Disney Roundup: Be Our Guest

Recently, my family and I decided on Orlando, Florida for our annual summer vacation. We traveled to Orlando two years ago and stayed on Disney property at the Caribbean Beach Resort. This time, we opted for a much smaller resort and stayed at Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter. The French Quarter is much smaller than its counterpart, the Riverside, and if you’re in building 3 or 4, you’re extremely close to the main building, the food court and the buses.

We also opted to sign up for the Disney Dining Plan, despite the fact that we would be spending two days at Universal. For those of you not familiar with the Dining Plan, you basically get 1 quick-service meal, 1 snack and 1 table-service meal per day, per person. Due to the lengthy list of restaurants participating in the Dining Plan, we ate at some really great places and that’s what this post is about!

We used all our quick-service credits for lunch since we wanted to have a nice sit-down dinner every night. Most of the time it was fast food – burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches. However, one quick-service meal really shone above the others and it was Disney’s new Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom. If your’e staying on Disney property, you’re able to make FastPass+ reservations for this restaurant, which is amazing because when we arrived for our FastPass+ time at 12:40pm, the restaurant was completely full and not taking anymore walk-ins.

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Be Our Guest is modeled after the castle in Beauty and the Beast and it’s absolutely gorgeous! The decor is beautiful and it’s the only quick-service restaurant that I’ve been to in Disney that serves food on actual plates. The menu isn’t that big but the food is really good for for a restaurant labeled as quick-service for lunch. I went for the Braised Pork (Coq Au Vin Style), which featured eight hour slow-cooked pork with mushrooms, onions, carrots and bacon served with mashed potatoes and green beans jardiniere. The pork was very tender and broke apart easily. The mashed potatoes tasted delightful with the sauce from the pork. It was brought hot to our table by a covered trolley, which was really thoughtful.

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For dessert at Be Our Guest, I went with The Master’s Cupcake, which was chocolate sponge cake topped with Lumiere’s special “Grey Stuff”. I heard that the special “Grey Stuff” was super-whipped cookies and cream panna cotta and I don’t doubt it for a second. The “Grey Stuff” was so good! It was very light and not too sweet at all. It looks pretty heavy since it’s meant to be a cupcake frosting but it melted in my mouth.

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Ai Fiori

The Boyfriend and I have been extremely interested in the Altamarea Group ever since he had a great meal at Marea after our graduation from college. We recently dined at All’onda, whose chef used to work under the Altamarea Group and we were blown away by how good the pasta was. So when Restaurant Week Summer edition rolled around, I quickly made reservations for Ai Fiori, one of the restaurants under the Altamarea Group. Ai Fiori boasts one Michelin Star, so we went in with high expectations.

We arrived early for out 11:45am reservation (we had a matinee show on Broadway afterwards so I wanted to give us ample time) and were told to wait in the lounge area. A few minutes later, we were seated – the first ones in the entire restaurant! But the other tables filled up pretty quickly during our meal, so I’d say they’re pretty popular! We were greeted by our waiter with menus – both a la carte and Restaurant Week clearly marked.

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After we made our order, which our waiter didn’t even bat an eyelid to, our seating plates were taken away and bread was brought to our table. I want to comment on this – they come around and give you two pieces of bread. Around 20 minutes later, when our appetizers arrived, they came around again to give us more bread. We both really liked this because sometimes it’s such a hassle just to get bread at other restaurants. At Ai Fiori, bread just appeared on our bread plates! Ps. The bread was also really good – super soft!

I went with the Zuppa di Zucchini, or chilled zucchini soup with basil and lemon. I’m a huge fan of chilled soups so this was extra enjoyable for me. The soup was nicely flavored and had a hint of spice. With each spoonful you get a nice kick of heat but it doesn’t linger.

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The Boyfriend decided on the Terrina di Maiale, or house-made pate. The presentation was lovely, but one gripe that we had was the lack of baguette! There was one tiny piece for the entire square of pate! Lack of baguette aside, the pate was delicious – stiffer than other pates that we’ve had but still very enjoyable.

