Why Come Here? Some of South Beach’s best upscale food, relaxed atmosphere, pool and ocean views
Right Amount for 2: 1-2 apps, 2 entrees
I never would have come across Florida Cookery had it not been for a recommendation from Miami blogger Food For Thought who is a big fan of Chef Kris Wessel from his previous restaurant, Red Light. I’m very glad I did though as this may be the best spot on South Beach for great food without pretension or (much of) a scene.
Florida Cookery is located in the James Hotel, although “hidden” may be the better term here. There are no signs once you walk into the hotel and you have to walk all the way to the back then up two flights of stairs to find it. Once you do though, you’re rewarded with a cool, sleek modern space overlooking the pool with the crashing waves of the Atlantic in the distance. Add in friendly and attentive service and music and patron noise at the right level and you have one of South Beach’s most pleasant hotel dining experiences. The only issue with the location is perhaps the world’s longest walk to the bathroom (which is outside the restaurant, down a flight of stairs and a long hallway.) So if you’re decked out in traditional South Beach attire with the 8-inch stilettos, you may want to pee before you go.
The menu is fresh and local, with a nod to the diverse heritage of Florida cooking (think pecan-dusted grouper w/ grits, gator empanadas, creole oxtail). Yes,probably half the restaurants in South Beach make this claim. But while most charge the same amount ($15 apps, $25+ entrees), few do it this well. It’s also one of the rare restaurants where I would have been happy eating anything on the menu. And on a recent Saturday night, it was inexplicably only about half-full. So get in before the secret gets out.
Here are my thoughts on what we ordered. You can find more photos on DishEnvy.
Oxtail, Oyster & Alligator Empanadas (1 of each) If you’re into empanadas (who isn’t?) these are a solid way to start your meal. The oyster was a little strange, but the lemon cayenne sauce makes everything better.
Kris’ Biscayne Blvd Shrimp Grilled and covered in a spicy tangy sauce somewhat reminiscent of Worcestershire that you’ll want to lick out of the bowl. Fortunately it comes with baguettes to soak it up so you won’t have to.
Key Lime & Tomato Mahi Mahi The tomato and lime combined for a dish I found a little heavy on the acid. You do get a nice cut of mahi mahi, but there are too many great options here to settle for this.
‘Tis the season for making lists. Christmas Lists. New Year’s resolutions. Hottest celebrity bods. And of course, best restaurants. But instead of putting together another overdone “best restaurants in New York” list, I decided it would be more useful to make a more practical list of places to go depending on what you’re craving. Enjoy:
For Brunch, Café Cluny
For Cocktails, Apotheke
For Donuts, Doughnut Shop
For Espresso, Third Rail Coffee
For Falafel, Taim
For Hummus, Hummus Place
For Indian, Taj Tribeca
For Italian, L’Artusi, Torrisi Italian Specialties
For Lobster Rolls, Luke’s Lobster
For Lox, Zucker’s
For Korean BBQ, Hahm Ji Bach
For Mexican, Empellon Taqueira or Cocina (upscale), Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery (authentic and cheap)
For New American, ABC Kitchen
For Pizza, Di Fara (the absolute best), John’s (best in Manhattan), Joe’s (best by the slice) Keste (best neopolitan)
For Sushi, Kanoyama
For Tapas – Caliu (Best and Relaxed Atmosphere), Pipa (impressing out-of-towners)
For Vietnamese, Co Ba, Sao Mai (for pho)
Why Come Here? Fun meal with friends before a night out in the West Village
Right Amount for 2: 2-3 small plates, 1 large plate
You’ve got a group of friends looking for a night out in the West Village. Dinner, drinking, whatever happens, happens. You need a place that’s lively, has a strong cocktail list and food that appeals to a diverse group and won’t put you to sleep. Enter Yerba Buena Perry. The swanky Cuban decor, Latin music and some cocktails from the Little Branch team get your night started right. You won’t go wrong sipping on the Poquito Picante (featuring the always delicious triumvate of gin, jalapeno and cilantro). And the menu, with a formidable selection of small bites and ceviches to start off you off and some meaty large plates to finish, offers something for all comers.
Those are the reasons you come to Yerba Buena Perry. The food itself, while still good, seems to have declined somewhat over the years. Given the fairly high prices, I can’t recommend a trip for the food alone (although if you’re willing to come during the week, a deal from Savored to cut up to 30% off can help with that). Below are my thoughts on what we had:
Why Come Here? A quintessential West Village brunch
I would like to start off by saying I have only been here for brunch. But with it’s upscale Parisian café feel of bright lights, white walls and no seat more than 10 feet from a window it seems impossible to imagine eating any other meal here.
