Fraunces Tavern, Financial District

Chef's Table at Fraunces Tavern, Financial DistrictJohn and I were recently invited to Liana’s birthday dinner at the chef’s table in Fraunces Tavern, which is the oldest standing structure in NYC. In addition to being a museum, this is supposed to be where George Washington gave his farewell speech to his lieutenants.

Located in the heart of the restaurant, the chef’s table seats fourteen people. The chairs aren’t very comfortable though. It’s a cozy spot for an intimate gathering with friends. Just the space itself is quite an experience… a beautiful oak table with hanging lights overhead and surrounded by display cabinets housing their wine collection. My dream house has a dining table like that, but a little less rustic. There was plenty of room around the table to stand and mingle before the entire group arrived. I recommend this place for large groups, but it seems like you’re paying for the ambiance, and not so much the food.

Our group ordered some appetizers to share, including an impressive plate of raw oysters. I didn’t have any as I’ve given up sea creatures, but I hear they were quite good. Fraunces Tavern, Financial District

The peppers were fantastic, especially with a splash of lemon juice to brighten it up. If they left the peppers in front of us, John and I would have gobbled these up. Peppers, Fraunces Tavern

The aged Mahon and smoked Idiazabal in the Spanish platter ($22) were tasty. I enjoyed the fried marcona almonds too. I actually didn’t recognize them as almonds at first! Spanish Cheese Platter, Fraunces Tavern

The meat eaters went all out and ordered the 46 oz Tomahawk rib eye steak ($90). While I don’t eat meat (and have never eaten red meat at any point in my life), I recognize that a steak of that size was a big freaking deal. I mean, look at that thing! Fraunces Tavern, Financial District

Normally, Fraunces Tavern’s dinner menu just has the one vegetarian entree, the sweet corn and goat cheese ravioli. Liana had checked with the restaurant, and it turns out they can also do an eggplant parmigiana or beet linguine for the chef’s table if you let them know in advance. John ended up just getting a couple sides. The spice rubbed fries ($10) and braised brussels sprouts ($9) both looked decent. Brussels Sprouts, Spice Rubbed Fries, Fraunces Tavern

That evening, one of the specials was a cavatelli ($21) with wild mushroom ragu, roasted garlic, pecorino, and walnuts. You can add on an egg yolk for an extra $2, but I decided to leave it as is. Unfortunately, this dish was barely warm when they brought it out. The mushrooms and garlic flavor were nice, and the walnuts added a good texture, but overall, a bit dry for my taste. It needed some sauce to make it a ragu. Maybe adding on the egg yolk would have helped a little? Wild Mushroom Cavatelli, Fraunces Tavern

Shiitake Mushroom & Baby Bok Choy Noodle Bowl

Shiitake Mushrooms, Baby Bok Choy, NoodlesDuring the winter, noodle bowls are the way to go. It was an especially cold day when I decided to make this dish for lunch. I braved the slush and snow to pick up some juicy shiitake mushrooms and tender baby bok choy from the grocery store. Thank goodness the store is just a short walk away. Garlic, soy sauce, shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, and a dash of sriracha in the broth. Simmered until the veggies were tender before ladling it over a generous serving of Japanese somen noodles.

Hinata Ramen, Midtown East

Hinata Ramen, Midtown EastI recently had to visit the Consulate of Singapore in NYC to pick up my new passport. It was slightly out of the way, but I turned it into a fun solo excursion by stopping for a yummy ramen lunch and visiting the Moma store to ooh and ahh over pretty things.

Hinata Ramen has been on my to try list for a long time. I first learned about this place when I met up with the Tabelog crew for dinner. Hinata serves the same noodles as Ippudo, which seems like a huge draw for ramen lovers who know their stuff. Also, Hinata was one of the first ramen places with a vegan option. I’d say that was a huge deal about a year ago when even just vegetarian ramen options were hard to come by.  Hinata Ramen, Midtown East

Hinata was packed at lunchtime! Lots of people came by for a quick lunch alone or with coworkers. I grabbed the corner seat at the bar, which was great for dining solo and watching the action in the kitchen. By the way, this place is cash only. Take note!  Hinata Ramen, Midtown East

For lunch, Hinata offers add on sides to go with any bowl of ramen. I got the vegetable gyoza ($5.50) to start. Very exciting as I haven’t had gyoza with ramen in a long time! Most places only offer pork gyoza, and I said bye bye to that when I went vegetarian. Vegetable Gyoza, Hinata Ramen

I didn’t ask the server, but my guess is the vegetable gyoza is just vegetarian, not vegan. The filling was very tasty and colorful. The wrappers was delicate and tender, but, unfortunately, fell apart as soon as I tried to separate each piece. Based on the taste alone though, I would order the vegetable gyoza again.Vegetable Gyoza, Yasai Vegan Ramen, Hinata Ramen

All of Hinata’s dishes are 100% MSG free. Hurray, no MSG attack after indulging in a big bowl of noodles! I ordered their vegan Yasai Ramen ($14.50). The base toppings include grilled corn, nori, kikurage mushrooms, greens, and scallions. You can add on a number of other toppings, but I kept it simple with just the addition of agedashi tofu. Yasai Vegan Ramen, Hinata Ramen

Only a few places let you choose your noodles, and I love that Hinata offers an egg-free vegan wavy noodle. Hello, beautiful noodles! You don’t need eggs to make perfectly bouncy, wavy noodles. I doubt most people would be able to tell the difference. Yasai Vegan Ramen, Hinata Ramen

The tofu was nicely done, and I like that the kernels of corn are still attached. You can pick it up for a big bite or break up it up so there’s corn throughout. The broth was refined with a delicate flavor. Very satisfying, and I had no trouble finishing my ramen! Hinata Ramen, Midtown East

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich VillageLocated in Greenwich Village, Otto Enoteca Pizzera is Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s vibrant and approachable pizzeria. It’s the most price friendly of the BBHG restaurants in NYC, and even with all the celebrity chef hype, the food and service at Otto were excellent. Otto is just around the corner from Babbo, so if you can’t get a table there, head on over here for your Italian fix.

We braved the cold on a chilly February evening and were delighted to step into the warm, welcoming space that is Otto. The space is designed to look like an Italian train station, and there’s a rotating list of train stations on the wall to notify diners when their table is ready. We had a reservation so we skipped this step and were seated in the main dining room immediately. Warm textures, terracotta red, filled with energy! I have never visited Italy, but have experienced other European train stations, and I picked up on that vibe at Otto. It was lively, but not too loud to hold a conversation at the table.

If you love Italian food, you’ll be spoiled for choices at Otto. There were plenty of tasty vegetarian options for us, and I spent a while debating pizza vs. pasta.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

John ordered the Quattro Formaggi ($14), the four cheese pizza. Tomato, mozzarella, taleggio, cacio, ricotta. This was really tasty, and they’re quite generous with the cheese. Unfortunately, one of the cheeses was a bit much for John. Four Cheese - Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

I ordered the Funghi & Taleggio ($13). Mushrooms, taleggio cheese, parsley. The crust was perfect, and the earthiness of the mushrooms paired with the cheese was just delicious. The flavors were rich, but not overwhelmingly so. I couldn’t stop eating! Mushrooms & Taleggio - Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

As you would expect, Otto has a *very extensive* wine menu. Since we already had a little wine at home, we just ordered drinks by the glass. John got some kind of pilsner (I think), and I had a glass of the Bastianich rosato. It was a fairly generous pour and was one of the cheapest by the glass wine options. I figured if Joe Bastianich is willing to put his name on it, it’s good enough for me. There’s something about a bright, fruity rose paired with rich, earthy flavors that makes me a happy girl. Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

Even though we didn’t finish our pizzas, we had to treat ourselves to dessert! There’s always a second stomach for dessert, right? John got the Gianduja Calda ($5) hazelnut hot chocolate with whipped cream, which was perfect for a cold winter evening. Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

I knew that I wanted something with gelato, and the Olive Oil Coppetta ($11) immediately caught my eye. Olive oil gelato, tangerine sorbetto, pignoli rosemary brittle, lime curd, blood oranges, kumquats. The gelato is heavenly… a subtle olive oil flavors lingers on your tongue. The brittle was fantastic. The sorbet was very refreshing. Every component was good both on its own and together with the other flavors. Olive Oil Coppetta - Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Greenwich Village

Vegan “Cheesy” Loaded Potato Broccoli Soup

Vegan Loaded Potato "Cheesy" Broccoli SoupIt’s not everyday that you make a vegan recipe that your somewhat overweight cat takes a great interest in. I had to shoo Tony away from the table as I was taking this photo. Don’t want cat hair in my soup! I make blended broccoli soups all the time, but recently tried this recipe from Happy Healthy Life for twist on one of my favorite green soups. This is basically a healthier version of a cheesy loaded potato soup. Bring on the broccoli!

Kathy Patalsky is hands down my favorite food blogger. Discovering her blog was a major moment in my foodie adventures. I came across Happy Healthy Life a few years ago, when I was thinking about going 100% vegetarian, not just veggie focused. I’ve loved every one of her recipes I’ve tried so far and have learned a lot about cooking along the way. I also appreciate how she talks about food and veganism, and of course, the fact that she is a fellow cat lover (duh!).

I followed Kathy’s original recipe very closely. The main difference was that I didn’t bother peeling the potatoes before boiling them. The skins add more texture to the soup, which I like. To enhance the soup, I used some cayenne and a splash of liquid smoke. We bought a little bottle of liquid smoke recently, and that stuff is amazing. You just need the tiniest little bit to create a yummy smoky flavor. For toppings, I used Daiya vegan cheese and broccoli florets. A very satisfying blended soup that’s packed with broccoli.  It’s rich and “cheesy”, and even though it’s hard to believe, #yesitsvegan!

Union Republic, Jersey City

Alpha & Omega Ramen, Union Republic Last week, I took myself out for lunch at Union Republic. It was a miserable, chilly walk from the PATH station to Union Republic, but a piping hot bowl of ramen and a window seat with lots of sunshine were a delightful way to warm up. This was the first time I’ve dined solo in many years. I brought my sketchbook along for some brainstorming and sketching. Empty restaurant, eating slowly, ordering whatever you want. It was a really enjoyable experience. Since I’m not tied to a regular weekday schedule, I’m sure I will be lunching solo again soon.

On my previous visit to UR, I fell in love with their Alpha & Omega ramen ($13) and contemporary space. There are several different types of new age, non-traditional ramen bowls, but just the one veggie option. The veggies change slightly depending on the time of year. This time around, there were brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. The broth is insanely flavorful and hearty. Perfect for mushroom and garlic lovers. The noodles were a perfect al dente, and the soft cooked egg… what a beauty! Union Republic, Jersey City