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For my entrée, I opted for the Pollo Arrosto, or pan-roasted chicken with polenta, pancetta, corn and hen jus. The chicken was moist and flavorful – there was a hint of herbs and lemon in every bite. The polenta was just soft enough and tasted really good when mixed up with the pancetta, mushrooms and corn bits. I wished there was more!

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The Boyfriend opted for the Tagliatelle, which featured house-made pasta with capers, taggiasca olives and tomato. The pasta itself was cooked al dente and tasted fresh. But it was the sauce that really made the dish shine. The sauce was superb! The capers and olives really gave the standard tomato sauce a burst of flavor. The pasta was so good that he even declared Ai Fiori his favorite Restaurant Week meal to date (and we’ve had Dovetail, Nobu and Capital Grille!).

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For my dessert, I went with the Crema di Cioccolato, or dark chocolate and coffee mousse with vanilla ice cream. I really liked the mousse – it was firm but not too much. The use of dark chocolate ensured that the mousse wasn’t too sweet and the ice cream helped sweeten up the bitterness of the dark chocolate and coffee flavors.

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The Boyfriend went with the other option on the menu, the Panna Cotta with balsamic crema, almonds and market berries. I had a bite of his dessert – the balsamic and raspberry gave the sweet panna cotta a tarty flavor. I’ve had better panna cottas before but this one was pretty tasty.

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We both opted to have a glass of white wine with our meal – they offered a white and a red wine for $10.00 extra on top of their Restaurant Week menu. They bring it over, offer you a taste and then pour a very generous glass if you approve. The wine was from 2006 so it’s almost a teenager in wine terms! We both enjoyed it and thought it paired very well with our dishes.

Service was impeccable – our water glasses were never empty and bread appeared on our plates without prompting. Our dishes came in a timely manner – we had just the right amount of time between courses to chat and slowly savor our food. We never felt rushed at all. I would definitely love to come back for a regular meal outside of Restaurant Week!

Dovetail

It’s time for Restaurant Week 2014 – Summer Edition! This time around, instead of going for Nobu again, I went straight for lunch reservations at Dovetail, which has been on my list for a while. Nestled in the heart of the Upper West Side, just steps away from Central Park and the American Museum of Natural History, Dovetail has earned a Michelin Star for three consecutive years.

The maître d’ greeted us the moment we walked through the door. We arrived 15 minutes before our reservation time but they seated us right away anyways. The dining room is modern and airy. The seats were so comfy! We were given menus to look over and our orders were taken soon after. Our waiter didn’t even bat an eyelid when we said we wanted to do the Restaurant Week menu – no attitude change at all!

After we ordered we were given the “bread” platter, which consisted of two pieces of a biscuit-like cornbread and two mini riceballs. I’m not normally a huge fan of cornbread or biscuits but this one was pretty good. It was soft and moist and served warm, which I really liked. The mini riceballs were also pretty good – I thought it was more flavorful than the ones at All’onda.

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I decided on the Melon Gazpacho with cucumber, basil, and house made cottage cheese. It was a bit hot outside during our walk to the restaurant so this chilled soup really hit the spot for me. The gazpacho tasted exactly like a melon but the cucumber, basil and cottage cheese helped temper the sweetness. I really liked this dish – I just wish there was more!

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The Boyfriend went with the Steak Tartare with poblano, cured jicama, and tostada. The tostada was basically a flat taco shell, which we thought was a bit odd. The steak tartare isn’t as finely cut as what we’re used to so the texture was definitely a bit weird. It was a good steak tartare, but I don’t think it’s the best one I’ve had to date.

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I went with the Long Island Hake with sweet potato puree, snap peas, and a coconut emulsion for my entree. There aren’t quite words to describe how satisfied I was with my selection. The presentation of the dish was very similar to my gazpacho – the dish with all solid ingredients was placed and then the liquids poured on over it. The hake was cooked perfectly – just a bit of clear in the middle. The sweet potato puree was sweet and paired very well with the simple hake. My favorite part of the dish, however, was the coconut emulsion. It was light, refreshing and super fragrant.

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The Boyfriend decided on the Barbecued Pork Shoulder with summer squash, white bean, and capers. I had a bite of his dish and thought it a was very flavorful. The pork shoulder was tender but a bit on the dry side. There was a strong barbecue taste so it worked very well with the more simpler flavors of the squash and beans.