And for that meal, it may be the quintessential New York place. The menu won’t blow your mind with creativity, but then again do you really want it to first thing in the morning (or early afternoon)? It features the classic selection of egg dishes, french toast, salads and sandwiches we all know and love with just enough of a twist to keep the both your inner foodie and meat-and-potatoes uncle pleased. Combine that with the lively, bright atmosphere and windows overlooking a quaint (by New York standards) intersection and you’ve got pretty much everything you could hope for in a brunch spot. Unfortunately, the masses have figured this out too and waits during peak times can reach an hour. Luckily it’s almost always been less than the hostess quoted.
In terms of the food, my egg yolk intolerance has hampered my ability to sample many brunch items in recent years. However, there is one dish I highly recommend:
The Breakfast Sandwich The right balance of bread, egg, avocado and spicy mayo makes it the perfect start to the day even if you opt for just egg whites. And thankfully it’s much lighter than most of the coma-inducing breakfast sandwiches this town if full of.
Why Come Here? Satisfy your beer and sausage craving
Have you ever wanted to drink beer out of a 2 liter boot? Lederhosen can make your dream come true. But what separates this German Bierhaus from others around the city. First, it’s in the West Village, not Brooklyn or Astoria. And second, while there is no beer “garden” per se, the back room does contain wooden benches and a wonderful mural of the German countryside. It being December now, that may make it the closest you’ll come to drinking outside in NYC any time soon. Finally, unlike many other German restaurants about town, the food is actually quite good and cheap ($5 sausage sandwiches and most sides are $3). Below are my thoughts on the food we washed down our beers with:
Delicious German Pickle I’m not sure what’s German about it since it looks like every other sandwich pickle in New York. It is quite a good version though with crisp cucumber and the right amount of vinegar.
Bauernwurst and Bratwurst Sandwiches The sandwiches are topped with red cabbage, sauerkraut onion and mustard on a toasted bun, all of which were fantastic but left the two meats tasting indistinguishable. Both were meaty and juicy bases for the topping and I recommend adding a side of mustard for optimal enjoyment.
Why Come Here? Attractive crowd, hot spot, solid cocktails and sangria
Right Amount for 2: 4 small plates
Barraca comes from the team behind trendy LES spots Macondo and Rayuela and has several things going for it. The cocktails and Sangria are phenomenal. The waitstaff is good looking, attentive and friendly (a rare trifecta). The space is dark and sexy and occupies a prime corner location on relatively quiet Greenwich Avenue with plenty of windows to gawk at passersby.
These are the qualities some seek out in a restaurant and those are the people Barraca was built for. However, if you’re a foodie or Spanish cuisine aficionado, Barraca will leave you disappointed more than pleased. Despite numerous dishes that sounded great on the menu, nothing was executed at an especially high level. We tried something from most categories (except for the flatbreads) and left unimpressed from a food standpoint. Avoid paella, which has to be ordered for at least 2 (at a cost of $50) and neither of the ones we tried were anything special. Below are my thoughts on what we had:
Pimientos De Piquillo (piquillo peppers stuffed w/ oxtail stew and creamy piquillo sauce) The oxtail had all the richness you hope for, but the creamy piquillo sauce was more “creamy” than “piquillo.”
Mollete De Cordero Con Manchego Y Ali-Oli De Piquillo (sandwich w/ pulled lamb, manchego cheese and a piquillo ali-oli) This is one of the “good on paper” dishes I was talking about. Unfortunately, the bread was too starchy and the lamb was on the fatty side.
Paella Negra (squid ink infused rice, artichoke, monkfish, squid, and shrimp with ali-oli) The assortment of seafood was fresh and well prepared, but it was lacking in spices and the rice just didn’t have that crispiness you want in your paella.
Paella Con Vegetales (artichoke, snow peas, broccoli, english peas, zucchini, scallions, shitake and garbanzo beans) This legitimately tasted like rice and vegetables someone would cook up in a cafeteria.
Why Come Here? Authentic Spanish tapas, cheap eats in a charming setting
Right Amount for 2: 4-5 tapas
Tapas places are a dime a dozen in NYC, with most applying their “innovative take on Spanish cuisine” in order to command higher prices. Fortunately El Mio Cid didn’t get the memo and still focuses on making authentic tapas right. The large menu contains all your favorites from spanish tortillas to paella and some lesser seen offerings like leeks and mushrooms. The tapas are sizeable enough you could make a meal out of 2 of them, yet not one costs over $10. Throw in a pitcher of Sangria (made with just the right amount of sweetness) for $21 and you’ve got a tapas date for under $50. Oh yeah, there’s also a ScoutMob deal that gets you $20 off the already low price.
Yet somehow this place was only about 25% full on a Friday night. Okay, it is in Bushwick. But it’s an easy ride on the M or L trains. And the space is dimly lit, airy and includes a mural of a Spanish castle. You might as well be in Spain. So if you have a low maintenance date that doesn’t mind the train ride, you’ll be highly rewarded for making the trek.
Here’s what we tried:
For more photos, check out my DishEnvy page.
