Mandarin Court

photo courtesy of

Mandarin Court
61 Mott Street

Went to Chinatown for a dim sum lunch with an old colleague. Pork dumplings were very good, the shrimp ones were frighteningly fishy. The beef, vegetable and chicken dumplings were good, the duck was very good (was that a camphor tea flavor?) and the sticky rice in cabbage leaves was really good. The eggplant dish, chinese cabbage and tofu dishes were also good. The room is a bit scary, service is what you might expect but, other than the risky shrimp, everything else was good. And inexpensive.

Quality Meats

Photo courtesty of and Noah Kalina

Quality Meats
57 W. 58th St.

I'm not a fan of the Smith and Wollensky/typical Irish pub wanna be exterior, but inside is a very attractive/handsome space. I'd go back just because of the room. I sat at the bar for lunch to test out their burger. It's a solid burger - a bit salty (like McDonald's) and overpriced but tasty. Not the best the city has to offer, especially at the high price point, but very good. The plating was also very nice with a dipping sauce for the fries it came with. The fries were excellent but were so few (maybe 15 stubby fries). I'd like to go back to try the open faced sandwiches and possibly a steak.


913 Broadway

Went for brunch. Remarkably uninspired bordering mediocre. This place simply doesn't fit in NYC. Manchester, New Hampshire - perhaps. Not here. My wife likes to call it an unremarkable meal...simply because we had to consult its menu to remember what we had. I had the brioche french toast that was supposed to come with banana and mission fig. Instead it was cut up pieces of banana and pineapple. My wife ordered the Canadian Bacon Omelet with melted onions and goat cheese. Don't bother going here for brunch. But I will return to check out the wine shop/bar upstairs.

Bar Americain

LinkWe sat in the front booth

Bar Americain
152 W. 52nd Street.

Went for lunch with my coworkers. Horrendous service. Our waiter looked and acted as if he was dealing with the worst hangover on record. The food was okay. My french onion soup was very good. The special of the day, a grilled goat cheese sandwich looked fantastic, and was pretty good, but my brioche was well overcooked - bordering burnt. French fries were good and the Kentucky Hot Brown (an open faced turkey sandwich) was rich and fun. All told though...not worth a second go...unless it's a business lunch (i.e., paid for). Nice room.


Mandoo Bar

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Mandoo Bar
2 W. 32nd Street

The inlaws took us to a Korean dinner earlier in the year and it really found a place in my heart. Momofuko Ssam Bar has been filling the gap for the most part, but I was in the area (Garment District) for a routine doctor's checkup and decided to check out Mandoo Bar for a quick bite. The line was out the door, so I decided to just order some dumplings for takeout. I ordered the kimchee mandoo - steamed dumplings with pork, vegetable, tofu and kimchee. That would have been enough, but I decided to try the Goon Mandoo - pan-fried pork dumplings - in order to get a better grasp of what the tiny restaurant had to offer.

Both were very good. The substantial (read: semi-thick) dumpling actually made the eating experience better. It prevented being scorched by a stream of hot juice when biting into it (unlike what happens to you at Joe's Shanghai and on occasion at Rickshaw). It also tasted pretty good - as did the dumplings as a whole. The only disappointment had to do with dipping sauces. Soy sauce is too cliche. I really like Rickshaw has done - provided different dipping sauces for each of the dumplings they offer. Mandoo should take note.


Varka Estiatorio

Varka Estiatorio
Ramsey, NJ

The wife and I are about to move back to the suburbs...more particularly, our old home town in Bergen County. We've found a lovely home to call our own. And it comes with an incredible kitchen that I can't wait to use.

But dining out, historically, in this area has been less than exciting. Sure, there's the Saddle River Inn (expensive), Aldo's (yeah the spiedini is good but everything else is eh), the Brickhouse (great steaks), Savini (god awful food and possibly worse service), the Allendale Bar & Grill (love the owners but the food leaves much, much, much to be desired), Kinchley's/Nelly's (great pizzas but little else) and a couple of places in Ridgewood that aren't worth the menu prices.

But things are changing. The suburbanites have gotten a taste of Manhattan's recently reinvigorated dining scene (its hard to deny that the last few years have been a renaissance of sorts) and want some of it for themselves.

And the suburbanites are on top of the trends as well. Greek restaurants, by many accounts, will be the big thing in the first half of 2007 (I'm counting on Scandinavian cuisine to reach a crescendo by Oct. '07), and Bergen County has two terrific examples of it: Axia Taverna in Tenafly and Varka in Ramsey.

Varka is a surprisingly large space. The looks of it from outside plus the lighting and separation of rooms inside really stretches it out. Perhaps anything is bigger than most restaurants (discounting the monstrosities on 10th Avenue of late) in New York.

We got a table in the slightly more formal and better lit back room. We received our menus from a pleasant and very knowledgeable waitress who recommended we check out the display of fish they were serving for the evening. So we walked to the display to see a wide assortment of seafood items including Malpeque oysters, Black sea bass, dorado, langoustines, arctic char, barbounia, loup de mer, fagri, king crab legs and more.

