Holiday Cheer!

Today marked the opening day of Columbus Circle’s Holiday Market. I’ve been waiting for this day for almost a month now – ever since I found out the exact date they opened. Last year, I spent at least 2 lunches a week at the Holiday Market. So this year, I decided to pay them a visit on their very first day to scope out their food options.

My first stop was German Delights Bratwurst. I was a big fan after I had their cheese filled bratwurst or German sausage last winter. Their apple cider is also super delicious. It is the perfect hot drink for the cold weather.

They didn’t have their cheese filled bratwursts just yet, since it was opening day so I went with one of their regular wursts. For an extra dollar, I added sauerkraut to my sausage. The sausages here are served on a roll and are big enough to fill you up for lunch. Priced at $6, I think they’re a deal. It’s hard to find cheap lunch in the Lincoln Center area!

German Delights also serves Gluehwine or Glühwein, which is a popular hot drink that is drunk during the Christmas holidays in many European countries. German Delights serves a non-alcoholic kind. They are the only U.S. provider of Christkindles Kinder Punsch, which is a premade version of Gluehwine. I am absolutely in love with this drink. Christkindles Kinder Punsch is made with Pear Juice Concentrate, Honey, Grape Juice and Lemon Juice Concentrate, Elderberry Juice, Plum Juice, Raspberry Juice, Blackcurrant Juice, Cherry Juice, Strawberry Juice, Bilberry Juice, and Blackberry Juice. Wow! That’s a lot of different flavors. And it shows because with every sip, it feels like you’re getting kicked in the mouth with flavor! 

Next up is Sizzles, which serves up empanadas. This is their first time doing anything like the holiday market so they’re still getting on their feet. The worker behind the cashier told me that they’re still trying out new products and seeing how the feedback is. So head on over and try out some of their new projects! You never know if they’ll be there the next day! 

One of their new pet projects was their ham and cheese roll. They didn’t really have a name for it yet since it’s their first time selling it. After eating the roll, I went back and told them that they should definitely keep it on the menu. The roll had gooey cheese throughout the entire thing. There was hardly a bite without filling. The roll was also super soft, which was perfect because who wants to bite into a rock hard piece of dough?

After the roll, we wandered down a little further and saw Sonrisa, who also happens to sell empanadas. I wondered why I had never seen them before around the city. The boyfriend questioned them about having a restaurant. We found out that Sonrisa is actually a food truck located in New Jersey. That made a lot of sense!

They specialized in empanadas but it wasn’t them that captured our attention – it was the pulled pork sliders. Their slider comes double wrapped in tin foil – no leakage whatsoever. The sauce that they put on top of the pulled pork made the bun of the slider a bit soggy. The sauce was so good though, that I overlooked the soggy bun. The pork was abundant and easy to chew. Overall, I liked the slider and I know I will probably go back for it sometime in the near future. Too bad they’re only here until the end of the fair cause I’d love to have their sliders on a regular basis.

After the slider, we decided to take a walk around the fair. We saw a sign that advertised baked goods and hot chocolate so we followed the sign. We wandered upon Baked Alone, which offers an abundant option of baked goods. There were pumpkin breads, huge brownies, and much more!

I opted for their oatmeal cranberry cookie. The large cookie was around $2.50 – pretty expensive for a cookie but the size makes up for it. The cookie was perfection. It was chewy but not too much that it would fall apart in my hands. There was a slight crunch to the outer rim, which is my idea of a wonderful cookie. 

Besides the food vendors that I tried, there were also Wafels & Dinges, Thai food, pretzels and lots of chocolate. One of the chocolate vendors, No Chewing Allowed!, offered free samples with the order of – “No Chewing!” The idea was to let the chocolate truffle melt in your mouth – which it did! I know I’ll definitely be back to purchase some chocolate truffles as Christmas gifts. At $12.99 a box they’re super affordable.

Now that you’ve read my experience at the holiday fair, go explore for yourself! The Holiday Market is open daily until December 24 so there is plenty of time to go have a walk around. I definitely recommend a visit to German Delights. Their drinks and bratwursts are the best! I know I will definitely be back so maybe I’ll see you there! Happy eating!