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I was torn between the three dessert options but I ultimately decided on the Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with cherries, hazelnuts, and buttermilk. I thoroughly enjoyed my dessert. Usually cheesecake is very sweet but the dark chocolate helped even out the sweetness. The cherry sauce went really with the cheesecake because it was a bit tart while the dark chocolate was a bit bitter.

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The Boyfriend went with the “Horchata” or panna cotta with berries and citrus. You can never really go wrong with a panna cotta and that definitely applies here. The berries were nice and tart and mixed with the panna cotta very well.

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Service was prompt and attentive. Our water glasses were refilled frequently and our dishes came in a timely manner. For $25.00, I think it’s well worth it to try out a Michelin starred restaurant that’s normally well over $80 for a regular meal. I definitely enjoyed my meal at Dovetail. Everything tasted great – especially my hake!

Marumi Sushi

Sushi is something that the Boyfriend and I are always up for – it’s refreshing and nothing beats a great piece of salmon in my mind. We’re always on the lookout for affordable and trustworthy sushi places. Our most recent search led us to Marumi Sushi in the West Village. We arrived round lunch time so it was pretty packed. Luckily there were two spaces at the bar and I always love bar seats. You get to see all the chefs in action!

We opted to start off with a Tuna and Uni Roll ($8.00). The Boyfriend also ordered an Ikura (salmon roe) hand roll ($6.00). Both rolls were very fresh and nicely done. I thoroughly enjoyed the Uni. I always want to order Uni but I’m never sure if it’s going to be fresh. The Uni at Marumi is definitely fresh and brightly colored. I could eat four of these rolls!!

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I opted for the Salmon Don ($16.00), which features various salmon sashimi (around 9-10 pieces) over a bed of sushi rice. It also comes with your choice of soup or salad. I opted for the salad, which was a bigger portion size than most other sushi restaurants. The salmon sashimi was so fresh! There were about three different ones and each one was more mouth-melting than the next! They give you a very big bowl of rice too so it really fills you up.

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The Boyfriend went with the Tuna Don ($16.00), which is pretty much the same as the Salmon except with three different Tunas. I had one piece of tuna and it was indeed very fresh and delicious.

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Service was pretty quick and attentive. Our water glasses were almost attended to and our food arrived in a timely manner. I am definitely adding Marumi to my Sushi-Go-To List!

Cafe Asean

When we want Malaysian food, we usually head over to Chinatown to either Nyonya (if we want roti) or New Malaysian (if we want Haianese Chicken). But since we were already in the West Village, a quick Yelp search led us to Cafe Asean. We arrived around 1:00pm and had our pick of tables. It was raining that day so we decided to sit inside instead of the garden.

We started off with the Sotong, or salt & pepper calamari with spicy mango salsa ($7.75). The calamari was crunchy and pretty tasty on its own. But the mango salsa really made them pop. The Boyfriend said the salsa makes him think of Thailand because it was so fresh and light.

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The Boyfriend went with the Nasi Goreng, or Malay-style fried rice with shrimp ($9.00). This was super good! They used a stickier rice, which when fried, has a crunchy texture. It’s kind of like the bottom layer of rice when you cook it with a clay pot. It was flavorful and very delicious.

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I decided on the Kari Kapitan, or Malay coconut curry chicken with potatoes and steamed veggies ($8.25). Boy, was that chicken fragrant! It was a bit spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. I dislike when curry is so spicy that you can’t taste what you’re eating. They definitely do not skimp on the coconut milk here and that’s exactly my favorite way to have curry. The serving size was generous – I actually had to take half of it home with me!

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The prices are higher here than it is in Chinatown – but prices are always higher outside of Chinatown. The food here is super delicious and I think it’s worth the price difference. I’m more partial to the fragrant coconut flavors so the Malay curry here is more to my tastes than the Chinese-Malay curry in Chinatown restaurants. I can’t wait to be back to try out the laksa!

