Restaurant Reviews

Sometimes we plan meals and sometimes they just happen. Before heading to San Francisco I reached out to a few bloggers to get recommendations as well as doing some online research. Tartine Bakery kept coming up but I kind of figured that there were enough amazing bakeries in NYC to not need to scope out one in California. To my surprise, when our Sunday brunch plans fell through due to a very long wait, our San Francisco local took us around the corner…TO TARTINE BAKERY. Blind, dumb luck. And, the best part – I was with enough people to try 4 things. Everything was tasty, well made, and fattening. This is a splurge and the ingredients might be all natural, but low in fat, they are not. Good thing we walked about 12,000 steps after this meal (according to my pedometer).

Standing in line, I was confronted with beautiful desserts and pastries. Since these rich, specialty items are atypical for me, I wanted it all!

tartine collageHere’s what we went with:

Treat #1 (my choice): Tomato and Spinach Quiche made with Creme Fraiche

  • Perfection. The crust was perfect, the eggs were creamier than any I had ever eaten.


Treat #2: double pain au chocolat (Chocolate Croissant)

  • As good as a European pastry. There were many layers of dough, something that is hard to find in most American bakeries. Not too buttery or sweet.

choc croissant

Treat #3: gougère (savory pastry with  gruyere, thyme and pepper)

  • Don’t the ingredients just sound harmonious? Delicious.


Treat #4: Banana Cream Tart (Flaky pastry coated in dark chocolate with caramel, pastry cream, and lightly sweetened cream)

  • Took a very small but but could see the potential. Fresh chunks of banana, delicate cream, and somewhere in there some sweet caramel.

very sweet banana

To put things very simply:

too beautiful


Gary Farrell Vineyard

Long weekends are the best, especially when you’re exploring a place that’s so in tune with your own philosophy. I’m visiting a good friend from NYU that recently moved to Oakland, CA from NYC. My friend is a true New Yorker, she’s complained of the bagels, pizza, no smoking policies, and the suburban sprawl. But, together we’re exploring the good things this area has to offer…wine, fresh produce, and a slower pace. A much slower pace. Here’s a recap of our first day:

We headed up to northern part of Sonoma and started our wine tasting at Gary Farrell. Like I said, the pace is a bit slow, so we ended up staying there for over an hour. The winery doesn’t own their own land, rather they purchase grapes from various vineyards so we were able to go through 6 varietals (including chardonnay, 3 pinot noirs, merlot, and a zin). Since we were there on a Thursday, the crowds were non-existent and the ambiance was calm. The decor reminds me of a nice ski lodge with huge windows overlooking the vineyard.

merlot_gary farrell

After the 9 different tastes, our stomachs got the best of us and we headed South for the downtown Healdsburg area. At this point it was raining pretty hard, but Healdsburg is adorable. Its a quaint little town, no chains, and lots of open kitchens and tasting rooms. We had been hoping to lunch at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen but to our surprise its only open Fri-Sun. We settled on Zin, a restaurant that describes itself as:

American Cuisine with a fresh approach to classic dishes and a comforting home-cooked appeal. By taking the best local ingredients, some of which are grown on our own Eastside Farm, and supplementing them with Artisan products from other parts of the country, such as stone ground grits from Falls Mill in Tennessee, we have crafted a unique version of American Home Cooking.

Starter– Heirloom Apple Salad with Radicchio & Romaine, Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese and Spicy Toasted Walnuts in Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette


Main: Split the Slow Smoked BBQ Beef Brisket with Spicy Texas Sauce, Rancho Beans, Cucumber & Red Onion Salad, Pickles and Pickled Peppers


The restaurant was freezing and the salad did nothing to warm me up. The apples were overpowering, and it felt like it would be a more appropriate dessert for a hot summer day than a starter on a rainy fall day. The slow smoked BBQ beef was good, but nothing jaw dropping. It was warm and filled my belly. Oh, and we did a zinfandel flight with lunch…

After lunch, we headed South and stopped at the Gloria Ferrer sparking wine house. At this point we were pretty tasted-out, so each ordered a glass of sparkling and perched outside. The rain finally stopped and we saw an impressive, full rainbow. The view from Gloria Ferrer was beautiful in general; it captured all the stereotypical elements of rolling hills, vineyards, wild flowers, into one panoramic shot.


After Gloria Ferrer, we negotiated through a lot of traffic, stopped at the Whole Foods in Berkeley, and made dinner with our purchases. The Whole Foods was like any other, but I loved how many bulk bins they had…this picture only captures about half of them!


For dinner we made a pecan and panko crusted halibut with a sweet potato mash and spinach. I ate every last bite and fell asleep by 9pm.


Its Friday morning now and we are heading for our next adventure: see the Redwoods, beach, Golden Gate Bridge.

Is there anything I shouldn’t miss while I’m out here?

