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.

IMG_6197

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.

IMG_6200

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.

IMG_6198

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!

IMG_6202

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!).

IMG_6203

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.

IMG_6205

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.

IMG_6206

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!

Gotham Bar & Grill

For my birthday, the Boyfriend and I decided to have a birthday lunch instead of dinner since we had a pretty full week of plans ahead of us. After some prowling through Yelp, I decided on Gotham Bar & Grill, since it’s pretty well known for having good food and it’s across the street from where he had class later on in the day. Gotham offers a regular a la carte menu along with their special $34 Greenmarket Lunch Prix Fixe. We both opted for the Greenmarket Prix Fixe since it seemed like a great deal. You get three options per course, which I thought was an ample selection.

When I had made reservations via OpenTable, I made a note about wanting a quieter table since it was a birthday lunch – just the two of us. When we checked in with the maître d’, I was greeted with Birthday wishes from both the host and hostess. We were brought over to a corner table with a party of three next to us. Despite the fact that we were close to other tables, everyone spoke in such hushed voices that I never felt intruded upon.

After we placed our orders (our waiter didn’t even bat an eyelid at the fact that we went with the cheaper option), we were given a bread roll with butter. The bread was a bit on the harder side but was a nice segue way into our first course. We both opted for the Wild Striped Bass Sashimi with asian pear, watermelon radish, cucumber, yuzu ginger emulsion and avocado wasabi puree. The avocado wasabi puree was very refreshing and not spicy at all. The wild striped bass was very fresh and  we both quickly gobbled it down.

IMG_5406

For my second course, I went with the Pan Roasted Hake, served with braised savory cabbage, potato puree and a verjus butter sauce. This was the first time I had foam on my food! The hake was very soft and cooked to perfection. The potato puree was very fragrant and the savory cabbage was very refreshing.

IMG_5408

The Boyfriend went with the Braised Beef Short Ribs, served with braised greens, roasted root vegetables and parmigiano reggiano. I had a bite of his short ribs and they were very well done. It was soft and tender and very flavorful.

IMG_5407

For his dessert, he went with the Baba Rum, which is rum cake served with passion fruit cream, whipped chantilly and citrus segments. I had a bite of his rum cake and they definitely did not skimp on the rum. He especially liked the blood orange segments since its a bit more tart.

IMG_5410

For my dessert, I went with the famous Gotham Chocolate Cake, served with salted almond ice cream. To my surprise, my cake came with a candle (held up by a dollop of cream) and a “Happy Birthday” plaque. I loved that they did that without any prompting from the Boyfriend or me – it was such a nice way to end a great lunch. The cake itself was airy and rich at the same time. It tasted like a lava cake but without the gooey chocolate. It wasn’t overly sweet and was contradicted nicely by the salty almond ice cream. With every bite, I wished I had more!

IMG_5413

I really enjoyed my lunch at Gotham. Our waiter was very attentive and personable the entire time. I’ve been to restaurants where the waiters visibly show their displeasure when you order the cheaper prix fixe rather than a la carte. But this did not happen here at all. Our waiter knew his stuff about all the dishes and was able to answer all our questions. And plus, I got a birthday candle! I love the attention to detail to make their customers enjoy their meals just a little bit more. I can’t wait to be back!

Quality Meats

Since the Boyfriend and I were planning a date day, we decided to take advantage of the last day of Restaurant Week and try a something new. Our first choice, Café Boulud, was completely booked, so we opted for our second choice, Quality Meats, instead. Quality Meats belongs to the son of the owner of Smith & Wollensky so we knew we were in for a treat.

We arrived about 15 minutes before our reservation and they were able to accommodate us almost right away. Despite it’s small appearance from the outside, the inside is extremely big. There are about 2 levels of dining tables – all very strategically placed.

Quality Meats offers 4 appetizer choices, 5 entrée choices, and 5 ice cream flavors on their Restaurant Week menu. Most of the choices are featured on their dinner menu. After we placed our order, our waiter brought over some cast-iron baked bread, which was pretty good. I like that it’s baked to order so you’re always guaranteed fresh bread.

IMG_4454

After we finished our bread, our appetizers arrived. The Boyfriend went with the Traditional Steak Tartare, which is served with just an egg yoke. You’re given salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and onions to create a tartare that is to your own liking. We used all the ingredients except for the Tabasco and created a very delicious tartare! The beef was fresh and everything tasted very good together.

IMG_4456

I opted for the Seared Diver Scallops on top of Corn Chowder. The scallops were so delicious – they were cooked to perfection and had a nice sear on all sides. The scallops almost melted in my mouth! The corn chowder was also very pleasant. It was refreshing and had a great summer feel.

IMG_4455

For his entrée, the Boyfriend went with the Open-faced Shrimp Salad Sandwich, which comes with a side salad and waffle fries. Holy moly! The sandwich was huge! By the time he was halfway through, he started to just eat the shrimp salad because eating the bread too would’ve been too much. The shrimp was abundant and the salad was very light – there wasn’t too much mayo at all.

IMG_4458

I went with the Hanger Steak with brandied cherries, which I requested medium rare. The steak was indeed, medium rare. I love it when my steak is cooked right! The brandied cherries gave the steak a sweet flavor, which was very different. I thought the steak was very good – the portion is also very generous.

IMG_4459

For dessert, they offer 5 flavors of their Dressed Up Scoops. I went with the Matcha Mango Bubble Tea. The scoop was a huge portion! It comes with a thin strip of mango and tiny tapioca cubes to mimic bubble tea. The matcha was very prominent and the ice cream was super creamy.

IMG_4461

The Boyfriend went with the Orange Creamsicle and there was a thin strip of orange on the top! The ice cream tasted exactly like an orange creamsicle, which brought back memories of childhood summers. We both thoroughly liked this one – it even had oranges on the bottom!

IMG_4460

The service was prompt and attentive. We opted for the house wine pairing for an extra $5 in addition to the Restaurant Week menu and we were given a taste before agreeing on the wine. The wine, despite being only $5, was pretty good and we received a generous pour. I also loved how Quality Meats gives you the normal portion despite the fact that you’re paying a lot less. What a great show of care towards the customer!

Beso

For Birthday Dinner #3 on my actual date, the Boyfriend and I decided to take the ferry over to Staten Island and have dinner on the island. After some Googling and Yelping, I found Beso. Beso is located in St. George, just two short blocks away from the ferry. They specialize in Spanish tapas, or small plates. We arrived around 5:30 for an early dinner and were seated immediately. We were given a warm loaf of bread with some olive oil, which was very good. I love when restaurants offer warmed up bread!

Beso offers two menus – the a la carte menu and a prix fixe menu. I opted for the a la carte menu since I had already set my eyes on a few dishes beforehand. The Boyfriend decided to go with the prix fixe menu, which is $20.13 for three courses.

First, let’s begin with our a la carte orders. We decided to order the lamb chops, which were $12 for 4 lamb chops that night. The lamb chops were delicious! They were juicy and succulent. The meat itself was very tender and didn’t have that smelly lamb taste at all. This was easily the best dish of the night. Definitely order their lamb chops if you pay Beso a visit!

IMG_3437

I started with the Sashimi de Atun ($9.95), or guajillo crusted seared tuna served with sundried tomato salsa. The serving size was huge! I was not expecting so many slices of tuna sashimi when I ordered. There were at least eleven pieces on the plate, which is almost unheard of for that price elsewhere in Manhattan. I was amazed when I first put a slice of tuna in my mouth. The tuna was seared to perfection and the salsa gave it a very nice flavor.

IMG_3439

My “main” dish, if you will, was the Lobster Enchiladas ($10.50), which features lobster meat wrapped in a flour tortilla with arugula, onion, tomato and Manchego cheese. The order comes with two enchiladas, which is really more than enough. At this point I was already getting quite full. I could taste lobster with each bite and the cheese contrasted nicely with the lobster. I did think the dish was a bit salty, so next time I’m definitely telling them to lighten up on the salt.

IMG_3440

The Boyfriend’s prix fixe menu comes with a choice of 4 tapas, 3 entrees and 3 desserts. He chose the Conchas de Cave, or Prince Edward Mussels sautéed in Spanish Cava and served with toasted tortillas. The mussels were a bit on the small side but the sauce was very good and tasted great when soaked up with tortilla. The serving size was quite generous as well.

IMG_3436

For his entrée, he chose the Seafood Merengue, which features mussels, clams, calamari, and scallops sautéed in a Sofrito sauce and served over spaghetti. I thought this dish was pretty good for a simple pasta dish. The spaghetti was cooked perfectly al dente and was covered in seafood. The best part, however, was the sauce. The sauce was tangy with a hint of tomato. It was definitely not your usual spaghetti sauce. I kept stealing bites from the Boyfriend’s dish in between bites on my own food.

IMG_3441

For his dessert, he chose the Tres Leches Cake, which features vanilla cake soaked in three kinds of milk. The cake was a bit harder than I’m used to in a Tres Leches cake, but I thought it was still good nonetheless. It was topped with fresh blueberries and diced mangos, which helped make the cake a little big lighter. We managed to polish off the piece of cake together and it was just the right end to a delicious meal.

IMG_3442

Overall, I was very impressed with Beso. The food was delicious and the dining room was quiet despite the people slowly filling in as the night wore on. The waiters never rushed us – in fact, we were left to eat our meals in piece. Our waters were refilled periodically and the waiters reacted appropriately whenever our dishes were empty. They changed our small plates once during the meal, which I thought was a nice touch. All in all, I would definitely return to Beso. I need to have those lamb chops again!

Tartine

Since it was the Boyfriend’s birthday we decided to start the day off with a nice Brunch. Between school and work, we rarely have time for brunch- especially not on the weekends since we like to sleep in. It was a bit of a search to find a place that is reputable, has good food and serves brunch on weekdays. A lot of the places I found on Yelp only serve brunch on weekends, which is a big bummer. Finally, we decided on Tartine – they serve brunch daily until 4pm. Their brunch menu was also pretty interesting. They offer a variety of options for $15.50, which includes your choice of entrée, orange juice, and tea or coffee.

Since we arrived around 10:30 on a weekday, the place was pretty empty. We were seated right away – our choice of seats. We both kind of already knew what we wanted to order but we took a look at the menu while our waiter brought us our teas and orange juices. Nothing is better than orange juice first thing in the morning!

I had my heart set on their Eggs Norwegian, which features a poached egg on top of lox and an English muffin. They didn’t have lox that day (major sad face) so I went with their Eggs Benedict. Each order comes with a side of potatoes, which tasted amazing with a bit of ketchup. The Eggs Benedict was good – although the English muffin was a bit over toasted. The only problem I had was with the eggs – they were more soft-boiled than poached. It wasn’t a deal breaker though so I’ll definitely be back to try the Eggs Norwegian.

The Boyfriend went with their Thyme Roasted Salmon Sandwich, which features salmon, fennel slaw, and tapenade aioli on top of chiabatta bread. At my first bite, this tasted like a salmon BLT. There is a similar texture but in general it tastes very different. The Boyfriend was in love with this sandwich – but then again, he loves everything salmon. He definitely wants to return for this – forget everything else on the menu.

The service was quick and we were in and out within an hour. We did go on a weekday, however, so I can’t say much about the service or the wait time during the weekend. I’ve heard that wait times can go up to 45 minutes for a table.

Quick tip: They include suggest gratuity on the bill so make sure you check. I almost paid double tip because I didn’t realize that it was included in the total.

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.