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Check-Out Hotel Chantelle

23 May

When looking for somewhere new to do dinner, I found myself perusing the menu at the LES’s somewhat-recently opened Hotel Chantelle, which, in the epic words of R. Kelly and Cassidy is not a motel or a ho-li-day inn (or even a real hotel – say what?!).  What the folks at Hotel Chantelle do happen to be working with is one of the best kept secrets of the LES dining scene.  With a massive retractable-ceiling roof deck, lively bar sitch and some hella good food, it’s really a wonder that dinner’s yet to catch on with the trend setters of lower Manhattan.

Please don’t mistake me – I’m not trying to claim discovery of this palace of swank (after 11pm on weekend evenings, you’re in for a scene at the door) – I’m merely baffled that dinner has yet to take on a larger following.  Wine and cocktails, like the mapped-out namesake Ludlow (gin + mint = up my alley) are on happy hour at the bar till 9pm week nights – definitely grab a stool for a pre-dinner libation.  Once you’re seated, try starting with a Mediterranean dip trio for the table; we dipped six grain and herbed lavash in roasted garlic hummus, cucumber with mint tzatziki and eggplant caviar (a personal fave).  During appetizer round, we opted for the tomato and (oh so creamy) mozzarella salad, which was good, but not a show stopper.  The refreshing watermelon salad with pine nuts, fresh mint and ricotta salata turned out to be a much better call, as far as different flavors go.

I’d have to say that at a place with such a casual cool vibe and swallow-able prices, I was impressed with the high quality of the seafood entrees, which far exceeded my expectations.  A lobster tagliatelle was flavorful with buttery claw pieces throughout the ribbons of al dente pasta and the snapper was melt-in-yo-mouth tender.  My grilled Mediterranean whole sea bass was stuffed with sliced lemon and fresh herbs and tasted un-fussed with; its careful preparation resulted in an effortlessly elegant flavor.  Simply put, if you want to go to the Hotel, all you gotta do is holler at me – I’d even go so far as to make plans to stay for an after [dinner] party, checkin’ out 6 in the mornin’…

Keeping Up with the Cocktails: Lantern’s Keep

18 Nov

So many things in 2011 have been cheers-worthy; I’ve had a major (excellent) career change and began working on a new blog professionally (you can still find my resto reccos here).  While I know it’s been a spell since I’ve had time to visit with you all, my recent trip to Lantern’s Keep gave me a reason to come out of retirement.  This classy little Midtown speakeasy is giving the cocktail shops Downtown a run for their money and giving me another reason to cheers.

On this particular cold and rainy evening, stepping inside the Iroquois Hotel (W 44th St btwn 5th/6th Aves) was a thoroughly welcomed escape.  Through the lobby, I spotted the lavish digs Lantern’s Keep calls home – the rich chocolate woods are complemented with plush blue Venetian-style seating and a fireplace nestled in the back corner will warm the crowd of cocktail enthusiasts during winter months.  The menu, which features selections crafted by head bar keep Theo Lieberman, stays true to the classics while infusing its spirits with creativity as much as the ingredients themselves.

My standout cocktail of the evening (like I was really stopping at one!) had to be the Wildest Redhead ($14).  Served in a lowball glass with a glacial-sized rock of ice, this scotch-based concoction plays on the warm aromas of all-spice with the belly-heating effects of its spirit base.  The drink is best when consumed through a chilled metal stirrer-straw, as provided by the Keep’s tender.  Another favorite was the Mexican Bouquet ($14), which leans heavily on blanco tequila while letting the St Germain Elderflower liquor and rose syrup whisper a lovely floral perfume.

The charcuterie plate featured an array of cheeses, meats, fruit and warm fresh bread served on a slate and smartly labeled so I’d never confuse my Vermont Shepherd with  the Tickler Cheddar (as if!)  This and other petite plates prepared by The Iroquois’ Executive Chef Jason Tillman are portioned perfectly to keep your worst hungers at bay.  And no, I’m not talking about that hankering for your next cocktail, there’s no helping that desire.  Not that there’s anything wrong with having another one when the drinks are flowing at the Lantern’s Keep  – and to that, let’s cheers.

Prix Fixe and Free Flix: Nick and Toni’s Café

16 Aug

Dinner and a movie is a tried and true staple of our modern dating scene.  In fact, the only thing that’s changing about this classic courting activity is the price.  With steep price inflation being imposed on gentlemen trying to woo their ladies with a lovely evening out, it’s about time someone came up with a deal to make date night do-able.  I don’t know how they do it, but Nick and Toni’s Café, the excellent UWS (67th @ B’way) Italian resto is making BIG moves with their dinner and a movie special – so you can make some moves later on in the evening with your date (Ow Ow!).  Let me break down the business plan for ya –

Step 1) Collect Menu Options. Every Sunday & Monday, Nick and Toni’s offers a limited selection of items on a 2-course Prix Fixe Menu for only $28.

