Hot or Not? Top Places in NYC for Hot Chocolate

On days where the mercury dips into zones that require layers and layers of clothing, plus an extra helping of thermal undergarments that you got from your Aunt Gertrude last year, nothing can make getting out into the wintery weather all worthwhile than a scrumptious sipping of genuinely delicious hot cocoa.

While there are plenty of places in Manhattan that talk about their hot chocolate as being the best, here are my own picks on the beverage. Feel free to leave your own recommendation or add a comment if you wish.

Dominique Ansel Bakery
This is classic hot chocolate. They didn't add any extra spices to the recipe and it comes with chocolate froth. Yes, it is frothy on the top. I feel much better that a ton of whipped cream wasn't irresponsibly slathered onto the concoction. This is classic and very tasty -plus, it goes very well with either an almond croissant or a DKA ("Dominique's Kouign Amann") - which is a like a croissant with a caramelized, crunchy crust.

Jacques Torres
Multiple locations throughout NYC
If you do want a little kick to your drink, give the Wicked Hot Chocolate a spin at Jacques' place. It is dense, but that extra heat in the drink will make any frosty customer smile with warmness.

City Bakery
Flat Iron District
In all honesty, I find their hot chocolate, personally, way too dense. However, I know that people line up around the block for the stuff... And I've had it plenty of times to feel guilty about the extra time I'll need to spend at the gym working off this calorie bomb. I can't blame the bakery - but I really do fault the amazing deliciousness of their homemade marshmallows as a guilty contributor to my expanding waistline. If you like a thick hot chocolate, this is the place for you.

Upper East Side + Soho 
If you want flavors and exotic explosions in your mouth, go to Vosges. On their website, they say that they offer hot chocolate "with a twist." There is an option that touts Australian lemon myrtle, lavender, white chocolate and vanilla powder that should not be missed. What is even better: all of their hot cocoas are available as iced versions, too. It's year 'round fun!

While there are only four places listed here, I know there are many, many more... and the season has just begun. So PLEASE! Let me know your recommendations - I'll try them all and report back! 

Happy New Year, everyone!

If You're in the Restaurant Game, GET THIS CONCEPT!

So often, I go out to a restaurant, have a terrific first time experience and then, when I return, it's a complete one-eighty.

Since I don't like to cook -and when I do venture to get creative in the kitchen every 5 to 10 years, it's just not a positive use of my time. This is why I appreciate it so much when it's done correctly and why I love restaurants.

But more importantly, I find that CONSISTENCY is more important in a restaurant kitchen more than any one ingredient. WHY does this seem to be such a hard concept for so many restaurants?

My mom has always made great Carolina style BBQ. Why? Because she does it practically the same way, each time. I know what I get when I'm at Mom's. It's ALWAYS the same deliciousness.

People who go to chain restaurants go there because they can get the same food that they expect. They can also probably count on a good dose of Mylanta or a case of diarrhea, too -but maybe that's ok for them, just not for me.

So without further a doo-doo, here's a short list of places that I just wish could get it down -and quit making life so difficult for the people that come back for more (of the SAME):
  -I love Riverpark -but it's hot and cold there. 3 out of 5 times, I have a very good meal. But why can't they keep their menu consistent for ALL of those visits?
  -A Voce Columbus versus A Voce Madison - same chef and similar menus but the Madison Ave. location should just be shut down and put out of its misery. (Without Missy Robbins in the kitchen, maybe this is why it is just low-rate coming out the kitchen there, but it's also well below serving standards and I'll not be caught dining there. Ever. Again. Not gonna' happen.)
  -Bar Boulud - it's also hot and cold. Whereas Boulud Sud is a lot more reliable. Same restaurant group, TOTALLY different kitchens and service.

So who gets it right?

Red Cat has been a constant pleasure with each visit. The food and its menu is solid -so the kitchen just works like magical elves or something -because this is well over a 2 year period that I've frequented that particular restaurant. I've just never been disappointed.
Locanda Verde is also in that category of happiness. They get it.
There is constantly a line here. Hmmm... wonder why?
El Parador, Lupa, and I'm going to put it out there and let the hate mail begin: Shake Shack. Yes. They get the consistency concept just like other places ought to. It really can't be that difficult.

People go to the same salon, butcher, bakery, et al for a reason. You drink Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and go to Starbucks for that same purpose.

Final thought:
Consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness.

Just don't judge me on the amount of blog postings I do on a not-so-regular basis. I don't serve food, and apparently, not the public at large, either. ;)

El Parador: Mucho Bueno Mexican Food - Just Remove Your Sunglasses!

