Spicing up Brunch with Paprika

This past Saturday I enjoyed a hearty brunch at the East Village’s up-and-coming unassuming eatery Paprika. With a crowd shortly after their 12pm brunch opening, I figure that East Village dwellers are tweeting phenomenal reviews across the web or their $12 brunch is JUST that good. Could it be both? I was about to find out.

First off, arriving at Paprika at 12pm was the smartest thing we could have done. On my walk over I noticed enormous crowds waiting outside of other St. Marks favorites like Cafe Orlin and Cafe Mogador – tsk, tsk. By 12:45, Paprika was already packed with large groups of hungry brunch fiends like myself. And who could really blame us with a $12 brunch including coffee or tea, orange juice, and a healthy selection of main courses — we were pumped!

Our party of five ordered the Scrambled Green Eggs, Polenta and Salsa Cruda and the Mushroom and Fontina Omelette with Sausages and Tomatoes. Both dishes were absolutely delicious – beautifully presented, aromatic, and satisfying! The pesto in the green eggs made the dish bright and flavorful and tasted wonderful with the fluffy polenta and salsa cruda. The mushrooms and fontina in the omelet were also very tasty although I could have done without the accompanying sausage. But despite the richness of the omelet, the staff was polite enough to substitute egg whites for me at no charge – so I had no complaints!

I’d absolutely recommend this rustic, homey restaurant for brunch or dinner! I look forward to returning for their specialty – Northern Italian Cuisine! And in addition to their budget friendly brunch special, Paprika also offers a

two-course $15 prix-fixed dinner Monday – Thursday from 5-7pm. If you’re lucky, you may even experience a celebrity spotting!

PAPRIKA

110 St. Marks Place

Between 1st & Ave A

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The Best and Worst of Aruban Cuisine

After spending three consecutive Christmases in Aruba I’ve had the privilege of surveying a great deal of Aruba’s restaurants with offerings varying from fanciful Italian delicacies to authentic Aruban prepared fruits of the sea. And I’ve found that despite the decor (elaborate or simple), the cuisine (Asian Fusion, Italian, or Aruban – or casual), or the service (which is mostly quite poor), all of these restaurants left me feeling equally disappointed, unsatisfied, and slightly cheated.

Living in New York has made me incredibly spoiled. If I want the freshest organic milk Manhattan has to offer its either across the street at the Food Emporium or a short subway ride away. If I get a sudden craving for delicious Indian food it is four blocks away. Good Italian food, one block – ten blocks for REALLY good Italian. And so on.

In Aruba if I want good anything I go to one of the now four Dunkin’ Donuts or a cute local shop called Dushi Bagels. I know, great name. A lot of things are coincidentally named Dushi in Aruba- boats, restaurants, drinks- you name it. And why? Maybe because in the native Arubian language of Papiamento, Dushi means precious. And let me tell you, on an island full of awfully plain restaurants, Dushi Bagels is a precious gem. This quaint, incredibly friendly “coffee shop”, located right outside of the Playa Linda, serves great salads (especially their crab salad), turkey burgers, egg sandwiches, and draft beer! Most importanly they have a lovely staff which is tough to come by in Aruba.

Aruba claims to be “One Happy Island” but their restaurants state otherwise. Despite the many duds I came across this past Christmas there were a few shining stars to be found.

Iguana Cantina

This causal Mexican eatery really hit the spot. With all you can eat fajita Wednesdays, the Levine family took advantage of this fabulous find which is centrally located across from the Holiday Inn.

Yemanja Grill

With Christmas vacation always comes my dad’s birthday and Yemanja Grill was a great place to celebrate! Aruban Decor and a sophisticated menu delighted our party of eight. And if you arrive early and stick to the appetizers and the grilled Salmon, you’re guaranteed to have a great meal. Just be sure to pay in cash as the service here is no better than the rest of the island.

Chef’s Table

Our favorite restaurant of three years. Ahi tuna appetizer and entree are excellent as are their salads and fish soup. The rest of the food is as plain and simple as is expected. But their desserts are a dime a dozen! Chef’s table uniquely serves all of their desserts in tall shot glasses!

Other restaurants I’d like to try….

Pago Pago

Screaming Eagle

Morandi

Places to stay away from…

Blossom’s (inside the Hyatt)

Cuba’s Cookin’

Scala

Summer Restaurant Week ’09 Recommendations

RestaurantWeek'09Summer

After a tough year Summer Restaurant Week is here and has officially extended its offerings from the get-go. New York City Restaurant Week is now three weeks long which gives us a better opportunity of actually scoring reservations at some of the better restaurants out there, or so I thought.

The two restaurants I had initially planned on trying out were 10 Downing and Daniel Boulud’s new East Village gastropub, DBGB. I’ve confirmed that these hotspots are the most desirable restaurants on Restaurant Week as I was unable to get a reservation at either of them before 6pm any day of the week. Honestly, I’m not too crushed over 10 Downing as I’ve heard they still have some kinks to work out but was sincerely disappointed about DBGB. And I was trying to make dinner reservations which doesn’t even offer a Restaurant Week menu. I guess I’ll try back next month.

