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Charlie Palmer

We originally had reservations elsewhere for Restaurant Week but a last minute meeting left us scrambling to find last minute reservations in the Midtown area. A thorough search led us to Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, which had several openings. We arrived just on time for our reservation but were told that they were clearing up a few tables. After a few minutes, we were led to a table-for-four right by the window, which was nice.

Our waiter came by to drop off the menu and asked if we’d like to see the wine list, which we did. Wine prices were decent and I had a very nice glass of Riesling to go with my meal. We all opted to do the Restaurant Week menu, which offers three choices for appetizer and entrée and two choices for dessert.

For my appetizer, I opted for the Steak Tartare, which is served with a quail egg, gaufrette potatoes and whole grain mustard. I really enjoyed my steak tartare – it was lightly seasoned and the mustard provided a nice kick to the steak. My only complaint is that I wish there was more!

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My sister and mom both ordered the Butternut Squash Soup with winter spices, green apples, and chive. I took a few sips of the soup and I thought it was quite good. The green apples and squash cubes provided a crunchy mouth feel.

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For my entrée, I decided to do steak on steak and went for the Double Ranch Flank Steak with truffled potatoes and red wine jus. I ordered it medium rare and I think it came out a little closer to medium, but it wasn’t a huge problem. There was still a nice pink center and I really enjoyed the truffled potatoes. It was a solid steak.

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My mom ordered the Pan Seared Salmon with braised leaks, fingerling potatoes, and meyer lemon emulsion. The salmon was tender and moist, and paired really well with the leak and lemon sauce. If I didn’t have my heart set on the steak, I would’ve definitely ordered the salmon.

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For dessert, we all opted for the Cheesecake Pudding with graham cracker crumbs and raspberries on top. I actually really liked this dessert because you still get to have cheesecake without it being super filling and heavy. I paired my dessert with a cup of coffee (extra $4.00), which helped to tone down the sweetness of the pudding.

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Service was fairly attentive. Two mangers stopped by during our meal to check up on us and make sure we were enjoying our meals, which was nice. I don’t think Charlie Palmer is the best steak I’ve ever had, but it is definitely a solid steakhouse. If you’re ever in the area and strapped for a dinner spot, give Charlie Palmer a try!

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La Sirene

La Sirene is another one of those long-time bookmarked restaurants on my list. It’s affordable, in an easily accessible location, and is BYOB (with a corkage fee). When my coworker suggested Restaurant Week Lunch at La Sirene, I quickly hopped on OpenTable to reserve us a spot.

When we arrived at 12:30PM for our reservation, the restaurant was packed. Almost all the tables were full. We were seated in a table-for-two and given menus to look over. We took this time to sneakily look at our neighbor’s dishes to help us make our final decisions – we’re both visual eaters.

Since it was so cold outside and neither of the salads looked appealing (too cold to eat something cold!), we both opted for the French Onion Soup with roasted bread with Swiss au gratin. It’s a different take on your typical French onion soup since the cheese was on the bread instead of the soup. The soup itself was excellent and tasted great soaked up with the bread. I just wish there was more cheese!

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I opted for the Gnocchis A la Parisienne, or gnocchi in a truffle white sauce with Swiss au gratin. It’s basically a French mac and cheese with Swiss cheese and truffle sauce. When the dish was served, it was still bubbling – so definitely be careful! It’s super hot! The gnocchi was really good – they were soft and pillowy. It really hit the spot on such a cold day.

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My coworker had the Steak Tartare, which they grind themselves in-house. I had a few bites of it and enjoyed it. It was perfectly spiced and flavored. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for a good steak tartare!

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For dessert, La Sirene served up a mini selection of their house desserts – Banana Brulee, Choux Chantilly, and sherbet of the day. My favorite of the bunch was the Choux Chantilly, which was a light choux puff pastry with whipped cream. The puff pastry was soft with a bit of a crunch and the whipped cream was light and airy. The Banana Brulee was interesting take on a classic crème brulee, using banana pudding instead.

