Lunch: Yura’s Square Meal. Dinner: Otto.

(note: the next two posts were to be on DC, but when I crave to write something else, I must do so quick, lest I forget. Will return to DC after this post :)

It started with a muffin, as it frequently does. “It” being the root of my food cravings. And so I hopped onto the bus at the corner of 43rd Street and Madison, the M4, book in hand. The ride was just over half an hour to 89th Street, where I stepped out and made way to Yura on Madison. The objective? A morning latte and zucchini muffin.

As I approached the front doors of Yura, my eye caught sight of Ciao Bella around the corner and I could not resist the urge, why not have gelato before breakfast? Abandoning the doors of Yura for Ciao Bella, I hopped over to 92nd Street, where I met yet another distraction: Yura’s Square Meal. Yura on Madison grew so popular over time that last year, owner Yura Mohr opened a restaurant around the corner, serving simple quality fare. The menu changes on a daily basis, with dishes such as Maryland Crab Cakes over Fresh Corn and a Grapefruit, Date, and Parmesan Salad appearing on Tuesday’s menu.

Completely forgetting about gelato, lattes, and muffins, I stepped down into the quiet enclave – they had just opened for lunch and I was the first customer. He seated me a table next to the lamp, perfect for lingering over the book, and brought by a trio of cheddar scones and butter. I’ve had my share of sweet scones, but am much less educated in the savoury territory. Though, with that said, it doesn’t take much to deem the Yura scones something akin to luscious, each a perfect three-biter with a delicate crust breaking into a truly-melt-in-your-mouth cheddar speckled crumb. It was hard to not eat all three, thus I did not find proper reason for not doing so :)

There was a rather extended delay between the scones and my entree – something I also noticed among other tables. But most of the people at lunch, three tables with two women each, one couple, and another group of six, did not appear to be in the slightest rush. I just found it to be a good excuse for reading beneath the soft lighted lamp. My order came out in due time, a plowman’s cheddar sandwich with a wonderful house chutney, sweet with plump raisins. But perhaps even better than the sandwich was the side of shredded cabbage-laced apple salad, refreshingly crisp on a summer day.

I made my way out soon after, still tempted by the possibility of a latte and zucchini muffin (gelato was but a fleeting desire). However, I was promptly reminded of dinner later that night and decided to hold back from unnecessary snacks.

Mortadella & Pistachio

Later in the evening I met Lauren at Otto. I’ve been visiting Otto more and more often during the past month, on weekend afternoons, for a weekday lunch escape, but more often than not, for dinner. We sit at the bar and I’ve been lucky enough to have Frank behind the bar at every single visit. Whether you go alone or with another, you’re bound to meet the most interesting people there who more often than not share a common enthusiasm for food. There was only a short wait for seats that night (an unusually quiet Tuesday), and we soon started our meal with the featured meat dish of the week, slices of mortadella with pistachios both pressed into the meat and speckled about in a deep fruity oil. The texture of the sausage was beyond wonderful, inducing content smiles upon consuming the supple slices marked by creamy lardons.

Heirloom Caprese

Next was a Heirloom Caprese for which this photo offers no justice in the slightest. A variety of tomatoes so sweet, so luscious, so simple and wonderful that the only way to understand is to eat it for yourself. Cubes of fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of oil olive finished the dish. The one element I clamored for was a light hand of Maldon – now that would have been bliss.

Summer Corn & Fregola

We shared a side vegetable of fresh summer corn with fregola, something Lauren and I always ensure to order if it’s on the menu.

Romana: tomato, anchovy, capers, chilies, mozzarella

Then there was pizza, between glasses of prosecco, we went with the Romana this time around, to satiate her craving for tomatoes and mine for anchovies. Every time I come to Otto the meals get better and better. And that makes me worry. How can something continue to get better without going down in due time? With each visit, I must set myself up, okay, its okay if this visit isn’t as good as the last. But I’ve never been failed. And that’s the wonderful/scary thing about Otto.

