Archive for April, 2010

How to Deal in Midtown East (Part 2)

April 30, 2010

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Mantao Chinese Sandwiches
With the Asian sandwich craze comes a new, filling and delicious option. Mantao refers to the fluffy, white, steamed bread that is usually used to make buns in Northern China. At Mantao Chinese Sandwich, flatter versions of the bun dough are topped with sesame and replace the usual sandwich bread. For the vegetarian varieties, the breads are filled with spicy tofu, fried egg, or shiitake and portobello mushrooms – all of them are tasty and worth a try. They also sell a variety of salads, cold sesame noodles and pretty good pan-fried vegetable dumplings.

235 E. 53rd Street between 2nd and 3rd

spicy tofu sandwich

Boi Sandwich
Though, in typical Midtown fashion, it’s fussier, less spicy and more than twice as expensive as its downtown cousins, the Boi báhn mì is a still satisfying and delicious sandwich. A large, fluffy hunk of white bread is filled with napa cabbage, avocado, peppers, fennel, basil, baby arugula and pickled daikon radish and carrots. While it may not win points for authenticity, it certainly wins for creativity – especially for a vegetarian sandwich. That said, it will rescue you from yet another trip to a deli.

708 Third Ave between 44th and 45th

I recommend this place to the adventurous eater who is truly looking for a new food experience. For me, the concept of rice balls is not totally unfamiliar – but the flavor combinations found at Oms/b are. Take for example sesame and seaweed, or gobo with sesame mayonnaise. There are also slightly more familiar assortments as well, such as variations of hijiki/edamame and shiso/plum. If you try them out and find that you prefer something more conventional, you can always get a side of spring rolls.

156 E. 45th St. between Lexington and 3rd

I don’t LOVE salads. I do enjoy a well-made salad but I guess the real issue is that so many of them are lacking in flavor and texture. Not at Chop’t. While I’m not going to pretend that it’s healthiest place to get your vegetables, they do offer tasty and satisfying options. I especially love their Santa Fe salad; it’s got avocado, tomato, corn, pepper jack cheese, fried onions and a base of romaine lettuce. Note: all of their low fat dressings have less than 45 calories and 3 grams of fat or fewer per serving. But at 35 grams of fat for the undressed salad, it’s not something I would indulge in everyday.

60 E. 56th St. between Madison and Park

165 E. 52nd St. between Lexington and 3rd

Generally I’m not the hugest fan of ‘wichcraft. My order somehow always takes ages, even though the cold stuff is pre-prepared. And on the whole, it is very overpriced. But there is one item on the menu that I will definitely go out of my way for: the marinated eggplant sandwich. It’s made up of spicy, marinated eggplant, chickpea puree, roasted peppers and watercress on ciabatta bread. It can be quite messy to eat, but boy is it packed with flavor! And at less than $8 (without tax), it might be one of the cheapest meals in midtown.

245 Park Ave. near 47th

555 Fifth Ave. between 45th and 46th

1 Park Ave. between 32nd and 33rd

Eclectic interpretations of the falafel are served in fresh-made pitas or as salads. While Crisp claims to be 100% vegetarian, I’d shy away from the items containing parmesan or feta if you want to be on the safe side. There are several enticingly unusual items on the menu, like the crisp africa which has north african peanut sauce, sweet potatoes, corn salad, cherry tomatoes and green onions. However, my favorite is the crisp parisian, made with sundried tomato spread, goat cheese (from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery), roasted peppers, red onions and garden greens. They also offer a selection of refreshingly fruity, house-blended ice teas. The lines can be a bit crazy and confusing during peak lunch times, so I recommend ordering online first and then picking up.

684 Third Ave. on the corner of 43rd

Click here for Part 1 of How to Deal in Midtown East.

Click here to see The Soho Sandwich Tour.


Thomas Keller Makes His Way to Beantown

April 30, 2010

On tour for his new book ad hoc at home, the executive chef of Per Se and The French Laundry will be coming to Williams-Sonoma in the Copley Mall. He is scheduled to do a book signing starting at noon on Saturday, May 8th.  Now the real question: where will he be dining while he’s in town?

100 Huntington Place

Springtime Salad

April 29, 2010

This simple salad brings together flavors from the wintertime root vegetables that are still in season with a taste of the citrusy goodness that is starting to come into season.  Here’s what you need:

2 beets
1 carrot
2 celery stalks
3 oranges
½ stalk of lemongrass or ½ lime
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Almond slivers for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Juice the three oranges and simmer in a small pot with lemongrass (or lime juice if you can’t find lemongrass) and cinnamon. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 2-3 tablespoons. The liquid should be a thick liquid. While the juice is simmering, shred the beets and the carrot into a bowl. Chop the celery and add to the bowl. Strain the juice to remove the lemongrass and toss the salad with the reduced juice. Add salt and pepper to taste and top with slivered almonds.

