Paowalla, Indian Food with Goan Roots

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India is an extremely diverse country home to many different religions and dialects, yet the food that is represented in the States is pretty one-dimensional. You usually have some sort of heavily curried meat accompanied by rice and naan bread. But with the openings of several Indian restaurants in NYC this year, that’s changing somewhat. Paowalla, the highly anticipated new restaurant from Top Chef Master Floyd Cardoz, goes beyond the standard tikka masala and tandoori. In fact, naan might be the only familiar item on the menu, and even that is more of a crisp and elegant flatbread than the doughy, buttery crust we’ve come to expect.Read More

Le Coucou Late Night

 

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There are few restaurants that I would stay up so late for. A 9 pm seating is my limit, and after that, I’ll move on and revisit once the hype has died down. But like the desperate girl who can’t play it cool when she’s finally invited to a party, I caved to the pressure and made an exception for a 10:30 reservation at Le Coucou. There was a little thought behind this, though. First of all, Ruoxi’s birthday was at midnight, so we would need to do some sort of big, late night blowout celebration anyway. Also, my friend Eugenia from Hong Kong was in town, and she was already going to be jet lagged, so why not shake it off by staying up as late as possible? All good reasons for me to bite the bullet on a super late dinner reservation.Read More

Maman Tribeca Brunch

Maman in Soho is an Instagrammer’s dream, which is why it’s packed with stylish, pretty little things with nice manicures and handbags drinking lattes and quiches off of exquisite china. Charming French cafes with croissants and avocado toasts is a pretty winning formula, and not surprisingly, the Maman team has opened a second location in Tribeca, knowing that they will appeal to those fancy yoga moms and their well-heeled kids.

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maman’s lovely rustic french table settings
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the bar doing brisk business

If Maman Soho is where all the young people are, Maman Tribeca is where the young people with families graduate onto. You’ll see former bros sporting baby bjorns with their well coiffed wives by their side. It’s much roomier, which makes it better for pushing through multiple strollers and seating actual large groups of families. They are so accommodating to babies, in fact, that should your stroller not fit through their entrance, they have a side elevator that can. Families need more food and service, and so the Tribeca branch builds upon the light menu and counter service of the Soho location with a proper full-service, fully staffed restaurant.

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pastry basket for two (more like one)

No meal at Maman is complete without its famous chocolate chip cookie, and an order of the pastry basket assures you of one. The fact that there is only one piece is a bit of a disappointment, as the word “basket” suggests a bounty of treats, but there’s only one cookie, one financier and one croissant. They were all very good, but more would have been better.

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squash spaghetti a la carbonara
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papa poule’s chicken caesar salad

They don’t skimp on the entrees, thankfully. The squash spaghetti “a la carbonara” lived up to its promise as being hearty and filling. Don’t be fooled by the healthy headlines of gluten free and squash on the menu, at the end of the day, pasta swirling in melted cheese and runny yolk is rich and tastes glorious. The papa poule’s chicken caesar also came armed with some meat and some heft. The generous slices of chicken and avocado ensured that you wouldn’t go hungry, and its tangy, yellow take on the traditional caesar dressing was much more interesting than the typical white variety. Like a good mother, Maman is keeping her children, and her grandchildren, very well fed.


Maman Tribeca
211 W. Broadway (between Franklin and White St)
New York, NY 10013
(646) 882-8682

Café Altro Paradiso

The team behind Estela have officially gone Hollywood with Café Altro Paradiso, their new, flashy Italian restaurant in Soho. If Estela is the quietly attractive bookworm, then Café Altro Paradiso is the conventionally beautiful pageant queen. She is dressed to impress, decked out in immaculate marble floors and white oak all around the grand dining room, and as she makes her way down the catwalk, she serves up plates of pleasant, beautifully plated Italian food, knowing that in order to win the votes, she needs crowd pleasers with broad appeal.

café altro paradiso's grand dining room
café altro paradiso’s grand dining room
the wine selection is good as always
the wine selection is good as always

As you can imagine, with this Armani Cafe makeover, a little bit of soul got lost along the way. The different plates of pasta that we tried were all remarkably similar, variations of a perfected formula of olive oil, light cheese and citrus. They were glammed up versions of their more portly red sauce selves. I do have to say that the makeover was a success, particularly with the lasagnette, which was the true queen bee of the lemon pasta sisters. The spaghetti and gnocchi were lovely, but they lived in the lasagnette’s shadow. Even the normally robust cod and seafood stew had been edited down into a shallow pool of broth. Don’t even think about taking a plunge with some bread, the point is to dip your toe in and wade around nicely.

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lasagnette with beef and porcini ragu
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gnocchi with radicchio, pancetta and gorgonzola
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spaghetti with lemons, basil and pine nuts
carpaccio with capers, potatoes and aged balsamic
carpaccio with capers, potatoes and aged balsamic
cod stew
cod stew
fig gelato
fig gelato

The carpaccio was the one dish I tried that still retained a bit of the quirky Estela character. The thin slices of very Paleo looking raw meat were just as flavorful as anything cooked, and the salt and the fat from the underlying potato crisps and the aioli brought a smile to my face. There’s a saying that it’s either your face or your ass, and I’m glad that they kept the carpaccio as a big-bottomed girl. If the pageant girl let herself go a little, she may be able to win the competition.


Café Altro Paradiso
234 Spring St (between Varick St and Ave of Americas)
New York, NY 10013
(646) 952-0828

Ciccio in Soho

Ciccio has that nondescript Italian neighborhood restaurant look about it, which is why I never felt compelled to try it for dinner.  And then one day, I saw that it was on the list as one of the Michelin Guide’s 2016 Bib Gourmand selections, which was really surprising to me. No one ever talks about this place, it never appears on any sort of Best of Soho guide, and somehow it catches the eye of Michelin? What Michelin saw in this restaurant, this I had to find out for myself.

The atmosphere is quite lovely at this little spot. It’s lively and buzzy without being loud and sceney. Not surprisingly, it attracts a lot of small groups and couples looking to catch up on some quality time. The restaurant seems to have a loyal following, as many guests gave the staff warm hellos, but it also attracts some interesting international clientele here and there. There was also a big group of Asian banking looking types, which was random, but somehow it all worked.

beef meatballs in tomato sauce
beef meatballs in tomato sauce
insalata caterina
insalata caterina
green pea pasta with italian sausage, gorgonzola cheese and red cabbage
green pea pasta with italian sausage, gorgonzola cheese and red cabbage
signature house-made pasta served with guanciale, red onion, chianti wine and pecorino toscano
signature house-made pasta served with guanciale, red onion, chianti wine and pecorino toscano
chocolate almond cake
chocolate almond cake

The food is pretty solid in that traditional and homey way, especially those plump and juicy meatballs, but I get the sense that the restaurant wants to be more than just a big Italian fish in a small neighborhood pond. They were definitely trying something different with the two pasta dishes that we ordered. The signature house pasta, the strisce alla chiantigiana, tasted as if a bowl of Shanghai flat noodles had been soaked in wine and black bean sauce. It was as odd as that description sounded, but I applauded the effort. I was a bigger fan of the lighter and more festive green pea paparadelle with sausage and cabbage, but there was something a little off about the gorgonzola, which was very intense and almost gamey. Much like the humongous David Foster Wallace books in my room, these plates of pasta caused me to think a few bites in, but I didn’t feel like eating the whole thing. One dish that I did finish? The plate of chocolate almond cake. That one was an easy read.

Not every dish worked, but I would still come back here just for the atmosphere. Sometimes you want a good scene without working so hard for a table, and Ciccio serves that purpose.


Ciccio
190 Sixth Avenue (between Prince and Spring St)
New York, NY 10013
646-476-9498