Freemans

There is a type of magic to hidden nooks and crannies, when an unassuming entrance-way leads to a beautiful little corner that you would’ve otherwise missed. It reminds me of Narnia. Freemans capitalizes on that inner child in people, where we’d all like to discover secret treasure. You walk down a sketchy alleyway, and at the end you’ll find an adorable, charming restaurant complete with fairy lights and turquoise doors. Although, it really is an illusion of stumbling up hidden treasure because let’s be real here: we all came because we already saw on instagram, facebook, or the blogosphere exactly what Freemans looks like. Ah well, it’s a nice illusion to hold on to regardless.

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We came on the earlier side of brunch, and there was no wait at all. The inside goes for a rustic, farmhouse look, complete with beaten-up tables, rickety stairs, and lots of taxidermy. The stuffed bird next to our table definitely freaked me out.

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The hot artichoke dip is a must-order. If you get nothing else, get the artichoke dip. It comes out hot and gooey, perfect to slather on some toasted bread.

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We shared a savory and a sweet dish. The skillet eggs sit on a bed of spinach, topped with cheddar grits and bacon. A decent dish owed mainly to the grits and bacon.

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I was far less impressed with the lemon buttermilk pancakes. They were standard pancakes, not particularly fluffy or soft. For my favorite pancakes, head over to Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy. Those pancakes are somehow crispy on the edges and soft in the middle and have big, fat blueberries in the batter. The different textures between the outside and inside of the pancake make it sing. These Freemans pancakes fell flat though, so stick to the artichoke dip and the savory dishes here.

Freemans Restaurant
191 Chrystie Street #2F btw Delancey & Rivington, New York, NY 10002

Chefs Club

I was bemoaning to some friends about how much simpler life seemed when we were in school. After 16+ years of being in school, I had figured out how the system works. First, there’s the studying, which if you’re at all diligent about, will lead to good grades. Then, you supplement that with a smattering of extracurricular activities, artistic endeavors, leadership opportunities, and you’ve got the formula of success down pact. My path forward was clear and straightforward. Now, post-college, not so much. What does career success look like? How is it measured? What should I be working towards? I have been pondering these questions a lot lately. Although, given the trajectory thus far, these life questions will probably only get more complex and unanswerable the further we get along. In 10 years, I expect that I will be looking back to my 20’s as an enviously uninhibited, carefree time. All this to say that while I miss school, I should also stop and smell the roses in my life right now, like this dinner at Chefs Club.

Chefs Club brings a rotating panel of up-and-coming chefs, who are selected by Dana Cowin of Food & Wine Magazine, from across the country to design the menu and share a taste of their signature dishes.

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The space is beautiful, dimly lit, and the kitchen is open, so sitting at the bar will give you a direct view of all the kitchen excitement.

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What also caught my eye was this giant, blush/peach colored mineral, hanging in a glass box. It looks awesome, but I was slightly concerned for the two people sitting at the bar right underneath this box. Seeing a 100-pound rock hanging above my head would make me just a tad nervous.

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The restaurant concept is an ode to great chefs, and this wall art is an extension of that. Plus while you’re waiting for your food, you can play the game “Name That Chef”. How many can you name?

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Bread to start.

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Chef Gabriel Rucker’s Sasso Chicken with brussels sprouts, Marcona almonds, black truffle, and cipollini onion. The chicken is cooked two ways – seared breast and then chicken thigh stuffed with giblets.

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“Le Pigeon,” also by Chef Rucker is squab, served with giblets, leeks, chestnut, and sage. The squab was quite gamey.

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Getting the potato puree (Chef Erik Anderson) was my best decision of the night. I was intrigued by the menu description which included crispy potato skin and raspberry powder. This puree was smooth and decadent, and the raspberry powder cut right through it with a jab of tartness that worked really well together. I would have never thought – mashed potatoes and raspberries?

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For dessert, an underwhelming profiteroles with chocolate sauce, gianduja mousse, and nuts. My neighborhood go-to, Le Parisien, is still way ahead of them in the profiteroles game. I would suggest skipping dessert and using more stomach space to clean out the silky potato puree.

Chef’s Club
275 Mulberry St (btw Houston and Jersey St) New York, NY 10012

Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop

This is totally unrelated, but has anyone else been obsessed with Serial recently? I wanted to listen to it for a while now, and finally I found some time to, on my long bus ride home. It’s excellent story telling. I am halfway through the series and grossly captivated. Highly recommend!

I can’t think of a logical transition here, so I’m just going to abruptly change topics.

