Cilantro UWS

Last night my husband and I went to Cilantro on the Upper West Side for $10 Fajita Night.  We’ve been to this location many times and we are familiar with the food and service.  We’ve always known that both the food and the service are inconsistent.  For example, the vegetable fajitas one night might be just a bunch of onions and green bell peppers and another night, there might be a cornucopia of grilled zucchini, eggplant, portobello mushrooms, yellow squash and a smattering of onions and green bell peppers.  The service one night might bend over backwards to make sure you are enjoying yourself and another night, you may have to ask 4 different individuals for more tortillas (like last night).

So, we have established the fact that this location is inconsistent, yes?  Why do we keep going back?  Well, $10 fajitas is a pretty good deal and 50% of the time, the service and food are good.  Sometimes they are even good on the same night!  Haha!  Now, the reason I write this post today is that last night was the worst ever.  I need to vent about it.

Last night as we sat down, we were brought our basket of chips and salsa and our glasses of water.  We placed our order quickly as we knew why we were there and what we wanted.  I ordered my usual vegetable fajita and my husband ordered his usual steak fajita.  The food was unusually slow to come out last night to the point where we actually polished off the basket of chips and salsa and were about to ask for more when the fajitas finally arrived.  We immediately noticed problem #1: the restaurant had run out of onions.  I asked the server, “No onions?” and he said “What? Oh yeah, we ran out of onions.”  This was not a huge deal but my husband’s dinner looked more like Chinese pepper steak than steak fajita.  Before that server left, my husband asked for more tortillas as this restaurant never gives us enough.  Problem #2:  the waiter said “There should be enough there.”  My husband said “Trust me, we’ll need more.  Can we have 4 or 5 more?”.  The server, with his shrewd bargaining skills, said “How about 3?”.  Fine.  Except, they never came.  So, we asked another server for some tortillas.  She brought 2.  We ate those in about 2 minutes.  We asked the same woman again, “Can we have some more tortillas, please?”  They never came.  So we asked the man who appeared to be the manager for some tortillas.  He brought 2 tortillas.  We gave up our fight for tortillas.  After having to ask for extra tortillas 4 different times only to have them rationed out to us on every other request, I told my husband to go ahead and enjoy those last 2 tortillas and I ate my veggies plain, with a knife and fork.  We finished our meal and we paid the check, asking for the change.  Enter Problem #3: they only brought the paper part of our change and kept the coin part!  What the hell is that?!?  Did they run out of onions, tortillas AND coin change???  Needless to say, we were quite frustrated with the evening as a whole.

You may be wondering, “Will you be going back?”.  The answer:  Probably.  “Why?”  Because, I haven’t found a better fajita deal in town and this one happens to be in our own neighborhood.  No subway ride necessary.

I do appreciate you letting me vent to you.  Feel free to vent to me anytime.

A La Turka

My husband and I have just returned from enjoying this month’s Foreign Food Night at A La Turka on the Upper East Side.  This month was my husband’s turn to choose which cuisine we would explore and he chose Turkish.  We used to live in the same neighborhood as A La Turka and we always said we’d like to try it sometime but never got around to it.  It was nice to get back to the old neighborhood and after the meal we just had, I think we’ll be doing it more often…

We arrived in a deluge of rain thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Hanna.  We almost thought of postponing Foreign Food Night until tomorrow night but we were feeling particularly adventuresome and set out to enjoy our evening.  As soon as we entered the restaurant, we could smell the heavenly aroma of grilled meats.  My mouth started watering and my stomach started growling.  We were sat at the front window, per our request, and perused the menu, taking note of the soulful music in the background.  As soon as we ordered, we were brought a basket of soft, warm flatbread with 3 dipping sauces (chili sauce, yogurt sauce with cucumber and dill, and flavored olive oil).

We shared a couple of hot appetizers – Sigara Boregi: pan-fried phyllo scrolls stuffed with feat cheese and dill; and Spicy Cigars: pan-fried phyllo scrolls stuffed with ground lamb with a garlicky yogurt sauce.  Both appetizers were out-of-this-world good!

With appetizers as good as these, our appetites were properly whetted and ready for our entrees.  My husband had the Beyti Kebab: hand chopped ground lamb seasoned with garlic, red pepper and parsley.  He L-O-V-E-D it!  I had the Fresh Turkish Okra with Lamb: baby okra cooked with tomatoes and onions served with rice.  Oh my… the lamb was so incredibly tender, I was in rapture.

For dessert, my husband had Baklava.  He can not see Baklava on a menu and not order it.  I ordered the rice pudding, which is my new comfort food dessert of choice.  It was so rich and creamy I would love to have some of it while sitting in front of a fireplace in my pajamas.  But, I digress.  Needless to say, we both enjoyed our desserts very much.  I do apologize, we did not take photos of our desserts as I, acting like a deranged woman who must have her dessert NOW, dug into my rice pudding before my husband could grab the camera.  So sorry.

As far as service is concerned, we were delighted by the wait staff that served us.  Everyone was exceedingly friendly and knowledgeable.

I must point out that we had to use our point-and-shoot camera this evening as our new digital SLR is simply too large to discreetly take photos in a restaurant.  Still, I think the photos turned out nicely.

My rating (out of a possible 5):

Yes, you read correctly, I have awarded this restaurant 5 TC’s.  The first 5 I have given since starting this blog!  That is high praise indeed.  I implore you to try this restaurant soon.  We were so thrilled with our meal and I want you to experience it for yourself!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

My husband and I enjoyed an early dinner with our good friends, Alyson and Lamar, tonight at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem. After having our fill of ribs, chicken, brisket, sausage and an array of sides, we somehow had room for dessert. My husband’s choice reminded me of a pie that I make for him on occasion. He loves peanut butter and chocolate paired together and this dessert fits the bill for him quite nicely. It tastes like a big, frozen Reese’s peanut butter cup!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

1 (14oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 (8 oz.) container frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
1 (6oz.) Oreo pie crust

In a large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and cocoa powder; mix well.
Add peanut butter and mix well.
Fold in whipped topping.
Spoon into crust.
Cover pie and freeze 6 hours.
Garnish as desired and serve.
Freeze leftovers.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien NY

My husband and I had a very light brunch today which left us craving something “bad” at 3:00PM.  We thought about going to Gray’s Papaya for a couple of hot dogs until I thought, why don’t we give Burger Joint a try?  We have tried to get in this place twice before but the line has always been out the door so we’ve never stuck around.  I thought, given the odd time of day, we’d be able to get in and get a seat.  I was right; we got in, placed our order and found a seat just before our order was ready for pick-up.  We each ordered a cheeseburger with our choice of toppings, shared an order of fries and we each had a chocolate milkshake.  Hey, I said we were craving something bad!

The burgers were good.  They are grilled, which I very much appreciate.  The cheese is a nice combination of melty cheddar and monterey jack.  The buns are toasted (a nice touch), the red onions are thinly sliced and they put the perfect amount of mustard, ketchup and mayo.  My only complaint about the burgers is that they were served well-done although we had ordered them medium.  Also, they are somewhat on the small side.  The fries were similar to McDonald’s except not as good.  The milkshake was quite nearly perfect.  The thickness was great and the chocolate flavor was great considering they use vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup.

The place only accepts cash so bring plenty of it.  We managed to rack up a $32 tab with just 2 burgers, 2 shakes and an order of fries.  My advice would be not to go when you are extremely hungry as you will most likely have a wait and the smell of grilled burgers might drive you crazy.

My rating (out of a possible 5):

Lederhosen

As you may recall, this past weekend was Foreign Food Night and it was my turn to choose which cuisine we would enjoy – – I chose German. Based on a recommendation from a friend of mine, we went to Lederhosen in the Village. The restaurant is located in the middle of a quiet block on Grove Street. We could have easily missed the place except for a small chalk board on the sidewalk. We were led to our table by a very nice, very smiley woman. Our table was in the back of the restaurant in a windowless room that had been painted to look as though we were sitting in the middle of a sunny bier garten (beer garden) in Germany. As such, we started our evening with a round of biers (beers). I ordered one my favorite beers, a hefeweizen, an unfiltered wheat beer. My husband ordered a Hofbrau, a beer that reminds him of the time he went to Oktoberfest when he was studying abroad.

We shared a couple of appetizers, German potato salad and potato pancakes (our server’s recommendation). The potato salad had good flavor with lots of chopped pickle, mustard and dill. It was served cold although I am used to warm German salad. The potato pancakes, served with applesauce and sour cream, were also good if a bit greasy.

My husband’s entree was a wurst platter with 3 wursts of his choice (bratwurst, bauerwurst, and a weinerwurst) and included an assortment of vegetable salads, red and white sauerkrauts and German fried potatoes. He liked his meal although he said it was nothing particularly special. My entree was a wiener schnitzel, a breaded and pan-fried veal cutlet. It was served with the same side dishes as my husband’s entree. The schnitzel was okay. I can’t say for sure if it was me, as I am not much of a meat eater, or the schnitzel, but I was underwhelmed by this dish. It seemed to lack any seasoning and was therefore very bland.

The service was very friendly and efficient.

While we weren’t blown away by the food, I would return to this restaurant. It is a great place for groups as they have picnic tables that fit 8 adults comfortably. It seems like a fun place to drink and have a nice time with your friends.

My rating (out of a possible 5):

Mia Dona – NYC Restaurant Week

This past week (as well as the coming week) was Restaurant Week here in New York City. My husband and I try to partake of the festivities at least once each time Restaurant Week rolls around. Last night my husband and I joined our friends Kelli and Tim at Mia Dona to enjoy their Restaurant Week offerings.

We arrived for our 8:30PM dinner reservation and were told that they were running a bit behind and our table was not yet available. We checked back 20 minutes later and were told that our table was being cleared and re-set. We were finally led to our table at 9:00 only to find our table not exactly re-set as my chair was full of crumbs that I had to wipe away before I could sit . I would expect dirty seats at a fast food restaurant but not at a place like Mia Dona.

I was quite pleased with the options available on their Restaurant Week menu. For the first course, Kelli, Tim and I ordered the baked tubetti. The perfectly al dente pasta was absolutely delicious with its smoked mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce and chiffonade of basil. My husband ordered the salad with shaved vegetables. Yes, I was shocked that he ordered a salad. It turns out that he didn’t realize there was a pasta option. That may be my fault as I should not have assumed that he knew that tubetti is a pasta (oops!). Oh well, it’s good for him to eat some vegetables. For the second course, Kelli, Tim and I ordered the grilled Branzino which was SO GOOD! It was served with baby artichokes, potatoes and pan jus and I still can not get over the awesome grilled flavor of the fish! My husband, in addition to not loving vegetables, does not eat fish or seafood. At Mia Dona, this was not a problem. So many times you only have 3 entree choices and they rarely include beef. Well, Mia Dona had 4 options and they also offered beef. My husband could not have been happier! He ordered the grilled hangar steak served with haricots verts (luckily, one of the few vegetables he will eat), herbed ricotta and accented with sliced pepperoncini. The meat was very tender and juicy and the herbed ricotta and pepperoncini complimented the dish beautifully. For dessert, Kelli, my husband and I ordered the tiramisu which the menu said would be accompanied by espresso gelato (yum!) but instead came with vanilla bean gelato (eh, okay). Tim ordered the chocolate semifreddo but seemed to enjoy Kelli’s tiramisu better.

As for service, our head waiter was really nice and checked on us regularly. However, things started to fall apart during the dessert course when they started rushing us. A bus boy tried to take Kelli’s dessert plate while she was still eating and the head waiter popped by for a split second to ask if we’d like some coffee and before everyone could answer, she said “No? Okay, I’ll go get your check.” What?!? What just happened here? At first, I thought they wanted to turn our table but then I realized it was 10:30PM and the place was already half empty. Who knows what the issue was?

Overall, we all enjoyed our meal. The few hiccups in cleanliness and service were not enough to put a damper on our night. I do recommend this restaurant – – get the grilled Branzino!

My rating (out of a possible 5):

Foreign Food Night

You may have noticed that my husband and I skipped Foreign Food Night for July. I forgot to address this earlier (sorry), but we skipped it because the first weekend of the month was the 4th of July weekend and we were in Philadelphia visiting friends. The only foreign thing I tasted there was a really great Shiraz from Australia (yum)! So, we are going to pick back up in August. This time it’s my turn to choose which restaurant (remember my husband chose Nam last time)…

I have been trying to figure out what type of cuisine to choose for the last few days and I am leaning toward German. I don’t know why, exactly. German food, to me, seems to be a lot of sausage and meat and I am not much of a meat eater. Still, something is pulling me in that direction. I Googled “authentic German restaurant NYC” and came up with Zum Stammtisch, a restaurant in Glendale, Queens that appears to be inaccessible by subway. A friend of mine has recommended Lederhosen in the Village, so that’s a possibility. The menu at Zum Schneider in the East Village looks good but they seem to get mixed reviews.

Do any of my NYC readers have any suggestions on where to go to get my German food fix? Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated….

Amy Ruth’s

My husband and I had dinner at Amy Ruth’s, a restaurant famous for it’s Southern cuisine, in Harlem tonight. This restaurant has been a favorite of celebrities, locals and tourists alike since opening in 1998. They are well known for their waffles, topped with everything from fried chicken to ribeye steak to fried catfish. The highlights, in my opinion, were the corn bread and the waffle topped with fried chicken wings. The corn bread is warm, soft and moist. The waffle is soft and fluffy while the chicken wings are crispy and deliciously seasoned. The lowlight was the “cheesy grits” which were under seasoned and simply topped with some shredded cheddar cheese. Their potato salad was very good as was the honey-dipped fried chicken. The macaroni and cheese was good but needed a bit of salt and pepper to bring out the flavor.

Here are some photos:

Corn Bread

Waffle with Fried Chicken Wings

Honey-Dipped Fried Chicken with Potato Salad and Mac-n-Cheese

Cheesy Grits

My rating (out of a possible 5):

Nam

As I mentioned yesterday, my husband and I went to Nam for Foreign Food Night. I must say, this month’s Foreign Food Night was a success. Nam is a lovely space in Tribeca with the most gracious service you could ever hope for. They are quick to refill your water glass, capable of answering any questions you may ask regarding the menu and their timing of courses could not be better.

We ordered 2 appetizers to share:

Grilled Lemongrass Beef Rolls

Rolls of grilled lemongrass beef with basil and bean sprouts wrapped in fresh rice paper served with a peanut dipping sauce. The grilled flavor of the tender, thinly sliced beef was delicious and the fresh basil added such a bright flavor while the peanut sauce lent an earthy aspect that we really enjoyed.

Steamed Mushroom Raviolis

The second appetizer was a steamed “ravioli” filled with mushrooms and topped with fried shallots, fresh basil and a lime broth. This dish had good flavor but was a bit difficult to serve and eat. The ravioli pasta was a limp rice paper and the filling fell out when we tried to distribute each ravioli to our plates. Once we got the raviolis in place, they were difficult to handle with our chopsticks. Problems aside, the dish was very tasty.

Crispy Red Snapper

My entree was a fillet of crispy red snapper in a chili lime sauce. Delicious! The skin of the fish was perfectly crispy and the flesh was moist and flaky. The chili lime sauce was out of this world and was soaked up nicely by a side of sticky rice.

Five-Spice Grilled Beef Wraps

My husband ordered one of the daily specials: 5-spice marinated grilled beef served with angel hair rice noodles, crunchy peanuts, mint, cilantro, lettuce leaves for wrapping and a chili lime sauce for dipping. He said it had excellent flavor and he really enjoyed the crunchiness provided by the peanuts as well as the fresh flavors of the herbs.

Coconut Panna Cotta

For dessert, I ordered the coconut panna cotta served with tapioca and a sesame tuille. I would have to say this dessert was only okay. The panna cotta had nearly no coconut flavor and an odd, lumpy texture. Additionally, the tapioca seemed a bit out of place in this dish. The sesame tuille was obviously affected by yesterday’s humidity as it was far from crisp.

Chocolate Mousse with Orange Sauce

My husband’s dessert, on the other hand, was great. He chose the chocolate mousse with orange sauce. It had intense chocolate flavor yet was light as a feather. The orange sauce complemented the mousse well as orange and chocolate do tend to make a delightful duo.

Overall, the night was wonderful and I would definitely recommend Nam to a friend.

My rating (out of a possible 5):