Watch “Food, Inc.” Online Tonight

April 28, 2010

If you haven’t seen Food, Inc. yet, today is your chance to watch it. PBS is streaming the film online for free until midnight tonight. Check it out here.

Though Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Food Rules, is featured in this film, if you are looking for more in-depth information on how factory farming works, I recommend The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. The book is co-written by Peter Singer, who popularized the animal liberation movement, and Jim Mason, who also wrote Animal Factories. This book can be a bit tough to stomach but it is extremely eye-opening and might cause you to change the way you eat. After reading the book, I’ve increasingly started buying organic, especially for dairy and eggs.

How to Deal in Midtown East (Part 1)

April 28, 2010

For me, Midtown East might be the Sahara of Manhattan when it comes to getting a decent vegetarian lunch (or dinner for that matter). But when my company changed offices from Soho to Midtown East, I was forced to hunt the barren blocks for some decent fare. Below is the best of what I’ve found…

Pampano Taquería
The vegetarian burrito at Pampano Taquería could quite possibly the best vegetarian Midtown lunch. It’s filled with Mexican rice*, black beans*, chile poblanos, and sautéed onions, zucchini and mushrooms. Enjoy the side of warm tortilla chips with four kinds of fresh salsa. Give Pampano a try and I promise you will never head to Chipotle again.

*A phone call assures me these are 100% vegetarian

805 Third Ave between 49th and 50th
(Take the escalator down to the basement food court)

Though Dishes has an array of vegetarian and vegan items in their buffet (think eggless Cesar salad, pasta, quinoa, and no-mayo coleslaw), my favorite thing about Dishes is the array of clearly labeled vegetarian soups – many of which are dairy free. Among my favorites are the pumpkin corn bisque, chilled gazpacho, the vegetarian tom yum and the Indonesian noodle soup. When the weather gets cold, head to Dishes for the comfort soup you are craving. Just get there early to beat the chaotic lunch scene.

6 E. 45th St. between Madison and 5th

Pop Burger
Everyone, including meat-eaters, agrees that the invisible burger is the best thing on the menu at Pop Burger. Two cute little portobello mushroom sliders with lettuce, cheese, tomato are dressed with a Russian dressing type sauce – it’s the closest an East Coast burger comes, flavor-wise, to something from In-N-Out. If you work close by or are just taking a shopping trip to Bloomingdale’s or Bergdorf’s, remember to pop in for a bite.

14 E. 58th Street between Madison and 5th

Melt Café and Gelato Bar
I’m a gelato snob. There. I’ve said it. The first time I tried gelato, I was in Italy and it opened my tastes buds to a whole new world of possibility. I tried two flavors: grapefruit and strawberry. I am generally not a fan of the whole strawberries and cream thing. But the fruitiness of these two scoops was so vivid and bright, that I found them irresistible. That strawberry gelato tasted like an actual strawberry, but better! I’ve never found a gelato in New York that has that same quality: bursting with flavor in your mouth. But, Melt’s gelato comes pretty close. And as an added bonus, they serve both sweet and savory crêpes (one of the only places in Midtown East that has crêpes) and have very good paninis (and I mean real paninis  – not the deli kind that look like pita bread with stuffing inside). With it’s pleasantly sleek, modern interior, you might be enticed to take a long lunch here during the summer.

1053 Second Ave. between 55th and 56th

Grill 44
While Grill 44 has a random mix of foods like falafel, curry, kati rolls, dosas, and biriyanis – all of which are decent – the real reason I go here is for the chai.  This isn’t your typical, extra-sweet, overly creamy Starbucks chai. It’s real chai, like the kind made in South Asian homes across the world. The kind where you can actually taste all the spices. And at $1.25, it’s about a third of the price of what you’ll get at a Starbucks, too.

160 E. 44th St. between 3rd and Lexington

Vegetarians and Vegans Can (Almost) Count Bittman Amongst Their Ranks

April 24, 2010

Good news for vegetarians – Mark Bittman, a.k.a. the Minimalist and author of Food Matters and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, will be writing a monthly column for Cooking Light magazine. The column will be entitled “Less Meat, More Flavor” and will reflect his new, healthier and environmentally friendly approach to food that he calls “VB6 -Vegan before 6.” Bittman claims to have lost 30 pounds following this approach to food and gained a sense of self-satisfaction. While his first recipe for Cooking Light will still feature some meat (he will be sharing a recipe for “Almost Meatless Sloppy Joes”), here’s hoping that he will be penning some great vegan and vegetarian recipes for the publication in the future.

