EAT HERE NEW YORK! Cask Bar and Kitchen

I am an entertainer. But I only get paid to entertain about 20% of the time.

And in ridiculously overpriced New York City, that means I have to have a real job.

A day job. At a desk.

Luckily, I have a great day job that allows me to research restaurants I dream of going to insistently.

And my friends know that I am constantly reading up on the restaurant news in New York so I am usually the one that has to choose the place we meet for happy hour, dinner, brunch, or even a cup of coffee.

A lot of times, I meet people for imbibing around my work which is near the Gramercy and Flatiron areas of Manhattan so I pretty much have researched every restaurant within a 10 block radius of my corporate prison….I mean, ehem, workplace.

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And of all of my nearby go to’s, Cask Bar and Kitchen is one of my absolute favorites.

The ambiance in this place is perfection.

Tables made of elegantly dark wood, giant booths, perfectly dim lighting, adorable little mason jars filled with frilly carnations, leather bound drink menus, an upstairs and downstairs bar, and friendly service.

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Now. A rule I live by: always find restaurants that offer free bread when you are going out with people whom you know are going to be late. That way you can have a delicious nibble while you sip your wine and wonder where the hell your friends are.

The bread at Cask is just a standard multi-grain loaf but the olive oil with flecks of peppers and olives concoction that comes with it is a fine starter. But who am I kidding, I would eat a pile of Saltines if they were free.

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There are so many wonderful things on the menu but where there is a small plate option, there you will find me. You see, I am a snacker. If I could eat little tiny meals all day, every day, for the rest of my life, that is how I would choose to live. Well. I CAN eat that way. But I also CAN get super fat. It is in my genes. And I want to fit into my jeans. So I only indulge in my fantasy eating when presented with the option.

The Small Plates are fantastic at Cask. Everything from mussels to macaroni.

For my first plate, I chose the Carmelized Brussel Sprouts with spicy chorizo and creamy manchego ($9). Manchego is one of my all time favorite cheeses. It is so delightfully tangy, it sounded like a perfect addition to the creamy, sweet brussel sprouts and the spicy salt of the chorizo. And it is an absolute bargain for $9! It is almost enough food to be considered a regular sized plate. But….I couldn’t stop with just one small plate…..

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…..especially when I saw the Sweet Potato Gnocchi with smoked applewood bacon and parmesan cream ($10). And it was everything I had hoped for. The gnocchi was like biting into salty and sweet lumps of butter. The applewood bacon was not only a great textural contrast, but the salty power of the bacon deliciously cut into the gnocchi’s sweetness. The parmesan cream added another tangy dimension to the entire dish as well. Come to think of it, the technical complexity of flavors and textures were pretty similar in both of these dishes. And they both were just splendid.

So. Eat here. And you may see me, sitting, munching on free bread, repeatedly staring at my phone in anticipation.

Cask Bar and Kitchen

167 East 33rd Street, Manhattan

33rd Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue

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EAT HERE NEW YORK! The Smith across from Lincoln Center

It’s that special time of year again.

In New York, there is a brief window of time where the weather is so incredibly beautiful it feels like you are breaking the law by eating indoors.

Luckily, on a day where I would be trudging through the city all day with meetings, a performance, and even a trip to the DMV, I had found myself in that brief window of time.

But I couldn’t sit any ol’ damn where. I needed to scope out the perfect eating outside on a bustling, Friday late afternoon in Manhattan spot.

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Guidelines For Optimal Outdoor Dining:

1. A great view of the street for people watching. 

Manhattan has some of the country’s most unique residents and they are all living on an island that is only two and a half miles wide.  If you sit in a great spot long enough, the parade of the misfits and tourists can be one hell of a show.

2. Not too close to the street.

Though it is fun to sit in front of a great restaurant to leisurely dine and record your observations, sitting too close to the passersby can make it feel like you are sitting on a bench in the middle of a busy street.  Some restaurants attempt to turn the extremely small plot of “land” (read: concrete) in front of their establishments into a patio when all they are doing is putting minuscule patio furniture on a highway. People walk in Manhattan like they drive everywhere else.

3. Not too much sun. But not too little either.

One of the best parts of dining outside in New York is the sunshine. There is so rarely a pleasant sunshine in the city. Sunshine tends to be either attempting (and most times failing) to provide some relief from the freezing temperatures, shining during a random down pour, baking you in the humidity, or magnifying the stench of garbage and urine. But when you catch a good sunshine, a pleasantly warm sunshine packaged with a delightfully subtle and temperate breeze, you must not stay inside.

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So, I started walking from Herald Square (34th street and Broadway). I decided I would just walk up Broadway because it runs diagonally through the city and I had to eventually end my adventure at 72nd street and Broadway.