Shanghai Gourmet

Shanghai Gourmet, located on Pell Street, is one of the many Shanghainese restaurants in Chinatown. There’s Joe’s Ginger next door and Joe Shanghai down the block, but Shanghai Gourmet offers really good food with a more peaceful dining experience without the hoard of tourists that generally frequent the other two Shanghainese restaurants. Shanghai Gourmet is also the cheapest of the three restaurants, with a dinner special that offers 1 soup (enough to feed three), 1 order of soup dumplings, and two dishes for $16.95. The dinner special is enough to feed two. Trust me, I’ve tried it! All of the dishes are very good, but beware, the dinner special menu is only in Chinese!

We were on a bit of a time limit, so the boyfriend and I hopped on the train down to Chinatown for a quick lunch. We started off with their scallion pancakes. They come with four pieces, but the boyfriend snagged a piece before I could take a picture. The scallion pancakes were hot and crispy. At only $1.75 they’re a deal! If you eat the entire order, I guarantee that you’ll be full.

We then moved onto the cold sesame noodles. They come with peanut sauce on top, which you have to mix into the entire bowl. This dish was very tasty and had just the right amount of peanut sauce. The peanut flavor did not overpower the taste of the sesame oil that was already mixed in. The combination of peanut and sesame oil gave the noodles a very distinct flavor.

And finally, you can never go to a Shanghainese restaurant without ordering soup dumplings, or siew long bao. An order of soup dumplings comes in bamboo steamer. You get 8 pieces for the low price of $4.50. Next door at Joe’s Ginger, the same order will cost you around $7. 

The Soup Dumplings at Shanghai Gourmet are around the size of a dollar coin. They’re the perfect size because each dumpling can fit comfortably inside your mouth. Other restaurants serve bigger soup dumplings that can become difficult to eat in one bite, which causes soup to drip all over the plate. The dumplings at Shanghai Gourmet were just the right size and had the perfect soup to meat ratio. 

If you’re in the mood for some good soup dumplings and don’t want to pay a lot, I would definitely recommend Shanghai Gourmet. The food is good, the service is fast and best of all, it’s super cheap.

Down the rabbit hole we go

One day, while I was sitting in an early Philosophy class (one of those three hour block classes), I suddenly got the craving for brunch foods. So after a quick text message (totally illegal in class) and a couple of Yelp searches later, the boyfriend found Alice’s Tea Cup. Alice’s Tea Cup has three locations throughout Manhattan so we chose the one closest to school and took a short train ride to our destination. Located at 102 West 73rd street, Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter 1 offers a variety of teas and many breakfast, brunch, and lunch options. Actually, they offer more teas than food options! Breakfast is served from 8:30 – 11:30 daily so we managed to make it there by 11:00am.

Upon entering the quaint little teashop, I was struck by how the entire store had an Alice in Wonderland theme. There were quotes from the book written all over the walls. The front of the store sold little knickknacks and baked goods while the back of the store was the dining area. There aren’t many tables and seats but it was quite cozy.

I ordered the Smoked Salmon and Scones, which featured poached eggs and smoked salmon on a buttermilk scone with hollandaise sauce. The dish also came with a side of potato-chicken hash. This is your typical eggs benedict with salmon but their buttermilk scone made a huge difference to the dish. The scone was soft and melted in your mouth when you bit into it. There was a lovely butter flavor to it that wasn’t overwhelming but it made you notice that it was there. The side of potato-chicken hash was very distinctive. It was different than the usual potato hash because it’s cooked with chicken broth. The potato had a faint chicken flavor. The hash also had chunks of chicken in it. The chicken blended in with the potato so you sort of didn’t know which of the two you’d get with each bite.

Since they offer eggs any style and with the option to add veggies, the boyfriend ordered egg whites with spinach. His dish was very simple and healthy. It also came with a side of potato-chicken hash, which as mentioned above, had a very distinctive flavor.

The service was quick and attentive at the same time. But the real surprise came at the end of the meal when we visited the bathroom. The bathroom had Alice in Wonderland scenes painted all over the walls. There were scenes that depicted Alice with Tweedledee and Tweedledum and another that depicted Alice with the Queen. The mirror behind the door was round with the Cheshire Cat’s wide smile painted in the middle.

I also brought one of their scones to go, as I had another 3-hour block class later in the day that would run late. Their scones are probably their most famous food. Their scones change everyday and you never quite know which flavors you will run into that day. Each scone is served with raspberry jam and butter. The scone that I ran into that day was a Chocolate-Coconut Scone. This scone was extraordinary. The chocolate chips were abundant and melted the moment you put the piece of scone in your mouth. There was also coconut shavings scattered throughout the scone. With almost every bite, you had at least one chocolate chip and sprinkle of coconut shavings.

