A night at Circo with Chef Alfio Longo and Ceretto Wines

Circo
120 W 55th Street
Midtown West
212-265-6119 / circonyc.com/
 

Circo hosted an engaging Alba truffle dinner prepared by Circo’s executive chef, Alfio Longo.  A representative from Ceretto wines was also present with a well-paired wine for each of Chef Alfio’s courses.

The night started with passed canapes in Circo’s front bar area and a glass of Cerretto’s, very drinkable, Arneis Blange – a balanced, fruit forward, but not too sweet, white.  Circo’s public relations manager Jean Lee was a gracious host as was Circo’s maitre’d, Bruno – a long time member of the Maccioni family restaurant empire.
The small group of food bloggers and other food industry-types made our way over to the main dining room for dinner.  As we waited anxiously for our first course, a basket of white Alba truffles were passed around the table and dazzled us with their intoxicating scent and the sheer size of the truffles themselves.

A basketful of white Alba truffles!

A basketful of white Alba truffles!

Dinner began with a decadent frisee salad featuring a quail and foie gras stuffed puff pastry and a rich Perigourdine sauce.  The Asij, 2009 wine from Ceretto’s Barbaresco winery in North Western Italy was a fluid, spicy wine which both tamed and complemented the more emerging flavors of the salad.

 

Frisee salad

Frisee salad

A second, pasta course was served paying homage to the terrior of North Western Italy – highlighting both the porcini mushroom filling of the ravioli and the white truffles from Alba which were shaved on top.  Butternut squash dotted the plate in an elegant, yet attainable dish.  Strong tannins in Ceretto’s Bernardot, Barbaresco added to the earthy nature of the dish and was an appreciated nod to the featured ingredients – the Barbaresco winery and Alba just about 5 miles from each other in Italy!

 

Circo3

Porcini mushroom tortellini

As the small group of us chatted about everything from the world of food marketing to weddings and the New York City public school system; Chef Alfio’s menu continued to delight us.  His simple preparations, highlighting the fine ingredients used to assemble each dish were a joy to consume and while a meal rich with white truffle and foie gras could cross the line of pretention rather easily, Chef Alfio’s cooking exudes the humbleness of his own person.

The third course was a melt in your mouth, sous-vide beef cheek with kale and pureed pumpkin topped with a cured ham crisp (which you can also order from Circo’s fall dinner menu, $34).  The ruby colored Brunate Barolo, was hard pressed to stand up to the full-flavored beef cheek, but brought with it fine notes of white truffle which complemented the theme of the dinner and was a full, flavorful wine on its own.

 

Beef cheek with pureed pumpkin and kale

Beef cheek with pureed pumpkin and kale

 

‘Molten’ chocolate was poured over a chocolate sphere in an entertaining take on dessert and was a great way to end the meal, especially paired with the Moscato d’Asti, Vinaioli di Santo Stefano.  Notes of caramel and apple were perfect for the autumn night and made the coldest night of the year thus far, that much more bearable!

Circo on Urbanspoon

 

Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

Sao Mai on Urbanspoon

Funky cocktail and tapas venue with a view – Review of Four

BY STEPHANIE AMY COLLAZO

FOUR at Yotel
570 10th Avenue @ 42nd St.
Car: Parking Lot located under YOTEL, entrance on 41st Street
Midtown West
646-449-7700 / yotel.com

Entrance to Yotel hotel. Photo taken from the yotel website.

The simple yet modern décor of Yotel sparked my interest long before I knew I would be making a visit to its restaurant.  Having passed by the hotel a few times the neon purple sign reading “YOTEL” and the luggage robot quickly caught my attention.

When entering Yotel, you are approached by a group of men in grey jackets who ask whether you are checking in or going upstairs, once I told them I was going to FOUR one of the men pressed the button for the elevator and told me that when I got to the fourth floor I would be there, hence the restaurant’s name.

Exiting the elevator I noticed that the staff and the hotel followed the same color scheme of plum, grey and white.  At first I thought it was a bit odd but when I realized that the staff didn’t have a uniform and were only required to wear within the color scheme I was amazed at how many different outfits they had put together using those three colors.