Why Come Here? Interesting seasonal dishes, a lively yet chill atmosphere that’s quintessentially Williamsburg
Right amount for 2: 2 entrees or 2 apps and 1 entree
If you were to list everything stereotype of a Williamsburg restaurant, you’d likely find that Allswell has most of the boxes checked. An ever-changing New American menu derived from local and seasonal ingredients. Music that people cooler than you listen to. A dimly lit space that patches together too many elements (is it a farmhouse? a German beer hall? why are there 11 different wall papers?). And yes, our server was wearing a plaid shirt and black rimmed glasses.
So what makes this one worth the trip? In addition to its own twists, you could say alls(done)well (sorry). The menu of about a dozen items contained many interesting dishes on our visit and in a rare turn of events the entrees actually outshone the appetizers. It was also pretty reasonably priced with only two dishes topping the $20 mark. And perhaps most refreshingly, the service was knowledgeable and attentive and lacked the airy “too-cool-to-wait-on-you” vibe often emitted in these types of establishments.
The extensive and original cocktail list is also worth a try, although you’ll likely find that every drink contains at least one ingredient you have never heard of. Fortunately, nearly all of them can be replaced by the words “bitter Italian liqueur.” If you’re still concerned about what to get, feel free to order the tart and slightly sweet Merry Well with confidence.
As for the menu, below are my thoughts on what we tried. The menu changes daily, so you may not see any of these on your visit, but in case you do…
A note on reservations: they come by email only. While this is superior to sitting on hold and hitting redial, the often multi-day response time can be nerve wracking. I recommend one week in advance for weekend nights.
Why Come Here? Interesting Chinese eats in a Williamsburg setting with Flushing prices
Right Amount for 2? 2-3 dishes including at least one noodle
Make no mistake about it: if you live in Manhattan (or Western Brooklyn), Flushing is far. From our apartment in the West Village, it took nearly an hour on the 1 & 7 trains. So if you’re going to make the trip, it better be for something really good. And cheap. Fortunately, Biang! succeeds on both levels. It’s from the family behind Xi’an Famous Foods, a popular foodie destination with locations in Flushing, Chinatown and the East Village. While those places are great, they lack pleasantries such as decor, waiters and chairs. Biang! adds to that mix a full-service, night out with friends type restaurant that feels like it could just as easily be in Williamsburg or the East Village. In fact, it may be the first restaurant in Flushing that isn’t either a hole-in-the-wall or decorated cookie cutter Chinese style.
Yet despite the improved digs, they miraculously maintain their low prices with most entrees costing $7 or less and some items going for under a 5 spot. And that’s not for “snack size” portions either. The four of us left satisfied with four dishes and a tab excluding beer (which is only $4) of under $30. So if you need to sit down, listen to some good music and try some cool and really good food for less than $10/person, you now have your place.
The name Biang! comes from the Chinese character for the sound the noodle dough makes when pulled and you’ll definitely want to try some variant of those noodles while here. There’s a lot more to the menu though with non-noodle options ranging from salads to dumplings to skewers. Many items are carryovers from Xi’an Famous Foods including the popular Lamb Burgers and my personal favorite the Liang Pi Cold Noodles. I definitely plan to go back to sample more of the diverse menu offerings, but here’s what I had on my initial visit:
Spicy & Tingly Beef Biang-Biang Noodles The famous pulled noodle of Xi’an are chewy and long (I’m not sure the whole thing wasn’t just one giant noodle). They’re also as well cooked and enjoyable as any al dente pasta I’ve had. The spicy beef on top is tender and the whole thing is delicious.
For more photos and reviews, check out DishEnvy.
Back in September, I wrote a post about Governor and the incredible food being churned out of the few months old kitchen. In fact, the beef tartar was a recipient of 4 stars and remains one of my favorite dishes of the year. Sadly, due to its location near the Dumbo waterfront, Governor sustained substantial flood damage during Hurricane Sandy.
The good news is several of NYC’s top chefs have pitched in to help raise the money needed to repair the space and you can help. If you can afford the price tag, I encourage you to attend one of the meals below. I guarantee you’ll have a great meal while helping a worthy restaurant get back on its feet.
- On Saturday, November 17th Momofuku owned Booker & Dax will host a lunch from 12 to 3 including courses from Momofuku Ko’s Sean Gray, Ssäm Bar’s Matt Rudofker, Governor’s Brad McDonald, pairings from Ko’s Beth Lieberman, and a cocktail made by Booker and Dax’s Tristan Willey. The cost is $325 per person with all proceeds going to rebuild Governor. You can buy a ticket online here.
- On Tuesday, November 20th at Eleven Madison Park, Chef Brad McDonald and the team from Governor will create a seven-course menu with wine pairings in the private dining room. Dishes will include caviar with brown butter ice cream and sunchokes, oxtail with salsify and oyster sauce, and celery root with cheddar and preserved egg yolk. The meal requires a $250 (minimum) donation, with all proceeds going to help rebuild Governor. Dinner at 7:30. Call (212) 889-0905 to reserve.
For those who want to help out but find those price tags a little steep, you can also donate any amount on Governor’s GoFundMe page.