 

 

 

Gottino

The Boyfriend and I originally had plans to have lunch elsewhere in the Village, but since he was a tad late for the original reservation, we decided to wander around and see what else there was to eat. We stumbled upon Gottino after walking around for about ten minutes. They were pretty empty for lunch so we had our choice of seats.

Gottino looks like an amazing place to have drinks with friends and catch up. As it was lunch time, we just ordered a few plates to share. Their wine menu looks pretty extensive though!

We started off with an order of the Prosciutto Di Parma, aged 24 months and shipped in from Italy ($14.00). This was served with a side of bread and olive oil. We both haven’t had prosciutto in a while so this really hit the spot. The Prosciutto was really good – just the right amount of salty.

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We decided to go with two Crostinis ($8.00 each) – Pesto Di Noci, or walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme, and one with goat cheese, fig, honey and crushed almonds. The walnut pesto was okay – it takes a few bites before you get used to the flavor. The goat cheese, however, was super delicious. It was sweet and tart at the same time because of the honey and the fig. The crushed almonds contrasted nicely with the smoother texture of the goat cheese. Definitely give this one a try!

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Our last shared plate was the Steamed Egg served with Smoked Salmon ($10.00). The steamed eggs were nice and hot when they arrived. It tasted pretty good by itself but it tasted even better when put on bread with salmon. The smoked salmon was very flavorful and very fresh.

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We were both pretty full by the time we finished our meal – there was so much bread! But I definitely want to be back to try out their other cheese and meats. They didn’t have waffles that day – but both the waffles and crepes sound really good! Service was attentive and on point. We received our dishes in a stacked manner so we weren’t overwhelmed by food. They don’t have a real kitchen so everything is prepared by the bar area.

All’onda

All’onda has been on the Boyfriend’s radar for a while now – his aunt wanted to have dinner here when she was visiting NYC but couldn’t get a reservation. With Chef Chris Jaeckle, alum of the Altamarea Group, as the executive chef,  there has been so much attention paid towards All’onda. The Boyfriend and his parents have been to Marea before so when it came time to pick a restaurant for his birthday dinner, they veered towards All’onda.

We arrived at 6pm for our reservation and was seated immediately. When we arrived, there was only about 2-3 other tables occupied. By the time we left around 8pm, the restaurant was packed! We were seated on the second floor by the window, which I really liked cause the lighting was great for pictures!

We started off with appetizers to share. Our first was the Arancini ($12.00 for 4 pieces). They used to have an uni and squid ink version but with the lack of Maine uni available on the market, I can definitely see why they changed it to a black truffle and parmesan version. Despite the change, I really liked the black truffle and parmesan – it was very fragrant and easy on the palate. They’re a bit on the small side so if you have a larger party, you might want to order a few more.

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Our second appetizer was the Clams Casino ($15.00), which features cut clams with pancetta, panko and parsley. I kind of wish the clams were a little bigger because the topping was very flavorful. I love panko crusted dishes so this was a great dish for me.

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Our last appetizer was the Risotto Astice or Lobster Risotto ($23.00). It sounded great when we read it on the menu but we had all already settled on entrees so we decided to share it for an appetizer. I’m so glad we did because it was so good! The lobster chunks were very generous and the risotto was cooked perfectly – still a bit stuff but soft enough to eat. The sauce was very strong and tasted great with the fresh lobster.

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For my entree, I went with the Garganelli with Peekytoe Crab ($24.00). It’s cooked with citrus and tarragon, which gave it a very fresh, summery taste. I really enjoyed my pasta dish because it was very filling but tasted super light. There was also hints of Thai flavors too, which really appealed to my tastebuds. I highly recommend this dish – the Boyfriend even said mine was better!

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He, himself, went with the Lumache with Aged-Duck Ragu ($24.00). The dish is sprinkled with chocolate flakes on top, which may sound and look a bit weird but worked well with the saltiness of the aged duck. The duck melted in your mouth and tasted great with the al dente pasta.

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The parentals went with Stripped Bass with English peas, baby carrots and taggiasca olive ($31.00) and the Chicken with Lemon puree, broccoli rabe, and pan sauce ($25.00). I sampled a bit of the chicken and it was probably one of the juiciest pieces of chicken I have ever tasted in my 23 years of life. It was so smooth and not dry at all.