Spaghetti al Tonno

The featured pasta of the week was yet another special we could not refuse (it’s far too easy to say yes, yes to food), the Spaghetti al Tonno, which, with lacings of whole tomatoes and savoury tuna, proved to be a high contender in my list of favourite Otto pastas. The Carbonara remains at the top.

Olive Oil Coppetta

For dessert, we tucked away the Olive Oil Coppetta, a luxurious creation layering olive oil gelato with lilikoi granita and strawberries. A streak of summer green basil syrup and sprinkles of Maldon sea salt was a fine end to the night.

Otto Spumoni/Neopolitan

But, oh, we did not stop there! Oh no, we had yet another. For there was a new Copetta on the menu, and that alone is reason enough to celebrate. The menu listed it as the Otto Spumoni on Tuesday. But when I checked back Wednesday, the menu had changed, and it was now called the Otto Neopolitan! Either way, Spumoni or Neopolitan, the trio of pistachio, dark chocolate and cherry rum gelati is not to be missed, especially when combined with chocolate crumbles, cherries, and whipped cream.

And so, perhaps it was better than my Ciao Bella gelato desires in the day were fleeting, for I’m sure it was Otto gelato I was meant to savour.

Yura’s Square Meal
30 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128
(212) 860-9872

One Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 995-9559

Weekend in DC: Day 1

Shann and I took off to DC for the weekend, leaving NYC Friday afternoon and returning just a touch past midnight on Sunday. We were there to visit a few of our closest friends, Kelly, Darien, and Nat, all of whom we grew up with in Hawai’i. Good Ethiopian, gelato, the farmer’s market and bakeries were on the agenda, but friends were doubtlessly first priority.

After a groggy five hour trip, the bus dropped us off, blurry-eyed and hungry at Dupont Circle. We stepped off and the first the first object to meet my glance was the bright Krispy Kreme sign flashing “hot” and “now.”

“Oh. Shann. Doughnuts.”
“I think we want doughnuts…no, I know we want doughnuts.”
“For real”
“You want?”
“Let’s do it!”
“Want to split one since were having dinner right after?”
“Or we can split two.”
“Yah, that sounds better.”

And so, fresh off the bus, we started off a very pleasant weekend with two doughnuts: the original and a glazed chocolate cake. As the very kind gentleman behind the counter threw in an extra original doughnut, I couldn’t help but wonder, are all people in DC this friendly?

We met Kelly along with a few friends back at their apartment – a fantastic four-bedroom with a kitchen bigger than both our bedrooms, and a living room larger than our entire apartment. My notion of living space and accompanying rental prices has been thoroughly warped after living in NYC for over a year. But even with all those factors, I wouldn’t trade life in NYC for anything else at the moment.

Zorba’s was on the dinner agenda, a casual Greek restaurant perfect for a low-key night with friends. Oddly enough I ate Greek fairly often in Hawai’i, favouring the now gone Greek Corner right outside Kahala Mall, as well as that other restaurant across from Bubbies in Manoa. New York, or rather, the life I live in New York, has not met much in the way of Greek, though I’m sure it’s out there. I kept it simple that night, with the Fasólia Plakeé featuring white beans baked with onions, tomatoes and parsley, a side of dolmathes and Greek salad.

Shann went with the Yéro Plate with salad and french fries. Speaking of fries, I’ve had a most intense french fry craving for the last two weeks, and I think/hope some of it has rubbed off on Shann. No more than a second after swallowing my morning vitamins, or stepping out of the shower, the craving kicks without warning. When I crave a particular food object, I crave it. The worst is when you wake in the middle of the night, lost in the depths of a french fry fantasy.

Kelly had the Shish kebab platter while Chrissy did the Ionian Salad and Cathie dined on the lighter end with tabouli and pita.

Post-dinner we walked around Dupont Circle for a bit – the weather was nice and quiet after-dinner walks are best types of walks. We stopped in at Sweetlicks for ice cream, operated by a very nice man in a very strange shop. The sign outside proclaimed “homemade” though I remain highly doubtful on the matter. Nonetheless, my coconut with chocolate shards was pleasant enough, though I found Kelly’s mint Oreo particularly lust-worthy.

