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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Sake

Sake, located in Brooklyn, is an all you can eat sushi buffet. They offer their lunch menu for $12.95 and their dinner menu for $17.95. However, Sake is unlike what most of us think of when we hear the word buffet. Instead of us walking up to the food to get it, the food is brought to us. Once you’re seated, a waitress will bring over several paper menus with some pencils. You then mark up what you want and how many of each you want. After you’re done, your waitress will bring over the food to you once they’re made.

From your seat, you can see the sushi bar and the sushi chefs working. I went with the boyfriend and his family for dinner because his mother had seen the Yelp pictures and was craving Japanese food. Despite it being a Wednesday night, they were actually almost full by the time our party left. When we started the night at around 6pm, there were 3 sushi chefs. By the time we left at around 7:30pm, there were 5 sushi chefs hard at work to fulfill requests.

We started off with some appetizers and cooked foods, which takes up the top part of the menu. Each order comes in a small portion, which is good because you get to sample many different types of dishes without being filled up by one big dish. We started with their Kani Salad, or imitation crabmeat salad. The dish comes with crunchy crumbs on top but we asked the waitress to hold ours. We actually ordered 4 orders of the Kani salad throughout the night because it was so good. The crabmeat and cucumber shreds were mixed with mayo and served chilled – just the way I like it!

We also ordered their crabmeat ravioli, which is sort of like a flat fried wonton. The crabmeat is stuffed into dough, which is then deep-fried. Spicy mayo is drizzled on top of the crunchy dough. This dish was pretty good because the dough was very crunchy and crisp. The spicy mayo was pretty spicy so be careful!

The fried calamari comes with 4 pieces per order. They are freshly fried the moment you order so they always come piping hot. We actually ordered a couple dishes of these throughout the night as well. They were crunchy and the squid was fresh. Since they come in such small quantities, you can order a couple for the table to share if you’re coming with a larger party.

Sake offers three types of teriyaki – shrimp, salmon, and beef. We tried all three but deemed the beef teriyaki the best. They come in a small order, with about 7-8 pieces each. This allowed us to snack on each order without getting too full.  We all came to a group decision that the beef teriyaki was the best one. The salmon came in close, but the beef was very tender and flavorful. Towards the end of our meal, we actually ordered another dish of beef teriyaki cause it was that good.

Now it’s time to get to the sushi! We ordered a few shrimp, crab stick and salmon sushi’s because everyone liked them. The crabstick sushi was very good but the rice started to fall apart after we dipped it into the soy sauce. The salmon sushi, though, was delicious. Salmon is my favorite fish for sushi and they did it right. Each piece did not skimp on the salmon and the rice wasn’t too large either. I actually ordered two more pieces later on just for myself!

We also ordered a couple of pieces of eel sushi and octopus sushi. The octopus sushi came out very pretty and I give them major points for being able to pop these dishes out to us. We ordered quite a bit of sushi and rolls and they were all very quick to come out. At some point, we actually ran out of space on our table for all of the places of sushi!

Besides offering the basic rolls, Sake also offers a variety of special rolls under the all you can eat menu. One of their best special rolls is the Kani Naruto roll, which features crab meat and avocado wrapped in a thin layer of cucumber. We actually ordered two of these rolls because they were very good. The use of cucumber made this roll very healthy as well as light. Without the heavy rice to weigh it down, you can actually eat several of these rolls without being full!

Each person is allowed to order one sashimi appetizer, which comes with 8 pieces of assorted fish. We requested for ours to be all salmon, so our order came with 6 pieces. We only ordered one of these cause we were a bit preoccupied with the sushi and rolls. Next time though, I know I will just order a sashimi appetizer, some rolls and a lot of cooked dishes because that way, I can eat a lot more! The rolls made us so full that we didn’t want to order anymore sushi. After we polished off all 7 rolls that we had ordered, we didn’t want to eat any more rice. So here’s a tip, don’t order too many rolls! One is more than enough. Save your tummy for the sushi, sashimi, and cooked dishes!

We finished dinner off with some green tea ice cream. Desserts aren’t included on the all you can eat menu and most are an extra $3. This is a huge bummer for me because I love desserts! The main reason why I love buffets like Ichi Umi is because they offer unlimited all you can eat desserts – ice cream, cheesecakes, cookies and fruits! $3 isn’t really expensive for green tea ice cream, but I’d love it if they had included it on the menu. How much ice cream can I eat anyways?

At the end of the night, I left Sake very very full. I was very satisfied with the quality of the food and the quickness all the dishes arrived. I was, however, not satisfied with the service. Whereas even the worst restaurants I’ve been to, their waitresses have kept my drink refilled, Sake completely failed in this. The waitresses showed no want to refill my tea. Even when we asked for our teacups to be refilled, one waitress had an attitude about it. If I’m eating, I obviously need to drink something to go with my meal.

I also need to complain about the bathroom situation. When we arrived, the boyfriend and I both needed to use the bathroom. Lo and behold, there was only one. And even worse, some guy was in there for about 15 minutes and we can all guess what he was doing in there. Sake could really do with another bathroom in the restaurant. If one person from every table needed to go, there would be a line stretching out to the door.

I’m really torn between how many stars to give Sake. The service was lacking, but the food was really good. For the amount I ate, it was definitely worth $17.95. Sake, your food rescued you. I give you 4 stars out of 5.