I like that there are some pretty good places to get something to eat in my neighborhood. Believe me when I say they are few and far between in the Midtown East area. I live in a culinary desert by comparison to other parts of the City.
Aaaaaanyway, the fact that we have El Parador nearby is a God-send. The menu is solid and I'm a big fan of their Barbacoa ribs. I probably misspelled that, but work with me here...
I've sampled most everything on that menu because my husband is more adventurous than I am and he always insist that I try things that would normally make me wince. He's usually right when he says, "Try it! I promise you'll like it." I have to learn to trust the man... And I should trust them in the kitchen at El Parador, too.
My husband told me a long time ago, "The chef doesn't want to put sh!t on the menu." Makes sense. A chef - a real, authentic, knows-what-the-hell-they-are-doing chef - would put dishes that are tasty, flavorful, and hopefully guarantee another visit back to their restaurant on the list.
This restaurant really has some good dishes, even if the names seem a tad daunting.
Is there a bad side to the place? Not really....but....
El Parador is just like walking in a dark cave -no matter what time of day you arrive. It's dark and to me, seems a bit medieval in its decor. So if that means it has to be a dark night in the middle of a sunny afternoon, fine. It's ok. Just remove your sunglasses before you walk in the door or you will think you have gone temporarily blind. I actually prefer its darkness over pinatas hanging from the ceiling and tacky statues of Mayan gods littered about an establishment.
Back to the good things about El Parador... Service is really good, but make a reservation because this place fills up! And I know you're probably thinking, but it's on 34th Street - between 1st and 2nd... WTH? I'm telling you, after 6pm, it's like the flood gates open. The bar is quite lively and the tables are very busy with people gathering after work or just having a romantic table for two.
If you're an Open Table fan, you find that many of the day/time slots are worth 1,000 points. It's just a huge incentive for some, so I thought I'd mention it.
It's also the oldest Mexican restaurant in New York City... and definitely one of the best. It's been favorably reviewed by many. I'm just adding my two cents because I hope they remain here for many future generations to come.

Bad Service + Bad Experience = Less Likely to Return

After yesterday's experience, I'm still so upset about it -I wanted to make note of it here. After all, that is why I started blogging in the first place: to just tell my own thoughts and opinions in a public space.
I'm certain that the people can make or break a business.
Case in point: Last night, I went to our favorite gelato place (you'll see it listed here, if you want to read more). This place has been consistent in the past. Fantastic ice cream with unique flavors, terrific java and the customer service was simply friendly and helpful.
NOT so last night.
The place was very quiet. We walked in and the guy behind the counter didn't even acknowledge our existence. So WE said hello first. He was so dismissive about having customers. He was playing on his phone. (Probably texting his mom.)
I still took a look at the various gelatos behind the glass, noticing immediately that they looked a tad melted. Well, not a tad - quite a bit. I mentioned this to my husband and ONLY then, did Mr. No-Congeniality say that it was his co-worker's fault. My husband didn't seem too bothered, as he still thought it would be ok. He still asked the zombie-like ice cream dude about the flavors and received a very icy response (no pun intended). Begrudgingly, he gave my husband a couple of samples to try. (In past visits, the service would have the spoons ready for customers to try right away -without having to ask. AND with a smile!)
I tried asking about the pastry that they normally have available because the melty-gelato wasn't doing it for me. With a very disinterested tone that has been his schtick since we walked in the door, I was informed that, "Yeah, that didn't sell very well. We have muffins now."
No pastry, no melted ice cream. No service.
I was so completely uninspired by this zombie behind the counter, that I didn't even want to have the coffee that I've raved about in the past.
So - business owners with a service-base: no matter WHAT you sell, if you have hired mediocre people to work for you, you can kiss your reputations goodbye. Your products won't sell and people WON'T go back.