Strawberry lychee mojito. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

We were seated at the bar for cocktails while we waited for the tables to be set.  The first cocktail we tried was the strawberry lychee mojito ($13) off of their signature cocktail list.  The description said that the mojito consisted of rum, strawberry, lychee, mint and citrus, but all I was getting was strawberry and tequila.  Now I am not saying that they put tequila in the mojito, which is not typically in a mojito, but the drink was pretty strong and tasted like tequila.  I was a bit disappointed since I was looking forward to tasting the lychee and strawberry.

Dohyo seating at FOUR. Photo taken from the yotel website.

Shortly after finishing our cocktails we were asked where we wanted to be seated.  We had a choice between booth and Dohyo seating.  Though the Dohyo seating looked comfortable and would have enhanced the experience we opted for the booth seating since we were both in dresses and didn’t want to accidentally flash the restaurant.

Mango ginger martini. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

The waiter quickly approached us to take our orders. He suggested the mango-ginger martini ($13), and I went for it. My guest decided not to get her next drink just yet.  The mango-ginger martini consisted of vodka, mango, ginger liqueur and St Germain liqueur.  It was delicious! The ginger flavor really stood out and there wasn’t a terrible vodka sting at the end.

Chili dusted tuna. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

The first course at Chef Richard Sandoval’s new venture with Yotel was a sampling of the chili dusted tuna salad ($9).  The tuna salad was presented on top of purple potato with potato straws on top.  This course was one of my top three favorite dishes of the evening.  The light dusting of chili made it spicy and though I would have never thought to pair the two the raw tuna and purple potato tasted very good together.

Pozole miso soup. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

The second course was pozole miso soup ($6).  This was unlike any miso soup I had had before.  I am accustom to a much more simple version of the soup consisting solely of tofu, seaweed and miso.  The pozole miso soup consisted of tofu, chili guajillo, wakame seaweed and cilantro and was both visually pleasing and hearty.

Crunchy shrimp. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

Next was my absolute favorite dish of the night: the crunchy shrimp ($8).  The shrimp were the star attraction as far as my guest and myself were concerned.  We couldn’t stop raving about the its amazing flavor and crunch.  They were crunchy without a think layer of batter and had just the lightest hint of spice.

Halibut slider. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo

Our fourth course was a halibut slider ($9).  This dish was nice and light and the chili morita-remoulade sauce was quite flavorful. After the halibut, we had black cod with pickled artichoke ($14).  This was a sour and sweet combination that I didn’t see coming.  I enjoyed the pickled artichoke but the teriyaki-balsamic reduction made the cod too sweet for my taste.

 

Our sixth and seventh course came out at the same time.  First we tried the Chinese eggplant ($6), which consisted of miso, tomato, red chile and mint.  I am not a fan of eggplant to begin with so I was not a fan of this course.  Next we tried the Colorado lamb leg ($10).   The lamb had a cucumber-yogurt sauce and was served on top of potatoes.  The meat was very moist and I had to use my fork to eat it rather then the chopsticks we had been using to eat everything else.  My guest who is normally not a fan of lamb ate more than half of her serving.

Dessert sampler (from left to right) yuzu strawberry tart, hummingbird toffee cake and chocolate cheesecake. Photo By Stephanie Amy Collazo.

Our final course was the dessert course, which featured a sampling of the three desserts on the menu.  We first tried the yuzu strawberry tart ($7).  The lemongrass sorbet had a very strong lemon flavor, which tasted more like lemon zest, but not in a negative way.  Next we had the hummingbird toffee cake ($7).  The cake was moist and flavorful.  It was made of banana and pineapple and came with sweet anise ice cream.  The last dessert we tried was the chocolate cheesecake ($7).  The cheesecake was not too heavy and paired nicely with the blackberry sauce and chocolate crunch candies.

Due to weather constraints we couldn’t go out on the terrace but I am sure that it would be a great venue for cocktails with friends.

All in all, Yotel has something for everyone. Its drink list alone is enough to draw the young and trendy, while the menu and location will attract the older, possibly after theater, dinner crowd, and the offerings and view from the terrace will make them all stay.

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Four on Urbanspoon

 

 

 

What’s on… West 56th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

It’s all about quality over quantity on this block, where the pickin’s are slim but solid.  The proximity to Carnegie Hall and touristy Times Square as well as the offices of Midtown make this block both convenient and busy during peak weekday lunch hours. Multi use skyscrapers, City Spire, Carnegie Hall Tower, and Metropolitan Tower all have entrances (although not necessarily main) on this block.

Although the official address of this juice chain lies on 6th avenue, there is an entrance on 56th street.  In addition to refreshing smoothies, Jamba Juice also serves the community by raising money for local schools’ healthy lunch programs and neighborhood gardens.

Midday, Saturday a line at Burger Joint @ Le Parker Meridian

119 West 56th Street – Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridian
Staying at Le Parker? Just passing by? Whatever your reason is, if you’re in the neighborhood Burger Joint is a must if you’re in the area. Grilled over an open flame and topped however you like (within the boundaries of standard burger fare), these burgers are the real deal and easily make the top 5 in the City.  Come early to get a seat in the graffiti-ed space, as the burgers are best done right off the flame.

Cheeseburger at Burger Joint

119 West 56th Street – Knave at Le Parker Meridian

A grand entrance – Knave @ Le Parker Meridian

The grandiose space that Knave inhabits in the lobby of Le Parker Meridian is both Gothic and modern and is a restorative place to sit and enjoy a cappuccino midday.  Although open for cocktails until 12am daily, the hefty price tag seems barely justifiable when the scene isn’t the most happening and the baristas are the ones making your cocktails.
Knave at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon

119 West 56th Street – Norma’s at Le Parker Meridian

Norma’s Chocolate Decadence French Toast – Photo courtesy of La Buona Forchetta

As cheap as (the above-mentioned) Burger Joint is, Norma’s is not.  However, it is
arguably (and winning 9 times out of 10) the finest brunch in town.  Open until 3pm every day, Norma’s is strictly brunch, but no one’s complaining with menu items like the Waz-Za waffle, a decadent waffle filled with fruit and topped with a crispy Brûlée or the Foie Gras Brioche French Toast (‘nuff said).  Come for a treat, leave with a stuffed stomach and empty wallet. 
Norma's at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon

120 West 56th Street – Starbucks

For your caffeine fix, grab a Starbucks at this location right across the street from Le Parker Meridian Hotel.
127 West 56th Street – Topaz Thai

The bargain prices during lunch are the biggest draw at Topaz for the hoards of New Yorkers who work in the area.  Quality food and nicer than average (though small and always crowded) Thai restaurant décor make Topaz a solid choice even for a sit down dinner.


Topaz Thai on Urbanspoon

150 West 56th Street – Dean and Deluca

This Dean and Deluca café outpost is the perfect place to stop for one of their gourmet coffees and espressos or baked treats.  Expect better quality and higher prices than Starbucks.
Dean & Deluca Cafe on Urbanspoon

An empty Blue Dog Cafe


155 West 56th Street – Blue Dog Café

For a slightly different kind of café, stop by the Blue Dog.  Fresh fruit and vegetable juices along with healthier, lighter choices make Blue Dog a first choice for many who live and work in the area and those visiting alike.  Try an item from Blue Dog’s coffee or tea selection for a great alternative to Starbucks and a wallet friendlier option than Dean and Deluca.
Blue Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

156 West 56th Street – Carnegie Club

The Carnegie Club – Photo courtesy of Planetzman.com

The Carnegie Club offers a taste of New York past, complete with an indoor smoking license making it the perfect place to light up one of your favorite stogies. The beautiful (though worn) space makes it easy to forget that your Blackberry was even invented yet.  For the cigar aficionado on a budget, bring your own stick for a minimal fee that can be used towards a cigar to go.  *Come on the weekend for a Sinatra performance you won’t soon forget!
Carnegie Club on Urbanspoon

162 West 56th Street – Teleon Café

One of two locations, this Teleon Café is a lunchtime and breakfast standby for those who commute to midtown for work.  With a selection ranging from soups and sandwiches to a salad bar and pizza station, Teleon has something to suit every mood.  Although it seems that the Teleon Café has nothing different to offer than any other deli stop in the area, regulars say that it’s too convenient not to stop in.

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Jamba Juice on Urbanspoon

Teleon Cafe on Urbanspoon

NYC landmark Gray’s Papaya closed

GraysPapaya

Gray’s Papaya – 8th Avenue Photo courtesy of www.ronsaari.com

Gray’s Papaya on the corner of 37th street and 8th avenue closed its doors this weekend due to unreasonable rent increases, reports an employee at another location.  The chain plans to reopen this store at another Midtown location, but talks remain in the works as to when and where this will occur.