It was early when we returned to the apt, but the clock somehow turned to 3am before we called it a night. Time flies fast with six girls, television and a guinea pig named Miso.

Zorba’s Cafe
1612 20th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 387-8555

1704 R St NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 797-2736

Good Enough To Eat, An Afternoon at Grounded, and Luzzo’s Pizza

Over this past month, Bhavneet has very quickly become my most reliable breakfast buddy. We used to work together on the same client, this one very fantastic client that provided a plethora of breakfast and lunch options. For months at a time we’d have 9am brownies for breakfast, pancakes in the afternoon, and sometimes breakfast for dinner. I’ve never met anyone who eats breakfast the way she does.

But over the phone two nights ago, she wondered aloud, “maybe we should eat salad…or something…light-ish”
I thought for a bit (wiping images of Prune’s dutch pancake and Otto’s carbonara from mind), and said, “yes, salad is a good idea.” After all, it has been quite a while since I’ve had anything not unhealthy. As much joy as I do obtain from lardo, cured meats and duck fat, sometimes there’s a need to clean out the system to save you from overkill.
“Where should we go?”
“For a salad?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know.”

So we decided to figure it out in the morning…and somehow, the next day, after a solid two hours of basking in her very air-conditioned apartment, and sorting over potential restaurants, we found ourselves at Good Enough to Eat – home of bacon waffles and blueberry pie.

I don’t think the we were meant to eat just salads for a meal.

And so, between apple pancakes with sour cream…

…and a smoked salmon and cream cheese omelet, made complete with a duo of warm biscuits and whipped strawberry butter, we decided that while some girls need to clean out their system with salad, we could clean ours just fine with sweet butter and biscuits. Paired with cream cheese, sour cream, and an apple pancake, of course. Not exactly the “light salad” we planned on, but I assure you with great confidence, we could have done much worse ;)

Post meal, I whittled away the afternoon on a cushioned bench 70 streets south at Grounded in the West Village, finishing the book over a cup of coffee. I eventually moved to a proper table when to finish job-related work, but for the few hours prior, I had not a care in the world. Shann introduced me to Grounded earlier on in the year, and since then, I’ve been gravitating here rather frequently, for both the coffee and brightly lit surroundings.

Later that night, I met Doug for dinner at Luzzo’s, which is conveniently enough, right around the corner from our new apartment. The last time I was at Luzzo’s was in early 2006 with Adam, Allen, Robyn and a few of her friends. I recall enjoying the pizza, but the company even more. And sometimes you just need that: good food and even nicer company.

We split a simple tomato and arugula salad, with an especially light and lemony dressing that did well with plush slices of focaccia

…followed by “Pizza Ortolana” with tomatoes, mozzarella, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, basil. We ordered the larger of the two size options, forgetting that the large pizza was better suited for three or four, not two. But we did well, and the few remaining slices proved to be an excellent companion for a midnight episode of Sex and the City with Shann.

Good Enough to Eat
483 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024

Grounded Coffee
28 Jane Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 647-0943

Luzzo’s Pizza
211 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003
(212) 473-7447

Mia Dona

Thursday, Noon

The plan was to walk from our office near Grand Central to Two Little Red Hens on 86th and 2nd Ave. A long walk, but that’s what nice days were meant for. I started on 42nd, and went up Madison, battling an internal debate over blueberry pie or chocolate blackout cake. Maybe I should have both. After all, this was going to be lunch. Turned out all the thoughts over pie or cake was of no matter, for the turns I made and the streets I crossed led me to pause at the steps leading down to Mia Dona.

Roasted Garlic, Focaccia, Peasant Bread

Why not. Why not take yourself to a nice lunch. After all if you don’t, who will?

So I stepped down, in new black heels and requested a table for one. Service is significantly better when dining alone, or at least in my experience. Water is constantly refilled, waiters stop by (perhaps more so than necessary), and you can eat all the garlic you want. Which is important, very important at Mia Dona, where little focaccia squares and sliced peasant bread are delivered alongside a whole roasted garlic head. I had one focaccia, none of the peasant bread, and two heads of garlic. The waiter was glad to bring another.

