Quick Hits: Good Enough To Eat

Good Enough To Eat
520 Columbus Ave, New York, NY 10024
Hours: Mon-Thu 8:00 AM – 10:30 PM, Friday 8:00 AM – 11:00 PM, Sat 9:00 AM – 11:00 PM, Sun 9:00 AM – 10:30 PM

The name of the venue doesn’t really inspire confidence, but you know what?  It was damn good enough to eat.

Alright, I won’t go too overboard.  Good Enough To Eat is a perfectly decent place to get brunch if you’re in the Upper West Side. It’s a typical NYC eatery that tries its hardest to make it feel like a farmhouse-style diner that you can escape into from the busy streets.  The food hits that comfort food craving if you’re in the mood for that kind of hearty brunch fare.

Much to my delight, the omelette that I ordered had giant nuggets of bacon, not the usual broken up bits that you’ll often get elsewhere. And the waffle lived up to what my friend told me was their claim to fame–though in my opinion it’s really, really hard to eff up waffles. Though what really stood out to me was the strawberry butter that accompanied the homemade biscuits that came with the entrees.

The one flaw of this place was the service–it was slow as molasses. Sure, it could be that our waitress was having a bad day, but I can’t give Good Enough To Eat a top review because of her lethargy.

Quick Hits: Omar’s Mediterranean Cuisine

Omar’s Mediterranean Cuisine
154 E 55th St, New York, NY 10022
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 AM–8 PM, Closed Sunday

New York City has thousands upon thousands of places to eat, so this spot is probably one of a hundred great Mediterranean choices.  That being said, Omar’s is awesome.  Recommended by a local friend of Lebanese descent (he knows good hummus when he eats it), this unassuming little restaurant has amazing Chicken Shawarma, delicious hummus, and a very tasty complimentary piece of baklava for desert (only if you dine in). Be sure to try whatever the white and red sauces are that are on the table (I should have asked…my Lebanese buddy called them “the usual white sauce” and “the spicy sauce”…).  And for the amount of food you get, the price of $11 is actually quite good for New York City.

I’ve also been told that at lunch time, the line can go out the door and that the wait (at worst) is 20 minutes. Probably not worth it if you’re in a hurry, but if you’re not, I’d take the time. So, if you’re around Midtown East or checking out Rockefeller Plaza or Times Square and you’re in the mood for a little Mediterranean fare, take a walk to Omar’s.

Quick Hits – Don’t eat at Lazzara’s Pizza Cafe, NYC

Since I’m on a “Quick Hits” roll, here’s another from NYC.  Don’t eat at Lazzara’s Pizza Cafe in Manhattan.  Based on looking at Yelp reviews, this place had above average reviews mainly saying that the pizza was good, but the service in some cases was so-so.  We never even made it far enough to try the food.

My friends and I stopped there for a late-ish lunch and wanted to take a load off after walking around Times Square for a while (which is down the street).  It was around 2, maybe 3 in the afternoon.  The group of us sat down and because it was a later in the afternoon, some of us had already eaten, while the others just wanted a couple of slices (this was New York City after all).  Keep in mind, this place was absolutely empty — we were the only ones in there other than another couple.

The waitress first took a while to come over to us, which in itself wasn’t that big a deal.  But then she proceeded to tell us that we had to order whole pies if we wanted to sit at the table.  We explained to her some of us only really wanted to have a few slices, and the others were just looking to have a couple beers.  Nope, she said we’d have to order at least a pizza per 2 people if we wanted to stay otherwise it had to be takeout.  She didn’t even seem that apologetic or willing to compromise for some business!  It seemed more like we were bothering her afternoon session of General Hospital.

Needless to say, we didn’t want to order that much pizza and we left.  But on the way out, we said it loudly and clearly, “You just lost your empty restaurant some easy business for no real good reason.”  If there was a line out the door for people who wanted to sit, then I might understand that policy.  But the place was empty!

So, while the food might have been good, we never found out because it looks like those other reviewers who said the service was poor were spot on.

