Restaurant Review: Cherche Midi

Bowery

Keith McNally has replaced his late Italian restaurant Pulino’s with the new, and more “McNally-esque”, Cherche Midi. Essentially Pastis and Balthazar blended together, Cherche Midi appears to be a French bistro that will appeal to both the younger downtown and older uptown crowds. Many have been quick to dub it as the “younger Minetta Tavern”, but the only real similarity between Cherche Midi and Minetta Tavern is that both restaurants have signature burgers on the menu. If that’s enough to draw a comparison between two restaurants then so be it, but we would say that the vibe and food at Cherche Midi is more similar to Balthazar than to Minetta Tavern. The restaurant hasn’t been changed much, but McNally has put more of a French twist on the space by including deep red banquettes, new white tiled floors and the distressed wooden tables have been replaced with slightly more formal table cloth place settings. The restaurant also has done a great job separating you from the outside world by fitting the large windows at Pulino’s with lace curtains which, while making the restaurant appear a bit more exclusive, does add a more intimate feel to the space.

The menu, which initially appears to be a typical Keith McNally menu, is surprisingly well executed and offers diners more than typical French bistro fare. The Frogs Legs are a perfect example of this. About six frogs legs come fried in a heavy mushroom garlic sauce with fried garlic chips so while the portion size may seem small, once you’re done you’ll realize that the kitchen serves just the right amount. While the sauce is heavy, the frogs legs are lightly fried so both complement each other well. The Sauteed Sardines on the other hand, while a much lighter option, don’t shine as much as the Frogs Legs do. As far as entrees go, you can get the much hyped about Prime Rib Burger or take the road less traveled and go for something like the fantastic Saddle of Lamb. The tender lamb is beautifully cooked and rests on top some of the best grilled eggplant and zucchini we’ve had in the city. The Prince Edward Island Mussles on the other hand are a safe choice for those looking for a more typical bistro dish.

What we like most about the menu is its wide price range. You can either end up spending a reasonable amount or an exorbitant amount depending on what you order. But the best deal on the menu has to be the $11 Souffles, Raspberry or Chocolate, at the end of the meal. The souffles come out in less than 10 minutes, record timing for fresh souffles, and are the perfect way to end your meal. The souffles were so good we actually ordered two each (and it was only two of us at the table)! Also, the waiter may try and up sell you before dessert with a cheese course, but we’re going to give that a hard pass. The cheese is nothing you can’t purchase at a specialty food store and eat at home yourself for less. You might as well spend that money towards something that isn’t easily prepared like a souffle or perhaps an additional appetizer at the beginning of the meal.

Cherche Midi shocked us with the execution of their food. The charming decor is to be expected with any McNally restaurant but we must say the food does go above and beyond the typical bistro food served at  Balthazar or the late Pastis. The service is also less pretentious than we anticipated. One of us was 30 minutes late to the reservation and the staff was very accommodating and never rushed us or made us feel uncomfortable. We’d highly recommend Cherche Midi to anyone really as both the menu and space don’t really appeal to one specific clientele. Though it may be tough to get a reservation now, this restaurant is worth the wait!

Overall: 8

Verdict: Oasis

Cherche Midi

282 Bowery

New York, NY 10012

(212) 226-3055

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Restaurant Review: Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue

East Village

We could start this review off which some cliched like like “New York isn’t known for its barbecue…” but we’re pretty sure you already know that. The market for barbecue restaurants in New York has blown up over the past few years starting with Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke. There has been some great additions such as Hill Country and some not so great spots like the now closed, R.U.B. BBQ. Mighty Quinn’s, after getting its start at Smorgasburg, quickly became one of the more popular barbecue spots in the city. With the opening of their relatively new East Village location, we decided to see what all the hype was about.

Mighty Quinn’s is essentially a really charming yet comfortable BBQ restaurant. The dark woods and the sleek stainless steel serving area give the restaurant a more “New York” vibe while the food itself remains faithful to its southern roots. The restaurant operated cafeteria style, similar to Hill Country, however the space itself doesn’t really allow this method of serving to run as smoothly as one might hope. On our visit, the line extended towards the bathrooms and out the door. The situation became dramatically worse when people began to congregate in the small area by the bathrooms as opposed to going outside and continuing the line there. While we do think serving this type of food cafeteria style is the best method for Mighty Quinn’s, as a sit-down dinner would be too formal, at prime-time hours the line itself becomes a huge mess and is more frustrating that anything else. We can’t say this only happens during prime-time hours as we went at 6 PM on a Tuesday and we already had to wait over a half hour to get served.