Fl!p Flops Have Never Been My Style

Ok - so it was disappointing - another place that just didn't make it. Maybe this blog isn't about where TO go, but rather what TO AVOID while you're out and have a need to eat something.
It seems to be the trend on my blog, anyway.
Alright, so let me get to it:
Out shopping recently. Got hungry. Oh! The department store has a little restaurant that actually touts a NY Times review as you walk in. Supposedly, at some point in time, this place was worthy of a stop-through review. Who would have thought that anyone would take a small restaurant within Bloomie's as a good place to get a pricey burger?
More emphasis on that price, later.
Here I was at Bloomingdales... Flip Burger.
I walked in and the Cooking Channel with Julia Child was on the screen. Some cocky guy behind the counter acted all-knowledgeable about food and how it should be done... and how Julia Child should not be regarded as one of the great chefs... blah, blah, blah. He was irritating. Even better, was how he tried to explain to me about real chefs versus celebrity chefs... Whatever, dude. Get a real job and keep your butthole opinions to yourself.
Meanwhile, I perused the way-too-many-choices-of-a-menu and got frustrated. I decided that I would get a pre-constructed burger, rather than try to build my own. There was too little time to go through the ten or so choices of meats, plus types of cheese, plus mix-ins or whatever they called it.
I don't like an over-complicated menu. I'm not amused, impressed or wowed by them.
Movin' on....
I ordered the greek style Zorburger. It was supposed to be served with a side of Greek salad. Been to Greece. Been to great Greek restaurants in the city. THAT, dear friends, was not worthy of its namesake.
Note to readers: I ABHOR iceberg lettuce in all its forms. Nasty light green, crunch water. Forget it.
Oh -and that stuffed grape leaf? Almost made me instantaneously vomit. It was slimy and mushy. Just writing about it makes me gag. 
The burger was served with what I think was supposed to be ground lamb -but it was so dry, one could mistake it for sawdust. Easily.
It also had black olive tapenade as well as feta cheese. It was like sodium on top of sodium. And the so-called Greek salad had the feta cheese, too. So..... why?
And I cannot forget the bun. The HUGE onion-herbed brioche bun was the size of Giants Stadium. And it, too, was about the right dryness for sawdust material, too.
Just gross.
That, with a soft drink cost me over $20 - with tip, $25.
For the love of God people, avoid this place.
Go outside the doors of Bloomingdales and find a feast elsewhere.
This Flip has FLOPPED big time.
Midtown Lunch didn't care for them either. I think they even described the signage as "douchy".

The Best Gelato You've Probably Never Had

I must be one of the worst bloggers out there. I know I should post more. I know I need to write.
Where's the time?
I mean, it's not like I don't eat... and it's not because I haven't been lucky enough to dine out often.
As I've mentioned before, I probably go out to dinner way too much! And to be just plain honest with everyone, I haven't been home long enough to do much, much less write about my experiences. [commence pity party now and I'll kill you.]
Seriously though, I've been traveling to family and on business... far, far from NYC (the shame, I know!).
And make no mistake: Once you go outside this great city, it can be very difficult to find places that meet some very high culinary expectations.
For example, people just told me soooo much about Barcelona, Spain and its tapas, tapas, tapas! I was so excited!! Couldn't WAIT to get there. In the end, I spent almost 2 weeks in that town and didn't have that food fest that so many promised me that we'd have. It was a big let down. #epicFAIL
So yea, I knoooooow.... It was Europe, so it was far from home and very interesting -but not the exotic exploits that a foodie really wants. I just set my expectations too high, I think. (sigh)
So now that I'm back in the city (woo hoo!), I thought that I should at least write about something that I really, really love:
Mia Gelateria - On 27th & 3rd Ave
Yes, in many places we can get that here in NY -but one place, it has my vote: Mia Chef Gelateria. For the LOVE OF GOD this place is good. I enjoy their coffee, too. I am not even a big drinker of the java... but I like me some there! (Yes, I know this is grammatically incorrect. I don't care. I'm making a point.)
So Mia Chef has truly inventive flavors and you can sample each one before committing. You can try the likes of Figs and Tequila, Chocolate Whiskey Truffles, Mojito Sorbet and Belgian Chocolate (one of my faves -it has CHUNKS of the good chocolate enveloped in its mix). The servings are more than generous and the people that serve are consistently friendly. Oh yes, and they change their flavors a lot -so don't bank on one of the aforementioned to be there, per se. There are also many more than I mentioned as well.
I like this place so much that my husband and I just signed up for a class to learn how to MAKE the gelato ourselves. Yes, they have classes every weeknight and weekends. It's called the Mia Academy on their website. This is "get-a-babysitter-for-the-night-worthy".
Oh, and I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention their Hungarian pastry. It's just flaky albeit unpronounceable... it's simply delish. I like the chocolate, but don't take my word for it - try it yourself. With some of their very good coffee or a cappuccino. Really. Good stuff.
On their website, they mention, "Our menu, consisting of a varied selection of traditional and modern tastes, is prepared in house every morning by our resident chef. We bake our own pastries and we serve the finest drinks from our espresso bar.With over a thousand different recipes created to perfect the artistry in the centuries-old tradition of making gelato, we provide elaborate and modern flavors that allow our customers to take comfort in the traditional and find excitement in the unexpected. Our spaces were designed by Sheer Concepts taking inspiration from the rustic town of Orvieto, Italy to give it a warm and elegant vibe. Our company promotes sustainability by using green products and biodegradable cups."
So there. Spectacular ice cream, divine cuppa joe and they are environmentally friendly to boot. File this under #yummy.
Mia Chef Gelateria on 27th and 3rd, Manhattan