The restaurant also offers a couple of meat selections (NY Strip, lamb chops, chicken breast) as well as some a la carte seafood options (swordfish, halibut, wild salmon, etc.) but the real reason for eating here is the whole fish selections as described above.

The fish are ordered by the pound - so some fish, like the fagri (firm, white snapper-like fish) from the Mediterranean are best shared (2 lb fish). They come with a bowl of steamed vegetables of the day - today was brocoli and cauliflower. Meh.

Diners this evening included my sister (her birthday), her fiancee Tim, my dad, Danna and myself. Here's what we got - and since we all shared, I can tell you a little bit about each.

Saganaki - The classic hot cheese (Kefalograviera) was served as a big square, though unlike some places, was not served oozing and dripping or somewhat still aflame. This was a more mellow preparation that was good, but not the best of its kind.

Crab Cakes - these had very little breading - a good thing, but they were served at room temperature. Blech. We needed to have them brought back and reheated, but by then, the thrill was gone.

Calamari - We opted for the pan fried (as opposed to grilled) version and were treated with an excellent version. It was served with two excellent dipping sauces - one green and one red. I can't recall what exactly they were.

Mussels Ouzo - Fantastic. Not for those who dislike liquorice, as the ouzo flavor was well pronounced. I really liked this variety.

Shrimp Santorini - Shrimp are baked with white wine, tomato broth and feta cheese. I didn't try this but by all accounts it was very good.

For entrees:

I wanted the langoustines ($44/lb.) and regret changing my mind (too concerned with price) but was pleased with my choice of royal dorado. Simply prepared with Mediterranean herbs, olive oil, caper berries and deboned for me, this was just right.

My dad and sister shared the fagri, which was excellent and similarily prepared.

Tim went for the NY Strip. It was served to the requested temperature, and was a surprisingly large portion. Tim can eat, and yet had trouble getting through half of it. The quality and taste was just fine but the seafood is really where its at.

Overall, I look forward to having this place in my regular rotation. It's nice to see some good new restaurants opening in NJ and confess that its easing my mind about the move. The vegetable sides could be a little better, but keeping one's menu regional to the Mediterranean in winter doesn't necessarily bode well for the diner. I bet the spring and summer will show some better entree support.

DuMont Burger

DuMont Burger
314 Bedford Ave.

I'll definitely be studying the folks who own DuMont, DuMont Burger and Dressler. The path they've taken to create a trio of restaurants, to the eyes of someone not involved in the process, seems to have been a logical and well-thought out plan. I'm sure not everything went as smoothly as they'd have liked, but the results, from what I can tell, are very promising for a future food services entrepreneur like myself.

DuMont, the first of the trio, has a terrific location in Williamsburg- right on the Lorimer stop of the L Train. We've walked by it many times either on our way to get our haircut by Vanessa (when we used to go to her) or on my way to Barcade or to see a friend's band in the area. For some reason, I've never made it in to eat...yet.

So when Danna went to the movies with a girlfriend, I had a chance to check out DuMont Burger located on Bedford Ave. - a handful of blocks from the L Train's Bedford stop - as a part of my quest to determine which burger reigns in NYC.

The tiny room (maybe 300 sq. feet, excluding the kitchen) was packed solid at 7pm on a Wednesday...but there was one stool open on the far right (windowside) of the bar. I sat down and within seconds was met by the busy bartender. I took a quick look at the menu and ordered a gruyere cheeseburger, medium rare. I usually stick to cheddar or American cheese, but since they offered gruyere, I went for it. In the end, the cheese wouldn't matter. The meatyness of the burger took over and erased any memory of the cheese that crowned it. I chose a Fisherman's Ale for the beer, an excellent choice I'd familiarized myself with at previous visits to Barcade.

As a whole, the burger was really solid. Just the right size (I wasn't bowled over afterwards like I sometimes am after eating a Molly's burger), the temperature was spot on and the flavor of beef and a bit of saltiness was just right. The tomato, onions and lettuce were superfluous. However both the fries and the onion rings (I ordered onion rings, they gave me fries accidentally and immediately rushed out an order of rings for me) were great accompaniments. If eating with a friend, I'd recommend getting both and splitting.

What impressed me the most was not food related. The bartender was remarkably friendly and attentive without being in your face. Even the guy that brought out the onion rings was polite, unrushed and generally friendly (he had no reason to be).

The space itself is tight but comfortable, low-key/cheaply put together but pleasant and unfussy. I loved it.

Was the burger the best in New York? Definitely not, but it was very good and worth checking out just to go to this near-perfect local hangout. On the way back to the subway, I recommend stopping off at Bedford Cheese Shop and picking up one of the many Rolf Beeler cheeses they have in stock and then head over to the pizza place around the corner from the subway and bring some real pizza back to the ever-so-lacking (for truly good pizza) borough of Manhattan.