Candle 79 is an upscale vegan restaurant located in NYC”s Upper East Side. (As a side note, Candle 79 has a sister restaurant, Candle Cafe, which is only a few blocks away. Naturally, my dinner companion and I went to different locations. No worries – we regrouped quickly and still made our reservation 🙂

The NY Times says of Candle 79: “pleasurable and largely satisfying, leaving an omnivorous interloper with a sense not of deprivation but of relief.” I’ve been wanting to try this restaurant for over 3 years, often hearing it referred to as the best vegetarian meal you can have. Its pricey and therefore hard to sell someone on accompanying me – but last night, I was finally successful and was able to enjoy a 3 course dinner at Candle 79.

Our meal started with an amuse bouche (small bite before the meal begins AND in my world the first course): grilled vegetables drizzled with horseradish cream. amuse bucheSince a vegan restaurant can’t use animal products, I would guess the “cream” was tahini cut with the acidity of a lemon. There wasn’t anything spectacular about this bite – if you’ve had grilled veggies at any point over the summer than you pretty much know what this tastes like.

Next up was my appetizer, soup of the day: black bean with fresh avocado and tomatoessoup2It doesn’t look too appetizing, huh? It was pretty good. I loved how it wasn’t too heavy which a black bean soup can easily become and it wasn’t too watery which the cafeteria at my work is excellent at doing to a black bean soup. I give them credit for the flavor consistency, but in the spirit of full disclosure, the soup was luke warm!

For the main course, I went with a Seaweed Salad: carrots, cabbage, grilled shiitake mushrooms, edamame, radishes, wasabi leaves, miso-ginger dressing (on the side) and added tempeh

saladMy salad was PERFECTO. Candle 79 got the tempeh just right. Tempeh isn’t as popular as its counterpart tofu, but its also soy, that is then is fermented into a cake, and has a texture that I love. The tempeh dipped into the miso dressing was my idea of delicious. But, I understand that it’s not for everyone. The salad was very much like its description: healthy and fresh.

Cydnee, my agreeable dining buddy, decided to give the seitan a try: Caribbean Jerk Grilled Seitan with brown ale black bean sauce, sautéed collard greens, caramelized onions, plantains, mango-papaya salsa, jalapeño-cilantro coulis

cydSeitan, unlike soy and tempeh, is made from the gluten of wheat and is protein replacement for vegans and vegetarians. Um, its chewy. Not my favorite, but I’m glad I got to try it at a place that professionally prepares it. The dish had a lot of great flavors, but its still hard to disguise the chewy texture of seitan. To each his own! I like the texture of tempeh, and some might hate it.


In summary:

  • Healthy Options: 5 out of 5. It’s their claim to fame.
  • Food: 3.5 out of 5. Nothing was shockingly delicious.
  • Service: 3.5 out of 5. Our waiter forgot about us sometime between the soup and the entree.
  • Seating: 5 out of 5. We got lucky – spacious table next to the window, comfortable chairs. Very homey.
  • Ambiance: 4 out of 5. Cozy, romantic. Candlelight…
  • Price: 3 out of 5. Really expensive for what you get. My salad was $18!

Does anyone have a vegan or vegetarian recommendation for me to try next?

It sounds healthy…grilled, fresh food. I think any meal is what you make of it though. Hibachi can be very healthy or a complete calorie splurge. Last night I was in middle of nowhere Pennsylvania and a few co-workers and I headed to head to hibachi. Its been a while since I participated in this interactive style of a meal and I was surprised at how much food you get:

  • Salad
  • Soup
  • Noodles
  • Rice
  • Veggies
  • Choice of 2 proteins

full dinner

Here are my tips for getting through this kind of meal and feeling satisfied rather than full:

  • Choose rice or noodles but not both (brown rice is best choice)
  • Beware of the dressing on the salad, go for the soup to warm your tummy up and get ready for digestion
  • Choose lean proteins – salmon, shrimp, chicken are all great choices if they are grilled not fried
  • Ask your hibachi chef to go really light on the oil, skip the butter, and instead to make it spicy to increase the flavo
  • What I didn’t do but will do next time is ask for extra veggies in place of rice or noodles

Any tips that you have that I missed?

I love Top Chef and one of my favorite contestant’s of all time is Richard Blaise. I love his even-keeled temper as he’s holding a blow torch with 30 seconds left to go.  On my recent trip to Atlanta I was determined to try his new spot, Flip Burger. The concept is described as a “burger boutique…fine dining between two buns”.  And, indeed there are some really high-end ingredients such as Kobe Beef, foie gras, truffle oil, and sweetbread nuggets. At Flip Burger you can take the classic beef route, or get a unique Flip creation. On the unique side you’ve got everything from pate melt to lamb to tuna. My friend and I chose one burger from the classic side, one from unique, and one salad.

  • Farm Burger – grass fed beef, american cheese,  pickled onion, dark lettuce, marinated tomato, house-made
    pickles, ketchup, FLIP sauce ($11)
  • REVIEW – its a very reasonable portion, we split in half and each got about 3 bites. Its too rich for my taste though…bun is drenched in butter, everything is a bit oily. I could taste that the meat was good, but I didn’t have a regret that the whole burger wasn’t for me.


  • Faux-lafel – fried chick pea patty, arugula, cucumber, red onion, pickled beets red pepper & feta cheese spread ($7)
  • REVIEW – It was ok. Nothing special. I have access to really great falafel in NYC and this did not impress me. The feta cheese spread was better than the actual chick pea patty.


  • Farm Fresh Green Salad – Mixed Greens, glazed marcona almonds, heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, pickled onions, served with lemon vinaigrette on the side  ($7)
  • Review – Highlight of the meal for me, seriously! Each of the ingredients was superb. The tomatoes fresh, the cheese soft, the almonds I could eat a handful of every day, and even the pickled onions took on a different taste.


Overall, Flip Burger is a fun place to go, I think it would be a fun date spot, or for a group of friends. There’ s a nice patio area and the prices are very reasonable. Unless someone asked me to go though, I wouldn’t try to venture back.


Pictured Above: Seared Fillet of Wild Maine Black Sea Bass, Glazed with Japanese Plum Wine served over Bok Choy in Lobster Broth with Shiitake and Enoki Mushrooms

Perryville Inn is a hidden gem…maybe not for the locals of Western New Jersey, but for this Manhattanite its a wonderful discovery. Imagine a colonial brick Inn (1813) set on top of a grassy knoll; inside is oak, class, coziness, outside a gazebo with a table for two. Its dreamy.

I was brought here by my favorite couple on a hot summer Thursday. A live band jammed outside, the sun shone down and we started with a bottle of Beaujolais. By the end of the night we were at the indoor oak bar drinking Mourvedre discussing food politics with Chef Paul (proprietor). Side note: some of the bar area has double sided seating which makes conversing with a group easy…rather the traditional line up of bar stools.

Last night the couple and I had dinner inside of the formal dining room and we were joined by the restaurant manager. Not only was he charming and good-looking , but he was able to tell us a lot about exactly what we were eating and where it came from. Lovely.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • Healthy Options: 5 out of 5. Very possible and easy to walk out without feeling full. My dish was light, no butter in the broth, probably a splash of chardonnay.
  • Food: 4.5 out of 5. Sea Bass cooked and paired with remaining ingredients perfectly. The lobster broth could have had a stronger flavor, but this isn’t a valid complaint.
  • Service: 3.5 out of 5. Attentive waitress but her demeanor didn’t match the quality of the food.
  • Seating: 4 out of 5. If the room was full of patrons it would be too large, but since the crowd was small the seating by the window was quaint. The seating outside is spacious with beautiful natural surroundings.
  • Ambiance: 4 out of 5. Cozy, romantic. Too bad I am with a couple but have no date of my own.
  • Price: 4 out of 5. You get what you pay for. Entrees are priced in the mid-twenties but worth it.
  • Extras: amuse bouche with sundried tomato pesto atop a crostini, delicious white bean spread instead of butter, for dessert the lemon tart is fresh and zesty

both borderedOVERALL: A great dining experience…especially if you can chat with Chef Paul!

Steamed Seabass Roll

Steamed Seabass Roll

Buddakan is a Stephan Starr restaurant with locations in several cities including Manhattan and Philadelphia. It’s in NYC’s meatpacking district and is meant to be trendy and spacious. It accomplishes both. I’ve been before and when a friend from Chicago wanted to organize a girls night out on a Wednesday it was an appropriate place to go. It serves dishes in a family style manner so if you are with a group of  non-picky eaters its great. The tables are big and you don’t feel like you are sitting on top of other guests, so that’s a plus. The food is good but not on a “what-is-this-amazingness-in-my-mouth” level. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Healthy Options: 5 out of 5! With veggies, tofu, words like “steamed” all over the menu, and the ability to control your own portion, I was happy as a clam. Pictured below: Mao Poe Tofu, Jade Shrimp Dumplings, General Tso’s Dumplings

tofu with borderdumplings

  • Food: 3.5 out of 5. Solid quality, nothing outstanding, but nothing stands out as poor quality.
  • Service: 3.5 out of 5. Attentive waitress but a bit of disorganized mess with bringing food, new silverware, etc.
  • Seating: hm…reservations at 8:15, sat at 9pm.
  • Ambiance: 3.5 out of 5. Huge, extravagant space makes you forget you’re in NYC.
  • Price: 4 out of 5. For a trendy restaurant in Meatpacking, a chance to dress up,  drink a bottle of wine, and be well fed, $50 is reasonable.
  • Best dish: Sugar Snap Peas with wild mushroom and soy tapioca

OVERALL: Great for a night with friends and possible to eat a nutritious, delicious meal. My friends and I had an excellent night out and were 100% satisfied. We split a bottle of wine, so each person had about glass, yet we were buzzed from the good company and food.