Where Not To Go For a Business Lunch in Manhattan

This is the way Salute' should stay: EMPTY.
I've been to Salute' before, and enjoyed my meal for the most part, but the place is almost always too loud for lunch and has a pompous FOH and waitstaff. However, this particular business lunch reservation was incredibly poor -from service, to food, to ambiance, -beginning to end. Service was sporadic, we waited a long time just for water to arrive. The order was taken slowly and then the food had ZERO flavor when it finally arrived. It was questionable if the meat was really meat or a "chicken log" along with a salad. NOT good!! Yes, I said LOG, not chicken LEG. Yes, it was a LOG, people! A rolled-out, flattened with a flat-iron, falafel-looking piece of colorless material. (BUT it DID make a great "tweet" and "twitpic" for my guests who were visiting from Atlanta!)
Overall presentation and taste were horrific. What a bad experience. Will not return, even if it IS very close to my office. It was embarrassing to take a business lunch there. And this is what they think of Italian cuisine in NYC now.... Oh the inhumanity!
That only happens ONCE to be embarrassed by a restaurant. No take-backs. So long, Salute'.
270 Madison Avenue # 1
New York, NY 10016-0601

Get More Bang for Your Num Pang!

Photo: Walking up to the restaurant
So a new lunch spot opened up near where I work... My husband turned me on to it this morning. All he needed to say, really, was, "new" and "bahn-mi"... The rest was just chatter. (Sorry, hun. 'Tis the truth.)
I wasn't aware of this place even opening -but apparently, others were, as you can see by this photo.

A friggin' long-ass line outside Num Pang Sandwich Shop.

Great. (Insert big sigh here for a person who has no patience for lines and crowds of people. No snarky comments needed about living in NYC and not liking crowds. Already heard it and I don't really care because I won't be moving anytime soon.)

But what does a long line really say to me? Something is for free OR it means it is good and worth queuing up for! So I "queued" as it were....

I waited as patiently as I could. I checked my phone for messages, put up a "Twitpic" and tweeted a tad about the new experience I was about to undertake.

Surprisingly, I get to the front to place my order amazingly quickly. I order my pulled pork sandwich, the grilled corn on the cob and a diet soda. (Again, sorry to my husband who wants me to try to give up the sugary drinks. Can't do it yet. I have to wean myself... at least give me 18 months or so....!). Anyway, I really wanted the green iced tea -but they were out and brewing more. Some things in life are worth waiting for, but green iced tea was not on my list at that time. A good ol' Boylan's Cane Cola (Diet!) was going to have to do.

Photo: Still waiting...
The wait for my order wasn't long either.. but there's no place to really sit down, so you stand around and wait for your number to be called. It's take out, what else do you want? You just wait around and watch the others listen for to be called and hope it's yours next....

After I got my order... grabbed a couple of condiments and I was on my way.

Quick sidebar: if I did get the green tea, I would have been very happy as they have simple syrup available to sweeten it up. LOVE that. Better than trying to sweeten cold tea with sugar or Splenda -it just doesn't mix when the drink is cold. Simple syrup is a great alternative and costs them nothing to provide. I'm givin' the place props or "plus one" -whatever. It's a little thing that means a lot. To me. Maybe only me, but to me. (It's my blog. I get to say whatever I want to.) Now back to my experience.....

Walkin' back to work, hoards of oblivious people made me drop my hot sauce on the sidewalk and step on it. Oh well. The sandwich probably won't need it... or, at least it better not, because I wasn't scrapin' anything off the sidewalk or going back through the crowd to get red sauce anyway.

Photo: The before picture of my lunch.
Another sidebar: PEOPLE OF NYC -tourists and locals alike: BE AWARE that you ARE NOT ALONE in the streets of NY. There are OTHERS around you. Stay to the RIGHT while walking on the sidewalk (just like the traffic!). DO NOT STOP SUDDENLY in the middle of the sidewalk either -unless you want to be plowed into or cursed at loudly. If you are MORE THAN 2 people walking side-by-side - you are WRONG. Again, it's a city of MILLIONS, you have to share space. You are NOT ALONE!! BE AWARE THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE IN THIS CITY THAT ALSO NEED TO USE THE SAME COMMON AREAS. Thank you for your attention and compliance. (Oh, and try not to talk on your cellphone or text while walking- but if you stay on the right and have common sense while doing it, go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do - just have half a brain while doing it.) I could go on... but! Let's go to the food...