Baked Tubetti, Smoked Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil

Garlic made yet another appearance in a appetizer of baked house made tubetti. Tucked between smoked mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil were a surprisingly high number of garlic cloves, soft and melty. Garlic makes me go all dreamy, all za za zoooooy, the way some girls fall for Jimmy Choos and others for black Balenciaga dresses.

Hanger Steak, Broccoli Rabe, Herbed Ricotta

I moved onto the hanger steak, paired with herbed ricotta and broccoli. I’ve never had steak and ricotta in the same dish before, so this was something new for me. That is a good thing. I make a point to try one thing new everyday, however big or little. It’s truly a bad day when you go to sleep at night and realize, boy, what have I learned today? Nothing.

I could only finish a solid 60% of the dish, which is unusual because I find myself typically finishing everything even when not hungry. Upon removing the dish, the server asked what was wrong, and “may we bring you a new one?” And no, I didn’t need a new one, the original was perfectly fine. I found myself without explanation, and so simply hugged my belly and say, “it was delicious, but I’m far too full.” (These are the times you wish you did have a dining companion).

Gianduja Semifreddo

However, my appetite quickly dashed back with dessert (when does it not? ;). It was a debate between tiramisu or semifreddo and I went with the latter; a triangular cut of gianduja semifreddo, crushed hazelnut brittle, almonds and a pour of dark chocolate. It was a bit luscious, a lot rich, and made me smile on the inside. I had no problems finishing this. None at all.

Hope everyone has a great weekend ^_^

Mia Dona
206 E 58th Street
New York, NY 10022
(212) 750-8170


Balthazar, Wednesday Morning

In the last few days, I’ve gotten back into the habit of waking up early and eating breakfast. I’ve mentioned in the past, a handful of times, how much I enjoy the calm serenity of morning hours. Be it down in the Village, caught between bites of a warm croissant and soothing latte, or at a patisserie on the UES, the morning is a wispy unclaimed time of the day that’s yours and yours alone to keep. Sometimes it’s nice to have company, and other times it is even nicer to be alone. Balance is key…

Brioche French Toast, Applewood Smoked Bacon

…and yesterday called for company. Bhavneet had just returned from Greece the day before, and we made plans for breakfast, because the morning is worth savouring. We left the office on a whim, and with no particular location in mind we ended at the front doors of Balthazar, relatively quiet before the impending lunch rush. Orders were placed, one sweet entree and another savoury – both to be shared. With cappuccinos on the table, and a blackberry in the hand of one girl and a black planner and red pen in the hand of the other girl, we got down to catching up over the last two weeks.

Poached Eggs, Smoked Salmon, Hollandaise, English Muffin

It is surprising how much happens over the course of two weeks, both things you expect and others that never once crossed your mind. But you figure, it’s all for the better even though it may not seem so at the moment. And, as terribly cliché as it sounds (and believe me, it is :), Bhavneet noted that there’s something to be said for fate: if it’s meant to be, it will be so in the end. And so, with job changes, relationship changes, a stubbed toe, new apartment, tattoo and broken bag between the two of us, everything matters a lot less the moment hot brioche French toast is set at the table, topped with a duo of applewood smoked bacon. The bacon, while on the floppy side, satisfied nonetheless. And for the brioche?

Now that was a call for many, many smiles. Challah French toast is one thing, but brioche is a completely different world. Whisper light and sheltered between a thin, crisp exterior, bare dabbles of maple syrup brings the meal full circle. You can almost hear the slight crackle, crunch, cut, as you slice away a corner of the brioche, revealing a buttery interior, more plush and luxurious than anticipated. We split and silently alternated the toast with bites of Eggs Norwegian, toasted English muffins hidden beneath smoked salmon and delicately poached eggs. I punctured a single egg, and soaked up the slow ooze of yolk with roasted potatoes and declared it a wonderful day.

80 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 965-1414