There seems to be a lot of quality food courts popping up all over New York from Hudson Eats to Gotham West Market. My friend and I went to check out Gotham West Market, which was quite the commitment to make because it is so far from any semblance of a subway stop. All the way out on 11th Ave, only the bus would take you there, and waiting for the bus out in the cold is miserable business. We held true though and trekked our way to the wild wild west.

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This is not your typical suburban shopping mall food court, dominated by your Sbarro’s and Panda Express. The inspiration for Gotham West Market comes from the food markets more typically found in Europe and Asia, and I love how they’ve translated that into a version fit for New York. It’s an innovative use of public space, and I hope to see more similar business ventures springing up across the city.

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The interior was very cool and industrial, with 8 different food vendors from Blue Bottle Coffee to The Cannibal. The vendors are varied in the types of food served but all delivering food at a certain level of quality. There is plenty of seating both at tables and along the bars.

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Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop is a popular choice. Ivan Orkin is probably the only white guy to have made a name for himself in Japan for making ramen. After spending a number of years in Japan and opening up 2 wildly popular ramen shops, he came back to New York, and this Gotham West Market outpost is his first restaurant in the United States. He has since opened up the flagship Ivan Ramen in Lower East Side, which I still have to go check out.

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On this particular day, Ivan was there, and we actually met him and chatted with him for a bit. He told us how the menu right now is pretty basic, and how he wants to amp it up to include more creative dishes, but he figures he’ll ease New Yorkers into it slowly. I admit that I was kind of starstruck. He also gave us recommendations and even took our order! Here, I have the shoyu ramen, made of a dashi and chicken broth. I added an egg as well. The broth is full-bodied and rich, and the rye noodles are cooked just right. I typically find all ramen to be way too salty for my taste, and though that is still the case here, this is ranking as one of my favorite shoyu ramens in the city.

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This is the vegetarian shoyu ramen, which for having a vegetarian broth, surprised me in how flavorful it was. The enoki mushrooms are a really nice touch as well that I wish were also in the regular shoyu ramen.

If you’re ever in need of a long trek to the far west side or if you find yourself out on 11th Ave for some reason, consider Gotham West Market as a food stop. Over the summer, Jeni’s Ice Cream had a stand in there as well for really expensive but amazing ice cream. Not sure if they’re still there or if it was just a pop-up, but you can tell that each vendor is serving really quality food. I don’t think you can go wrong with any choice there.

Ivan Ramen
Gotham West Market
600 11th Ave (btw 44th and 45th St) New York, NY 10036

Murray’s Cheese Bar

Since moving to NYC, I have grown to develop a terrible appreciation for 3 things that never used to be in my diet: burgers, pizza, and cheese. That just made me sound like a heart attack waiting to happen, but I promise that I maintain a pretty healthy lifestyle. Just because I like something doesn’t mean I’ll have it all the time. A cheese bar would have never sounded appealing to me 5 years ago. Now, my ears perk up, and I’m there.

I’ve bought cheese and tried the breakfast sandwiches at Murray’s Cheese before and really enjoyed the experience. Three doors down, they have an actual sit-down restaurant with a delightfully cheesy (heh heh) menu.

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The queso fundido was so delicious. It’s made of 3 different goat cheeses along with chorizo, tomatos, and jalapenos. The degree of yumminess was grossly disproportional to the size of the appetizer. We could have easily demolished two more of these.

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The burger comes with a rarebit cheddar sauce that sounded amazing. Seeing the struggle of trying to decide between the burger or the mac & cheese, they were lovely enough to give us a sampling of the rarebit cheddar sauce despite not ordering the burger. The rarebit cheddar sauce is the real deal though, savory and hearty with a mustardy tang.

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Mac & blue is topped with bacon and crispy fried onions.

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I went the simplest route with the Murray’s melt – grilled cheese with a cup of tomato soup. Perfect for a cold day.

Murray’s Cheese Bar
264 Bleecker St (btw Cornelia & Morton) New York, NY 10014

The Dutch

I came for the brunch, and unexpectedly I fell in love with the ambiance: old school booths, large windows, and I’m ashamed to admit, a young, attractive, see-and-be-seen kind of crowd. The Dutch is the kind of place where you’ll run into both celebrities and hipsters, all seeking that trendy, casual watering hole. Awkwardly, on this particular morning, I think I may have also witnessed a co-worker on a date (I promptly averted my eyes and walked by pretending like I didn’t see anything because I am…just…so smooth).

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I loved that we got the corner table here. Sometimes, when sitting across the table from people when dining out, the table feels so enormously big, and I am always straining to hear the conversation. I like corner tables. Restaurants should make more of them.

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Biscuits are my downfall, so of course, I had to try the honey butter biscuits. Glazed with a thin swish of honey, these biscuits were flaky and delightful.