Best of NYC Brunch (Part 2)

April 24, 2010

Best Brunch for a Classic French Café Vibe: Flea Market Café

Despite the flea market gewgaws that decorate the walls, this French style café has a very cool East Village vibe going on. But unlike what you might find at a café on the Champs Élysées, the staff here is extremely amiable.  While the food isn’t stellar, it’s certainly satisfying and exactly what you expect. I’ve turned my friend into a religious patron of this place…her favorite item is the waffles with fruit and nutella. Depending on if I’m craving sweet or savory, I usually go with their enormous and fluffly caramelized apple pancake or the eggs Florentine. It’s the perfect place to spend a hungover weekend afternoon with friends while rehashing the events of the previous night. And while you recall how much you actually spent at the bar last night, you don’t have to worry about breaking your budget on brunch: $11 includes coffee/tea and fresh orange juice.

131 Avenue A between 9th and 10th


Best Brunch To Satisfy Your Inner Lush: Essex

In my opinion, Essex provides an interesting paradox. It’s the ideal place to get a lot of hair from the dog that bit you last night: $18/entrée includes 3 screwdrivers or mimosas (with only $3 for each additional cocktail). But if you find yourself in such a desperate state, you definitely won’t be able to wait out the line. Instead, plan ahead and make a reservation. Is it worth the effort? Definitely! Those crispy potato pancakes with sautéed apples and honey cream sauce have your name written all over them, my friend.

120 Essex St. at Rivington


Best Brunch for the Indecisive: Virage

It’s around noon on a Sunday, my head is fuzzy and I’m sitting across from a friend who is in a similar condition. We are starting at our brunch menus and one question plagues me…it hasn’t nothing to do with how much I drank last night. The question is: sweet or savory? I can be pretty indecisive when it comes to choosing and that’s why I love Virage. Brunch begins with a basket of homemade muffins that satisfy my sweet tooth and leave me free to enjoy the best eggs Benedict I’ve ever had. This might seem like an exaggeration, but I’m obsessed with their vegetarian version of this dish. It’s made with avocado slices and roasted red peppers on slices of English muffin and topped with two perfectly poached eggs smothered in hollandaise sauce. In fact, I love this version so much I (very) often try to replicate it at home, even going so far as to make my own hollandaise sauce. But when I just can’t muster the morning strength for the feat, I go to Virage and enjoy this beauty while alternately sipping on the Mimosa, fresh OJ and tea included with the pre-fixe brunch menu. This brunch is the perfect escape from making any decisions, because it’s got a bit of everything.

118 2nd Ave at 7th St.


Best Brunch To Indulge: Café Lalo

If you find yourself in the vicinity of Central Park West on a weekend morning or afternoon, I would definitely recommend stopping by Café Lalo. I know it’s been a little over-exposed after its feature in You’ve Got Mail, but it’s still got a wonderfully warm, European feel to it. Though famous for their desserts, Lalo also has a great selection for brunch. Their international brunch menu has a (mostly) Euro theme to it, whereby you can order a combination of items common to a particular country.  For example, the British breakfast consists of steamed eggs with fresh herbs, Devon cream, a scone and fruit preserves. There is also a plethora of sandwiches, salads, fruits, oatmeal choices, frozen yogurts, smoothies and other beverages available – many with an eye toward healthful eating. This is probably so you won’t feel as guilty indulging in one of their scrumptious slices of cake.

201 W. 83rd St. between Amsterdam and Broadway


Hidden Hazard #2

April 23, 2010

Last week, I came across this article in The Gothamist that uncovers the use a toxic chemical, called hexane, during the production of soy-based products, including many of the most popular brands of veggie burgers. Hexane is a “hazardous air pollutant”  and is one of the main components of gasoline. Sympotms of toxicity can range from nausea and headaches in mild cases to nervous system failure, atrophy of skeletal muscles and skin disorders with long-term exposure. Hexane is used to separate oils from their seeds. In the case of soy products, a hexane bath extracts soy bean oil from the pod in order to reduce fat content. However, many commercial cooking oils are produced using this method as well. If you are concerned by this, you should consider switching to organic soy products and organic oils. If the product is certified organic, then the law prohibits hexane use for any of their manufacturing processes.

Best of NYC Brunch (Part 1)

April 23, 2010

Best Visit to the Countryside via Brunch: Penelope

An airy, homey, country-kitchen feel that serves up masterfully executed classics like eggs, French toast and oatmeal. Their $14 pre-fixe (which comes with an apple cider mimosa or coffee/tea and juice) also features some more unique items like pumpkin waffles with cinnamon-cardamom pecans and baked apples or homemade granola made with coconut, dried figs, dried apricots and dried cranberries. This place scores extra points for carrying San Pelligrino Limonata (my favorite soda).

