Happy Presidents Day! It’s a gorgeous day in NYC to have off! My gym happens to closed for the annual cleaning, which provides good impetus to run outside at some point this morning!
This weekend I have the opportunity to try several new restaurants, so I thought I would share my reviews!
Unfortunately, I forgot my camera on Saturday night (bullocks), so I don’t have pictures from Little Branch or Babbo, but I will search google images and do my best to describe!
Little Branch (20 Seventh Ave)
I have been wanting to try Little Branch for a while, and Saturday night I had my opportunity! Little Branch is part of the Milk and Honey franchise, but unlike M+H, it’s fairly easy to get into. Interestingly enough, I spent last valentine’s day at the Milk and Honey in London. Last night, we arrived a little after 8, entered an unassuming door and the junction of 7th ave and Leroy and walked down a fairly steep staircase—at least when you are wearing 4 inch heels.
While I had envisioned the old boys club, speak-easy feel with jazz filling the air, I didn’t expect it to be PACKED. It was a young crowd in an old-school, boozy bar. It did clear out after about 10 minutes, but when we left, there was a line out the door. Tip: it opens at 7PM, arrive on the early side and you can avoid lines!
While the bar area was packed, there are several tables if you are willing to wait. However, the real action happens at the bar. Watching the bartenders craft your drink is a show in itself. Each drink is created with no consideration taken for granted. For the adventurous, you can order the bartender’s choice and be surprised. Our bartender’s choice was two kinds of rum with pineapple and ginger served with a stirrer straw and lots of ice. I was kind of boring just got a glass of champagne, but I marveled at all the drinks being shaken and served around me.
Little Branch definitely made me want to try Dutch Kills, which is by the same owners but in Long Island City. It is the same idea, but the drinks are about $4 less.
Babbo is Mario Batali’s signature restaurant in NY. It is notorious for being tight with reservations and fairly exorbitant for italian, but also worth it for many.
I was pretty excited to try it. I had been for a glass of wine years ago, but never had a chance to try the Batali creations that are known to melt my heart for chubby red-headed men in orange clogs everywhere.
The restaurant is simple, but elegant. We were ushered up a grand center staircase to the top floor, where we greeted by a gracious and gregarious waiter, who we instantly decided was fabulous. Service is definitely what sets good restaurants apart from great ones in NYC. The better restaurants I have been to always have several people orchestrating the meal, attentive service, lots of knowledge without pretension, and a grace and ease that creates a seamless flow to the evening from first pour of water to the last bite of dessert.
All right, on to the food. I am so mad for not remembering my camera! But managed to find google images for almost everything!
We started with a quartino of Freisa d’Asti (red wine)and the Winter Vegetable Salad with Goat’s Milk Ricotta and Pumpkin Seed Oil.
It was very yummy, small but intensely flavorful. The mix had potatoes, squashes, and micro greens and was topped with a piece of crostini with warm ricotta and lightly dressed with pumpkin seed oil and a divine balsamic reduction.
Between courses we received a crostini with marinated chickpeas. They were covered in herbs and had a nice kick to them.
We decided to create our own pasta tasting menu and split four pastas. Yes, we order 4 entrees. It was a bit ridiculous, but Babbo reservations are hard to come by. I was pretty happy that I had managed to eat lightly, but sensibly throughout the day, so that by our 9PM reservation, I was hungry, but not hangry.
First up was the dish I had been most curious about:
Pumpkin “Lune” with Sage and Amaretti (recipe here)
It was pumkin ravioli with sage and then a grating of amaretti cookie done tableside. It was very sweet, but yet hearty in a savory way. I very much enjoyed the small serving, but do not know if I would have wanted a full plate of such a sweet pasta. That being said, the ravioli portion was much smaller than the other pasta, obviously with that in mind.
Next we tried the
Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chiles
I hadn’t been paying enough attention when we were deciding on dishes because otherwise I would have noticed this had red meat in it.