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Barrio tripe is one of the more exotic dishes on the menu with tripe, beans, avocado, pico de gallo, sunny side up eggs, and a handful of Fritos.The first bite was bursting with flavor with a touch of heat. I do have to say though that it got to be too much to finish the entire entree. Too much of one taste.

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Cheddar biscuits with poached eggs, ham, and tomatoes, which I tried a bite of, and it was really good, better than my barrio tripe. Maybe I should’ve ordered the fried chicken that everyone talks about. I’ll save that for next time.

The Dutch
131 Sullivan St (btw Prince and Houston) New York, NY 10012

Melt Shop

Ever since starting work this week, the weather has been horrendous – either pouring, flooding rain or in today’s case, snow. I’ve been too lazy to cook since coming back from vacation, so lunches have been a quick dash to the Chipotle or Potbelly next door to avoid any additional time outdoors. It made me miss the lunching adventures we used to go on, such as a trip long ago for some grilled cheese sandwiches at Melt Shop.

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Ahhhh…back when it was warm, and we had the luxury of eating outside.

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Here we have the 3 cheese – gruyere, havarti, goat cheese & roasted tomatoes on sourdough. It’s too bad my closeup didn’t focus correctly and came out blurry. I admit I get my cheeses confused, and I couldn’t taste the difference of having all these different cheeses in here compared to just one. It was just…very cheesy.

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This one is call the dirty – pepperjack and muenster cheese with caramelized onions, pickled jalapeños, sliced tomato, and crunchy potato chips. The crunchy potato chips remind me of my grandparents who used to always put potato chips in their sandwiches (I have no idea why…they just thought it was the most logical thing to do). I used to scoff at them for not eating chips the right way, but this surprisingly seemed to work.

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Parmesan tater tots are the best things ever though. I come back to the Melt Shop over and over again more for the tater tots than for the grilled cheese. Hot and crispy, with just the right amount of parmesan sprinkled on. I really like tater tots. I really really really like tater tots.

Melt Shop
Multiple Locations; 601 Lexington Ave (btw 53rd and 54th) New York, NY 10022

Quality Meats

There have been so many times where I found myself enjoying the appetizers of a meal more than the entrees. In light of this oft-occurring phenomenon, my friend Kat and I decided to skip out on the steaks at Quality Meats and instead order a table of appetizers. We were a little apprehensive of whether one, if we would have enough food, or two, if we would be scoffed at by the wait staff. I’m happy to report back that the whole experience turned out to be really wonderful. I loved being able to sample a variety of different dishes, the food was more than enough, and the wait staff didn’t think that we were strange at all. Well, maybe they did think that, but they certainly didn’t show it. We were made to feel right at home.

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The meal started out with complimentary figs and cheese. The figs were bright and tangy, paired nicely with the cheese and a dash of salt. We were instantly tickled pink and put into a lovely mood by this complimentary plate.

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The rosemary bread came so piping hot that we had to let it sit for a bit before digging in. Super fluffy and soft on the inside, this was a real treat.

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We were first intrigued by the corn creme brulee on the menu, and then we fell madly in love with the corn creme brulee. I was so surprised at how yummy it was. Creamy with that slight corn-y sweetness, this was one of the stars of the night.

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While we didn’t order steaks, meat was still a must have. Here are the baby back ribs with crispy lotus roots. The sweet glaze tasted distinctly Asian. The meat fell right off the bone and was quite satisfying.

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The steak tartare is what Kat came here for. It comes with an egg to mix in and then an assortment is different salts and seasonings to sprinkle on. I think it lived up to her expectations.

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The bone marrow is what I had my eye on. I was so excited to see how they prepared it. The idea is to spoon some onto pieces of toast with some veggie spread and a sprinkle of salt. It was very rich bone marrow. I thought the tomatoes and carrots masked the creamy bone marrow flavor so I ended up just eating the marrow by the spoonful and then ate the toast and spread separately. Still delicious. This is also because I am big fan of bone marrow. At home, my mom would make pork stock with these giant bones full of marrow. When the stock was finished, you’ll always find me sitting at the kitchen table digging into the bone marrow. So good and really nutritious too.

I didn’t get any good pictures of the dessert, unfortunately. We had long heard about Quality Meats’ ice cream cake cups. I tried the Strawberry S’more with strawberry chunk ice cream, graham cracker cake, and toasted marshmallow icing. Kat got the Pie Fight with blueberry pie ice cream, lemon chiffon cake, key lime frosting, and topped with blueberries and a mini lemon tart. Perhaps our expectations were too high. Both ice cream cakes were average, nothing to write home about. I would skip dessert for more of their meats next time.

Quality Meats
57 W 58th St (btw Ave of the Americas & Grand Army) New York, NY 10019