pecan pie on the subway, and it arrived in one piece.

Fall Spread

Pie Party Potluck was held at the ICE Culinary Institute‘s modern campus in downtown Manhattan. Appetizers made by culinary students kicked things off, along with beef and chorizo empanadas from Girl in the Little Red Kitchen to whet our pie whistles. Luckily, there were things to distract us from just eating pie for three hours straight. An ICE instructor did a demo on perfecting pie crust, and we also toured the new campus. It was a great excuse to see the new facilities. Did you know there’s a room just for roasting cocoa beans and making chocolate? Now you do.

With an overwhelming number of pies, each of us took home leftovers. Though much of the pie eating became a tasty hodgepodge of flavors, I truly loved the Restaurant Fairy‘s Curried Aloo Gobhi Pie. It was spiced just right, and the perfect hearty Fall pie. Nice work, Malini!

Fall Cocktail

Thanks to a lively and knowledgeable bartender, I learned about Mizu Shochu, a delicious and pure spirit from Japan. It doesn’t burn like most alcohol does, and it was great in a Fall cocktail of fresh apple juice, lemon juice and cinnamon syrup. It was great on its own, too, served with a cucumber slice.


Thanks to some other generous sponsors, there were cookware giveaways as well. For bloggers attending the event, Cabot Creamery provided dairy coupons, and King Arthur Flour gave us flour coupons for making our pies. Thanks to all the sponsors, and Jackie and Ken, of course, the potluck was a real hoot for everyone involved.

Authentic Lebanese Dining in Flatiron – Review of Byblos


80 Madison Ave. between 28th and 29th St.
(212) 687-0808/byblosny.com



Byblos is an airy Lebanese restaurant, serving up the real deal in Lebanese cuisine with flavors that might make you dance. There’s plenty of room for that actually, and live music and dancing happens on Saturday nights.


Hot Yogurt Soup

Hot Yogurt Sauce

Grilled Meats

Grilled Meats

At a press dinner, we tasted mezze selections, Lebanese wine, kibbeh, grilled meats and tabbouleh. The silky hummus will make you question every other hummus you’ve ever tried. It’s not often you rave about something as simple as hummus, but this one is truly incredible, as is the baba ghannouj.

After delicious mezze, we were served kibbeh (spelled kibbee on Byblos’ menu) in a hot yogurt sauce. Upon reading the “hot yogurt sauce” part of the dish, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. The kibbeh were moist and flavorful without being overpowering like others I’ve had. The yogurt sauce was delightful and unique, but certainly one of the heavier entree items. We tasted all of the kebabs, which were cooked perfectly and served with some nicely spiced peas. I already want to go back for grape leaves, fattoush and a whole grilled fish.

Lebanese food differs from other Middle Eastern foods in that it doesn’t use cumin and features more olive oil, owner Sonia Kachouh said. This mostly healthy cuisine is my favorite for a nice lunch outing. Luckily, Byblos is open for lunch and dinner every day. Happy hour from 5-7 offers $6 imported beers, Lebanese wines and mezze.

Byblos was in Murray Hill for twenty years and moved to Flatiron in 2012. The family-owned spot is great for nice but casual meals with bright, clean flavors. If you’re the kind of foodie who likes to impress people with authentic eats, check out Byblos.

Contemporary French in a Cozy, Downtown Setting


La Sirene
558 Broome St. between 6th Ave. and Varick St.
South Village


Escargot - La Sirene

Escargot – La Sirene

With fast-casual dining now ubiquitous, it’s nice to sit down to a proper French meal once in a while. La Sirene is tucked in a cozy pocket in an area called South Village, south of Greenwich Village and next to Chinatown. It’s a spot perfect for unwinding with a long meal of contemporary French cuisine.


Steak tartare - La Sirene

Steak tartare – La Sirene

At a press dinner last week, we had the chance to try a variety of menu items. While many of the dishes were a variation on classic French food, there are also many classics on board.