In any case, all is not lost. Today my lovely grandmother treated me to lunch at Brasserie and will be trying out Opia this evening. Friday I’ll be at Amma and I hope to make it to Elettaria AND Centro Vinoteca before the end of the month. We shall see.

But for those looking to get a taste of the good life without spending a small fortune I recommend trying out some of these fine New York City establishments:

LUNCH

DINNER

Oldies but Goodies

New AND Notable

Remember, often times the more expensive the restaurant, the better value you’ll receive. That is unless your meal is the size of a penny.

Midtown Lunch: Sushi A-No-Go

Tensan 002In lieu of my appearance on Midtown Lunch yesterday afternoon, I felt it was appropriate to talk about well, lunch in Midtown. Though I’ve officially only been a member of the Midtown Lunch scene for about five weeks, I’m slowly making my rounds about midtown. But as  someone who proudly brings a homemade lunch to work at least three out of the five workdays, I find myself in need of some consultation on where to go in my new hood.

Usually I ask my personal NYC Midtown Guide Erica for all things midtown but I decided to switch it up and go with a suggestion from my friend Justin who LIVES in midtown. Figuring Justin’s lunch suggestion would be a sure thing, I headed over to Tenzan expecting a fine sushi lunch special. And upon entering the restaurant I remained quite confident and pleased with Justin’s selection that was until we ordered.

Though Tenzan appears to be a well-respected chain sushi restaurant around Manhattan, it is anything but. Don’t let the sleek decor deceive you. Sure, two rolls along with a soup or salad is a great deal for $8.95 but that’s what it costs at most places these days. Inspire me, please! After being hounded to order my dish I suddenly became skeptical of how well-respected this chain really was.

Tensan Mixed Greens

I started off my meal with a mixed greens salad that was just pathetic looking. The leaves were slightly wilted and tomato and cucumber were more of a garnish than a part of the salad. The sushi quickly followed and I mean real quickly.

Tensan Sushi

We’d barely finished our salad and soup when our sushi had been served. And though the sushi might look alright at best, it certainly didn’t reflect its appearance. Sloppily made, the sushi rice was holding onto its blanket of seaweed for dear life with the spicy tuna bits not falling far behind. I was optimistic about the salmon avocado roll with its shiny bright complexion but after one bite, my mood had quickly changed. The salmon was suprisingly chewy, though the avocado was luckily a nice smooth addition.

So please, if you’re looking for a well priced sushi lunch, be sure to steer clear of Tenzan. Next time I’ll try Tanaka.

Elegant Italian

I’ve been waiting some time to visit Bowery Hotel’s Italian hot spot Gemma. But since they refuse to take reservations for less than six, and are always mobbed with eager foodies I just gave up. But when the opportunity arose to dine at Gemma during lunch, I knew it was meant to be.

Gemma’s decor is rustic but elegant. Glistening candelabra chandeliers hang from high ceilings surrounded by wooden tables and candles adorned with dripping wax. This dark but beautiful space comes alive at night when all of the candles are lit and the room is filled with chic diners. In the early afternoon Gemma was fairly quiet with few diners other than ourselves.

Gemma's MenuGemma’s menu is filled with wonderful Italian specialties such as Artichoke & Parmigiano Salad dressed with Truffle Vinaigrette, Papparadelle with Oxtail Ragu, and a vast selections of cheeses, charcuterie, and pizzettes. But having looked over their menu and read many reviews in preparation for my first goodbye lunch, I already knew I was ordering the Branzino Al Forno, which also happened to be the most expensive item on the menu. Oh, well!

My boss Andres suggested we begin our meal with the polenta fries and the calamari which were both delicious. The polenta fries were dusted with fresh parsley and served with a chipotle aioli that complimented the fries perfectly. And the calamari was cooked with garbonzo beans in a savory marinara sauce that I couldn’t stop eating.

Polenta Fries & Chipotle Aioli

Polenta Fries & Chipotle Aioli

Calamari with Garbanzo Beans sauteed in a Marinara Sauce

Calamari with Garbanzo Beans sauteed in a Marinara Sauce

For our main courses we ordered the Branzino, Goat Cheese Ravioli al Pomodoro,  Rigatoni, & a Margherita Pizza.

Gemma Branzino Al Forno; Roasted Mediterranean Sea bass on Cedar with sauteed green beans

Branzino Al Forno; Roasted Mediterranean Sea bass on Cedar with sauteed green beans

Goat Cheese Ravioli al Pomodoro

Goat Cheese Ravioli al Pomodoro

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza

Rigatoni; Procuitto Cotto, Peas, and Cream

Rigatoni; Procuitto Cotto, Peas, and Cream

All of the dishes, aside from the pizza were wonderful, especially the Goat Cheese Ravioli. The plump fresh tomatoes in the marinara sauce were phenomenal and were a great pairing for the goat cheese.

Gemma is a great place to go for both lunch and dinner and is probably worth the wait during peak evening hours. Definitely try the Goat Cheese Ravioli and the Artichoke salad which I unfortunately did not order this time around.

Porktacular!

Porchetta As my career at Nielsen comes to a close, I come to the realization that I will in fact be leaving the East Village lunch of luxury. I’m heading uptown with the suits where I can only hope expensed business lunches await my arrival. And though the 50’s have wonderful restaurants, I’m weary of their unaffordable and stuffy lunch options. So I’ve spent the last two weeks hopping here and there and thoroughly enjoying goodbye after goodbye lunch. Maybe I should change jobs more often?

Porchetta But all joking aside I’ve devoured some amazing meals, my favorite of the week being Porchetta. As a Jew raised to not eat pork, I’m pretty adverse to it being my meal’s main attraction. I’m totally cool with eating bacon, prosciutto, or even spare ribs. But ordering a pork chop at dinner is just going too far…until Porchetta!

Admittedly I had a few samplings of pulled pork at this year’s Choice Eats Awards, but I had never had a meal that was centered around pork. And since I’ll be starting a new chapter of my life in about a week, I decided that it was about time I Discovered Pork for myself.

Porchetta's Pork Roasts

Pork and more pork stared us in the face when we arrived at Porchetta. Porchetta makes 14 pork roasts every day that each take five hours to cook. Luckily they get their bread from the Sullivan Street Bakery, so they have one less thing to bake each day. Porchetta’s daily menu had only three main options:

  1. Porchetta, Sandwich
  2. Porchetta, Plate
  3. Mozzarella, Sandwich
Porchetta Sandwich

Porchetta Sandwich

I almost went for the Porchetta sandwich (along side Adam & Dave) when i saw the daily specials. With a mere 3 days left in the East Village,  I decided to try my luck on the Pork Ragu special. And was I glad I did!

Pork Ragu on Garlic Toast

Pork Ragu on Garlic Toast

This mouth watering ragu is one of the BEST I’ve ever tasted. The pork was succulent and moist; glistening on top of  a buttery toasted baguette. This harmonious pairing has a wonderful warming effect that warms the heart and soul. Porchetta’s Pork Ragu lifts the spirits. Oh how I love reminiscing about this sandwich! Adam and Dave were eyeing my pork ragu in hopes that I wouldn’t finish. Clearly they don’t know my appetite, as I nearly licked the bowl clean.

I only wish that I chose Porchetta as my last East Village meal. But even more reason for me to return…

Porchetta Store Window

Spring Greens at Vertigo

I don’t know about you, but after an indulgent Memorial Day weekend filled with barbeque and booze I need a rest from red meat. And with Spring in full effect, seasonal greens are the perfect antidote to get your body back in the swing of things. Sure, you can easily pick up some fresh arugula or mixed baby greens at the Union Square Market, but I have a feeling you’re still on your 3-day weekend high. So treat yourself and head over to Vertigo, for a delicious refreshing salad you probably couldn’t make yourself.

Last Friday I decided to take the day off and enjoy the first day of the summer season. I was meeting a friend for lunch in the Murray Hill area and figured that Vertigo would be a great choice, and especially because I had a two-for-one coupon.

In the summer time, Vertigo opens up its front window panes which allows for people watching and a nice breeze and often attracts quite a crowd during happy hour. But when we arrived around 2:30, the restaurant was fairly empty though there were a few diners finishing their lunches. Vertigo happens to have a great menu with assorted sandwiches, salads, fish, pasta, and small plates that they serve for both lunch and dinner. And since the salads of other Vertigo diners looked particularly good, both my friend Missy and I decided to see just how good they tasted.

Despite the fact that our drinks were nearly forgotten, the waitress having us repeat our orders (since she had not written them down), and Vertigo not accepting our lunch coupon, the salads were really tasty. Both Missy’s Southwestern Shrimp Salad and my Grilled Rare Tuna Nicoise Salad were incredibly fresh and presented beautifully. The shrimp and the Tuna were cooked perfectly and not overdone. Both salads were adorned with several ingredients and appeared as if each ingredient were precisely layered to enhance the overall flavor and texture of the salad. Given the awful service, I’m sure this wasn’t the case, but it’s nice to think they actually care about the presentation.

Vertigo Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Salad

Southwestern Grilled Shrimp Salad - romaine, avocado, corn, tomato, red onion, tortilla strips

Vertigo Grilled Rare Tuna Nicoise Salad

Grilled Rare Tuna Nicoise Salad - New Potatoes, Roast Peppers, String Beans and Caper Vinaigrette

So if you’re in the Murray Hill area and are watching your waist line, Vertigo is the perfect place to go for a refreshing salad with high quality ingredients. Their burgers and sandwiches are equally delicious, especially during their recession friendly happy hour, which is VERY popular. So get their early for a prime people-watching seat and a cool summer breeze. But if you’re looking to eat a quick meal then skip the service and get Vertigo to-go.