Kotobuki

Since the Boyfriend started grad school at NYU, we’ve been exploring the East Village a lot recently. We stumbled upon Kotobuki by accident and they caught our attention with their 27 rating from Zagat. Now, sometimes I don’t pay too much attention to Zagat because some restaurants that I have loved received mediocre ratings. But when a restaurant gets such a high score, it grabs my attention. We took one of their take-out menus and stored it away for future use.

One day, as we were thinking about what to eat, we thought about Kotobuki. We pulled out the menu and noticed that they have a $14 “Omakase Entrees from the Sushi Bar” menu for lunch. It’s available Monday to Friday from 12:00pm to 2:30pm, which is a shorter period of time than usual lunch specials. There’s three options – Chirashi, Sashimi and Sushi entrees. Each option comes with miso soup and fresh salad. And you own’t be jipped because it’s the good miso soup and salad – not the ones from your typical Chinese-run Japanese sushi restaurant.

We both opted for the Sashimi option, which includes 10 pieces of assorted sashimi, a small salmon carpaccio and a u.f.o. roll for $14.00. You might not think it’s much but it’s actually a very significant meal. I think it’s a super great deal because the fish is very fresh. You get 10 pieces of sashimi with a bowl of rice and then there’s an added roll with even more fish! Everything tasted very fresh and was very expertly cut. By the time I finished everything, I was so full!

IMG_4650

We opted for the Rice Cream ($5.00) for dessert. Rice Cream is just their version of mochi ice cream. Each order comes with two mochi in a vanilla flavor. It’s definitely better tasting than your standard supermarket freezer section mochi but it’s not the best mochi ice cream I have ever had. This one is less memorable and skippable.

IMG_4652

Service was attentive and prompt. We were given waters and a hot towel to clean our hands before we even ordered, which was nice. The bathrooms are really big and very clean, which is a huge plus in my book. I love big bathrooms – nothing is worse than having to maneuver in a tiny bathroom after you’ve had a big meal!

Motorino

Since the Boyfriend started grad school at NYU, I’ve started compiling a handy list of cheap and affordable restaurants in the East and West Village. We weren’t really feeling Japanese, Thai or Chinese so we opted for pizza at Motorino, which is closer to Union Square than the East Village. Motorino does a great lunch special Monday-Friday from 11am to 4pm. You get a mixed green salad and your choice out of four 12″ personal pizzas.

We stopped by around 12:45pm and was seated right away. We both opted for the lunch special and our salads came almost right away. They come with a side of balsamic vinegar and olive oil as dressing. The portion is actually pretty big for a lunch special. The greens were fresh and the light dressing was very refreshing on a hot day.

IMG_4619

I opted for the Margherita Pizza, which features tomato sauce, Mozzarella di bufala, basil, pecorino and Extra Virgin olive oil. The sauce was very sweet, which I loved and the mozzarella cheese was very liberal. The crust, however, was the best part. The insides were soft and chewy while the outside crust was crunchy and crispy. I definitely enjoyed my pizza – in fact I liked Motorino’s pizza more than the famous Grimaldi’s, which I thought was rather bland.

IMG_4620

The Boyfriend went with the Brussels Sprout Pizza, which features brussels sprouts, fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), garlic, pecorino, smoked pancetta and Extra Virgin olive oil. The pancetta gave the pizza a really great salty flavor while the brussels sprouts kept it fresh and healthy. I liked my pizza better but he argued that his pizza was better.

IMG_4621

We finished off with a slice of their Tiramisu ($9.00), which was very creamy and had just the right amount of espresso flavor. At $9, it was a bit steep for a dessert so I think I’d go without it next time.

IMG_4622

 

All in all, we enjoyed our lunch at Motorino. It’s a very filling lunch at a faction of the price of ordering a pizza regularly. If you’re in the area and craving pizza, check out Motorino!

Zen6

Cooling temperatures always make us want hotter foods in order to keep warm. Despite the fact that we’ve both lived in NYC our entire lives, we’re still never fully ready for when fall hits. So when the temperatures started to dip to 40 and below, we headed over to Zen6 for some delicious and warm ramen. Since they’re off the main area in the East Village, you never have to wait for a table or suffer rushed service for lunch. In fact, they even have a lunch special! For $9.50 you get your choice of six of their signature ramen dishes, a small side salad and your choice of six mini sides.

