food, restaurant reviews

The Lowdown on Morimoto

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Where: Chelsea/Meatpacking

S&S Rating: 8/10

Zagat Rating: 26

Price: $40-$70 per person

Good For

  • Dining with friends: How often do you find a Japanese restaurant with substantial enough portions that you’re actually willing to share? In fact, I once had the most marvelous girls-night-out dinner at the Philly location with two friends before we headed to an art gallery party next door.
  • First dates: Beautiful modern décor and sophisticated food presentation make Morimoto a great place to take your potential new beau or belle. Just enough diners that it’s not the two of you sitting in an awkwardly empty and silent room, but not so many people that you can’t hear the funny joke your date just tried to win your heart with.

Bad For

  • Families: The ambiance is really made for trendy city-goers, and not babies, as cute as they may be.
  • Sushi connoisseurs: See below.

Don’t Miss

  • Rock Shrimp Tempura: I’ve ordered this dish at a dozen other Asian establishments before and nowhere comes close to beating Morimoto’s tempura-dipped shrimp that’s deep fried then drenched in a tangy chili sauce (steer clear dieters!). Large enough to share between three people, it’s the perfect appetizer to start your meal with.
  • Duck Duck Duck: Duck confit fried rice topped with a duck egg and served alongside succulent roast duck breast makes this one of my all-time favorite meals. Best part? There’s so much food that I actually had leftovers (that never happens to me…) which I ate for breakfast the next day. Yes, for breakfast. Duck deserves a spot at every meal.
  • Kakuni: Translates into “square simmered,” which connotes the giant cube of pork that’s been braised for 10 hours in a sweet soy and scallion jus.  Served atop a savory rice porridge, this traditional Japanese dish also has roots in China, where it’s braised in red wine and called “dongpo rou.”
  • Mary Jane brownie: Yup, that’s a brownie topped with candied hemp seeds. I liked that the hemp flavor was definitely noticeable, even when combined with the decadent kinako (or soybean flour) ice cream.

Skip On

  • Australian Wagyu Steak: As my boyfriend put it, “I could’ve made this better at home.” The marinade tasted like pure butter and nothing else.
  • Sushi set: The quality of fish was considerably underwhelming, which wasn’t surprising considering the sushi menu comprises mostly of Americanized rolls that drown out the taste of the actual fish with western ingredients like spicy mayo. Try Sushi Yasuda (see my review here) or Brushstroke if you’re looking for authentic sushi.
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food, restaurant reviews

The Lowdown on Union Square Cafe

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Where: Union Square

S&S Rating: 5/10

Zagat Rating: 27

Price: $20-$30 per dish

Good For

  • Intimate Italian meals
  • Not much else: I honestly think you can find way better Italian places in the city for these prices.

Bad For

  • Hungry patrons: Expect reasonably small portions. I actually ate an entire bratwurst at the Union Square Holiday Market afterwards because I wasn’t full enough.
  • The claustrophobic: Like at most Italian restaurants, you’re squeezed into a tiny table between dozens of other likewise tiny tables.

Don’t Miss

  • Butternut squash tortelli, which is basically like ravioli filled with creamy sage brown butter and savory butternut squash, then topped with tart cranberries
  • Apple cinnamon donut for curbing pastry cravings

Skip On

  • USC Hangtown Fry, which is an omelette topped with fried oysters and mixed greens. After trying this dish, I’ve decided once and for all that oysters are meant to be eaten raw and drizzled with lemon juice, not fried to a gooey mush.
  • Bread basket: warm bread, soft butter. How hard is that for restaurants to understand?
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food, restaurant reviews

The Lowdown on Sushi Yasuda

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Where: Midtown East

S&S Rating: 7.5/10

Zagat Rating: 27

Price: $100 per person. There’s an Omakase menu, named after the Japanese phrase for “I’ll leave it to you,” where the chef chooses what he thinks are the best selections for the night. The price depends on what kind of fish is served, but ours, which seemed pretty standard, was about $85 per person. Appetitzers are around $10 to $20. One piece of à la carte sushi ranges from $4 to $6.

Good For

  • Special date nights
  • Nice dinner with your parents

Bad For

  • Big groups since the best seat is at the sushi bar, where food is served straight from the chefs’ hands to your plate and you can watch them at work
  • Families- see above; plus it was eerily quiet in the restaurant so I wouldn’t recommend bringing any loud little ones

Don’t Miss

  • Appetizer specials of the night- we had the grilled Chilean sea bass and the flash fried tuna, which were great alternatives to raw fish
  • Octopus sashimi
  • Fatty tuna nigiri

Skip On

  • Branzino sashimi or nigiri- I’m a fan of buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fish like fatty tuna so the tough, raw Branzino didn’t do anything for me. You can always tell the Chef not to include a certain fish, so I would recommend leaving out any Branzino from your Omakase order and going for something more tender instead.
  • Sea urchin nigiri, which is made from the sea urchin’s gonads (aka the equivalent of my ovaries). Maybe it’s an accustomed taste, but I wasn’t a fan of the super slimy texture.