It was such a gorgeous day that the streets were swarming with people.  Especially in the high traffic, highly annoying tourist areas like Herald Square and Times Square. These places give squares a bad name.

But once I emerged from the late 40’s/early fifties, hands and head aching from clutching my bags and furrowing my brows, the streets began to get a little less congested. Tourists tend not to realize that New York is more than Broadway shows, I ❤ NY t-shirt vendors, giant department stores, and Olive Garden.

I passed a few restaurants with outdoor seating. Too much sun. Too close to the people. Too much shade.

And finally I found one that was juuuuuuust right…..

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The Smith. Right across from Lincoln Center.

It met all of the requirements.

The Smith was in a row of other restaurants with similar patio set ups but the other restaurants were taking their Lincoln Center adjacent location a little too seriously. I just wanted a simple, light dinner. Not a filet mignon.

Who am I kidding? If I could afford a filet mignon, I would order one.

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I ordered a glass of wine to start off my people watching party of 1.

I will say the portion size left muuuuch to be desired but this Vina Vintisquero “Reserva” 2010 Carmenere from Colchagua, Chili was a very good wine. ($9)

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Then I ordered the Mediterranean salad ($21). Or “Greek” salad. Cucumber, feta, red onion, chickpeas, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, and a lemon dressing made it an incredibly ordinary Greek salad recipe that was anything but. I added some chicken for the extra boost of protein.

And, honestly, no exaggeration, it was the best Greek salad I have ever had. And it sure as hell better have been considering how much I paid for the thing.

There were just the right amounts of each ingredient to make each bite a “perfect bite.” The chicken lay through out the salad in perfectly tender, silky shreds. And there was just the right amount of lemon dressing to make it so the salad wasn’t dripping in dressing but was radiating it.

After I posted pictures of my Smith escapade, I received a text message from a friend saying, “Please tell me you got the blue cheese chips.”

“I didn’t…. :(,” I replied. “I was alone.”

“No excuse. I’ll go with you next time.”

So, I can say that I will absolutely be back to The Smith. After all, I have to. 

EAT HERE NEW YORK!: Nomad Hotel restaurant

Holy.

Crap.

You guys.

I had one of the best lunches of my entire life the other day.

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Actually, the day was Administrative Professionals day.

At night I am pursuing a pipe dream career in entertainment. By by day I am, in fact, an administrative assistant. Not sure I am capable of being “professional.”

So for my special holiday, my bosses told me to pick a restaurant for lunch. ANY restaurant.

And pick I did.

Ladies and gentleman, the restaurant in the NoMad Hotel.

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As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by dapper door men, passed Nina Garcia sipping her golden glass of Pinot Grigio (I totally pin her as a Grigio gal), and marveled at the decadence of the decor.

The incredible chandeliers, plush velvet chairs, and dozens of pressed and framed foliage on the walls made me feel like a modern day princess, I mean, a super rich person.

This poor kid was out of her mind.

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As soon as we were seated, our impeccably dressed waiter brought us our FREE bread. Topped with onions and rosemary, the bread was incredibly fresh and steaming hot. The sweetness of the onions were absolutely perfect on this salty and steamy loaf (really Rebecca……steamy loaf?) and this was just the FREE BREAD. I could not wait for the rest of the meal.

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My boss ordered the Tagliatelle ($20) as our appetizer. The fresh, homemade pasta with meyer lemon, black pepper, and king crab was absolutely delectable and totally big for an appetizer in this caliber of a restaurant. Generally the food is fantastic but you only get a teaspoon portion for $20. This portion could have been a meal. 

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Okay. Okay. We devoured that.

BRING ON THE MAIN COURSE!

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One of my bosses ordered the Scallops ($28). Seared with fresh chickpeas, pine nuts, and sauce amer…of course, they were absolutely perfect. Cooking a perfect scallop seems to be priority number one for any good chef and let me tell you, this was a great chef. Not the slightest bit  rubbery or fishy. Just melt in your mouth, velvety goodness.

My other boss and I thought, when in Rome order the thing every review of the restaurant tells you to order; the Roast Chicken for two ($79).

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Now. This presentation is outstanding but this is not the first glimpse that we got of the chicken.

Before they cut it up to be served (or so we are told) they bring out the entire roast chicken, completely intact, in a giant pot. As soon as I saw it (across a croooooowded room), I wanted to use my hands, like the pauper I am, to tear into it. But as soon as you see the beautiful animal, they whisk it away to plate it. You know. For civilized human beings.

We each got our white meat on this beautiful plate with grilled carrots, snap peas, and a potato puree. Under the crispy roast chicken skin is a layer of (drum roll) foie gras, black truffle, and brioche.

It. Is. Un. Be. Lieve. A. Ble.

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But Rebecca? Isn’t it a whole chicken?! Where is the dark meat?!

Well, first, that’s what she said.

Second. The dark meat is brought out in a  separate dish floating in a garlic cream foam and chives. The dark meat is so incredibly moist and soaking in the most ridiculous pile of salty, garlic heaven.

It. Is. Also. Un. Be. Well, you get it.

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Finally. We wanted something sweet to conclude our wonderful meal. But we are all super obsessed with trying to keep our sugar intake down to a minimum (e.g. I only had a few strands of that marvelous homemade pasta). So we asked if we could maybe get a fruit plate.

Ask. And you shall receive…..a gorgeous array of fresh fruit.

 

Needless to say, if you have the means, please go here.

Please.

I will be going back for dinner. A long dinner. With wine. Because I want to imagine that I am a princess as much as I possibly can. Well, just a super rich person.

 

EAT HERE NEW YORK! Rayuela on the Lower East Side

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Last week, on a blustery New York night, my wonderful friend, and uber blogger, CoCo Beautiful and I were headed to the album release party of a hot, new musician at Rockwood Musical Hall in the Lower East Side.

That sounds really damn posh doesn’t it? Well, “album release party” is a very generous description of “watching a dude with a guitar in a tiny bar while wearing a giant, puffy winter coat like an awkward ass.”

But before all of that, we had an hour to stop into one of the many wonderful eateries on Allen Street to get a few small bites and a drink.

After much deliberation, we decided on Rayuela entirely based on the description of their cuisine; “estillo libre Latino” or “freestyle Latino.”

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First off, the decor inside is fantastic. I am a sucker for a restaurant with great mood lighting and decor, and Rayuela was firing on all cylinders in those areas; candles, a tree growing out of the center of the room, leather upholstered sofas, and a beautiful bar.

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As soon as we sat down, we were greeted by our extremely attentive waiter and his support staff. They immediately had their Pan de Bono with Parsley Mojo on our table to munch on while we decided on what to order. Pan de Bono is simply yucca flour and mozzarella cheese baked into a little, doughy piece of heaven. Suprisingly, it isn’t necessarily cheesy. The mozarella gives the yucca flour a rich and gooey texture but it still has the consistency of bread dough. Just, doughy bread dough.

I’m just gonna say “dough” one more time for good measure.

The Parsley Mojo was a fresh, herby, dipping oil made with vinegar, olive oil, and parsley. It was the “freestyle Latino” take on bread served with oil and balsamic vinegar. We liked that combination so much we asked if we could each have one more!

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For my inebriation purposes, I ordered the Mojito and it was stellar. A perfect balance of sugar and mint, this mojito was gone entirely too fast for how much I paid for it.

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After having indulged in our Pan de Bonos and me sucking down my gin, we were ready to order.

The Brussel Sprouts and Toasted Almonds caught my eye.  Two of my many current food obsessions are brussel sprouts and almonds. I have been eating the world’s supply of brussels and I have been roasting my own almonds with date honey and spices.

I should do a blog on that…..

Anyway, the brussel sprouts were cooked perfectly and they did not serve them whole or chopped in half but choppoed up completely. It was a little like a brussel sprouts salad. The almonds were a great buttery edition and they topped it off with a saffron aioli ($7) which intensified the almonds buttery quality while adding a cool drizzle to a hot dish. I honestly could have used something a little more complex than the saffron aioli, like an acid note, but I always think acid punches up a dish. Especially a vegetable dish.

moros y cristianos (forbidden Peruvian rice) , bacon, cannellini beans

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Then I ordered the dish that excited me as soon as I spotted it on the menu, the Panza al Fuego Lento: braised pork belly, moros y cristianos, bacon, cannellini beans and crispy orange ($12). It had all of the makings for a mind blowing dish; creamy beans, salty bacon, citrus, and fatty pork. The Moros y Cristianos is “forbidden Peruvian rice.” (Picture below) So it had everything I liked PLUS something forbidden. I was in.

And honestly, it was not as mind blowing as I expected it to be. The pork belly was slightly dry and the forbidden rice didn’t have much flavor. It seemed it could have been a wonderful edition to the dish but it wasn’t cooked with many spices. They were sort of flavorless. Now, it was still good. But it wasn’t great.

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All in all, I would still reccommend this place. It is a great place for a date night (especially an OKCupid blind date because it is so damn dark and the drinks are so damn strong) or a girl’s night out. It is chic and classy, the service is great, and there are interesting options on the menu.

So treat yourself to some estillo libre Latino cuisine. You will impress your friends with the expansion of your global food knowledge and feel way cooler than I could ever hope to be.