When I get back to my office, I'm somewhat happy that the food is still pretty warm, but due to the packaging and the heat from the food, the sandwich bread is not as crunchy as I'd like it to be.... Oh well. That's what you get with take out...a little bit of this, a little bit of that. (If only those STUPID people would have moved out of my way quicker, I probably could have had a better sandwich experience. Damn tourists!)

Important to note - Corn on the cob - FAN-friggin-tabulous. Love it. The coconut, the chili and spicy mayo... OMG. Yes. I could eat JUST THAT and be happy.

The sandwich had very crispy veggies that were tasty and the pulled pork wasn't overly cooked or spiced. BRAVO.

My soda was warm by the time I got to my nearby office, too. But... all in all... it ended out exceptionally well. Even my dental floss was happy.And that, dear readers, says A LOT.

Photo: Very good "after" photo. Yes, that is dental floss, a napkin and count them: TWO wet naps.

Num Pang Sandwich Shop
140 East 41st St., Midtown
Phone: 212-86-8889
Officially opened June 28, 2011

Playing Nicely

I've come across some really interesting places in the city -not just because I see them here online and think, "Hey! I'd like to try that, too" -but because I've been out just wandering the streets without a specific destination. Those, by far, always brought the best surprises -at least for me.

When you have an agenda, or when people say, "You've GOT to try this place because..." it loses its appeal -just a little. I'm a firm believer that everyone should have their own opinions and experiences.

This blog is only based on my own feelings about places I've been -and yours will probably vary and differ completely (because it should!). That is the way things always go! It doesn't matter if you visit the same location -even going to Disney- you'll still have a different experience and memory -no matter what the situation.

With that in mind, I'll tell you that I visited a new place today... I DID have an agenda to go there to try it out because I heard about it on Twitter. I DO pay attention to what others say and take note. In this instance, I thought it was more of a dessert place, but found out it served shaved ice in a Chinese take-out box.
Now, it's probably my fault for not investigating more about this new place -but really, I just felt as though I should try something new and it's a business that has just opened up... so why not?! Supporting the local economy is good!! (Please, I encourage you all to do so!!)

Well support aside, I should mention.....for starters, I'm not a fan of shaved ice. Would it be fair for me to say the place was terrible? No.

I could see that there were quite a few visitors in the place. The woman greeted repeat customers -and they've only been open for a few days at best.

But it was shaved ice. Not really dimensional in flavor -and of course, what I ordered was waaaaay too sweet and just not "my thing" at all.

It could as just as well been frozen peas on a stick. I don't like those either!!! (Peas - food of the demons! I get slightly ill at the mere thought of them. Blech!!)

popbar nyc
So okay.... I'll be honest: If I want something in the same neighborhood, that's more NYC Foodie Girl style, I like to give props to popbar. It's gelato on a stick. It's been awhile since I've visited, but I do like the concept (um, ICE CREAM ON A STICK - what's not to like?!) and most of all, the taste. You can get one exactly they way you want it, to order, too.

I mean, you can get the shaved ice anyway you'd like, too, but just be sure you like it! (And, um... again, sorry, me no likey the shaved ice!)

And just FYI: I decided not to mention the other new business that I visited with the shaved ice by name, because I'd like them to be successful and no one needs a tiny blogger posting something that is less than stellar -not that it would matter much -but to me, it DOES make a difference. I'll play nice, with shaved ice. I just don't want to eat any. Thanks! ;)

Two Out of Three - Ain't Bad!

It was a fantastical foodie weekend -spent time at Gotham Bar & Grill, Boulud Sud and Riverpark. Looking back at these dining experiences, they are all so very different. Let me start off with one and work my way through....

Gotham Bar & Grill was recently awarded a 3-star review by Sam Sifton of the New York Times. I have a real hard time with that. Why? Let me list the ways:
  1. The table cloth had a huge, visible stain (gray on white -probably a spilled red wine stain that didn't come out of the linen).
  2. Only once, during 2+ hours, was my water glass refreshed.
  3. On course #4 (of 5), they finally cleared the crumbs off the table. 
  4. Bread and butter was slow to arrive -not only at our table, but noticed at others, too.
  5. The hostess table was overcrowded with cackling girls - 3 of them, to be precise. You don't need 3 hostesses! To make it worse, they certainly weren't doing anything important other than gossiping and laughing too loudly during the dinner service.
  6. One of the main courses was overcooked (the lamb) and the dessert (a rhubarb shortcake concoction) was yeasty as well as completely tasteless. 3 stars in a restaurant should mean that the food is consistently prepared correctly. Since we ordered the Chef's 5-Course Tasting Menu, I expected the best of their best. I was let down.
  7. Coffee was sloppily served and ended up making the stained table cloth more miserable.
  8. Service was more worthy of a 1-star at best...
I could list other annoyances (e.g., no music was being played so it sounded more like a diner than a fine dining experience), but I'll keep with those written above so you can  get an idea but hopefully not get too turned off.