Top image by NY Times (since we unfortunately couldn’t get seats at the sushi bar in time)

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food, restaurant reviews

The Lowdown on Maialino

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Where: Gramercy Park

S&S Rating: 6/10

Zagat Rating: 25

Price: $10-$30 per dish

Good For

  • Brunch with your family (so many babies!)
  • Day dates with your significant other
  • Lunch with your girlfriends

Bad For

  • First dates (it’s more cozy and casual than sweet and romantic)
  • Avoiding celebrities

Don’t Miss

  • Warm pastry basket, which comes out super fresh and includes: chocolate croissant, regular croissant, banana loaf and an olive oil muffin
  • Tonnarelli a cacio e pepe- think peppery mac & cheese in noodle form

Skip On

  • Patatine, which was supposed to be like potato skins, but really ended up tasting like chewy potato chips
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food, restaurant reviews

Scalini Fedeli: The Perfect Date Night Restaurant

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A crowded room lit mostly with dim candles. Tables topped with a single rose in a tiny crystal glass. Warm, comforting Italian food with endless complimentary dishes by the Chef. This is what makes the perfect romantic night out for two.

Unfortunately taking pictures in mute lighting while swooning over the guy sitting across the table also makes for poor quality photographs. Nevertheless, I wanted to showcase some of the best Italian food I’ve tasted in Manhattan.

Located in Tribeca, Scalini Fedeli features a prix fixe/$75 per person menu with plenty of additional seasonal specialties. I started with a classic: a single gigantic soft egg yolk ravioli (or if you’re more sophisticated, a raviolo) with ricotta and truffle butter. If you’re a runny egg yolk lover, then you have to get this. My boyfriend, Dan, had a whole lobster tail  served over this tiny orzo-like pasta with truffled scallops on the side (also to die for).

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For my entree, I ordered the cod fish Milanese (top), which was served on top of escarole (a paler and less bitter endive) and alongside melt-in-your-mouth ricotta gnocchi. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a light, flaky fish. I, on the other hand, was ravenous that night so I spent more time stealing bites of Dan’s HUGE parmesan encrusted pork chop (bottom).

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My favorite part had to be the numerous dishes that were compliments of the chef. There was the petite porcini mushroom ravioli amuse bouche that we began our meals with. Then the olive oil infused foccacia served in addition to pretzel rolls and walnut raisin bread. There was also the marscarpone sorbetto, which cleansed our satisfied palates before we proceeded to scarf down ricotta doughnuts, hazelnut gelato, and warm chocolate torte.

So if you’re looking to stuff yourselves silly with silky Italian food and get cozy holding hands with your partner 10 inches away from another couple doing the same thing, then this place is perfect for you. If, on the other hand, you or your date doesn’t love gargantuan amounts of food or extremely intimate settings, then you might want to look somewhere else (say Perry St?)

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food, restaurant reviews

Perry St: A West Village Gem

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My friend, Amanda, recommended Perry St to me after she dined there on Thanksgiving (she didn’t want a home-cooked dinner for some Godforsaken reason). This West Village hit was started by Jean Georges- you know the same guy who owns one of the only six 3 Michelin Star restaurants in New York. I took her up on her suggestion and tried their Taste of Autumn menu ($28), which was offered alongside their usual brunch dishes.

I started with the butternut squash soup, which was velvety with a hint of spiciness. My favorite part was the crispy Mimolette cheese encrusted portobello in the middle though.

My boyfriend had the fried calamari, which was paired with a fluffy dipping sauce made of Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) and cream. I’ve tried calamari dozens of times before, but Perry St just does it so much better. Like with everything else they serve, the restaurant took this classic dish and executed it with the finest quality.

For my entree, I picked the Perry St fried chicken with Scotch Bonnet sauce served in a wreath of pecan fried rice and collard greens. The Scotch Bonnet, a Caribbean red pepper, tasted almost like a smoky version of buffalo sauce.

All in all, this place had beautifully plated and perfectly sized dishes. However, I will say that while their chocolate lava cake was phenomenal, the apple and passionfruit sorbet pairing that I chose for dessert was way too sour and practically inedible.

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Barbuzzo, I Love You

Ratings Summary:

  • Chicken liver foie-mousse: 8/10
  • Cheeseboard: 6.5/10
  • Vesuvio pasta: 7/10
  • Pera pizza: 10/10
  • Salted caramel budino: 20/10
  • Pumpkin tiramisu: 10/10
  • Uovo pizza (not featured): 10/10
  • Caciocavallo stuffed meatballs (not featured): 10/10

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It took me two bites to fall in love with Barbuzzo. My boyfriend and I visited the place during Penn’s homecoming and we vowed to return as often as possible after discovering this tiny enclave in downtown Philadelphia. While the place describes itself as Mediterranean, I think of it more as southern coastal Italian food.

You have to try the pera pizza, which features red bartlett pears, gorgonzola, parmesan, arugula, prosciutto, toasted walnuts and vin cotto. This pizza is the perfect example of why sweet and savory will always be my favorite flavor palette. This was also the first time I’d ever tried vin cotto, which tasted like a delicate and sweet balsamic vinegar.

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The dish that stole the entire show, however, was the Budino, Barbuzzo’s signature dessert (left). I literally could not stop declaring “This is SO good” while eating this Italian version of custard. Barbuzzo serves it perfectly with a dark chocolate crust and vanilla bean caramel. The added sea salt in the dish really brings out the rest of the flavors.

I felt a little basic when I ordered the pumpkin pie tiramisu (right), but alas, a little basicness was well worth this fall special.

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