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Service was hectic, to say the least. There were two waiters in my section and they seemed a bit frazzled. I don’t know if they numbered the tables wrong or what, but the table next to us got all three-courses wrong. Several other tables also received late or wrong orders – we almost got two rounds of dessert! Perhaps we had just caught them on an off day? Regardless, the food was solid and I’d definitely come back if I’m in the mood for some delicious French.

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Manila Social Club

I was a huge fan of Miller’s, so when I found out that they’ve been replaced by a new Filipino-French restaurant, I knew I had to try them out. Manila Social Club, located on the corner of Hope Street in Williamsburg, serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 11am – 4pm. We arrived right in the middle of brunch time and wait about 15 minutes before we snagged two seats by the bar.

The menu is small, but varied and they’re currently only serving coffee and mocktails. The mocktails all sounded super delicious, but as we were catching a movie right after, I didn’t want to drink too much! Once you order, they bring over complimentary biscuits with ube spread. The ube spread was so good! It was sweet and buttery and spread so evenly on my biscuit. I’m not usually a fan of biscuits, but I gobbled them right up.

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We started with an order of the Lumpia Shanghai ($8.00) to share. Lumpia is sort of a Filipino egg roll of an assortment of goodies wrapped inside. These came with longaniza, or a type of Spanish sausage similar to chorizo. The lumpia were perfectly bite-sized and tasted amazing with the dipping sauces.

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We also ordered a side of Spam Fries ($7.00) to nibble on while we waited for our appetizers. I’m convinced these “fries” aren’t made with real Spam because it wasn’t overly salty or had the processed texture known to Spam. Regardless, they were very tasty – not too salty at all.

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For my entrée, I had the Mango Soufflé Pancakes ($14.00) with Ube Ice Cream. They offer this dish with syrup, but you don’t even really need it because the ube ice cream is more than enough. The pancakes are very moist and soft – when smeared with the cold ube ice cream, it almost melts in your mouth. I really like how there are little mango chunks in the pancake.

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The Boyfriend had the Meat & Eggs ($14.00), which features garlic fried rice, pea shoot + radish salad, two eggs any style, and a meat of your choice. He picked the Longaniza, since it’s a bit harder to get that elsewhere. The longaniza had a hint of spice, but wasn’t overpowering. It paired very well with the garlic rice. The Boyfriend was already full from our appetizers but he finished his entire dish!

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I think there was a mix up with the orders and our entrée orders didn’t get processed until much later in our time at the restaurant. The manager comp-ed our appetizers since we waited 20-30 minutes for our entrées. They didn’t have to, but it was a really nice gesture and showed how well-versed they are in customer service. I really appreciated that they proactively did that without any further prompting from us besides a casual inquiry on our food. I highly recommend Manila Social Club – be sure to try anything with Ube!

Kopi Ramen

I’ve frequented Kopi Kopi Café in the past before – it’s very conveniently located close to both my office and NYU. When I read on Yelp that they have opened a ramen restaurant in the back of the café, I knew I had to check them out. We strolled in on a Saturday afternoon and were seated right away. The menu currently consists of a handful of appetizers and four options of ramen. Their beer list is quite extensive!

We decided to order the Pork Belly and the Charred Edamame as our appetizers. The Pork Belly is marinated with miso and served on top of seasoned seaweed with chopped scallions. I loved this presentation because it was very quick and easy to eat. Unlike Pork Belly Buns, which I have a soft spot for, these were bite-sized and mess free. The pork belly was tender and not overly sauced.

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The Charred Edamame was a nice change to the typical edamame dishes at Japanese restaurants. There was a smoky flavor to each piece, which coupled nicely with the course salt.

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We actually fought over who would order which ramen on the menu, since all of them looked quite good. In the end, I ordered the Shoyu Ramen, which is a soy based ramen with duck broth. The ramen was thick and bouncy, but it was the broth that shone. The broth was salty without being overly so – I gladly drank almost all my broth. The seaweed, bamboo shoots, and pork belly were a nice addition.