I went with their Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen, which features a milky tonkotsu soup base with “umami dama” on top. I went with their thin straight noodles and it was so good! The soup base was very tasty and definitely did not lack in flavor at all. One portion was enough to fill me up until way past dinner – and we ate at 12:30pm! I went with a small side of gyoza, which were crunchy and juicy. The dipping sauce is a bit spicy though, so beware!

photo 2

The Boyfriend went with their Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen, which features a soy sauce and tonkotsu soup base. He also went with the thin straight noodles. His ramen was a bit more salty than mine but I think it has more flavor. He went with the mini curry rice as his side – the curry rice was pretty good. It’s not one of my favorite curries but it definitely hit the spot and helped fill us up.

photo 1 (1)

Service was attentive throughout despite the fact that it was only one waitress for the entire restaurant. She was very responsive to our requests for hot tea and refills. For all the Yelpers out there, check in on Yelp for a free ice cream bar! I highly recommend Zen6 – the ramen is good, cheap and filling!

Soba-Ya

Soba-Ya has been sitting on my Bookmarks list on Yelp for a while. Unlike ramen or sushi, soba isn’t one of those things that I crave often. But the Boyfriend and I were in the East Village with no clue where to eat lunch so we decided on Soba-Ya so I could cross them off my list.

We arrived before they opened at 12pm so we hovered by the door and checked out their menu. Their menu advertises a limited Lunch Box set ($17.00) with only 25 servings per day. By the time we were seated, we already knew we would get the Lunch Box Set since it’s so limited! We usually don’t get the same thing when we eat out so we could try new things but it sounded too tempting not to!

The box itself comes with four sections – a mixed greens salad with Soba-ya’s original dressing, broiled fish of the day, rice with cod roe and egg, and cooked veggies. The salad was nice and refreshing. I liked that they use mixed greens instead of romaine, which is the standard for Japanese restaurants. The star of the box was the broiled fish of the day, which was salmon. It was very tender and very well seasoned. A bite of salmon and a bite of rice was the perfect combination!

IMG_3712

The set comes with a side of tempura, which features two pieces of shrimp tempura and one piece of pepper tempura. The tempura comes piping hot so be careful when you eat it! By the time I finished everything, I still had one piece of tempura left because I was so full.

IMG_3714

The set also comes with a side of soba noodles. You get your choice of hot soba or cold soba. If you get cold soba, they bring you a plate of soba noodles and a tiny cup of broth to dip the soba into. They also give you a plate of wasabi and chopped scallions to add into your dipping sauce. This was very good portion size because anymore and I wouldn’t have been able to finish! The soba was cooked perfectly and the broth was really refreshing on a hot day.

IMG_3713

After we both finished our sets, we asked for dessert because on Wednesdays, all lunch desserts are 50% off. Our waiter then brought over a tiny version of their tofu dessert. We were shocked because we didn’t know that the Lunch Box Set came with dessert! It was just enough to give us a taste of sweetness without making us too full.

IMG_3715

The service was attentive the entire meal and our food came out relatively quickly. The food was delicious and all on the light side. Neither of us left feeling disgustingly full even though we had quite a bit of food. I would definitely wait again to get this great deal!

Quick Tip: They make their own Calpico Soda here so make sure you give it a try. They also have Mandarin flavored Calpico!

Bocca

I walk by Bocca at least once a week on my way to the Starbucks that’s down the block. It’s hard not to notice them – they have outdoor-sidewalk seating and a sign that advertises $9 lunch specials everyday. I filed that information in the back of my head for future use – perhaps I might step in for a quick lunch. The information came in handy when my coworker told me it was my turn to pick a place for lunch.

I quickly made reservations on OpenTable (I’ve been trying to stack points) and we were on our way. We were seated immediately upon arrival. Quick tip: for lunch you don’t really need reservations. There were several tables occupied – most men in suits having a business lunch. It wasn’t too loud in the restaurant and they knew to sit parties at least a table away from each other since they weren’t that busy anyways.

We both decided to go with their $9 lunch special – the pasta dishes sounded amazing. I went with their Pappardelle Al Ragú Di Agnello In Bianco, which featured house-made mint pasta tossed with white wine braised lamb shank and topped with fresh ricotta. The pasta was cooked perfectly – al dente – and had so much bounce in each bite. The lamb was very tender and almost melted in my mouth. The ricotta added a cheesey flavor to the dish that wasn’t too overpowering. The white wine based lamb sauce was definitely enough to bring a kick to the dish.

We decided not to go for dessert since each one was more expensive than our lunch specials, which I didn’t really appreciate. They did bring out some very warm and crunchy bread with marinara sauce while we waited for our entrees, which was a nice touch. Our service wasn’t anything to write home about but it wasn’t bad either. Overall, I liked my lunch at Bocca and would definitely return for their lunch special if I’m in the area.

Cha-An Teahouse

After reading raving reviews and looking at pictures of the food, I knew I had to pay Cha-An a visit. This cute little Japanese teahouse, located in the East Village, is only open for lunch and dinner. They open at 12pm from Friday to Sunday and at 2pm from Monday to Thursday. They’re on the second floor so if you’re not looking, you might miss their door. They do have a lunch special sign by the door, so be sure to take a look at all the pictures before you step inside!

The boyfriend and I arrived around 12:30pm on a Friday and were greeted warmly by a waitress. We were seated immediately and given lunch special menus and their regular menu. The boyfriend had already decided on their lunch special of the day (it changes daily) – the Salmon Tar Tar Don ($13). I also decided before we even arrived that I would be ordering their Cha-An Set B ($22). I wanted the full experience and while it was quite pricey, the taste and quality definitely made up for it.

The boyfriend’s lunch special came with a Genmai-Cha tea, which is a form of green tea mixed with grains. The tea came in a little pot that held about one cup of tea. The teapot was refilled with water continuously during the meal. The waiters and waitresses seemed to know just the right time to stop by and get us a refill. I really liked this tea! It was very light and fresh. There wasn’t a heavy green tea flavor – just a hint of it with a light grainy taste.

I decided to order their Matcha Float, since it pictures looked so good. With my set lunch, the float would cost $5, but by itself, it costs $7. It was a bit pricey for a drink of this size but it was very very good. The matcha flavor was very distinct but very smooth. The red bean that was mixed into the drink sunk to the bottom so with every sip, I had green tea+ red bean. It was almost like drinking matcha bubble tea but with red bean instead.

The boyfriend’s Salmon Tar Tar Don is Friday’s daily lunch special and only 15 servings are made each day. His lunch special also came with one side dish, as per the chef’s choice. The chef’s choice for the salmon tar tar don was vegetables sautéed with a peanut sauce. The vegetables were pretty good but the highlight was the salmon tar tar don. It came in a large bowl and was very filling. I had a couple of bites and it was very flavorful. Inside the bowl was chunks of smoked salmon + lettuce + their 15 grain rice + their special sauce. So yummy! The dish was light and refreshing.

Now onto my Set B, which came with today’s soup, two side dishes, soymilk quiche, tea smoked salmon, their 15-grain rice and a dessert. It came in a neat little basket, which I absolutely adored! I also loved how the soup, side dishes, and dessert was up to the chef’s choice because it left me guessing as to what I would get. Not knowing what my side dishes or dessert was meant an pleasant surprise when my meal came.

First, let’s start with the quiche since it came first. This was very pillowy and fluffy. There was a very distinct mushroom and cucumber flavor in this quiche, which I loved since those two are one of my favorite foods. The use of soy milk made the quiche very light and sweet.

The soup of the day was an egg drop soup. Their egg drop soup was very different than the usual Chinese takeout version. Their version was very light and smooth. It wasn’t gooey and thick like the Chinese takeout version. It wasn’t too salty or too seasoned. I thoroughly enjoyed my soup.

Next is the tea-smoked salmon, which was almost like a smaller version of the boyfriend’s salmon tar tar don. There was three pieces of smoked salmon nestled on top of a bed of lettuce. I grabbed a piece of salmon and a chunk of lettuce and ate it together. It was very fresh and very delicious. The salmon was very smooth and soft.

My first side dish was sautéed vegetables in olive oil. This was very different from the boyfriend’s side dish. While his was served cold, mine was served hot. The vegetables were cooked until they were soft, which made it nice and easy to chew. I would put pieces of the vegetables on top of my rice and eat it!

My second side dish was mushrooms, baby string beans and shrimp cooked in a cream sauce. This was easily my favorite dish in the basket. The mushrooms were chewy and flavorful. The shrimp was juicy and the string beans were very soft. The cream sauce tasted amazing! After I finished all the goodies, I even poured the cream sauce over the rice!

And finally, here is the rice! Their 15-grain rice is very flavorful and tastes a lot different than your standard bowl of rice. There were visibly many different types of grains in the bowl. The result was a very different feel and texture with every bite. The white parts were soft and chewy while the brown, black and purple grains were kind of harder and crunchy.

The dessert the chef chose for me was their green tea soufflé. It was more like flan than soufflé but nonetheless it was delicious! The green tea flavor was strong, but not overwhelmingly so. The stop layer was caramel-y and mixed very well with the green tea. The texture was so soft that it almost melted in my mouth! By the time we finished it, we wanted more!

I really must comment on the service at Cha-An. It was superb! The waitresses were very nice and made sure to ask if we had any food allergies before putting in our orders. They would come by whenever we needed a refill without us even having to ask them! The waitresses and waiters were very attentive and I don’t have a single complaint.

The whole atmosphere at Cha-An is very relaxing. It’s such a nice environment that everyone feels the need to speak in a lower tone – almost as if to respect the other patrons. I really liked this because at some restaurants, I have to yell over the other people in order for the boyfriend to be able to hear me. Their bathroom is also very pretty. Their toilet is controlled by a remote that’s attached to the cabinet next to the to the toilet. No more having to reach over to flush!

I know I will definitely be back at Cha-An. It might be my new favorite place. The service is amazing and the atmosphere is relaxing. Cha-An you really do deserve 5/5 stars.

Chai Thai

It was the middle of the week and I had a sudden craving for soup. After a quick Yelp search, I found out that the original Soup Man (the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld was based off of this man and his storefront) was just 5 blocks away from school. So I got the boyfriend, the sister and a friend and we made our way over. When we arrived, we realized that they probably haven’t updated their website in a few years. Their soups were no longer $4.95 for a small cup – more like $7- $8 for a small cup. I can get a bigger cup of soup at Whole Foods for cheaper. So we backtracked to the Thai restaurant we walked by and decided to stop for lunch.

We had actually found a little hidden treasure! Chai Thai Restaurant offers lunch specials from 11:30am to 4:00pm. Their lunch specials include your choice of several entrees and your choice of soup, salad or spring roll for the low price of $6.95. For food in the Hell’s Kitchen area, this is a very good deal!

I decided to go with their soup, since it was pretty cold outside. Their soup has a chicken broth base with tofu chunks and small strands of vernacelli. It was a bit salty but I finished every drop. I really liked the vernacelli because it tasted almost like a mini-noodle soup.

My sister went with their spring rolls. I didn’t try them but she told me they were pretty much your average spring rolls. Crunchy and covered with a sweet and sour sauce.
For my entree, I went with the chicken pad see eew (pad sea eiw on their menu). First thing I liked was the chinese broccoli. They cut their broccoli extremely thin, which I loved. I thought this was a very nice touch since most places slice the broccoli too thick and makes it hard to chew through it. The second thing I liked about this dish was the flat rice noodles. It wasn’t over-seasoned, which is also another problem with a lot of Thai places. It was a bit wetter than what I normally like, but overall very good.
The sister went with their Pad Khing, which is your choice of meat sautéed with mushrooms, onions, scallions and red bell peppers. Her dish came with a side of rice, which was made into a crescent moon shape. How cute! I stole some beef and mushroom from her plate. The beef was very tender and chewy. The mushrooms were delicious! Very flavorful.
The boyfriend and our friend went with the chicken pad thai. Yummy! It was very nicely cooked and a pretty big portion. The only problem that I had with this dish was the fact that this one was a bit too dry. If only the wet from my pad see eew was transfered over to this pad thai!
Overall I was very happy with Chai. I can see myself coming back for their lunch specials. The food came out quick and despite us being there during prime lunch time, it wasn’t overly crowded. There were maybe 2-3 other tables full while we were there. The best part though was when my friend got her pad thai doggy bagged, they folded the brown paper bag in such a cute design!