Overall, Gotham has the potential to be a very chic place to dine with the quintessential NY experience. The location is cool and they do have a decent chef. They just aren't 3-star worthy. I think Mr. Sifton must have been sipping on a lot of mimosas that evening and dulled his taste buds, eyesight and sensibilities.

However, on the other hand and worthy of some star-age soon, Boulud Sud is certainly worthy of another look (as is the adjoining take-away "Epicerie" - get your hands on the chocolate macrons and you'll never be emotionally the same). Although I do not care for the space or the decor of Boulud Sud, the menu is very appealing and trust me, I've tried so many of the dishes that I could be a member of the waitstaff by now!

You should try the  Tomato and Sheep's Milk Cheese -Ricotta and Oregano Pan Con Tomate Grilled Manouri and Tomato Confit as an appetizer. Don't get it to share! Ok, maybe... but I like to keep this on my side of the table with some of the extra flatbread that is served. Three letters: OMG. I love the quail as a main dish, and the Waygu beef is beautiful, too.

It's one of the newest restaurants from Daniel, so you shouldn't be disappointed. They know what they are doing in the kitchen and the wait staff is trained to be of helpful service. I really appreciate that!

Speaking of appreciation,.... I've already discussed Riverpark -but hadn't been there for brunch. This place was busy, so I guess that is a good sign that business is doing well. I'd only recommend that when they expect a bigger crowd, the waitstaff should be prepared. It seemed like a struggle for them to keep up and they had a problem keeping up with the demand. However, the food was delicious as always and the outdoor space is now open. Talk about a gorgeous city day! It was the place to be and I'll request a chair out there next time (after allergy season is over and done with, of course).

So there you have it. 3 restaurants over the 3 day weekend - but twice the charm. ;)

Falling Flat on its Face in the Flatiron: A Voce

You know... it's hard to write a good review when the trend seems to be going pretty poorly.

I've recently gone to A Voce on Madison Avenue and to the one in the Time Warner building. I seriously will never, EVER go to the location on Madison again. Not ever. I even wrote a message to management via that went UN-answered. Wow. Really?

I wonder if Chef Missy Robbins even heard the valid complaints?

Anyway, I made a reservation with notice about coming in with a stroller (which, yes,  I KNOW a stroller is not the most convenient, so I warn any restaurant ahead of time so that proper accommodations can be made -and this location has plenty of space to make it easy on everyone -from waitstaff to customer) -but that made no difference. You can see that we were placed in a decent area, as the table to the left was our seating area... keep reading and you'll shake your head too, I promise!

On the reservation, I also made a note to let the servers and staff know of a food allergy -to which they completely ignored. Thank goodness that we're used to dining a certain way, because a well trained staff makes sure to NOT serve bread to someone that could pass out or die if they eat it! (You'd think, right?!)

Ok... so our evening still, somehow consisted of being placed in an area that warranted a lot of foot traffic, although by the photo, you'd never know it. Apparently, there are extra chairs that are hidden behind that campfire looking background and behind our banquette.

Within 15 minutes of being seated, and in related yet separate incidents, a chair was promptly and rudely removed from our table of 4 (we were three and I had used the extra chair for storing a purse and the diaper bag). I had to remove my belongings and it was all very awkward - as there was a waiter impatiently needing the chair (why it needed to be from our table instead of an empty setting, I'll never know!). People stared from other tables as a chair was removed from next to me, over to a corner location. I felt like I had bad B.O. and an infectious disease or something.

Later, another server BUMPED my baby in the stroller (and my child WAS sleeping soundly) to take yet another chair from the area behind us. He lifted this UP and OVER my baby AND over a seated pregnant woman's head! Oh -and there was also this big, huge dust bunny flowing down from the chair leg....! I'm NOT f'ing kidding. Wish I was. I was just horrified and shielded my baby in his stroller from being bumped or squashed by this Neanderthal without a clue.

Later, yet another server attempted to move my baby in his stroller, without any explanation whatsoever. I said, "No! Do NOT TOUCH my child!" It was only AFTER he failed to MOVE my baby on his terms that we learned that the dumb asses still needed more chairs from the storage area. How about SAYING something first and not creeping up on a mom with her stroller... attempting to move him on your own accord? One word: DUH.

It was HUGELY obvious that the room was NOT set for dinner properly before guests arrived. They took no care to know how many covers they expected that night and things were simply chaotic from the moment we walked in. Where was the General Manager?