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We also split a side of Mushroom Polenta ($9.00) with miso-cured egg yolk. The polenta was very flavorful and cooked thinly so it was too goopy like a lot of other polentas. The miso-cured egg yolk worked well to give flavor to the otherwise tasteless polenta.

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For dessert, we split the Olive Oil Cake, which comes with ricotta gelato, lemon sauce and basil seeds. The cake comes warm so it was a nice contrast to the cool gelato. I’ve never had ricotta gelato before so this was a new experience for me – and I found that I liked it! Because it was ricotta flavored, it wasn’t as sweet as other gelato flavors so it really complimented the olive oil cake. The cake itself was very soft and smooth.

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I really enjoyed my meal here – everything tasted amazing and despite the smaller portion sizes, we all ended up pretty full by the end of the night. Service was decent – sometimes our waitress disappeared but our plates were always cleared and our water glasses were always full. I also highly recommend coffee – it’s $3.50 for a whole French Press of coffee so it’s definitely more than enough to share between two people. My only regret is that we couldn’t try the Bucatini with Uni since market price of Santa Barbara uni placed the dish at $50 that night. Perhaps next time we’ll come back to try it when Maine uni is back on the market!

Smorgasburg 2014

It’s time for my annual trip to Smorgasburg! Every summer, the Boyfriend and I try to make it to Smorgasburg at least once to try out the new vendors. We always see some familiar stands – Red Hook Lobster Pound, Mimi & Coco, Blue Bottle Coffee Company, Dough, Brooklyn Soda Works, and Mighty Quinn’s. But every year, there are brand new stands that we’ve never seen before – and definitely want to try out.

We arrived around 11:00am, which is when they open, so we walked around to take a look at all the stands first. Our first stop was at the Ramen Burger stand. Despite trying it last summer when it first came out, we both wanted to get one this time. Because we were there just when the stand opened, we only waited about five minutes since we were 3rd in line. This time around, they have cheese option – I’m a cheese lover so I opted in. Each burger with cheese comes up to $10 each, which is a bit pricey but you’re paying for a delicious burger! I actually prefer having the cheese on it since it gives the burger a bit more flavor. I only wish the burger wasn’t so fully cooked!

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After we polished off our ramen burgers, we walked around a bit more to see all the options. We walked by Lonestar Empire just as they pulled out a beautiful piece of brisket. The smell and amazing appearance hooked us and we ordered their Slow-Smoked Texas style Brisket Sandwich ($9.00). You get your choice of moist, lean or a mixture of the two so we went for the moist. They have a few toppings you can add on to your taste but we decided to do it plain. The brisket was so soft and tender! It was very well flavored. We’re both not big brisket fans but this one definitely changed our minds!

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By now, we’re getting pretty hot so we stopped by People’s Pops for some Shave Ice ($2.50). They have two flavors and we opted for the Plum Orange Blossom flavor, which was both tart and sweet. The shave ice takes a long time to melt so it’s great for snacking on while you walk around the stands.

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At 12pm, the beer garden opens so we went straight in for some day drinking! I opted for the Rum Punch ($12.00). They use a good amount of rum in the cocktail so it’s at medium strength. It was just enough rum for me to taste it but not so much that it was like a punch in the face. It was nice and refreshing – I love summery-tropical drinks!

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We then headed over to Ca’pisci for some Calamari Salad ($8.00). They toss chunks of squid, tomatoes and homemade croutons together to made this calamari salad. It’s a better deal than their squid sticks, which are the same price. It’s light and refreshing and a must have if you’re a squid fan! The salad was a perfect for the hot weather because it’s chilled.

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My favorite drink of the day, which I went back for seconds of, was from Bellocq, which sells loose leaf teas as well as two iced teas. The iced teas of the day ($3.00 each) were #21 White Nixon Tea and #82 The Phoenix. Both teas are white teas and taste amazing chilled. I had the White Nixon Tea, which has hints of white peony and grapefruit while the Boyfriend had The Phoenix, which has hints of fruit, orchid and honey. We both agreed that the White Nixon is better suited for summer since it is fruiter and lighter. We finished both our teas and went back for a second cup!