Local Field Greens with Olive Oil + Lemon
Romaine Salad with Caesar Dressing, Garlic Croutons and Grano Padiano
Local Tomato Bruschetta with Prosciutto and Arugula

Spaghetti with Jumbo Lump Crab Meat, Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula and Toasted Breadcrumbs
Penne all Vecchia Bettola – served in a spicy oven roasted tomato sauce
Atlantic Salmon with Local Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Red Onion

Let me just say – the Caesar Salad was one of the best I’ve ever had – it was so creamy and the croutons were amazing.  The Spaghetti, which is apparently Howard Stern’s favorite thing on the menu, did not disappoint either – the crab meat was fresh and tender and the breadcrumbs added a perfect crunch to each bite.  The Field Greens dish was very basic, but an excellent healthier option – my dinner date also enjoyed the Salmon, which was grilled to perfection.

Step 2) ?

Step 3) Profit! Off of FREE movie tickets, that is.  Yep, you read right – with each Sunday/Monday night Prix Fixe meal, you get a FREE AMC Movie Voucher redeemable at any time (and it never expires).  You can even upgrade it to an Imax or 3D ticket for a couple extra bucks.  Plus, since you don’t have to use them that night, if your dining bud turns out to be a dud, pocket your ticket and go another time with a different date (play on, playa).  So go forth, dine fine and get some – free movie tickets.  Just do me a favor and don’t steal your date’s underpants Spaghetti – like me, she may be completely unwilling to share.

Rhea Recommends Chicago: The Deep Dish

10 Aug

It's Better Backstage

Seeing as I had the absolutely fabulous opportunity to hang in Downtown Chicago this past weekend, you’re getting the (deep) dish on some of my trip highlights.  Between the music, the culture of Chi-Town and a BYOB brunch to rival some of NYC’s best,  I‘ve got some awesomeness to share with y’all you all.

Let’s talk eats… obviously, I managed to get a BYOB brunch in there (2x).  Yolk in South Loop (S Michigan Ave btwn E 11th St/E Roosevelt) was legit.  We rolled up with bottles of Prosecco, ordered some orange juice to-go and hung out/drank in the courtyard while waiting for our table.  Once we were called, we had some top notch egg dishes in skillets, omelets and sammies – everything costs under $10 and includes your choice of pancakes (a HUGE order), an English muffin or toast.  Oh, and there’s NO CHARGE for Egg Beaters or whites.   Kick ass deal.  This girl LOVES it.

Music?  Yeah, there was music.  Holla for Lolla(palooza) – some of my favorite eargasm-able artists rocked the crowd.  My highlights include:

Foster the PeopleHoudini

PhantogramWhen I’m Small

Manchester OrchestraI’ve Got Friends

Local Natives Cubism Dream

Fitz and the TantrumsDon’t Gotta Work It Out

Foster the People @ Belve Lounge

Culture, ok, there’s some of that too.  Chicago-natives and tourists alike will enjoy the Architecture Tour ($25-35) – it’s a 90 minute expedition through the Chicago waterways checking out the buildings that make Chi-Town architecture truly remarkable.  You get a little history, learn some fun facts – and hey, you’re on a boat!  It’s definitely another attraction I deem worthy of looking up for – c’mon kids, your neck can handle it.

Marina City (Bertrand Goldberg)

After a long day of adventures in the windy city, treat yourself to a delicious little dinner – I’m a big fan of the inexpensive family-style Italian fare at Quartino.  Thin crust pizza may not be Chicago’s signature slice, but the folks at Quartino know how to make a mean crispy pie.  Not in the mood for Italian?  Not a problem! Sign onto and get hooked up with 30% off the total bill at the city’s hottest restos.   Over and out; it’s been real, Chicago.

In a Class of its Own: The Mussel Pot

22 Jul

I could seriously eat mussels for every meal (I guess you could say I’m a mussel over-achiever).  So when I hear about a restaurant whose sole purpose in life is to school the mussel-fiending masses on the art of fine mollusk-making, it gets added to the top of my to-do list.  With creative twists and some expertly executed classics, the gorgeous Greenwich Village gem The Mussel Pot (Bleecker btwn Sullivan and McDougal) makes the grade.

The average sized dining room is literally the only thing that’s ordinary about MP – from the sleek bar to the chic dining room and all the way back to the lush garden, this place exudes luxury.  We went with our server’s drink suggestion and ordered a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc ($42) – on my 2nd trip, we went for the Prosecco ($43) – both were A+.  For apps, the Beer Poached Shrimp Cocktail w. Gazpacho Cocktail Sauce ($13) was a great spin on the classic.  The Summer Salad ($9) was refreshing w/grapes and Gorgonzola, not to mention the balsamic honeydew vinaigrette.  BUT I know what you’re all really here for… the MUSSELS!  So, without further ado, I present my MP Superlatives:

Biggest Flirt: The Thai Mussels ($19, w/ red curry, lemongrass, cilantro, coconut milk, couscous) – spicy and so flavorful; they’ll tickle your taste buds!

Most Likely to Succeed: The Fra Diavolo Mussels ($18, w/ tomato, garlic, fresh herbs, spicy pepper) – I asked for the spiciest sauce and my server’s suggestion was a great success!