To even make it worse, the waitstaff did not know the dishes well, so they were pushy on an appetizers that we clearly did not want. And by pushy, I mean that I felt like I was at an Applebee's or some other sh!thole of a restaurant that want to sell me an something before it went bad in the refrigerator. A serious re-training of the waitstaff and front of house will have to occur -and a whole re-tooling of the management is also in need of a serious look if they can manage to keep their heads out of their butts for five minutes.

The whole 'tude of the place was just out of sync.

Beyond the exceptionally poor service, came food that was sub-par. I know Chef Robbins' food to have dimensional flavors. This is why people like Jerry Seinfeld and Madonna took our seats (because I SAW THEM COME IN when we dined at the Columbus Circle location)! She's good and she's known for her cuisine... but the Flatiron location of this A Voce left me saying, "A VOID."

Pure Food and Sunshine

I feel really good about myself after going to Pure Food and Wine. It's like I can order anything on the menu and know that I've made a good choice. How many other restaurants are like that? (Seriously, I'd like to hear about it, if you have a comment to share)
Oh! I know one... Peacefood Cafe is also a similar experience... but there has to be more!!
Sorry. Digression....
I like places that I can go to and experiment... while still feeling healthy... and I can bring along the baby without feeling parental guilt for doing so... (read on for the explanation).
So, I recently learned that Pure Food and Wine is doing brunch. I've been there twice since learning that and plan another dining out again very soon.
Even better -at least for me and my husband- is that we've seen people in there with strollers. Yes, I know... babies in public places make some people cringe! It's ok, I do to - and I have a little one, myself. I just happen to know that my baby is not one to cry or fuss in public -so it's ok to bring him as long as our baby gear does not obstruct the flow of the restaurant and his very being doesn't disturb other diners.
So far, so good.
And, for the days that we're on the go, One Lucky Duck is perfect for a takeaway smoothie and -OMG! Have you tried a Malomar from this place? LOVE those!
Although not all the desserts are yummy... the orreos (yes, I know, there are two "r's" in that!) - they are a bit on the dry and boring side... and the pudding is not exactly write-home-about-material.
But again, the malomar... try it! It's so yummy!
And, it's the kind of quirky little place that when you go there, you just want to sit and watch the traffic go in and out of there. The people that work there - I have YET to see the same person behind the counter and I've been there pretty consistently as it is. But it's interesting to see the variance of clientele.... (It's worthy of an iPhone shot... I should do that next time I go and post here. You be the judge!)
Either way -if you go to Pure Food or to One Lucky Duck.... it's sure to put some sunshine in your life. Although the prices might be a bit heavy on one's wallet... you may have to reach for your rainy day savings if needed. Worth it.

Riverpark - My Featured Restaurant for March

Riverpark - a new Tom Colicchio restaurant is in a random NYC location, but well worth the venture out.

I visited this gem during its soft open, again during a major blizzard, another time for the lunch crowd and yet again with baby-in-tow for a family night out. 4 out of 4 times, we had a great meal and service was also just as commendable.

Even their Restaurant Week menu didn't disappoint -like so many do during this "get 'em in and out" promotion. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

For starters, (and I say that with a quirky smirk since that's really not pun-ny!) -the appetizers are terrific. Even their potato chips... yes, potato chips! They are served with a Gorgonzola-based dip that is so yummy, I am salivating like a rabid dog thinking about them!

The seasonal butternut squash soup is also approachable and has been a welcome addition to the table on a cold winter's day/night. (We've had a lot of those in the city this year!)

I've made a point of working my way through all of the pasta dishes on the menu. 3 out of the 4 times they were perfect. Only the last time when I ordered the short rib ravioli, they were a tad too al dente. In fact, I'd say they were undercooked... but they still (yes! still!) had flavor.

I've also sampled the duck. That was really perfection. It was very delicate and simply delicious; the trumpet mushrooms were paired well with the dish.

The atmosphere is inviting -once you're indoors. First, you have to FIND the restaurant. Then you walk into a convention-center-looking abode before getting to the entrance. The lighting behind the bar area does really funky things to my optical lenses -and I do not wear glasses, contact lenses or a moniker. I just get a little dizzy when looking at the lights too often. So the cure: don't look too long and maybe get a table that faces away from the light show.

Don't misunderstand, as the interior is welcoming and has a bit of cool funkiness to it -but for me, personally, it makes my eyes go wild when I am staring into the space for too long. Just sayin'.

Wait staff and front of the house personnel are also very good and attentive. They smile and act like they really care.

I'm going back soon to try the Rack of Lamb or maybe they'll have another pasta special to sample (because pasta always wins out in my book!), but first, the potato chips must be served.