Quick Hits – Piccola Cucina 196 Spring Street

(Note: The Australia posts will continue soon.  Up next is the Great Barrier reef, but I need to find a device or store that will let me download the underwater camera memory card onto my computer first.)

Tucked away in the middle of Soho, New York is a little Italian restaurant that makes you feel like you stepped into an Italian dinner party.  Piccola Cucina is one of the branches of four restaurants (one other is in NYC, and the other two are in Miami and Ibiza), and this one from what I gathered is the smallest of the branches and has the most “homey feel”.

The food is very good, with the highlights being the Wild Boar Ragu and Shrimp pasta.  But since the menu changes constantly, I can’t really guarantee that’s what you’ll have an option of.

But regardless, the food is secondary to the atmosphere — That’s why you should go.  The restaurant only sits about 20 people at most, and everyone is shoulder to shoulder like a can of sardines.  Now this in general would bother me, but the restaurant makes it less awkward by having a boisterous, inviting feel.  Everyone is talking to the tables next to them, inviting each other to try different dishes.  The table next to us told us we needed to order a delicious sardine appetizer dish that wasn’t on the menu.  They had been told the same thing by the previous table and were paying forward the suggestion.  We did the same to the table next to us as we were wrapping up.

The kitchen is practically on top of the dining area, and you can see the hustle and bustle of literally way too many cooks in a small kitchen.  Nevertheless, you can tell the cooks are loving what they do, yelling and singing while they make some fine cuisine.  The wait staff is super friendly, inviting you to try and speak Italian with them, and blasting Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York (coming from Boston I generally hate this song, but it was too charming not to smile).  The restaurant got really rowdy when all the lights dimmed and the entire place sang happy birthday to one poor red-faced customer a couple tables over.

At the end, most checks come with mints, a chocolate, or fortune cookies.  This place gives you a freaking cannoli.  We were almost too full to eat it, but it was too delicious not to wolf down.

So it’s not a great place for a first date because of the noise, but if you’re in the area looking for a fun place to eat, give Piccola Cucina a try.

Labor Day weekend in New York City

For the Labor Day weekend, a couple friends from D.C. and I decided to take a long overdue trip up to New York City.  Being from the east coast and having several friends and relatives living in the city over the course of my lifetime, I’m very familiar with the place (and their horrible professional sports teams).  However, the thing that I love about New York is that every time you go, there’s always something new to discover.

For this post, I’m not going to go over the typical New York places to see that we did (a not so full effort to find the bridge from Home Alone 2 in Central Park, the Flatiron building, Time’s Square, etc.), but I’ll give you a rundown of a few places that we went to that were recommended by the locals.

230 Fifth (the name of the place is the address)
Located down the street from the Flatiron Building, this rooftop bar has the best view of the NYC skyline that I’ve ever seen.  Bring your camera, you’ll have some great shots of the Empire State Building, Hudson River and in the distance the Freedom Tower. There’s plenty of space on the rooftop, as well as a large, indoor lounge on the top floor of the building, but regardless it does get busy around happy hour.  There’s no cover charge, but the drinks will cost you a pretty penny.  Because we went during Labor Day the temperature was nice, but the bar does offer red robes for everyone in the winter months.

View from the rooftop at 230 Fifth
View from the rooftop at 230 Fifth

Absolute Bagels and Sal & Carmine’s Pizza
We stayed at my buddy’s place on the Upper West Side and these are a few of the quick, and very New York eateries we tried.  Realistically, I wouldn’t say to make a dedicated trip up to the Upper West Side to try these places, but if you’re in that area, they are very good options.  Absolute Bagels had exactly what you’d expect from a NYC bagel – perfectly warm, soft, but not too chewy bagels with a large variety of cream cheeses and lox.  I had a sesame bagel with walnut & raisin cream cheese and it easily trumped any Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Bruggers bagels I’ve ever had.   Keep in mind, there will be a line of Columbia University kids (especially on the weekends) and it is CASH ONLY.  And of course, only in New York, you have to pay an extra 10 cents to have your bagel toasted.