The three store chain was founded in 1973 by a former employee of the similar chain “Papaya King,” and quickly found its way into the hearts of New Yorkers, serving up hot dogs with a signature snap and frothy papaya, as well as other tropical flavored, drinks.


There wasn’t much else like standing at the stainless steel counter on a hot Summer day, snacking on a few of their dogs while people watching.  I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels a little saddened to say goodbye to this location on 8th Avenue.

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Keeping it classic – Review of the 21 Club NYC

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

21 Club
21 West 52nd Street
Midtown West

212-582-7200/21club.com

The historic 21 Club had its grand opening on New Years Eve of 1930.  Today, the 21 Club stands as a New York City institution reminding us of the grandeur of the time, which is still as relevant today as it was in the 1930s. My boyfriend and I dined at the 21 Club before a showing of the Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway.

We were seated in the Bar Room, where the 21 Club’s famous collection of sport and corporate memorabilia is showcased, hung from the ceiling. The sommelier greeted us promptly with their wine list, a collection of nearly 1,300 vinos.  He helped us find a bottle that would be to our liking; a Malbec for my boyfriend and one from the Rhone region in France for me, we requested that it be a good pairing with the 21 Club’s famous steak tartare that I knew in advance I would be ordering.

    Grilled calamari at 21 Club  Grilled calamari at 21 Club

Grilled calamari at 21 Club Grilled calamari at 21 Club

The $40 3 course, pre-theater prix-fixe menu we ordered was a steal, giving you a well rounded taste of what the 21 Club has to offer for the price of their “Speakeasy” Steak Tartare ($38).
The grilled calamari we ordered as an appetizer was light and fresh, when I finally realized the pickled cucumber was hidden under the lettuce leaf which cradled the nicely charred squid I was happy to discover it created a great pop of tangy flavor.  The horseradish-crusted salmon and steak tartare were the next courses.  Although prepared well and certainly tasty, the salmon was unmemorable.  I couldn’t wait to dig in to the huge portion of the tartare, served with a side of rye toast.  The tartare had a distinct horseradish taste and paired with the rye toast and mustard, I could have sworn I was digging in to a reuben sandwich.  The wine suggested by the sommelier was the perfect accompaniment to each bite, making the wine even easier to sip.

Steak tartare at 21 Club

Steak tartare at 21 Club


Our dessert was a to-die-for milk chocolate tart.  The smooth milk chocolate center melted in my mouth while the hint of toasted raspberry punctuated each bite just enough to keep the chocolate overload to a minimum. While we could have both easily gobbled up one each, sharing was what kept us wanting more instead of walking away with a stomach ache.

Milk Chocolate Tart at 21 Club

Milk Chocolate Tart at 21 Club


While the food at the 21 Club was certainly a pleasure to consume, the service is really what would keep me coming back.  It was impeccable from the moment we walked in and were greeted by the maitre d’, to the waiter showing me the way to the restroom without even having to ask. We were treated like royalty.

*You can still celebrate New Year’s Eve (and the 21 Club’s 81st birthday party) at the 21 Club.  For $175, start your night off with a 4 course prix-fixe feast and ring in the New Year with a champagne toast.

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21 Club on Urbanspoon


Dumplings Galore – Review of Mandoo Bar

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

Mandoo Bar
2 West 32nd Street
K Town
212-279-3075

Making dumplings at Mandoo – Photo courtesy of Cerebral Decanting Blog

Making dumplings at Mandoo – Photo courtesy of Cerebral Decanting Blog

Mandoo, or Mandu is the word for Korean dumplings.  Mandoo bar in K Town serves up freshly made dumplings in a variety of fried and boiled flavors.  Different than your average Chinese dumpling or Japanese Gyoza, Mandoo has a distinctly Korean flavor much lighter than that of its Asian counterparts.

Mandoo is a staple in my Manhattan restaurant repertoire.  Whenever I’m in the mood for some delicious Korean food, but don’t want to shell out the bucks for Korean BBQ, I stop by Mandoo.