However, I somehow missed this, and was surprised when a large plate of black spaghetti adorned with a bit pile of chopped meat was set in front of me. It was fortunate that it was pretty easy to remove the said meat pile from the top and enjoy the pasta and shrimp. I definitely consumed a bit of bacon here and there, but I wasn’t about to make a scene and I made 2-3 meat exceptions a year, so this will be one of them. I am glad I did because that was actually my favorite pasta of the night. The spaghetti was so rich and grainy, almost like soba noodles, it was delicious. So delicious in fact that I forgot to save room for the remaining two dishes and nearly cleaned my plate.
Next up was the second dish I chose:
Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and a One Pound Lobster
This was a simple dish. Cleanly prepared with a subtle marinara sauce. The lobster was sweet but ever so slightly overcooked. I ate the lobster but left the pasta because I was stuffed by this point.
The final dish I hadn’t planned on trying as it was
Chianti Stained Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu
I was assured it was phenomenal, but most of it was taken home because sharing 3 plates of pasta is no easy feat, let alone four.
And yet we weren’t done. Our waiter had recommended the special of brussels sprouts, and B sprouts have always been one of my very favorite foods. Growing up my brother and I would fight for the last of the brussels sprouts. However, I literally couldn’t even try one without popping a seam in my dress, so we took them to go.
The evening ended most deliciously. While we passed on dessert, we appreciated the small plate of meringues and biscotti arrived with our check. Next time, I will have to save room!
On a side note, we were fascinated by the soundtrack at Babbo. We listened to Nirvana and the entire Phoenix album!
Brunch at Cookshop
Somehow my appetite had returned by 12:30 on Sunday, and I was excited to try brunch at a new place: Cookshop. I had walked by it on the way to Chelsea Piers a few times and found myself intrigued by the understated ambiance and the seasonally, locally inspired menu. The menu changes very frequently, so the menu online was very different than the menu yesterday, but delicious options abounded nonetheless.
The brunch was hopping, but I had a reservation and we were seated immediately. While there were several things I considered ordering, a lighter meal was in order and I decided on the (and I had my camera!)
Mixed Grain Porridge with almonds, golden raisins and brown sugar
and a seasonal fruit salad
Delicious, it may have been the best grapefruit I have ever had.
I also got to taste something that was hard to resist ordering myself:
Semolina Raisin French Toast with vanilla mascarpone, poached pears and almonds.
I often find french toast far too eggy, but this was sweet and delicious! If you are a french toast fan, you have to try this one!
Another thing I loved about Cookshop was that the coffee can with steamed milk on the side. I hate when milk makes my coffee cold!
I definitely like Cookshop more than Five Points, which is by the same owner. Although it is a bit of a hike, it happened to be right next to the following item on our agenda, ice skating at Chelsea Piers.
I was happy to get some informal exercise in and managed to leave the rink unscathed for the most part.
Later that night, I went to see Valentine’s Day.
I was VERY skeptical, but apparently reading bad reviews set the bar really low, and I actually enjoyed the movie for what it was. It was not complex or thought provoking, it did not have me rolling out of my seat, but it had a few chuckles, some relateable scenes, and a very likable cast of characters. The NYTimes was right about Taylor Swift–“Country-music lovers might be happy to know that Taylor Swift makes her first and quite possibly last big-screen appearance here.” Horrendous performance, painful to watch. What happened since SNL? All in all, I found the movie amusing enough. Not to mention that the cast was certainly gentle on the eyes all around! Although I did see some guys in the theater literally covering their eyes in disgust. haha
After the movie, we made one last stop for a light dinner at Barbounia. I have passed Barbounia at least a thousand times and always take a second to glance in at the open, opulent decor. Despite how sexy it looks and the interesting menu, I had never heard enough about it to actually commit to going. I am glad we did because everything was great. It’s a great date place if you like greek mezze!
We just had the hummus which came with olives and the richest flatbread ever.
And the tuna tartare which had blackened tahini, beets, cilantro and avocado
The dessert menu sounded insane, and was hard to resist, but I had no room left! In the end I was content to sip some chamomile—my new obsession!
I hope everyone had a great weekend!