159 Lexington Ave between 29th and 30th


Best Brunch To See and Be Seen: Café Gitane

I’m not sure what I love more about this place…the food, the crowd or the location.  Fashionistas, movie stars, hipsters, artists and other interesting characters all comfortably come together in this relaxed, cozy and causal café in the heart of Nolita. The French-Moroccan influenced cuisine offers an inspired alternative to the regular brunch fare. Though you can still get your eggs (baked with basil, tomato and cream) and waffles (made with orange blossom water), there are a variety of other dishes to try that are bursting with exotic flavor. My favorites include:

–       Marinated beets with cinnamon vinaigrette

–       Hearts of palm salad with orange, lemon and endive

–      Avocado, lemon juice, olive oil and chili flakes on seven grain toast

Now that the weather’s getting warm, try to get a table outside and watch the weekend shopping crowd as you enjoy your meal and sip on their imported mint tea, the citron presse or one of their delicious and original cocktails.

242 Mott St. near Prince


Best “Exotic” Bruch: Café Mogador

There’s no lack of flavor on this menu (or eggs for that matter, so if you don’t eat eggs, I wouldn’t recommend brunching here). The breakfast menu features four far-east influenced egg meals – three of which are suitable for vegetarians: the Moroccan eggs are poached with a spicy tomato sauce that bursts in your mouth. The Middle Eastern eggs are served any style with hummus, tabouli and pita spiced with za’atar. The Foul Madamez are hard boiled eggs with hummus and fava beans. On the brunch menu, there are several options of poached eggs on a English muffin with hollandaise sauce (the Moroccan style eggs make an appearance here as well) and for $12 you can have fresh OJ and tea /coffee. There are also some great sandwich and panini selections to be tried off the lunch menu. Whether you are sitting inside where the feeling is warm yet hip with an understated Moroccan theme, or outside, where you can watch the cool East Village crowd walk by, be sure to share a pot of fresh Moroccan mint tea with your brunchmates.

101 St. Marks Place between Avenue A and 1st


Best Whimsical Brunch Experience: Alice’s Tea Cup

On the one hand, the over-the-top Alice in Wonderland décor might be a bit too much to digest for most straight men. On the other hand, this leaves a lot of opportunity to pick up women while enjoying the sumptuous food and appearing sensitive.  Their scones are the closest in the city to the soft, buttery and flakey variety found in the U.K. They have a stellar selection of pancakes, crepes and eggs (my favorite is the eggs florentine). But my favorite item here is the rich French toast bread pudding, It’s infused with apricot brandy and topped with fruit coulis and vanilla crème anglaise. For something on the lighter side, I like to go with the swirled oatmeal with brown sugar and raspberry coulis or their tea-infused granola. And of course, they have over 140 varieties of interesting and flavorful teas to pair with your meal. You may need to get your server involved in helping you with your selection.

Chapter I

102 W. 73rd Street near Columbus Ave


Chapter II

156 E. 64th Street near 2nd Ave


Chapter III

220 E. 81st Street near 3rd Ave


Best South American Brunch: Esperanto

This classic alphabet city dig feels like what I would imagine a kitschy diner on the beach in Bahia might feel like – if there is such a thing.  The sliding glass walls bathe the interior with sunlight, though you can enjoy the street-view from the patio during the warmer months. The tables are covered in plastic, flowery tablecloths while various voodoo dolls and South American knickknacks give it festive, eclectic vibe. While the service can be a bit slow, you might not notice if the live Brazilian band is playing. And you definitely won’t mind if you are sipping a Mimosa or Screwdriver that’s included in the $10 brunch special.  If you want a more authentic South American experience, share a pitcher of caipriinha amongst your friends. My regular dish is the huevos rancheros: two eggs over easy served with beans (which a server assures me are vegetarian friendly) and salsa on a crispy tortilla alongside home fries. If you have room for sides, try the pão de queijo. These are fluffly bread balls with cheese baked right into the dough. If you happen to overdo it and feel like taking a walk, check out the various community gardens in the neighborhood. My favorite is La Plaza Cultural (located just south of Esperanto). It may not be the beach, but it certainly is beautiful.

145 Avenue C between 9th and 10th


Vegan Frappuccinos

April 22, 2010

Starbucks will be offering soy-based frappuccinos starting May 5th, though they are already serving them in Los Angeles. Check out this Consumerist post for more details.