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The Boyfriend ordered the Miso Ramen, which was delightful. The pork broth was milky and just the right amount of salty. Most of the time, miso ramen is too salty for my tastes because of the heavy use of miso, but this one was just right. I think the miso ramen is a heartier than the Shoyu Ramen, so if you’re a bit more hungry, definitely go for the Miso Ramen.

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Service was attentive and friendly. Check in on Yelp for a free beer – draft or canned. If you’re an NYU student, you also get a discount if you show your ID. Service charge is included in your bill so all you have to do is take your check to the counter and pay there. I highly recommend paying Kopi Ramen a visit before everything hears about it and crowds over!

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Christmas Eve Dinner

Finding a restaurant to have Christmas Eve dinner is no small feat – especially if you don’t want to be locked into paying an exorbitant amount in mandatory prix fixes.  Sometimes it takes extensive Yelp searches, multiple phone calls, and numerous dead-ends until you find the right place. Don’t know where to begin? Try out this list of my tried and true holiday dinner spots!

If you’re craving French, Le Midi, which offers a la carte dining on Christmas Eve, is perfect for you! The prices are very reasonable and its central Manhattan location will make it easy for everyone to just hop on the train. Service was attentive and if you’re lucky, you might even have the place to yourselves for the night! Their Entrecôte, which is a premium cut steak with string beans, maître d’hôtel butter & potatoes au gratin, is to die for!

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If you’re craving Italian, try any of these two Altamarea restaurants – both located in Soho. If you’re looking for more rustic Italian, try Osteria Morini. The restaurant has a great homey feel to it and the prices are super reasonable. Osteria Morini is offering their a la carte menu as well as some special Feast of the Seven Fish specials. Definitely try their Cappelletti, which feature tiny truffle-ricotta raviolis in a melted butter sauce with prosciutto.  The ricotta ravioli were soft and pillowy and paired so well with the light butter sauce.

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For a more modern feel, take a walk down the main streets of Soho to Costata, which is part steakhouse and part pasta lover’s paradise. If you’re more of a pasta person than a steak person, try their Garganelli with alla fiamma, speck, radicchio and truffle cream.  This dish is super light and fragrant – not heavy at all. The speck and truffle cream work together so well.

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For larger parties, San Marino is my go-to spot for holiday dinner. Party of 8? No problem. Party of 12? Even better! And the best part? They allow reservations for parties of 12 on OpenTable! They offer their a la carte menu with no special price hikes during the holiday season. Most of the time, since it’s inside a hotel, you get the private room to yourself. We love coming here for our annual holiday dinners. Service is impeccable and attentive and the prices are reasonable. My favorite dish? Their pink sauce ravioli!

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And last, but not least, Rafele is a great option for larger parties. For parties of 10 or larger, you will have to commit to a family-style prix fixe but the prices are super reasonable. A prix fixe of 3 appetizer choices, 2 pastas, 2 entrees, 2 sides, and 3 desserts is just $55 per person. I think it’s a steal!

Hurry up and make your Christmas Eve dinner reservations today! And be sure to use OpenTable for those points!

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Jack’s Wife Freda

After a few failed attempts by all of us on separate occasions to try Jack’s Wife Freda, we finally managed to have dinner at their original location in Soho. I know that they’re famed for their brunches and lunches, but we were in the area and the wait was only around 30 minutes for dinner. We were seated in their corner booth and were given time to look over their menu, which also works as a placemat.

We opted for two appetizers to share: the Salt & Pepper Eggplant ($8.00) and Spiced Beet Dip ($9.00). The Salt & Pepper Eggplant was diced into cube-like shapes and then lightly fried. The cubes are paired with a delicious Tzatziki sauce that I actually used later to eat the fries. The Spiced Beet Dip was a nice surprise. I was a bit apprehensive about it since I’m not usually a fan of beets but it was pretty good. The dip was a bit sweet and was topped with one of my favorites – goat cheese. The Beet Dip was served with warm pitas, which I quite enjoyed.

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I had the Peri-Peri Chicken ($20.00) with a diced salad of cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. I quite liked the diced salad because it was sweet and vinegary at the same time – great for opening up the appetite! The chicken was very tender and juicy. The portion size was huge and had I not given pieces of it away to the other members of my party, I probably wouldn’t have finished!

