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! 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.

EAT HERE NEW YORK!: Cookshop in Chelsea

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So. Number one on my list of Top Five Favorite Things About Living In New York is the ability to easily go to hundreds of spectacular restaurants. Unfortunately, because I am not “comfortable” (or “baller”) financially (yet….), I have to keep my truly memorable yet pricey dining experiences to a once a month special occasion. First world problems.

This month, I was lucky enough to be introduced to Cookshop.  Located on the relatively quite Manhattan street corner (….actually, I am not sure there is such a thing) of 20th Street and 10th Avenue in Chelsea, Cookshop is understated in decor but their food is anything but. Seriously. 

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I arrived an hour early for my 6pm dinner date.  It wasn’t a “date” date so I am technically not a desperate loser. Technically. I had time to kill, a book to read, and a palate to whet so I pulled up a chair at the minimal yet classy bar top and perused the menu. There are plenty of good bar treats, including the complimentary potato chips (I love a bar that gives a free, salty snack. Not only is it hospitable, it is damn good business. Make em thirsty!), but I had to go for a glass of wine with a great piece of cheese.

The bartender was fantastic. Witty and dry as my wine, she seemed to have an in-depth knowledge of the menu. With her guidance, I decided on a glass of the Muriel, ‘Crianza,’ Rioja and the Manchester from Vermont. I normally wouldn’t order a goat cheese because I generally like a firm cheese with my wine but the Manchester raw goat milk cheese was actually sharper and firmer than the average goat cheese. I like my cheese like I like my men, sharp and tough. And sometimes stinky. My salivary glands are puckering just remembering it….not my men, the cheese……

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My friend and I love to dine in the European fashion. Or like we are playing a great hand of poker. We slow play.

So, we ordered a bottle of the Rioja and started off with these gorgeous Deviled Eggs with Salmon Roe (only $6!) or, what I am calling, Eggs on Eggs in Eggs. They were light, creamy, and sweet with the added bubbly texture of the salmon roe. A perfect beginning to a long journey.

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After drowning in our wine, devouring our eggs, and shooting the shit for entirely too long, we were ready to move on to the main course. Now, I am all ABOUT sweet potatoes right now. Especially roasted sweet potatoes. And especially sweet potatoes with a spicy kick.

Low and behold, after much deliberation and many “No. I’m so sorry. We still haven’t decided’s” later, I realized I just had to have the American Wagyu Sirloin Steak with Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges, Pickled Chili Peppers, Cotija Cheese, Chicory, and Red Wine Vinaigrette ($38).

But my dinner date simply could not pass up the Curried Cauliflower Gratin.

So, we had both.

That’s how ballers roll.

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And, of course, these were absolutely stupendous.

The steak was cooked perfectly. The chicory was fresh and delightful with the red wine vinaigrette. The cauliflower was overflowing with velvety cheese, onion, and curry. But the main event for me was to be expected: the combination of the sweet, creamy roasted sweet potatoes, the subtle sharp tang of the cotija cheese, and the mild spicy tang of the pickled chili peppers was just out of this world. I wish little tiny me, or my parents for that matter, knew that vegetables could taste so good.

I can not recommend Cookshop enough. It is a wonderful place to hold any occasion. It is simple yet elegant inside and over the top inside your mouth.

EAT HERE NEW YORK! And anyone visiting!

Have you eaten at Cookshop? I wanna hear what you think!

Is there a restaurant in New York that I simply must try? I wanna hear what you think!

Is there anything else you wanna say? I wanna hear what you think!

Comment below!

And make sure to check out Episode 4 of my cooking tutorial web series A Cooking Show on Wednesday March 20th!