Between the hype and the less than stellar waiting experience, we had the bar set pretty high for Mighty Quinn’s. At the counter everything is pretty much smooth sailing. You can pick what meats and sides you want and the staff is also great at handling food allergies especially in such a small and chaotic serving line like this one. We’ll put it simply: try everything at Mighty Quinn’s. The meats are all juicy and flavorful, and we really can’t recommend just one cut. The Brontosaurus Rib, which we were expecting to be dry since it’s such a large portion of meat, was actually our favorite thing we ordered, but not by much. The sides were also good as well, but the meats are clearly the stars of Mighty Quinn’s.

If you don’t mind waiting, you can get the best BBQ in the city at Mighty Quinn’s. This relatively new restaurant soars above and beyond most of the big BBQ players in the city. We suggest going during off hours to keep the wait to a minimum, and don’t cut corners and get Mighty Quinn’s to go. While the food is still great and will hold up, nothing compares to it being served right in front of you.

Overall: 9

Verdict: Oasis

Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue

103 Second Ave.

New York, NY 10003

212-677-3733

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Restaurant Review: Toro Boston

Toro Boston

After hearing so much about the newly opened New York City outpost of Toro, we decided to check out the original location in Boston before visiting the newer one. Located in Boston’s South End, Toro puts a modern spin on traditional Spanish tapas. The restaurant itself is rustic and charming, featuring exposed brick and dim lighting, yet very loud thus not making it an ideal intimate date spot. But if you’re worried about sustaining and entire dinner long conversation without looking at your phone for half of your meal, Toro may be exactly what you’re looking for. The seating is incredibly crammed and the small space easily has the worst acoustics we’ve ever experienced while dining out, you essentially have to shout across the table no matter where you’re seated. However, the communal table seating in the middle of the restaurant is perfect for conversing with other guests. So just in case you don’t know what to talk to your date about, chances are someone next to you can help you out.

The menu is split up into four main sections plus a smaller section featuring about 4 paellas depending on when you go. Our recommendation would be to go for about 2-3 larger tapas per person for a full meal if you’re looking to try a few different things. Another route to go would be choosing one larger tapa per person and then splitting a full order of paella which can easily feed three people. Easily our favorite dish we ordered was the Asado de Huesos (Bone Marrow). The huge bone is split vertically in half easily giving enough salty yet savory bone marrow for two people. The Mollejas (Veal Sweetbreads) is actually an interesting play on the food’s name. While sweetbreads are normally very rich, Toro’s preparation removes the gamey flavors of the sweetbreads by serving them in a sweet blood orange sauce. We actually liked the contrast of the sweet and savory flavors though we overheard diners next to us complaining about the dish saying the sauce was too sweet and masked the flavors of the sweetbreads themselves. When it came time for the Paella Valenciana, the dish arrived in a huge paella pan that could barely fit on the table. The pan was filled with Calasparra rice, shrimp, mussels, clams, chicken and chorizo. While the mussels could have been a bit bigger, the paella was moist, flavorful and most importantly not overly salty as we find most paellas can be. We also liked the wine list which lists many solid Spanish wines at almost every price point (you can easily find a good bottle for around $40). The service is also surprisingly attentive for such a hectic restaurant. We mentioned our nut allergy to the server and the kitchen was easily able to make substitutions (the Mollejas are normally topped with peanuts but were removed for us).

While the wait for a table for two at Toro during prime hours can easily exceed two hours, and the crammed space makes waiting for a table at the bar almost impossible to bear the wait, the large menu, consistently good food and great service makes Toro worth the wait. We wouldn’t suggest coming with a party larger than four nor would we suggest dining there if you’re looking for a more intimate meal, but we do recommend visiting Toro at least once, if not more, to try the relatively inexpensive and innovative food.

Overall: 8

Verdict: Oasis

Toro

1704 Washington St.

Boston, MA 02118

617-536-4300

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Restaurant Review: Umami Burger

NYC

Finding a good hamburger in New York City is like finding a good slice of pizza. No matter what neighborhood you’re in there’s always a great burger spot whether it be an upscale restaurant like Minetta Tavern or a more low-key place like Burger Joint or Corner Bistro. When we heard the famed LA chain Umami Burger was opening in Greenwich Village we needed to see if it could match up to its NYC competitors. Umami, meaning savory in Japanese, combines high end burgers with a relaxed dining experience. The restaurant is very casual and doesn’t take reservations, so during prime hours expect waits of an hour or more. However  if you’re flying solo, like one of us did the first day Umami Burger opened, you may be able to snag a seat at the bar fairly quickly.

The menu is straight forward offering starters, salads, signature burgers and non-beef (aptly titled “un-beef” on the menu) options. To be honest, each time we visited Umami burger we skipped right over the salads and went straight for the burgers, (that’s why you go to Umami burger right?).  The fried “artisan” pickles come out whole, not sliced, with a side of jalapeno ranch sauce and are pretty good. The truffle cheese fries, julienne fries with melted truffle cheese, are basically cheese fries with a hint of truffle. We had the same problem with the Truffle Burger. The on the menu truffle burger is a traditional burger with truffled cheese. It’s incredibly rich and, quite frankly, delicious, however the whole “truffle” part is a bit misleading. The Manly Burger is a much better choice and comes with huge chunks of bacon lardon and onion rings. The Portuguese potato buns, each branded with a “U” on top, add a sweet flavor to the juicy burger overflowing with toppings. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also take your chances on more unique burgers such as the 5 Spice Duck burger.

We enjoyed our visit to Umami Burger each time we went. We’d stick to the non-truffle options as they are a bit misleading but we have to say the burgers themselves are actually outstanding. In comparison to other NYC burgers, we definitely think Umami is a great addition to New York. In a city that is mainly focused on the quality of the meat in their burgers, it’s great to see a restaurant that focuses on offering unique toppings in addition to quality ingredients. While we wouldn’t wait over an hour for one of their burgers by any means, we would certainly head to Umami Burger anytime we were Downtown and looking for a good burger!

Overall: 7

Verdict: Oasis

Umami Burger

432 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10011

212-677-8626

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Restaurant Review: Pastis

Keith McNally

Keith McNally’s popular Meatpacking District restaurant Pastis has become a New York City staple over the years. Essentially a smaller version of McNally’s Balthazar, Pastis is that neighborhood restaurant that everyone goes to not because the food is amazing or because its the most stunning place in the city. Pastis manages to create an upscale yet relaxed ambiance with reasonably priced and, for the most part, good French comfort food. The restaurant itself looks like a bistro straight out of Paris. Designed with brass railings and old looking mirrors with menus written on them, Pastis is so charming that you forget that the tables are so tightly packed that you can eavesdrop onto the next table simply on accident. Whether it be for lunch, brunch on the weekends or for dinner, Pastis is packed no matter what time of the day. Wait times can easily exceed 90 minutes for parties of two at peak times for walk-ins so we suggest booking a table in advanced. While the coveted outside seats do not accept reservations, making plans in advance does give you priority for the outdoor area over walk ins.

The lunch and dinner menus are quite similar. Simple French bistro fare such as Skate au Beurre Noir and Moules Frites, while not anything out of this world, cater to the American palate while sticking with the French theme of the restaurant. Certain dishes seem out of place such as the Fish and Chips and Fried Calamari, but most usually opt for the staple dishes: the Steak Frite and the Lobster. While most of the food is good, a few dishes go above and beyond the rest. We recall a moist and flavorful Roasted Poussin for lunch that was one of our favorite dishes served at Pastis. Sadly, the dish has since then been replaced with a regular roast chicken and while the original Poussin, a young chicken, was more tender, the same flavors are still there in the updated dish. On the brunch menu, we loved the Eggs Benedict served with a massive portion of home fries. For dessert, the crepes are always a great option. The service also does a great job of taking care of their tables without making diners feel rushed. The staff is also very attentive to food allergies, especially nut allergies for a place that fries in Peanut oil.

While the food at Pastis may not be the most innovative, most of the menu is satisfying with a few outstanding options. The atmosphere is probably the biggest draw to the restaurant which makes it perfect for after dinner drinks once your meal is done. We were saddened to hear that Pastis is temporarily closing after service on January 31st due to building construction, but this is all the more reason to check it out before it closes!

Overall: 9

Verdict: Oasis

Pastis

9 9th Ave.

New York, NY 10014

212-929-4844

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