You won't be disappointed to check out Riverpark. It's a big win for Tom Colicchio and the surrounding neighborhood.You know, as Charlie Sheen would say, "Winning!"

Annoyances: A Sound-Off

It seems to be a trend: parents in public places not knowing how to properly discipline their children while dining and thinking that going out is an excuse for an episode of "Kids Gone Wild" at a table near you. UGH. I hate those parents.

And through Twitter, I had people respond to my previous blog posting about just this issue, too. (BTW, are you following me? @NYCfoodieblog) I can't believe there hasn't been some sort of public uprising about this very bad parenting problem. I know Dr. Phil needs more material....

Anyway, I thought I'd do some more sharing....although it's not all about food, I thought I'd discuss some other general annoyances with you. So... here we go....

Ten Random Things That Annoy Me (on any given day, not in order of preference - and by no means is this a definitive list....):

1. Buffets. Two words: Sneeze Guard. I don't want to eat at a restaurant that has an all-you-can-gorge kind of atmosphere - ever - much less, just the fact that someone INVENTED something called Sneeze Guard is enough to make me vomit just a little when I think about it.

2. Mosquitos flying around my room when it is late at night -you don't know where they are but you can hear them buzzing by your ears! (I had the book, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears as a young girl... it annoyed me then, too.)

3. Anything song that features Mariah Carey... I pray for the day that her vocal chords just come to a complete stop.

4. Pompous people with too much money -it's one thing to be rich. It's another to be an ass about it.

5. Powdered cheese. (WHY?! We're not astronauts that need to eat freeze-dried food. I also don't need cheese that is artificially colored with Red #32. Just curious - what's wrong with FRESH and/or natural cheese?)

6. Seamonkeys. Not from the sea when you hatch them in your aquarium at home. Not monkeys.

7. Hangnails. Ouch.

8. Lines to get in (restaurants, theme parks, banks, theatres, etc.)... just because the English refer to them as "queues" does not make it any more charming to be standing around waiting for your turn. I'm just not a patient person. That's why some theme parks with the Fast Pass or VIP pass system really get my money right up front... I'm paying to cut in line. No waiting and getting a sunburn.

9. Children without proper supervision (or the ones who cry incessantly while others are trying to eat, or while at the movies - just children in general with parents who act like they are living in oblivion). I already talked about this, but feel free to vent or post comments about what to do with the offending parents at will. For example, I propose that we bring back public flogging for bad parenting.

10. Stale crackers or cookies. If I am in the mood for some Chicken in a Biscuit and the LAST person didn't close the package the proper, seal-tight way.... ARGH! I've tried to ignore a stale cracker and tell myself that it was just fine.... but I knew that wasn't right. Nothing's worse than a stale Chicken in a Biscuit.

Venturing Out Again... (The Hibernation Period Has Finally Ended!)

Hibernating for too long when you're a food blogger is like putting food for too long under the warming light... Just not a good thing to do. Ever.

But I have a really good excuse. Yes, I said, "Excuse." Pardon me for having a baby!

Really - it was quite the feat. I'm proud of me. I'm also proud of my husband, my doctors, nurses and anyone who had to deal with me the past few months.

I was no fun, had a bad, limited diet (because OH! Guess who had Gestational Diabetes in December when food really gets good and interesting?!) and was so big, I no longer could sit comfortably in a restaurant's banquette. And I LIKE sitting on the benches instead of a chair -any day. Trust me.

I was not a case of misery loves company. I was simply miserable and wanted to be left alone with my really bad sugar-free cookies, decaffeinated beverages and modified Atkin's diet-based existence. It was major suckage.

But now it's over. And we're actually venturing out of the apartment -and back into restaurants that have good food rather than be slaves to delivered food from the local sushi or burger joints.

And don't fret: we will continue to dine in good locales in spite of new parenthood. Taking the baby out now and getting him used to haute cuisine and how to behave in some of NYC's finest restaurants is paramount to our very livelihood.

We are also responsible parents who believe that children, of all ages, need to know how to behave while dining and in public spaces. Screaming, unruly children annoy the hell out of me. I don't want one of "those" children... or to have "that" kind of lifestyle. We need to ensure the child behaves, and not put that job upon the other diners, waitstaff or random people on the street.... as WAY too many people do, too often, IMHO. (As a general rule, I'll be frank: I really do not like other peoples' children... at least, when they are psychotic, screaming and/or acting like little brats while I am trying to enjoy an outing of any sort. Watch your own kids, people! The world is not your unpaid babysitter!)

Anyway... I digress....

I'll tell you about our first adventure to Riverpark very soon. Promise.

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