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I also sampled their Bloody Mary Mussels with Fries ($18.00), which was really good. I was skeptical because I’m not a big fan of Bloody Mary’s as a cocktail but with mussels, it works. The broth was tomatoey and just a bit spicy, which didn’t overpower the mussels at all. The mussels themselves were super plump! There was so much more mouthfeel to each mussel than the smaller ones in other restaurants.

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We opted to skip dessert since we were all so full but I did have an iced latte. They serve Stumptown! This was a huge plus in my books because I absolutely love Stumptown coffee and love restaurants that serve it. Service was  attentive enough but I do think the space is too small. The tiny space meant a loud dining room so I don’t recommend Jack’s Wife Freda if you’re looking for an intimate date location. Come for the food but definitely plan an alternative if you want to sit and talk.

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Kiin Thai Eatery

I’m a huge fan of Thai food – both authentic and Americanized. Sometimes I just get a craving for some Pad See Ew, which my boyfriend tells me they do eat in Thailand but it’s not common (source: his aunt is from Thailand). But sometimes, you want to try something that you haven’t eaten before and that’s why we love the new influx of Northern Thai restaurants like Somtum Der. When I heard that the folks behind Somtum Der were taking over the space left by Cafetasia by NYU, I was instantly interested.

We arrived at around 6pm on a weekday night and were seated by the windows. They run Happy Hour every day from 4pm to 7pm. You get 20% off all noodle dishes and ½ off the price of all drinks. It’s a pretty sweet deal since it’s basically buy-one-get-one free cocktail.

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We opted to try their non-alcoholic drinks since I knew we’d be eating some spicy dishes and would need the extra liquid to cool down our tongues! I had the Tropical Sunset ($6, HH price of $3), which features a mixture of mango juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and grenadine. It was very tasty – flavorful without being too sweet. The Boyfriend got the Vermillion ($6, HH price of $3), which is a mixture of fresh raspberries, lychee guava juice, lime and ginger ale. Look at how pretty they look!

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We started with the Golden Bag ($8), which features diced potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, water chestnut, corn, green peas, and cream cheese wrapped in rice paper and lightly fried to keep the bag shape. I’m not normally a fan of things that resemble fried wontons but these were so good! The rice paper was only lightly fried so they were a bit crunchy but not hard. The mixture in the bag blended so well together and tasted really good with a sweet chili sauce on the side.

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We opted to split two entrees instead of each ordering our own – this way we would try out more dishes! The first to come were Grandma’s Grilled Pork with Grilled Coconut Sticky Rice ($13). The minced pork patties are caramelized with milk when they’re grilled so they were sweet and salty at the same time. The grilled sticky rice was a bit crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside, which had a great mouth feel. A bite of pork and a bite of rice = best combination!

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We decided to take advantage of the 20% HH deal off noodles and ordered the Pad Thai Shrimp with Egg Crepe ($15, HH price $12). I’ve been told that traditionally, pad thai is served this what in Thailand so this was pretty cool. The rice noodles are sautéed with shrimp, silken tofu, egg, bean sprouts, peanuts and chili peppers. Our waitress said it wasn’t really that spicy but we both thought it was pretty spicy. There were lots of water involved while eating this dish – but we wouldn’t stop because it was so flavorful and delicious.

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We finished our meal with a pot of Jasmine Tea ($5) to share and an order of their Green Tea Panna Cotta ($7), which is served with sweet milk. The dish was super cute and also super delicious. The sweet milk helped cut the bitterness of the matcha in the panna cotta. The panna cotta was textured perfectly – it was smooth without being so fragile that we couldn’t keep it on the spoon.

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Service was attentive – sometimes a bit too attentive with their rush to take away plates. But they did leave us alone with our tea and dessert for almost an hour. We arrived at 6pm and didn’t leave until a little after 8pm and we weren’t rushed at all to leave. Make sure you make a visit to the bathrooms before you go – there are 3 stalls but it’s completely unisex.