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For dessert, we went with an ice cream sandwich from The Good Batch. A friend had previously Instragram-ed a picture of the Nutella-Chocolate Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich ($6.00) from them so I knew I had to try that one. And it was a great decision because it was so good! The cookie was just hard enough to hold the sandwich together and the nutella + nuts in the sandwich made it both smooth and crunchy at the same time. I quickly gobbled it up and hardly left any for the Boyfriend!

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If you haven’t been to Smorgasburg yet, I really recommend that you make a trip soon! There’s so many different cuisines to try out – there’s West African, Ethiopian, Columbian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, American, Mexican, and so much more! But remember to go early or else there will be huge crowds and lines.

Broadway Bites 2014

After watching Maleficient at 34th street, the Boyfriend and I stumbled upon Broadway Bites, a seasonal popup market located at the intersection of 33rd street and Broadway in Greeley Square Park. We noticed a bunch of familiar vendors like Mexicue, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Mighty Balls and Roberta’s. But we also saw a few vendors that we haven’t tried yet!

Our first stop was at Onigiri by Tampopo, which serves Japanese rice balls. They had a variety of rice ball fillings but we opted to go for the Salmon Scallion ($5 each). The prepare it to order so your rice ball is always toasty warm and ready to eat. Even though I’m not a huge fan of scallion, I thought the filling was pretty good. It was light and flavorful – perfect for a hot afternoon.

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Our next top was NuNu Beers & Scoops, which was serving up a variety of alcoholic beverages and chocolates. We opted for the Frozen White Wine Sangria since it was pretty hot. The plastic cups they serve it in is pretty small but the sangria was really strong. The moment the ice starts to melt, you can sip at the delicious goodness!

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We also made a top at Mimi & Coco for some takoyaki and edamame. If you order takoyaki on it’s own, it’s $8 for six, but if you order a side with it, it’s $10 total for both. The takoyaki was pretty good but I really liked the edamame – probably because it was so hot outside and the edamame was super chilled!

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Our final stop was at CAЯNAVAL, which serves up Brazilian cuisine. Despite the fact that the corn and sandwiches looked very delicious, we were eying the churros. Their churros are made to order – they have this little machine that squeezes the dough out in a churro shape. They’re then fried and rolled in sugar. Brazilian churros are filled with dulce de leche so that’s exactly how we ordered ours – it’s sweeter and messier than we’re used to but it was still pretty good!

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There’s not a lot of room to sit and eat – they have some high tables for standing but that’s about it. It’s definitely not a place to really catch up with friends or have a leisurely meal. But it is a great place for a quick snack or drink! I highly recommend NuNu’s frozen sangria!

Amelie

I first heard about Amélie via Yelp because everyone was raving about their Happy Hour Specials ($10 for a flight of 3 red or white wine and $5 select appetizers). I put it on the list but it wasn’t until months later that we walked by and decided to stop for lunch.

They serve a lot of their dinner appetizers during lunch so we opted to try the Warm Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Ball with honey, caramelized onions and toasts ($7.00). This was so good! The goat cheese was perfect to spread on the toast with some onions. The sweet taste of the red wine onions contrasted with the tartness of the goat cheese very well.

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We opted to split two mains. I started with the Smoked Salmon and Arugula Salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and leeks tossed in a mustard vinaigrette ($12.00). The smoked salmon was fresh and the salad was packed with veggies. I liked the mustard vinaigrette because it was very light but packed with flavor.

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The Boyfriend started with the Amélie Burger on brioche bun with tomato, sweet onion, lettuce and French fries. We opted to add gruyere cheese for an extra $1. I really liked the burger – it was filling and cooked to our desired taste. It was packed with veggies and cheese! The french fries were also quite good – I liked that it was thin and crunchy!

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We didn’t stay for dessert since we were both stuffed from the burger and salad. But I can’t wait to be back to try the Happy Hour specials! I really enjoyed the food – but I loved the service even more. We walked in with iced lattes from Stumptown down the block and our waiter didn’t require us to throw them out or finish them outside. He even offered to move our coffee to maison jars so that we could keep them and drink them inside the restaurant. That’s what I call great service!!