Delicious breakfast
Delicious breakfast

For a quick lunch, down the street from Absolute Bagels is Sal & Carmine’s Pizza.  Like Absolute Bagels, you will walk right by this place if you’re not looking for it – it’s pretty boring looking.  But you’re there for the pizza, not the ambiance.  And the pizza does not disappoint.  Your order will be taken by this really crusty, curmudgeonly old guy (my guess is he was either Sal or Carmine…) but he’s harmless.  The cheese slices are $3 and the ones with toppings are $4.  As far as slices go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a place with a better New York slice.  The slice was very large, and the crust was perfectly thin and crispy.  The pizza had the right amount of cheese and was greasy enough without dripping all over the place.  It really hits the spot if you have that pizza craving.

Sal & Carmine's Pizza slices
Sal & Carmine’s Pizza slices

Rue B
We actually found this place on accident and I’m glad we did.  Located on the Lower East Side, Rue B harkens back to the jazz clubs of the past.  Dimly lit and intimate, the bar isn’t huge, but has a lot of character.  The atmosphere is very chill with vintage black and white photos all along the walls and there’s live blues/jazz music performing.  Good place to go if you’re looking for a place to have a relaxing drink or taking a date.

Blind Barber
Pretty much the opposite of Rue B, the Blind Barber is like a speakeasy/dance club that literally has a rundown looking barbershop as its front.  There wasn’t really anything special about the place (expensive drinks, dance music, people having fun) other than that random ass barber shop that you need to walk through to get inside.  If you do get inside, you’ll probably have a good time if you’re with a group of friends and if you can get the bartender’s attention at the packed bar.  And you get to say that you walked through a random ass barbershop to get into a club.

The Manhattan Beer Garden at the Standard
Located in the newly created Chelsea High Line (also definitely worth checking out is the new Chelsea Market as well.  We only were able to walk through it though because we were on a mission to drink), this beer garden is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a fun, outdoor (and covered) venue with German big beers and a healthy array of pretzels and sausages.  The process for getting draft beers is unique in that you have to buy a ticket for a beer at a separate booth first, then go to the bar and order.  Each ticket is $8 (which gets you one beer).   If you see a long line, don’t let that dissuade you.  It moves quick and will have moments where there’s practically no line if you wait a few minutes.  If you’re in that area, but want a more rooftopy bar experience with a more standard drink selection, the Brass Monkey next to the beer garden has a nice rooftop where you can catch some sun and a drink list with more typical libations.

Manhattan Beer Garden at the Standard
Manhattan Beer Garden at the Standard

Saxon and Parole
For those of you looking for a little bit of a fancier restaurant to eat at, we stumbled upon Saxon and Parole.  Admittedly, we were trying to go to the italian restaurant around the corner, but the wait there was an hour long, so we ended up at S & P instead.   That being said, I think we were pleasantly surprised.  The hanger steak I had was excellent and came with these duck fat fingerling potatoes that were awesome.  The cheese plate we ordered as an appetizer was pretty good too, though they were,  in my opinion, a little stingy with the amount of cheese given.  The service is what takes the place down a notch – it was just a little too slow, though the waiter himself was perfectly fine when he was actually around.

Sing Sing Karaoke
It’s awesome.  We went singing there from 1 AM until 4 AM.  It’s $8 an hour per person.  That’s all that needs to be said.

Private room at Sing Sing Karaoke
Private room at Sing Sing Karaoke

My season of traveling Part I – San Diego, CA, Rochester, NY and Chattanooga, TN

Hello friends and people, I’m back.  Sorry I’ve been off the grid for a while, it’s been a busy season at work and things have just started to wind down.  Of course my sales season wouldn’t have been complete without a little work travel and I’m here to give you a quick recap of where I’ve been over the past few months.  I won’t get too detailed because in all honesty many of the work trips required a lot of actual working so there’s not a whole lot to write about when you’re spending most of your time at Hampton Inns.  But I can give you a few highlights.

San Diego, CA
U.S.S. Midway Museum
Price of Admission: $18 Adults, $15 Senior Citizens, $10 Retired Military and Children (online rates are a dollar cheaper)

San Diego, CA probably gets the prize for best weather all year long in the U.S.  When I was there in January, it was a nice and warm low-80 degrees with clear skies – and from what I understand it’s always like that.  Most of my time in CA was spent at a conference so I didn’t get to the beach, but we were in the Gaslight District which is a vibrant bar and nightlife scene.   Aside, from all the great bars and restaurants one can try out in San Diego (several of which my company treated us to), it’s worth a walk down to the shore and going on board the U.S.S. Midway.  Yes, I’ve mentioned the ship before, but I think it’s worth getting more in-depth.  It’s much more than just a walk around the deck and seeing a few of the planes.  The museum gives you a look inside all the intricate parts of the aircraft carrier and gives you not just a lesson about the ship’s role in U.S. Navy history, but a real sense of what it was like for the common sailor on-board (you can walk through the bunks, laundry room, mess hall, everywhere).  Don’t miss a chance to also sit in several of the fighters jets and helicopters that they have on display or participate in a flight simulator dogfight with your friends.  If you have time, go and chat with one of the several veterans on board who volunteer to tell you their stories – they’re fascinating and many of them are pretty funny guys.

Rochester, NY
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que

When I asked around about places to go to eat while in Rochester, NY, I heard from three separate people to check out Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.  Now, admittedly I thought the place was some local hot spot (with a really random name), but when I showed up I realized that it was a chain.  So while I was a little disappointed, it’s not a huge chain mind you (the other locations are in New York City, Syracuse, New Jersey, and Troy, NY).  Still, I had no other leads of places to try so I gave it a go.  I will say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The atmosphere had a Applebee’s made over by a biker gang, but the crowd was a mix of all types.  The beer list was impressive, with several local northern NY brews.  The food and service was top notch as well.  My waitress was friendly, fast, and knew to be available but not be overbearing.  I gave the “Tres Hombres” combination a try and that consisted of pork, brisket and 1/4 rack of ribs, cornbread and two sides – I went with mac and cheese and mashed potatoes.  There was a LOT of food – but it was well worth the calories (you can try the smaller “Tres Ninos” combo if you’re not as hungry).  The different BBQ sauces that were on the table really hit the spot, but my two favorites were there Slathering Sauce and the Wango Tango Habenero (this stuff was sweet and super spicy).  The meats all melted in your mouth, but I’ll say that the ribs were probably the best of the three.  The mac and cheese was also a stand out and I would tell anyone that one of the sides must be that (though one could argue that the gravy that came with the potatoes made that side dish better).  I could certainly see how this place, with his comfort food and warm, friendly atmosphere is popular spot on cold winter days in Rochester.  Grade: B

Chattanooga, TN
Ruby Falls
Price of Admission: $17.95 for adults, $9.95 for children under 12 (babies free, but I probably wouldn’t bring a baby)

On my flight into Chattanooga, TN, I sat next to a local lawyer who gave me some leads on how to spend a few free hours in the city.  He, like most of the people that I met from Chattanooga, had a sort of “really, this place is much nicer that you might think” way of talking.  I’ll say this much – I probably wouldn’t target Chattanooga as a place to go out of my way to visit.  BUT I will also say that it is a quaint little town with some pretty interesting things to see if you’re there for a couple days.  And from what I understand and saw for myself, it’s a great place for the outdoorsy types.  I didn’t try it myself, but apparently hang gliding is one of the big hobbies for the folks in Chattanooga.  But don’t bother with going to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, unless you happen to be down that way. But if you do happen to be down that way and see the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, stop into The Terminal Brewhouse.  They had some great drafts and one of the better BBQ Chicken pizzas I’ve ever had.

One of the highlights for me was a side trip to Ruby Falls.  It’s clearly one of the main tourist attractions (the other being Rock City) and the city lets you know it with the 247 or something billboards I saw on the highways directing visitors to see check it out (that was an exaggeration, but it was a s**tload).   The drive to Ruby Falls is quick from downtown Chattanooga and when I arrived, I had no idea that Ruby Falls wasn’t really outdoors!  Apparently, the waterfall that’s advertised is actually the country’s tallest underground waterfall.  Now I’m not claustrophobic, but for you folks that are keep this in mind.   To see the Ruby Falls, you have to take an elevator ride 1120 feet underground into a very tight, winding cave.  If you’re okay with that, then you’re good to go.  So a group of us took the elevator down to the dark cavern and in order to get to the waterfall, the guide takes you through some really neat tunnels with extraordinary rock formations.  Our guide, Andy, gave us a little history and while his smart-ass humor was annoying at first, after a while it became more tolerable and by the end you couldn’t help but be amused by his personality.  When we got to the cave with the waterfall, it’s pitch black and pretty creepy.  There’s a little dramatic audio presentation to get you pumped up, and then the lights come on and Voila!  I’ll say, I was pretty awe-struck by the waterfall when I saw it.  They did a really good job with the lighting and making the water look like falling crystals.  It was quite…majestic (for some reason I really can’t think of a better word that isn’t as cheesy).  As you walk around and underneath the waterfall itself, you have to take a look up at the water coming down.  You’ll get a little wet, but it’s worth the sight.  It’s almost like you’re looking at the stars while traveling at warp speed, Star Trek style.  So if you’re ever in Chattanooga for any weird reason, give the Ruby Falls a few hours of your time.

Fatty Crab

West Village location
643 Hudson Street
New York, NY
212-352-3592

Monday – Wednesday | Noon to Midnight
Thursday & Friday | Noon to 2AM
Saturday | 11AM to 2AM
Sunday | 11AM to Midnight

Upper West Side location
2170 Broadway
New York, NY
212-496-CRAB

Monday – Wednesday | Noon to 11PM
Thursday – Saturday, Noon to Midnight
Sundays | Noon to 10PM
Happy Hour | Monday – Friday, 4pm to 7PM

If Tao was the big, glitzy dinner, then the Fatty Crab was the opposite of that.  Located in the West Village (with a second location in the Upper West Side), the Fatty Crab is a small shack serving some of the most unique Malaysian-Thai hybrid food I’ve ever tried.  With seating for only about 30 (and about 6 at the bar) in the dark and intimate hut, you should expect to wait a little bit for a table if you’re a party bigger than 2.   Not to worry though, there are seats outside the restaurant and when we arrived there was a little crowd out there with their libations in hand (Note: Not totally sure if them drinking on the sidewalk outside the restaurant was legal, but they were going for it).

My buddy and I took a seat at the bar, which offers a full menu as well.  The menu is very small with only a handful of entrees and appetizers.  We got some recommendations from the bartender, who was more than happy to answer any questions we had about the food all night.  For starters, we gave the pork steamed buns a try.  Now these aren’t like the typical pork steamed buns you might get at Dim Sum in Chinatown; these required assembly.  The buns shaped like flattened donuts and we had to put the chunks of pork, along with what I think was plum sauce, and cabbage on top of it.  From there it was a little awkward trying to fold it up like a taco because it was so bulky, but it was damn tasty even as messy as it was.

For our entrees, we tried the Nasi Lemak and Beef Rendang.  Of those two, the Nasi Lemak was the far more bizarre one.  The dish consists of a platter of some of the craziest flavors put together.  There’s a large chicken leg, that tasted like it was slow cooked and it came off the bone with ease.  The chicken was on top of coconut rice that we were instructed to mix with the poached egg on the plate.  Also on the plate was a fish paste called “otak” which was on top of these spicy, sardine eggs (or something crunchy that was fishy).  I didn’t mind the fishiness of the paste, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the spicy sardine eggs.  I liked the spice, but the sardine part was just one step too salty, fishy for me.

The Beef Rendang was the more traditional looking dish, but just a tasty.  The dish was made up of short ribs that were braised in lemongrass chili and it came with an interesting sweet paste.  The short ribs were very good, a tad bit over cooked for my taste, but still tender, and very savory.

The restaurant is a good example of a place having a small menu, but doing each item very well.  All it all, it’s a great little place to try some exotic flavors, or to take a date who doesn’t mind a little adventure in their meal.  Grade: B+