Cutest Couple: The Ciaopino Mussels ($22, w/ classic Italian broth, clams, shrimp, scallops, basil, garlic Parmesan croutons) – what’s better than mussels?  Mussels coupled with delicious shellfish buddies!

Most Popular: The Provencal Mussels ($18, w/ white wine, shallots, cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil) – the quintessential French classic has a ridiculously good sauce – perfect for pairing with bread!

Obvi I love trying new spots so this is huge: I went back to The Mussel Pot the SAME week I had my first taste – hey, I had to work my mussel memory, don’t judge!  Make your plans to get there now – mail out report cards my thank you note later.

Double Your Fun – a Great Bar & Resto in One: Jo’s!

13 Jul

When I’m running a few minutes early for dinner with a friend (yes, it does *occasionally* happen), I really appreciate a resto that rocks a solid bar scene where I can get my sip on and wait.  So with 15 minutes to spare and no idea what to expect, I showed up early for dinner at Jo’s in Nolita (Elizabeth btwn Houston/Prince) and was thrilled at what I found.  The rustic neighborhood joint, which knocks a couple bucks off your bottom line with happy hour till 8pm daily, is a great spot to hang while sipping a glass of vino in good anonymous company.

Walking into Jo’s, you might not even know this legit bar doubles as an eclectic eatery.  Blackboard specials and a small sign pointing to the rear dining room are your only clues to the joint’s seemingly secret identity.  Spend a moment taking in the cocktail-craving swarm imbibing in the front room – I opted for a happy hour glass of Gruner ($7; regularly $9). Soon enough, you’ll be good to check on your table and let the hostess whisk you to the back room where the casual wooden paneling borders dangerously close to sexy.    I was surprised, after leaving the healthily occupied bar area, to see that the dining room had many tables available BUT after tasting the amazing food, you could call me straight up perplexed.

 My dining partner du jour and I started with the Portobello Mushroom Sliders – 3 bite size veggie-friendly burgers topped w/a creamy cheese and decadent caramelized onions.  I nibbled to savor every scrumptious morsel.  Next, my din-date had the Garganelli ($16), a ziti-wannabe with street-cred (not to mention Lardons, caramelized shrooms & 3 cheeses) that was described as intensely rich.  He would’ve loved some bread to dip, but that didn’t seem to hinder his impressive plate-cleaning performance, which was only surpassed by the number I did on my meal.  I had the Mussels ($12) w/ Serrano pepper, Thai curry, coconut, scallion and lemongrass.  Do NOT underestimate how spicy this dish is; it’s one of those rare flavorful heat-forward dishes that I sometimes dream about… Yes, I dream in food – but that’s neither here nor there.  Don’t judge – order the mussels.

I’ve got just a handful of “neighborhood spots” I’ll recommend when a friend isn’t too specific about what they’re looking for in a resto and Jo’s just edged its way up my list.  Even better?  You can dine with a 30% discount from most Sunday-Thursdays.  You might be out for dinner with a friend; you might be out for drinks with a date – you MIGHT even be on a date with a friend (git ‘er done) – whatever the case, Jo’s is sure to hit the spot.

Lobster Roll-ing in the Deep: Luke’s Lobster Truck

7 Jul

Being a bit of a social media junkie, stalking my favorite food trucks on Twitter has become a top-priority hobby.  Luckily for me, ever since I’ve started at my fabulous new job in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, the trucks have been coming out in droves.  Most notably, Luke’s Lobster’s food-mobile, “Nauti” seems to be hitting up the hood on the daily!  The crustacean connoisseurs at Luke’s are clawing their way up the lunch ranks – forget, “we could’ve had it all” – now you CAN have it all, and be Lobster roll-ing in the deep.

If you’ve got a lunch budget like mine (read: shoestring), you’ve probably noticed that make-your-own-salad joints are multiplying in cost on the daily.   Well folks, when Nauti’s on the block, it’s not exactly frugal Friday BUT if you eat like me and savor every bite, it’s not hard to make one of these precious roll creations into a full meal.  Plus, these Lobster, Crab and Shrimp rolls ($15/$10/$8, respectively) are SO worth what you’re shelling out – and only get better if you make it a combo (+$2) with a drink, chips and a pickle.

The rolls themselves are seemingly simple but with ingredients this fresh (delivered straight from Maine), letting the flavors speak for themselves is the key.  While I’ve had these buttery bites in all roll varieties, my favorite is the shrimp – those little guys pack a BIG punch of flavor.  I do always tend to go with 1/2 shrimp and 1/2 lobster – who can resist the namesake roll?!

So if you’re not lucky enough to be within walking distance of one of Luke’s 4 NYC locations (E. Ville, FiDi, UWS, UES) or their new Washington, DC locale, fear not!  You can cherish that rare occasion when the Luke’s Lobster Truck is nearby – such a welcomed surprise!  The morale of the story is this: when your boring lunch spots put you in a dining rut, check out Twitter or the new Zagats Food Tuck Site (still in beta) to find a food truck near you.  If you’re lucky enough, you may just get a little Nauti on your lunch hour.

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