If you don’t go for breakfast, brunch or lunch, definitely stop by and purchase one of their scones. They are large enough to fill you up for breakfast and is reasonably priced at $3. It is bigger than your average Starbucks scone and will taste a whole lot better.

La Lanterna Part Two

After our last wonderful meal at La Lanterna, the boyfriend and I decided to pay them a second visit. This time, we chose to sit in their basement dining room instead of the outdoor garden. We arrived around 6:30 on a Friday night and were seated almost immediately. Their basement dining room is located just down a flight of stairs before the winter garden. There are about 10-12 tables, mostly seating two. The room is mostly lit by the candles on each table – making for a real romantic candlelit dinner. There is also a live jazz band that plays throughout the night. From certain tables, you can even see inside the kitchen as the chefs prepare the pizza!

The last time we ate at La Lanterna, we ordered the run-of-the-mill dishes that all the people on Yelp suggested. This time, we ordered based on our waitress’ recommendations. She suggested an appetizer that we normally would not have ordered – their Formaggi e Pate or cheese plate. We ordered their three-cheese combination, which comes with baked-to-order foccacia crisps. For our cheese choices, we also took our waitress’ recommendations. She suggested we try the stracchino cheese, the mozzarella di buffala, and their prosciutto crudo.

The stracchino is a cow’s milk cheese that was easy to spread over the crisps. This was my favorite cheese out of our selection because it was very soft and creamy. The mozzarella di buffala is cheese that is made from water buffalo milk. This cheese was a bit chunky and harder to spread. Their prosciutto was very thinly sliced, but a bit on the salty side.

For our main course, we went with the pesto lasagne. We were still dazzled from our last visit that we wanted to have it again. I really must comment again on how light the lasagna was. The pesto was actually still sizzling when our waitress delivered the dish our table. My favorite part of this dish is the lasagna corners, which are brown and crunchy from it’s time in the oven. 

For our dessert, we chose to go with their gelato instead of their baked goods. We went with our waitress’ recommendations for the flavors – since she knew all their flavors by heart. We chose to go with the three-scoop sampler, since we wanted a variety. We chose the amaretto crunch, butter pecan and blackberry. The amaretto crunch had a hint of alcohol but it was not overbearing. The crunchy cracker in the gelato was my favorite part. The butter pecan was a close second in being my favorite. It tasted a bit bland when you first put a spoonful in your mouth but after you swallowed, it left behind a wonderful sweet aftertaste. And finally, there was the blackberry. The blackberry was sweet and tart at the same time. There was tiny bits of blackberries blended in the gelato, making the texture different from the other two gelato flavors we sampled.

Although the food was delicious and the decor was extremely romantic, the most impressing part of the night was our waitress. She was very attentive and friendly. She always made sure our water glass was full and came over every 15 minutes or so to make sure we were doing okay. Whenever we seemed to have trouble deciding what to order, she would slip in with her spot-on recommendations. If you don’t come to La Lanterna for the decor or even for the food, please come for the wonderful service. I really do recommend it. 5/5 stars as always.

Goodfellas LES

I had brought a gift card when the website was having a sale about four to five months ago. It had been sitting in my wallet ever since then so I decided to look on the website to see if they had added any new restaurants to their list. I usually keep my location searches to around Soho and the Village. But since the boyfriend and I have been on a Lower East Side kick lately, I decided to check there too. Lo and behold, they had added a new restaurant. After a quick Yelp search, I found out that Goodfellas LES a 3.5 star rating and everyone was raving about their pizza. I made a purchase and the next day the boyfriend and I paid them a visit.

Goodfellas LES makes all of their brick-oven pizzas with their signature semolina dough, fresh mozzarella cheese and their own homemade sauce. We were actually here to just try their pizzas, but since my coupon required me to order up to 35 dollars worth of food, we ordered their fried calamari as our starter. We ordered their large and the plate was indeed large. The calamari was fresh and crisp, but the star of the show was the marinara sauce. They make their marinara sauce themselves so it was a flavor that I had never tasted before. It was so delicious that we started to soak the calamari into the marinara sauce just to get more of a taste. We actually had to ask for a second bowl of marinara sauce because it was just that good!

For our main course, we ordered two pizzas to share. First up was the Alla vodka pizza. Their vodka pizza is made with fresh mozzarella and tomato cream vodka sauce with fresh mushrooms, prosciutto and peas on top. The vodka sauce made the pizza taste as if you were eating penna alla vodka on a pizza. It was creamy and the cheese was melted perfectly.

Our second pizza was their Quattro Formagi, which features four cheeses: mozzarella, provolone cheese, fontina cheese and grated pecorino romano cheese. This pizza was my least favorite of the two only because I felt that the cheeses overpowered the tomato sauce and all I could taste was cheese. I always feel that a good pizza should be as simple as possible so this particular pizza was a bit too much for me. We actually had to take half of this pizza to go because we just couldn’t finish it all after the calamari. When I reheated the pizza the next day, the cheese became very oily. Word of advice – try to finish all your pizza the day of or else they’ll become soggy and oily!

Overall, my experience at Goodfellas LES wasn’t bad. Their pizzas were cheap, starting at around $11 – $12 for a small, which is enough to feed two people. The service was very attentive and we never had an empty glass. They were extremely friendly and constantly checked up on us to see if we needed anything. But I felt like I have had better pizza elsewhere. Their pizza was good but it wasn’t anything mind-blowing. Therefore, I am giving Goodfellas a rating of 3/5 stars – 2 stars for the service and 1 star for the pricing.

Golden Unicorn

It was the boyfriend’s father’s birthday over the weekend so we headed over to Golden Unicorn in Chinatown for birthday dinner! Typical birthday dinners at Chinese restaurants usually include more than one table (usually seating 8 people) and various courses. The first course is always an appetizer platter and the last course is usually dessert and fruit. In between those two courses is when the best dishes are served. I only managed to snag pictures of a couple of the dishes we ate, not all of them, because everyone dug into the food before I could even get a chance!

First up is my all time favor dish at birthday dinners – Jumbo Shrimp with Walnuts and Mayonnaise. Large prawns are lightly fried in batter and then drizzled with a sweet mayonnaise. The prawns are served over steamed broccoli and walnuts. This has always been my favorite dish because the mayonnaise that most Chinese restaurants use is sweeter than regular mayo. It gives such great flavor to the otherwise bland-tasting dish – the prawns and the broccoli don’t have much flavor. The large shrimps are always gobbled up fast at the table.

Next up is the Crispy Fried Chicken. This dish comes with crispy chips, which are usually the fastest to go. My preference in chicken is always the white meat. I like my chicken all meat and no bones. The white meat on this chicken was cooked to perfection. It wasn’t dry or stringy. In fact, it was juicy and delicious. The skin isn’t fatty at all and is very crispy. 

Typically for dinner, two lobsters are chopped up and cooked into one dish. Since it was a large table, our dish was supersized to have three lobsters. Three lobsters = 6 claws, which are my favorite part of the lobster. The lobsters pictured were cooked in typical Chinese fashion – stir fried with ginger and scallions. The lobster meat was very flavorful – but the claws were a bit on the small side. The lobsters were probably the 5th or 6th dish of the night, so we were all pretty full by the time they arrived. Most of us just had a piece or two. I can attest though, that left over lobster from Chinese restaurants taste just as good the second time around!

The last two dishes to be served at a birthday dinner are the fried rice and the birthday noodles. Golden Unicorn’s special fried rice has egg, bacon, raisins and cut up pieces of Chinese broccoli. They didn’t use a lot of soy sauce when frying the rice, because the rice stayed a golden yellow color. If a lot of soy sauce were used, the rice would be a darker brown color.

Dessert at Chinese restaurants usually consists of a fruit platter or sliced oranges and whatever sweet soup, or tong sui, the kitchen had cooked up that night. Most restaurants offer red bean soup, since it is the most common of the sweet soups. Some fancier restaurants will put some sago balls, which are rolled up, ball forms of a starch that is extracted from tropical palm stems. The red bean soup with sago, as pictured, was sweet and thick. I prefer my red bean soups thick in consistency, so this was a good bowl for me.

Also for dessert were birthday buns, which are always served during Chinese birthday dinners. The birthday buns are called “Sao Bao” in Chinese and are shaped like peaches. They are shaped like peaches because they were meant to symbolize long life and good health. The buns are steamed and then served hot. Inside is a red bean paste that is sweet and sticky.

Finishing the night was birthday cake – which was a black forest cake from Tai Pan Bakery. Tai Pan is my go-to bakery for egg custards, or don tats. The cake was fluffy and light – so light that I actually had two slices!