Although the shabby digs could use an update and the staff could stand to be a little friendlier, I sure have a hard time passing up a dumpling filled with kimchi, pork, and scallions (Kimchee Mandoo, 10 pcs. for $10).  While not every dumpling offered tops my favorites list, like the seafood mandoo, boiled and filled with shrimp and imitation crab meat coming in a little on the bland side, Mandoo Bar is a great place to take a few people and share dumplings with, especially if they have never tried Korean food before.

Mandoo Soup at Mandoo Bar

Mandoo Soup at Mandoo Bar


On my most recent trip, I tried the mandoo soup ($11), a large bowl of clear beef broth with pork dumplings and bits of shredded beef and scallion.  Although not the most appetizing looking thing that has ever been placed in front of me with its pale broth and equally as pale dumplings, the mandoo soup was quite good after spiced up a bit with
sriracha.  The flavors were light, but it was a completely comforting dish that my friend claimed cured the cold she had been fighting!

Mandoo Bar is a K Town staple that I will forever come back to for a dose of Korean comfort food at affordable prices.

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Mandoo Bar on Urbanspoon

Mexican comfort food at comforting prices – Review of Ranchito del Agave

BY CAROLYN ONOFREY

El Ranchito del Agave
476 9th Avenue
Midtown West
212-904-1198

As I’ve said before, and can’t stop talking about, the strip of 9th Avenue that lies in the shadow of Port Authority is a surprising gold mine of restaurants and food purveyors alike. Between 36th and 37th streets lies El Ranchito del Agave. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. A hand written sign displaying key menu items for the day and advertising the 8 dollar all-you-can-eat buffet leads you to a scantly decorated sandwich counter. Walking down a narrow hallway to the side brings you to a homey dining room with bright murals of Mexico lining the walls.

Buffet spread at El Ranchito – Black beans, rice, fried pork, enchiladas, sautéed string beans and chicken with tomatillo sauce

Buffet spread at El Ranchito – Black beans, rice, fried pork, enchiladas, sautéed string beans and chicken with tomatillo sauce

Although I’ve only had the buffet at El Ranchito del Agave, a rotating selection of home style treats like mole poblano, fried fish, enchiladas, stewed pork, and the fluffiest rice I have ever eaten, I can only imagine that their made-to-order selection is even better.

It’s no frills atmosphere and terra cotta colored tile flooring alongside the nothing fancy, but just good food is comforting and a great escape from the fast paced and crazy city outside. It is never busy at El Ranchito (they do most of their business via take out), but the few old Mexican men hunched over their plates in the corners of the room tell me that this place is the real deal.

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Celebrate the cornucopia of New York's cultures this weekend: Oktoberfest and Moon Day Festival

World Yacht is proud to announce New York’s First Annual Oktoberfest on the Hudson to commemorate the first day of Germany’s Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday, September 18th.

Oktoberfest

This one day event will transform World Yacht’s Pier 81 into a Beer Garden on the Hudson with the most authentic German beers, hard to find anywhere else in New York, such as Gaffel Kolsch, Hofbrau, Jever, Radeberger and Weihenstephan on tap; and Weihenstephan Korbinian, Weihenstephan Vitus, and Augustiner Maximator by the bottle.

The party will be filled with sounds from the German Oompah Band, New York’s Spitzbuam; and food, orchestrated by Executive Chef Denis Weekes, will include hearty options such as German Sausages, several varieties of Bratwursts, Giant Bavarian Pretzels, among other German-inspired grub. [Read more...]

Celebrate the cornucopia of New York’s cultures this weekend: Oktoberfest and Moon Day Festival

World Yacht is proud to announce New York’s First Annual Oktoberfest on the Hudson to commemorate the first day of Germany’s Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday, September 18th.

Oktoberfest

This one day event will transform World Yacht’s Pier 81 into a Beer Garden on the Hudson with the most authentic German beers, hard to find anywhere else in New York, such as Gaffel Kolsch, Hofbrau, Jever, Radeberger and Weihenstephan on tap; and Weihenstephan Korbinian, Weihenstephan Vitus, and Augustiner Maximator by the bottle.

The party will be filled with sounds from the German Oompah Band, New York’s Spitzbuam; and food, orchestrated by Executive Chef Denis Weekes, will include hearty options such as German Sausages, several varieties of Bratwursts, Giant Bavarian Pretzels, among other German-inspired grub. [Read more...]