Posts Tagged ‘Midtown East’

Social Eatz

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 by virginia

Social Eatz is a restaurant that garners a lot of buzz because it is the restaurant of Top Chef alum Angelo Sosa. Josh and I are big fans of Top Chef but we didn’t root for Angelo when he was competing the first time around. While his food always looked good and his competitors clearly respected him, we had other favorites. Nevertheless, we didn’t object when Jess and Jack told us we should try the food at Social Eatz. They had eaten there before and enjoyed it, and so we decided to go on a double date with them and check it out.

Jess made a reservation for us on a Saturday night, but the restaurant was surprisingly empty when we arrived. We got a great table right next to the window in front. Jess and I got some beer while Josh ordered the carrot ginger fizz, an interesting cocktail featuring carrot juice, ginger beer, vodka, and citrus. It was sweet, tangy, and bubbly, and very drinkable.

Carrot Ginger Fizz cocktail

We decided to share a few appetizers to start. The first was edamame fritters, which our waiter said was a new dish for the restaurant. For some reason we were all expecting the individual edamame beans to be fried, and were quite surprised when we saw that it was actually like falafel balls made from pureed edamame. The fritters were fantastic – crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The edamame flavor definitely shined through, brightened up with some citrus. There was also garlic mayo on the side for dipping that was addictively delicious. I could have used that mayo on just about anything. My only complaint was that there were only two fritters in the order. I wish there had been more!

Edamame fritters with garlic mayo

Our other appetizer was the noodle salad with plum ponzu. It featured cold buckwheat soba noodles with baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, and sliced scallions all mixed with a sweet plum and citrus dressing. It was light and refreshing and also a good mix of sweet and tangy. The noodles were cooked well so that they still had a nice chewiness to them, and this time I had no complaints about the portion size.

Noodle salad with plum ponzu

Both couples decided to share a bibimbap burger and a pair of tacos. There are lots of different burgers to choose from but the bibimbap burger won’s best burger in America contest so we wanted to try it out. We were happy to see that they cut the burgers in half for us in the kitchen, because they were really quite messy. The burger featured a beef patty topped with a runny fried egg, shredded lettuce, and pickled carrots and cucumber. There was also sriracha mayo on the burger that oozed out when we bit into the burger and dripped everywhere.

Bibimbap burger

Autopsy shot

The burger itself was very flavorful, with the pickled vegetables and sriracha sauce definitely showing its Asian influence. The beef patty was cooked to a nice medium rare but it was kind of mushy in texture and got a bit lost under the egg and all the other components. What meat I could taste was well seasoned, and while I really did enjoy the burger, it didn’t seem like a regular burger to me. I wouldn’t compare it to a Shake Shack burger or Corner Bistro, because it’s a totally different genre of burger. So even though it was pretty delicious in it’s own way, if I’m craving a burger, this isn’t what I’d go for. Nevertheless, we were happy to have tried it.

As for the tacos, we got an order of the Korean beef tacos and the tilapia tacos. The Korean beef tacos featured marinated skirt steak that had a slight kick to it from gochujang, which is a spicy Korean pepper paste. The taco was supposed to have bean sprout kimchee as well but I didn’t really see it or taste it. There were pickled carrots and cucumber on the taco, as well as more of that sriracha mayo, which actually made the whole thing taste very similar to the bibimbap burger. The skirt steak was pretty tender, however, and flavorful on its own, and I enjoyed the fresh cilantro on top. I just wish that the taco had more pronounced kimchee flavor.

Korean beef tacos

The tilapia tacos were pretty spicy, as the fish had been brushed with Thai chili. I enjoyed the fish and the accompanying green tomato salsa and avocado, which helped temper the spice. It was a flavorful combination of spicy and tangy, and I preferred these tacos to the Korean beef tacos. I just wish they hadn’t added sriracha mayo to these tacos as well, as after a while, everything just started tasting the same.

Chili kissed tilapia tacos

Both the burgers and the tacos were a la carte, so we got two orders of fries to share. They were thin cut and crispy, like McDonald’s fries, and dusted with a bit of paprika (I think). There was a mayo based dipping sauce on the side but the fries were good on their own and seasoned enough that they didn’t need the sauce.

Side order of fries

For dessert, we split an order of the yuzu cream puffs. The choux pastry was filled with yuzu curd, which tasted similar to lemon or lime curd. It was slightly sweet but the citrus flavor made it refreshing. The cream puffs were served hot, which I liked, and delicately crispy on the outside. We quickly took down the whole bowl.

Yuzu cream puffs

Overall Josh and I both enjoyed Social Eatz but didn’t find it to be outstanding. The food was tasty but nothing was distinctive. The menu indicates Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese influences, but mostly, I just found it to be generically Asian fusion food. Sriracha mayo was on almost everything, and that flavor really dominates. After a while, all the flavors got muddled and everything just tasted like the mayo. I did enjoy the appetizers though, which were well executed and the highlight of the meal for me. On the surface, the menu at Social Eatz is very affordable. The burgers and sandwiches top out at $12, and the tacos at $9. Most things are under $10. However, since everything is a la carte, adding on a side dish is an additional $4.50 each. That means for a burger and fries, it’s really about $16.50, not $12, which is really not that cheap. In terms of atmosphere, the restaurant did fill up by the end of our meal. It was a bit loud but not overly so, and the place has a trendy but casual vibe. I would probably go back, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make another trip there.

Social Eatz
232 East 53rd St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY

P.J. Clarke’s

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I both love burgers and have hit up most of the famous spots in the city – Corner Bistro, Shake Shack, Burger Joint, and JG Melon, to name a few – but we had never been to P.J. Clarke’s. When we lived downtown, they opened up a branch in the World Financial Center, just a few blocks from where we lived. When we moved uptown we saw that there was a branch close by near Lincoln Center. But I purposely avoided both locations because I was adamant that we eat at the original location on the east side first. And for whatever reason, we never got around to going.

Finally, one Saturday afternoon, Josh was tired of my excuses and dragged me across town to the original P.J. Clarke’s for lunch. Even though it was late in the afternoon, the place was packed. There were tons of people lined up at the bar having beers and watching sports, and there was a line for the dining room as well. Fortunately the wait wasn’t too bad, and soon we were seated in the back room, which was larger than I had expected. The decor was rustic, with lots of dark wood, red banquets, dim lighting, and brick walls. It had an old-time saloon feel to it, refined, yet casual.

The menu is actually pretty extensive, featuring raw bar items, soups, salads, and a variety of steaks, entrees, and sandwiches. We were here for the burgers though, so that made our decision pretty easy. The only thing we had to debate was which side items we wanted to try. We ended up with an order of french fries and an order of onion strings. The french fries were fantastic, served piping hot and crispy. They were the thin kind that I like and were nicely salted on the outside, soft and potato-y on the inside. It was a generous portion served in a metal container but I wish that I had gotten my own serving!

Thin and crispy french fries

If the portion of fries was generous, then the portion of onion strings was ginormous. A huge tangle of thinly cut, breaded, and deep fried onions slices was piled on a large plate. When the strings first came out they were warm, flavorful, and crispy, but as they had time to sit they got really greasy and soggy. We barely got through half the pile before we had to give up. Too bad, because they started out great.

Huge tangle of onion strings

The main attraction, however, was of course the burgers. Josh opted for “The Cadillac”, a burger topped with bacon and cheese. The burger was cooked medium rare upon request and very juicy. I took a bite and thought the bacon overpowered the burger patty, but Josh really enjoyed it and inhaled it quickly.

The Cadillac burger (bacon and cheese)

I stuck with a plain hamburger, garnished only with some raw onion and ketchup. My patty was equally juicy, and you can see in the picture the bottom bun turning red from soaking up the juices.

Juicy plain burger

My burger was also perfectly cooked to medium rare, though I thought the meat was a bit mushy. The patty didn’t have a nicely charred outer crust so the texture was uniformly soft throughout. I also wish the patty had been seasoned a bit more but flavor-wise, it had sort of a nice dry-aged steak quality to it that really set it apart from other burgers that we’ve had.

Autopsy shot

Overall Josh and I both enjoyed the burgers we had at P.J. Clarke’s, though neither of us thought it was our favorite burger in the city (currently we prefer Corner Bistro). The burgers have good flavor to them and while the patties aren’t huge, they’re a decent size. The prices, however, are on the higher end, though that seems to be the trend lately. A plain burger runs about $9, and The Cadillac was around $11.50. Sides cost extra, generally about $5-$6 each. So while $15 isn’t outrageous for a burger and fries, it’s not exactly cheap either. But you can take heart in knowing that you’re paying for a quality burger, and if you go to the original location, you’re experiencing a NYC landmark. I’m glad that I held out in making my first P.J. Clarke’s burger one from the original, and now we can enjoy the closer Lincoln Center location in the future.

P.J. Clarke’s (multiple locations)
915 Third Ave. at 55th St.
New York, NY

Mia Dona

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 by virginia

For our latest Sunday night dinner with the family, we were looking up restaurants that offered Restaurant Week menus on Sundays and wound up at Mia Dona, an Italian restaurant in Midtown East that is owned by Donatella Arpaia. She is a famed restaurateur who has several restaurants in the city and has made appearances as a judge on Iron Chef America. She was actually at the restaurant that night, which was good to see, as it appears she’s taking an active interest in how things are running. The restaurant has gone through several changes in the last few months, including the exit of chef/partner Michael Psilakis (though they are still partners at Kefi and Anthos), so we weren’t really sure what to expect but the new menu definitely looked appealing.

We ended up ordering from the regular a la carte menu instead of the Restaurant Week menu, since all of the prices were very reasonable and we wanted to have more options. After making our selections, we turned our focus to the bread basket offerings.

Focaccia, breadsticks, Italian bread

I was actually disappointed with the bread selection, as I had read in several reviews about a delicious-sounding tomato-topped focaccia bread served with a head of roasted garlic. While there was focaccia bread in the basket, it was a plain one seasoned with a little bit of salt, and no roasted garlic in sight. Instead, we were served tiny bowls of ricotta cheese, which were cool and creamy but a bit lacking in flavor. It needed just a bit more oil and salt on top I think. Other breads in the basket included a standard rustic Italian bread, and an interesting pretzel-like breadstick that was nice and crunchy. Normally I’d be pretty pleased with a basket like this, but we all know how much I love tomato focaccia (aka pizza bread) so I kind of felt like I was missing out. I don’t know if they just don’t serve it anymore as a result of the recent changes to the chef/menu, or if they just happened to be out of it on this particular evening. I’m interested to find out though!

Ricotta for spreading

There were so many appetizers on the menu we wanted to try so almost everyone got something different. I went with the zuppa di cavolfiori con pesto, which was cauliflower soup topped with arugula pesto. The soup was thick and rich, and surprisingly silky smooth. Even though pureed soups are usually creamy, they still tend to have a bit of a granular texture on your tongue, but this one was so smooth that it almost had the mouth feel of a thick yogurt. I stirred the pesto into the soup, which gave it nice green swirls throughout. The taste of the cauliflower was very pronounced, and the pesto swirls added another layer of flavor.

Cauliflower soup with arugula pesto

Josh had the grilled octopus with a citrus fennel salad. I had originally shied away from this dish because I’m not the biggest fan of fennel (I hate licorice), but wow, this salad was bursting with flavor. The greens and shaved fennel were dressed with a zippy, citrusy vinaigrette, and complemented the tender pieces of octopus perfectly. There were also pieces of supremed oranges mixed throughout. It was just a fresh, vibrant combination, and I couldn’t stop stealing bites from Josh’s plate (though I did give him spoonfuls of soup in exchange).

Citrus fennel salad with grilled octopus

Josh’s dad, who is famous in the family for his amazing meatballs, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to test Mamma Maria’s meatballs braised in tomato sauce. He took one bite and admitted that he had strong competition, as Mamma’s meatballs really were quite fantastic. They were delicate and tender, and the tomato sauce had a nice tanginess to it. The meat was coarsely ground, nicely seasoned, and very flavorful.

Mamma Maria's tomato braised meatballs

Josh’s mom chose the fried mini-calzones with mozzarella, tomato, and basil. The little pockets of fried dough were light and crispy, and the inside was oozing salty mozzarella cheese. I think these mini-calzones were really just fun and tasty, and would make the perfect snack for munching on while watching TV.

Fried mini-calzones with mozzarella, tomato, and basil

Lastly, Jess and Lisa had the mixed green salad with artichoke, cured olive and parmesan cheese, tossed with a house vinaigrette. It was a pretty large portion and they both seemed to enjoy it immensely.

Mixed green salad with artichoke, cured olive, and parmigiano

After a bit of a service snafu, where they delivered the wrong order to our table, we had to wait a while to receive our main courses. Our bellies were partially satiated at this point but after having those delicious appetizers, we were really eager to try our entrees so it probably made the wait seem a lot longer. At long last they arrived, and we quickly dug in. Jess had the eggplant parmesan while Alice, Lisa, and I all ordered the cavatelli with slow cooked Sunday ragu, brasciole, and ricotta salata. The pasta had a pleasingly chewy texture to it, and the ragu was rich and flavorful. The ricotta salata grated on top added a nice saltiness to the dish, but I found the brasciole to be tough and stringy; that was the only disappointment to my whole meal.

Cavatelli with slow cooked Sunday ragu with brasciole and ricotta salata

Lloyd ordered the dish that I was debating between, a special pasta of the night that included duck confit and chicory. The dish was amazing, with fresh pappardelle pasta and tender, flavorful pieces of duck mixed throughout. I hope that it’s the special the next time we go to the restaurant, as I wanted a bowl all to myself.

Pappardelle with duck confit and chicory

Josh’s main course was equally delectable. He chose the ricotta gnocchi with caciocavallo cheese sauce, sausage, and bread crumbs. The gnocchi were light and tender, pretty much just melting in my mouth. I liked that the sausage was crumbled into tiny pieces, so that it mixed throughout the cheese sauce evenly rather than being big clumps of sausage that would overpower the delicate gnocchi. The sauce itself was mild tasting, and not too heavy or rich.

Ricotta gnocchi with caciocavallo cheese sauce and sausage

We were all too full for dessert, but we couldn’t pass up sharing an order of zeppole di nonna, which was fried dough with lemon cream. The zeppoles were freshly fried, rolled in cinnamon sugar, and just simply incredible.

Zeppoles with lemon cream

The outer crust was slightly crispy while the inside was light and fluffy. They were wonderful on their own but dipping them into the thick lemon cream just brought them up to a whole new level. Even when the zeppoles were gone, we were still scooping out the cream with our forks. We regretted not getting at least two orders, but we all knew that we would be back at some point, and probably soon.

Zeppole autopsy shot

We walked into Mia Dona that evening not knowing what to expect, and we left happy and completely satisfied. Since we were never there prior to the split and the menu changes, I can’t say if it’s now better or worse than before, but I can say that the meal we had was really amazing. The food was simple and straightforward but perfectly executed. The flavors of each dish really popped and left us wanting more. Service was fine, if a bit slow, especially on a slow Sunday night, but the food really was the star of the show. I would order any one of these dishes again, on top of all the dishes that we didn’t get to try but wanted to. As we walked out, we all wholeheartedly concurred that this restaurant warranted a repeat visit, and will probably become a permanent fixture in our Sunday night dinner rotation.

Mia Dona
206 East 58th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY