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.

Quick Hits – The Wayfarer, Santa Barbara

I’m going to take a break from the Australia trip to do a quick hit on Santa Barbara.  Santa Barbara is a great little city with a fun, vibrant wine scene.  We took an excursion out there for the weekend during a work trip to L.A. and had the opportunity to stay in one of Santa Barbara’s newest hotels — the trendy, the fun, The Wayfarer.

I’ll say this off the bat, The Wayfarer is not the cheapest place you’ll stay.  Full disclosure, we were able to get a great rate for a room because our friend’s husband works for Pacifica Hotels, the company that manages The Wayfarer.  Now that being said, you will be able to find a full range of rates due to the fact that it’s technically a hostel.  It’s a very, very swanky hostel, but still technically a hostel.  Because of this, you’ll be able to get a bed in a male only/female only dorm for only $50 a night.  But if you want a private room, it’ll cost more depending on when you stay.

From everything I saw, it’s worth the price no matter what way you want to stay there.  The location is fantastic.  You’re within walking distance of the beach, wineries and the shitshow that is State Street.  The rooms are brand new, and in some of them there’s a great murphy bed that comes out from above the king size bed, making it look like a bunk bed/cruise ship cabin.  Yes, I was the overgrown child who got to camp out on it.  There rooms also come with free wi-fi and flat screen HD TVs.

The pool area is small, but comfortable enough.  There is also a communal kitchen where each room gets their own pantry space with plenty of kitchenware for everyone to use.  In the common area, you’ll find giant sized Jenga and Connect Four.  Free breakfast is available every morning as well.

Places to go around The Wayfarer?  Check out The Lark for the Hand Rolled Pappardelle with Crispy Braised Lamb.  For brunch, The Brewhouse is the only place that offers brunch on Saturdays as well as Sundays.  The brunch area looks a little like a mess, but don’t be scared off.  The food is actually quite good and the chefs make pretty much made-to-order anything.  For wine, head out to Kunin Wines for a tasting where they offer a Classic Tasting and a Syrah Tasting.  You can also check out O’Malley’s for a good regular bar scene, and the Wildcat if you really want to end your night like you’re still a 20-year-old UC-Santa Barbara student (The Wildcat I don’t exactly “recommend”, but it you’re in that place where you want to be that way, well, then it’s there…).

In the end, with the beautiful 80 degree temps and sunny weather, there wasn’t really anything that you could do in Santa Barbara that’d be wrong.

Quick Hits – Newport Channel Inn

Newport Channel Inn
6030 W. Coast Hwy
Newport Beach, CA 92663

During one of my work trips to the west coast, I had a chance to partake in a little beach time on the weekend.  My friend and I decided to head down to Newport Beach to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown LA.  My friend found the Newport Channel Inn for the night we stayed.  It’s located about a quick 5-minute walk from the beach and was a great deal at $159 a night (Note: This was the AAA rate, it would have been $169 otherwise.  Prices do vary as well depending on the weekend).

For a little motel on the side of the road, this little inn is a great value and a very good option if you’re staying in the area.  As I mentioned before the walk to the beach is 5 minutes, and you’re a 15 minute drive or less to the mall, Crystal Cove State Park, and plenty of restaurants.

Not only is the place in a good location, the staff there is very friendly (I’m pretty sure it’s family run).  The inn offers beach towels, chairs, and boogie boards for the guests and the staff are more than willing to help with any needs you may have.  For example, I lost my cell phone charger and went to the front to see if there was a Radio Shack nearby.  There was one which the staff member told me about, but before I went, he went to the back and came back with a box of chargers and said that I could have any one of them if they fit (A LOT of people leave behind their chargers apparently).

The one knock I have on the place is that the A/C (at least in the room that we stayed in) points right at the bed which is a tad uncomfortable.  So you’re either super hot, or have a cold blast in your face.  Regardless, I still recommend this place as a good value stay if you’re at Newport Beach.  It’s nothing special, but the location and staff make it worth it.

Quick Hits – Rose’s Luxury’s Pork Sausage, Habanero, & Lychee Salad

Hey folks. This is the first of my new “Quick Hits” series which I’m going to use for short reviews since I’ve experienced a lot in my travels that don’t really require a full blog post.  For this entry, I want to highlight the single best dish I’ve had in Washington, D.C.

Rose’s Luxury in the Barrack’s Row region of D.C. has a changing menu, but the one constant is their Pork Sausage, Habanero, and Lychee Salad.  Truth be told, when I went to Rose’s Luxury, we didn’t even order it.  They had brought it to our table by mistake, but when they realized it wasn’t ours, in a classy move they told us, “It’s on the house”.  I’m glad they made the mistake.  The salad, while it does sound weird, was amazing.

It comes in a bowl with all the ingredients separated which you have to mix together.  The first scoop I ate blew my mind, it was the strangest mix of flavoring that worked perfectly.  Spicy, and sweet.  Meaty and fruity.  Soft, but a little crunchy as well.  It’s worth going to Rose’s Luxury just to try it.

Pork Sausage, Habanero, and Lychee Salad
Pork Sausage, Habanero, and Lychee Salad