The best way to start any French meal is with
an order of roasted escargots in a garlicky, buttery sauce. The escargots at La Sirene were plump and bursting with flavor. The tools for escargots are actually very easy to use: one is for holding the hot shell, and the other simply for piercing the meat. Bread dipped in the buttery sauce was necessary and absolutely delicious. Another highlight was foie gras torchons, very decadent but actually on the lighter side in this case.

Hanger Steak - La Sirene

Hanger Steak – La Sirene

Each entree came with carrot puree, haricots vert, butternut squash and chayote squash. It was great having a variety of veggies to cut into the richness of the meat entrees. My entree was seared hanger steak with roasted garlic and parsley, and the meat had a nice char and crunchy crust. The showstopper though was the filet mignon entree, served with foie gras paté, shallots and a port and red wine truffle sauce. It boasts bold flavors while somehow remaining light and not overly filling.
That seemed to be the theme with a lot of the food at La Sirene – satisfying and incredibly flavorful without weighing you down.“French doesn’t necessarily mean heavy every time,”
Chef Didier Pawlicki said.


Chocolate profiteroles w- ice cream - La Sirene

Chocolate profiteroles w- ice cream – La Sirene

Of course there was room for dessert. All of the pastries are made by Pawlicki and are as fresh as they are in Paris. Nothing is made more than 48 hours in advance, with 48 being the absolute maximum. We had to have the tarte tatin dramatically flambéed, which always makes things more exciting. Unfortunately, that was the most disappointing dessert as it got too soggy in the caramel sauce. The chocolate profiteroles more than make up for it, filled with delicious homemade ice cream and topped with whipped cream. The choux chantilly were lovely and offered a lighter sweetness which I always love. Definitely do not skip dessert here.

Pawlicki opened La Sirene in 2007, his first of a few restaurants in the city. The restaurant has recently started serving lunch Fridays through Sundays.

French-African Delights in Gramercy Park – Review of Ponty Bistro


Ponty Bistro
218 Third Ave. between 18th and 19th St.

Ponty scallop

Ponty scallop

Chef Alhadji A. Cisse has been serving French and African delights at neighborhood spot Ponty Bistro since 2008. His modern takes on both cuisines highlight fresh ingredients with his own updates, twists and turns combining the flavors of West Africa and Senegal with Mediterranean and French methods.

The favorite of the night was moules Africana, mussels in a broth of coconut milk, garlic, red curry, and other spices Cisse wants to keep secret. On the menu it’s served with fries, unlike at most New American restaurants, where fries have to be ordered separately. This entree costs $18. A dish like this is easily one of my favorite things, and this one had just the right amount of spices to wake up the palate without overwhelming the taste of the fresh mussels.

Other prices are reasonable too. A lobster BLT runs for $15, and a very flavorful hanger steak entree with mashed potatoes and spinach runs for $19.

I can’t remember the last time I saw the words “early bird dinner,” but Ponty offers a $25 three-course early bird deal from 4pm-6:30pm Monday through Sunday. It seems like a great chance to sample a few items at a low cost.

Cisse and his cousin, Chekh Cisse, who runs a second location in Harlem, are from Senegal and moved to New York City in 1995. Ponty is named for a boulevard in Senegal. The chefs have worked for Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Ponty Bistro on Urbanspoon

Balzem Brings Mediterranean Delights and Warm Energy


202 Mott St. in SoHo


The air in Balzem was positive and lively as a few writers gathered for a menu with wine pairings. Wine racks and vintage mirrors lined the walls, and an orange glow filled the room. The warm and intimate space seats 58, with long communal tables and some smaller tables. A few sidewalk tables will be available in June.


Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

Prosciutto-wrapped burrata

pan fried Spanish octopus on arugula

pan-fried Spanish octopus on arugula


A perfect place to pregame at the bar with drinks and snacks, Balzem offers $1 oysters, $5 mezzes/tapas, $6 wines and $5 beers every day but Saturday. Oysters and branzini ceviche aren’t a bad way to impress a date. My favorite appetizer was prosciutto-wrapped burrata on top of green pepper slices.

The food varied from new and fresh to familiar and well-executed. I’ve never seen a branzini ceviche on a menu, and I thought the fish was very fresh and flavorful this way. The grilled ribeye brochette (skewers) were perfectly cooked and hard to put down. They were served with warm flatbread, herb dip and yogurt dip, but the meat was completely delicious on its own.

The only food that felt heavy and rich were two sides: potato truffle gratin and truffle mac & cheese. Of course, they were delicious and shared amongst the table. The rest of the food was light for restaurant food, with simple ingredients executed well. This a great spot if you want a tasty dinner that won’t weigh you down – and there’s plenty of wine to help you along the way.

Balzem on Urbanspoon

French Bistro Serves Up Health-Conscious Fare – Review of Le Village


Le Village
127 E. 7th St.
East Village
(212) 539-0231

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Le Village, Chef Didier Pawlicki’s East Village bistro. Pawlicki, also owner of La Sirene and Taureau, highlights gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan fare here. Seeing any sort of nutrition information on a French bistro menu is a bit of a buzzkill. Luckily, the fat content wasn’t listed. The menu designates items as gluten-free, carb-free, low-carb (less than 25%) and medium-carb (less than 50%).

beet carpaccio resized

Beet Carpaccio at Le Village, NYC

Meat entrees include an angus burger, seared duck breast, and coq au vin, but most of the menu is more veggie-friendly.

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village, NYC

My favorite savory dish was cassoulet with stewed beans, smoked portobello, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and sliced potatoes. It was flavorful and hearty.

Brussels sprouts sauteed with balsamic-glazed strawberries offered a refreshing take on a dish that’s been done a million times. The same is true for the beet carpaccio, delicately sliced beets with wine-soaked raisins, almonds and fresh horseradish.

Overall, each dish offered a new twist on an old classic. Banana brulee was like a fancy version of one of my childhood favorites, complete with a Nilla wafer crust on the bottom. Rather than offering a regular creme brulee, Pawlicki added the banana element since his girlfriend loves bananas. Two vegan desserts are available: a seasonal tart with coconut sorbet and macerated prunes with coconut sorbet. Ice creams are made in house.

Le Village is cozy and casual with some fresh takes on French cuisine. The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage fee, so be sure to a grab a bottle on your way. Le Village accepts only cash and AMEX.

Le Village on Urbanspoon

UES’s New Thai-Inspired Gastropub – Review of Flight


1479 York Avenue at E. 78th Street
Upper East Side


Seafood flight of jumbo crab cake, blue corn crusted calamari and roasted jumbo shrimp

Flight is a new gastropub featuring 16 rotating craft beers, happy hour food, and soon, live jazz.


The chef is inspired by the flavors of Thailand, which he features in dishes like PEI mussels with a wonderfully spicy coconut curry sauce. I could eat that dish with one of a few IPA draft options and be perfectly happy. It paired nicely with Newburgh Double IPA.  

Cheese and charcuterie flights are available, as well as slider flights, seafood flights, or a “barnyard flight” of filet mignon, fried chicken and rack of lamb. Prices are reasonable; 3 cheese and charcuterie options are $15 or 5 for $22. A slider flight with fries is $14. All of these work well with flights of beer, wine or whiskey.  

Beverage director Dermot Kelly brings his Irish heritage to some of the menu (traditional Irish breakfast and homemade brown bread ice cream, anyone?), but it really shines on his beer list. Four 6-ounce pours cost only $12.   Flight replaced longtime neighborhood spot Dresner’s, but Kelly said they see both former Dresner’s regulars and new folks. The light cream chairs and hanging lights give the atmosphere a brightness that most other craft beer-centric restaurants lack. There’s a glass outdoor cafe for warm months. Check it out for good beer and affordable bites.

Flight on Urbanspoon

Spiegel Serves Cuisine with International Flair


26 1st Ave. at 2nd St.
East Village
(212) 228-2894/spiegelnyc.com

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Spiegel, a bright and airy spot serving “international cuisine” in the East Village.


Baked Feta – Moroccan tomato pepper sauce, eggplant, Kalamata olives, grilled pita

If you got your passport stamped for eating your way around Manhattan’s East Village, you would have a lot. There are tons of international dining options, and of course many places reflect a fusion of two cuisines. Spiegel’s menu reflects mostly Israeli, Moroccan, and other Mediterranean influences, aiming to bring a full-circle global variety to one place. A hint of other nationalities adds to the mix.

“We didn’t want to limit the food to a country or a state,” owner Shmulik Avital said.


Vegetarian Couscous

Avital grew up in Beer-Sheva in Israel with Moroccan parents, and had Indian, German and other international neighbors growing up, he said. Schnitzel is on the menu, served with jasmine rice and tahini.

My favorite dish was the heartwarming baked feta with Moroccan tomato pepper sauce, eggplant and olives served in a cast iron pan with house-made pita. It was the best dish for a crisp Fall evening, and the spices were just right.

Executive Chef Dario Tapia formerly worked at Westville and was pastry chef at Maison Kayser. He takes the reign on Spiegel’s main menu and pastries as well. The flan was outstanding and so was the beautiful apple tart, just in time for the season.


Schnitzel Plate



Spiegel is named for Sam Spiegel, the legendary Hollywood producer who was the first to win the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar three times for On the Waterfront, The Bridge On the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia.

Spiegel opened in May in a space that was a deli. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Spiegel on Urbanspoon

The comfort and soul of homestyle Italian – Review of Da Marcella Taverna


142 West Houston St.
Greenwich Village
646-559-9192 / damarcellavillage.com/

The intimate subterranean space that houses Da Marcella serves to underscore the warmth and conviviality of this traditional Southern European taverna. In fact descending the few small steps that will lead you into this charming, dimly lit restaurant has the effect of entering a magic door–you will suddenly be swooped away from the scene and bustle of  West Houston Street and feel serenaded by the prized traditions of Italian and Spanish hospitality, reflecting the cultural background of tavernero (taverna owner in Spanish), Manuel Moreno.

Moreno was born in Viareggio, Italy (northwestern Tuscany) to an Italian mother and a Spanish father. He moved to Spain with his family as a young boy, and grew up there in admiration of his mother, Marcella’s Italian cooking, but mostly for her generosity of spirit. Marcella contributed to the household income by preparing generous portions of food, which she sold inexpensively, or often donated to neighbors in financial distress. Da Marcella Taverna is Moreno’s tribute to her.

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

 With a menu that features numerous “best hits” of Italian cuisine. Thus dishes such as Melanzane alla  Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmigiana), Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (an undisputed must here!) and their heavenly polpette al sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce) optimally served in heat-preserving clay terrines, are prevalent on the menu–and justifiably so, given the superior execution of these simple, supremely satisfying dishes, prepared with fresh, quality ingredients. Having grown up with many of these dishes in both by transplanted Southern Italian household and during my extended stays in Italy, I also feel compelled to add that while many of these dishes are seen as humble and perhaps ubiquitous in New York City, successful execution of these is decidedly less so as there is great temptation to cut corners and opt for less expensive ingredient substitutes to boost profit margins. Thus, in such instances, a Bolognese sauce will not have benefited from the many hours of stewing that requires, nor the mixture of meats. Not so at Da Marcella. Its Bolognese  stays as true as possible to mother Marcella’s original recipe and its deeply harmonized flavors can attest to that this is a recipe honed with love and devotion. It must also be noted that Da Marcella’s penchant for the classics does not crowd out more complex entrees on the menu, such as Braised Lamb Shank, roasted Scottish wild salmon and Barolo Braised Short Rib, which prove that Da Marcella is a contender in both genres.  

True to the original concept of the taverna, which was meant to deliver homestyle cooking to neighborhood people , Da Marcella’s menu is not vast, but it offers a refreshingly loyal rendering of the concept of the taverna. What this means is that Da Marcella’s approach is that a deliciously satisfying meal can be had here at prices so affordable that they seem anachronistic for Manhattan–and that’s a great thing! Entree prices range $15-$19. There is a global wine list with by the glass offerings ranging from $7-$12. Fittingly, the mood is welcoming and convivial and thoroughly devoid of  pretense and the staff is both friendly, yet on the ball. My only wish here is that they won’t change a thing!

Besides the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (pictured above), below are some my favorite dishes at Da Marcella:

Grilled Marinate Spanish Octopus with Fresh Caper Berries, Sundried Tomatoes and Arugula

Grilled Marinate Spanish Octopus with Fresh Caper Berries, Sundried Tomatoes and Arugula

I never pass up the opportunity to enjoy an appetizer of grilled pulpo. Da Marcella’s enchantingly tender octopus, expertly grilled with optimal char and smokiness, reminded me why.

 Wild Salmon Avocado Tartare at Da Marcella

With scatterings of chunky, mildly salty Lampedusa capers,  the delicate brininess and the pleasing textures of this salmon tartare make it a refreshing and satisfying appetizer.

Wild Salmon and Avocado Tartare

Burrata Crostone with Prosciutto San Daniele

When first-rate  ingredients conspire with a flair for composition, it is a genuine thing of beauty! That is decidedly the case with this antipasto! The  tender as Carpaccio prosciutto with subtle saltiness highlights the creamy delicate flavors of the burrata–a  light drizzle of truffle oil ties it together elegantly.

Chef Francesco's Meatballs

Chef Francesco’s Meatballs

This picture does not deceive. Prepared in long-stewed tomato sauce, these veal and pork meatballs are exceptional and I dare say that they compare to many a family recipe.


Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with Creamy Polenta

Braised Colorado Lamb Shank with Creamy Polenta

I am generally not attracted to lamb for its pungency and pronounced gaminess, I encountered neither in Da Marcella’s Braised Colorado Lamb Shank. It was off-the-bone tender and exquisitely prepared in a red wine reduction sauce. The creamy polenta was an excellent accompaniment to it.

Ricotta Cheese Cake

Ricotta Cheese Cake

Da Marcella offers a selection of classic Italian desserts including Tiramisu’ and pannacotta, sorbets and gelato affogato. These are all rewarding. However, the crown goes to its Ricotta Cheese Cake! It’s smooth, creamy, not overly sweet and suitable for sharing.

Da Marcella on Urbanspoon




Anginetti Cookies – simple flavors that add to the joys of any Easter table


One of my fondest Easter memories growing up  Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were actually the days leading up to Easter and all of the treats that my mother, grandmother, aunts and family friends would exchange with each other’s families during Holy Thursday and Easter morning.

Staples among these were pizza rustica, Neapolitan Pastiera or Wheat pie–a recipe I have posted here in the past– and Anginetti cookies. Growing up, my Aunt Rita’s were always my favorite because she always  added a hint of Anisette liqueur to her delicious lemon glaze.  As with many nonne (Italian for grandmothers), her mastery is such that she would bake batches and batches of perfect Anginetti by counting on her ever unfailing eyeball measurements. 

Click on the plate of cookies below for an easy to follow recipe for Anginetti, courtesy of in pureprovender.com. Note: go ahead and double the doses. They’ll be sure to go fast!

Anginetti Recipe - courtesy of Alison McCarthy - pureprovender.com

Anginetti Recipe – courtesy of Alison McCarthy – pureprovender.com

Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua!