NYC Restaurant Week Picks 2015

Ah, yes, RESTAURANT WEEK. But before you throw down $38 + tax/tip too quickly, ask yourself this: are you sure it’s worth it? $38 for a three course meal sure sounds like a deal, but for those of us on a budget, it’d be wise to remind ourselves to still choose our restaurants carefully. But alas, have no fear, for I have done all the leg work for you, yet again. Criteria is listed below, based off a similar list I crafted this past summer:

1)     The Restaurant Must Serve Dinner (3 courses - $38)

$25 for lunch is great and all, but I’m not 75 years old so I really don’t have any interest in going out to eat at 1PM. Honestly, when was the last time you went out to lunch, let alone spent $25 on it?

2)     The Cuisine Must Be “Worth it”*

 French, Steak/Seafood, Upscale American New/Classic, Japanese

*If you’re spending $38 per person on Chinese or Mexican, you’re doing it wrong.

3)     The Ratings & Atmosphere Must Be Just Right

All 5 restaurants on the list are well rated, have something unique about them and are curated to keep you warm during this Polar Vortex we’re experiencing.  

 Top 5 Restaurant Week Recommendations

21 Club – Classic American – 23 Zagat – Midtown – Historic Speakeasy

*Manhattan’s Most Prestigious Landmark 2006 Wine & Dine

ACME – American New - 21 Zagat – Noho -  Sexy

*America’s 10 Sexiest Restaurants 2012 Details

Tavern On The Green – American – N/Y Rated – Central Park West – Classic

*Headed by noted chef Jeremiah Tower, recently renovated, in Central Park

Charlie Palmer Steak – Steakhouse – N/Y Rated – Midtown East – Fine Dining

*Surf n’ turf, locavore focus and 400+ wine list

Sarabeth’s CPW – American Comfort – 20 Zagat – Central Park South – Sophisticated Casual

*Traditional stand-by, located on CPS and has oysters on the RW app menu

February's Top 5 Things to do in NYC

February is cold, bleak and boring, right? WRONG. February is, first and foremost, my birthday month. So, ipso facto, it’s fabulous. Between Black History month and Chinese New Year, it’s also a month full of vibrant culture and myriad chances to learn. Not as if there is ever a shortage of things to do and places to go in NYC, but in February, there most certainly isn’t. Plus, in the heart of the local’s winter, February represents a time when most New Yorkers are feeling rested, having finally recovered from the insanity of the holidays, and are ready to get up, get out, and enjoy this frost-bitten city we love to call home.

So kick back and check out this month’s Top 5 in NYC!

See a Broadway Show… for way less!

We’re coming up on the tail-end of 2-for-1 week on Broadway, but there are actually plenty of other ways to score cheap tickets. If you’re not into standing in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square for ½ price tickets day-of (and if you are, kudos, because there are always great deals), then how about becoming a member of New York Show Tix? NYTix lines up all the currently running shows and lists out each one’s various discounts. It’s only $4 a month and they don’t automatically recharge you. It’s definitely the way to go in order to have access to all the information you need without all the footwork and time spent browsing 10 different sites. Oh and P.S. did you know you can usually score standing room only tickets for $27 a pop at the box office the night of a performance?  And did you further know that there’s something called a “lottery” for nearly every show, every night? And that this lottery can score you front-row seats to Book of Mormon for $25? Yeah, you’re welcome.

Make the Most of Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is an interesting thing – it can be an opportunity to take advantage of some great deals, but you have to be careful. Don’t worry, though, that’s why you have me here to guide you in the right direction J.  During the summer, we took advantage of L’Ecole and I would go back in a heartbeat. This winter, I’ve got my eyes on 21 Club. Stay up-to-date with Tangent Pursuit and I’ll be sure to let you in on all the secrets!

Indulge Yourself on Valentine’s Day

Okay, calm down everyone. Valentine’s Day is, indeed, perhaps the cheesiest of hallmark holidays. But, why don’t we take the 3-day weekend and make it mean something more? If you’re coupled up, how about ditching all of the hoopla of dining out and, instead, grabbing a bottle of good champagne and a solid charcuterie platter and hanging in for once? If you’re single, there are plenty of those “stop light” themed dating parties, but my guess is most people despise them. So maybe try reveling in the fact that the only person you have to worry about pampering is yourself? Set up a spa day alone or with friends and relish the care-free day.

Get a Little Cultured

Not only is this Black History Month, but February 19th  also marks the Chinese New Year. Celebrations for Chinese New Year start early and go on for a while, kind of like Mardi Gras, but the main chunk of the celebrations occur from February 18th to February 24th this year. Head over to Flushing Queens or to downtown Manhattan for fireworks and some authentic Chinese New Year celebrating. To gain some insight into Black History, get involved in an NYPL conversation or check out local culture hubs like Symphony Space for their calendar of events. Symphony space has Keep on Keepin’ on, a documentary about the life and times of famed Jazz star Clark Terry Jr. running on Sundays all month. I caught it last year at Tribeca Film Festival and it was well worth it! If you’d like something a little more light-hearted but just as engaging, how about Black Women in Comedy?

See Something Wild

Check out Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MOMA, enjoy the Kinky Film Festival and its opening night Gala, run around in your Undies for a cause (or watch others do so), or head over to Monster Jam for their annual monster truck show. There really is something for everyone, here.

L'Ecole: Inside the French Culinary Institute

Highlights

Best For: Date night, definitely.

INSIDER'S TIP: Request a table by the window for the best seats in the house. Afterward, stroll around the cobblestone streets of Soho to window shop and then head west for a drink at historic landmark bar The Ear Inn.

Will Set You Back: $54-$70 PP (including tip) and depending on if you get a drink or share a bottle of wine. However, the value is truly unparalleled.

Atmosphere: My boyfriend described this place as having “the perfect volume," which was spot on. Overall, I would pin “Casual Refined” to it. Feel free to dress up a bit.

The Review

I've been sitting here reminiscing on the joy that was L'Ecole, trying to decide how to begin; and, I think it's with an apology. Last week, I posted a list of the top 10 NYC restaurant week picks for 20-somethings and - for shame! - L'Ecole was not on it.

My original, faulty reasoning for not including it was that its $38 pre-fixe pricing was only $6 less than the normal $44 prix fixe menu which didn't indicate much of a bargain. After dining there, however, my mind has changed plenty.

I had not realized how expansive and inclusive the selection of plates L'Ecole offered would be. Most prix fixe menus are notorious for leaving out the best dishes, but L'Ecole included it all from the soft shell crab to the steak and duck and every coveted dessert in between. On top of the no-holds-barred assortment of menu offerings, L'Ecole also offered a 3-course wine pairing for a mere $22 more. The value at L'Ecole is simply inherent.

Perched on the busy corner of Grand St. and Broadway, this Soho gem also boasts soaring Zagat scores and highly sought after Michelin awards and honors, not to mention graduates like Bobby Flay, and so much more. More impressive than the honors, though, is the staff. L'Ecole is home to welcoming hosts, eager-to-please wait staff and uber-talented chefs and sous-chefs. Run by 60 students and teachers from the ICC, formerly known as the French Culinary Institute, the intimate space is teeming with inspiration.

I have the pleasure of knowing ICC graduate and well-respected New York chef, Amy Samuel whose blog you can read here (and you should). Take one peak at the archived recipes and you begin to understand the breadth of knowledge and the amount of finesse that goes into each and every student's education at the ICC.

Ever-outspoken chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain breaks down his regard for the ICC's quality of teaching in this video, below.

But, now, on to the best part!

Each dish was prepared immaculately and captured by me, your favorite asian camera girl, via the ever-classy iPhone. Our menu and accompanying pictures up top are as follows:

Appetizers

Crispy Soft Shell Crab 

Seasonal Watermelon, Honey Dew and Curly Cress Salad, Citrus Sauce

Asparagus Custard

Chorizo, Asparagus Tips, Croutons, Toasted Almonds Sautéed in Brown Butter 

Entrees

Sautéed Arctic Char

Curried Yogurt, Cucumbers, Carrot‐Dill Vinaigrette, Fresh Mint, Cilantro Leaves 

Pan Seared Long Island Duck Breast and Smoked Duck Bread

Assorted Mushroom Vinaigrette, Arugula Salad, Crispy Duck Skin 

Desserts

Crème Brûlée Le Cirque Style

Tart and Cocoa Syrup and Vanilla‐Orange Peel Ice Cream

The verdict? Five stars, many times over. 

Is NYC Restaurant Week Worth it? Top 10 Picks for 20-somethings

As a 20-something living in Manhattan, I must admit: Restaurant Week is a little confusing. On the one hand, NYC is a foodie’s paradise and Restaurant Week – or, month, rather – is wonderful in that it takes some of the city’s finest culinary jewels and places them within reach of our own, otherwise-poor palates. On the other hand, though, it’s still an expense. For instance, I’ve only been out to lunch a handful of times during my 3 years in the city and not once have I spent $25 on it (Note: Restaurant Week’s 3-course Lunch is set at $25 while the 3-course dinner seating is $38).

Of course, my own experience isn’t reason to invalidate another’s. However, I think it’s safe to say that most New Yorkers between the ages of 20 and 30 would prefer to shell out $38 for a nice dinner with friends, rather than pay $25 for a lunch they never would have gone out for to begin with. Going out for dinner is simply more of a full  experience and – let’s also not forget – most of us have jobs Monday through Friday that act as a sort of obstacle in the way of enjoying that fine-dining luncheon, anyway.

So, while both Zagat and CBS have crafted their own recommendations, I wanted to create a separate list with recommendations catered specifically to the 20-something looking for that little bit extra bang-for-your-buck during restaurant week.

The Top-10 Restaurant Week Picks for 20-somethings is based off of the following criteria:

1)     The Restaurant Must Serve Dinner (3 courses - $38)

This knocked out a slew of favorites from other lists. It’s wonderful that Nobu is participating in restaurant week, but with only the lunch option available, it gets a swift kick off the list by little bro Nobu Next Door that does serve dinner.

2)     The Cuisine Must Be “Worth it”*

 French, Steak/Seafood, Upscale American New/Classic, Japanese

*Allow me to explain the exclusivity. I grew up in a part-Chinese household and spent a summer in China eating the most delectable, hand-crafted dim sum and $1 noodles you’ve ever tasted. So, while I am sure Midtown’s Hakkasan is delicious, it’s difficult for me to justify spending too much money on basic, over-priced ingredients for a cuisine that is meant to be enjoyed family-style on the cheap. Same goes for Mexican fare and soul food. Don’t get me wrong, here. I understand that fusion restaurants are all the rage and that the quality and innovative nature of these cuisines is absolutely growing. However, to me, the beauty of these foods lies in their historic comfort, simplicity and casual enjoyment while the beauty of restaurant week is to enjoy something a little more special.

For this reason, other restaurants, we had to chop you.

3)     The Ratings & Atmosphere Must Be Just Right

All 10 restaurants on the list have something unique about them. Whether the perfect setting for a corporate celebration or a romantic speakeasy from the 1920s, each restaurant encapsulates a uniquely New York atmosphere and has been tried and tested by the pros. While anything over a 20 on Zagat is a solid score, I aimed strictly for 23+ food ratings and then personally took pulse on the ambiance.

 Top 10 Restaurant Week Recommendations for 20-somethings

Bar Boulud – French – 24 Zagat – Upper West Side – Sophisticated Casual

Lure Fishbar – Seafood – 23 Zagat – SoHo – Classic/Nautical

Le Cirque – French – 25 Zagat – Midtown - Posh

21 Club – Classic American – 23 Zagat – Midtown – Historic Speakeasy

Nobu Next Door – Japanese Peruvian – 27 Zagat – Tribeca - Iconic

Perry Street,– New American – 26 Zagat – West Village – Chic/Modern

Po –New American 25 Zagat – West Village – Charming/Cozy Romantic

The Sea Grill – Seafood -23 Zagat– Rock Center – Special Occasion

Perilla – New American – 26 Zagat – West Village – Polished/Intimate

The Capital Grille – Steakhouse – 24 Zagat – Multiple Locations – Corporate/Celebratory

Bonus Recs:

Butter – Seafood/Steak American – Not Yet Rated – Midtown – Stylish/Romantic

Fig & Olive – Mediterranean – 21 Zagat – Multiple Locations – Chic/Trendy