I believe in second chances (ok, maybe that applies mostly to restaurants). The chef has an off day. The waiters are not in the best of moods. Maybe it’s just not the right dish or meal time that exemplifies the restaurant at its best. On that last point, let me just say the first time I went to Balaboosta was for dessert and tea, and it was pretty disappointing. But I did say, and I quote, “the rest of the menu sounded good, so I’m not writing it off just yet. I’ll definitely go back for another meal — just not for the dessert this time.” And that I did.
Brown sugar cubes
So when my friend Samar was in town and we were looking for place near SoHo, I remembered this Mediterranean spot again. The vibe is just as buzzy in the morning and looking over the menu, it was hard to decide between the breakfast pizzas, or something more sweet like the coconut brioche french toast. I wanted something with a little bit of spice to it, so I went with the Shakshuka, Moroccan baked eggs in spicy tomato cazuela, spinach, grilled country bread and added a side of merguez. Samar went with the lamb-egg special of which the name totally escapes me.
Lamb and eggs
Our food was satisfying and I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It’s probably pretty normal price-wise for the area, but for a meal and coffee here totaled about $50 — a little more than I think what you get portion-wise makes sense. If I’m looking in the area, I’d definitely go back though. We didn’t have to wait long for a seat and the service was great. But if you’re willing to sacrifice a short-wait time, and looking for the same genre of food for brunch at half the price, I’d visit Cafe Mogador in the East Village instead for their brunch specials.
Restaurant Info: Balaboosta
214 Mulberry St # 1
near Spring Street
New York, NY 10012
Nolita REPORT CARD
Occasion: Out of town visitor catch-up session!
(Out of three stars)
Would I go back?: Yes (for brunch)…I still need to try that French toast!
“Like” Beauty and the Feast on Facebook
Follow Beauty and the Feast on Twitter
I’ve been passing by Nomad in the East Village almost every day this week and it always looks so warm and inviting inside. The Moroccan/French restaurant serves traditional plates and tapas and has the most gorgeous decor of jeweled lanterns, tiled tables and dim lighting. Man, even their bathroom is so pretty I almost took a picture, but that would be weird so I didn’t. In the back, they have a beautiful enclosed courtyard-like space. The food, I found, was equally impressive.
Moroccan bread starter
If you go, you HAVE to try the duck pastille a l’orange appetizer. It’s a filo pastry stuffed with duck, almonds, and pieces of orange. It has the most interesting mix of flavors, a little sweet and salty. The lamb tajine is also really tasty, made with prunes, carmelized onions, spices and comes with a side of couscous.
Sorry, it’s a dark pic but the best I could do! The service was also very friendly. Overall a pretty great find I think. If you’re looking for entertainment, they have a live band and belly dancers on Thursday nights, along with a $25 prix fixe meal. I also found that if you sign up for Village Vines (www.villagevines.com), you can get 30% off your entire bill here (and also get a discount at a bunch of other reputable restaurants). Definitely worth a pit stop.
Restaurant Info: Nomad
78 Second Ave.
btw 4th and 5th Streets
New York, NY 10003
No, it’s not just you. It just occurred to me too that I’ve been spending a lot of time in the West Village lately! I’m making no excuses for it though — it really has some of the cutest restaurants.
I’ve been wanting to check out The Little Owlfor months now, and finally had a chance to go there for brunch a few weeks ago. It’s cozy, chatty, vibey and there’s something very lax about the ambiance. The first thing that caught my eye when I walked in was this elevated bench in the corner where people were sitting and having drinks on a Saturday morning. It’s right next to the Christmas tree that had — yes — a little owl perched on top. A birds-eye-view of the place and an owl…points for the non-false advertising.
Spotting the little owl
We started with beignettes, which are pretty much like little sweet munchkin doughnuts but these are served with nutella and raspberry sauce. Give me anything with nutella, and I’ll be in a very happy mood. Usually when I go to brunch, I like splitting something sweet and salty with my friends. This is a nice appetizer to share with the table in case you like something sweet with your food too:
I ordered their spicy chicken dish — probably not the ideal breakfast but it sounded too good to pass up and it really was:
spicy chicken breast with brussels sprout homefries, lemon and dijon
My friends were a little underwhelmed with their dishes, especially the smoked salmon and eggs dish. The poached eggs weren’t bad though:
smoked salmon and eggs
On another note, I do have to say the latte I ordered was a little watered down, but not a deal breaker for me.
One thing I really appreciate are the little unique touches at these NYC restaurants. For me, it was the guestbook they give you at the end of your meal with the check…people just write silly messages or a short anecdote of what brought them there. If you ever get a chance to stop by, let me know if you find our message :).
Restaurant Info: The Little Owl
90 Bedford St.
New York, NY 10014
I’ve been cooking a lot these days (pat on the back)…but every once in a while, things can go horribly wrong. My first stab at making falafel — or Failafel, as coined by Christina from the writing class I spoke at last night — was one of those times. As I began to realize that it wasn’t going so well, I almost stopped taking pictures, deeming it now useless for my blog. But I think it’s part of learning…and also a chance to pay further homage to the pure awesomeness of our mothers who could work that kitchen as if they never burnt toast in their life…and probably haven’t.
We’re not worthy.
My mom might as well watch some of my cooking trials as if she’s watching a comedy. BUT this story has a happy ending at least…
SO. I found this falafel recipe in a cookbook that seemed super easy. I got all the ingredients and began chopping. Until I realized skimming the recipe four times doesn’t equal one thorough read — halfway through I realized I needed a food processor (amateur mistake #1).
Seeing there was no way I could improvise with my paltry kitchen tools, I started scanning my brain on where I could get one. I called a friend who lived near by, and she didn’t have one either. I knocked on the door across my apartment and no answer. And let me just say right now, my apartment floor is one of those where other people might as well not exist. I’ve NEVER seen any of our neighbors, so I decided I just had to set out and buy a new one. I literally walked out my door, and (cue angels) a girl I’ve never seen before is walking back to her apartment, a door away from mine.
“Hey! Random question. Do you own a food processor by any chance?”
“I do! Come right in.” Turns out she moved in just last week. I decided at that point God really wanted me to make these falafels. I returned to my apartment triumphant. I was following the recipe exactly and everything seemed to be going just as planned so far.
My borrowed food processor
I scooped out the blended mix and began making them in tiny balls. The recipe called to fry them in four inches of oil, but I thought that seemed a little too much, so I tried with only an inch to begin with. I heated the oil in a frying pan and dropped in six falafel balls.
Everything was going great…until I realized one of the balls went missing. Then two…then three…they were disintegrating in the oil! I tried draining some of the oil, but it was already too late. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. I decided to try baking them. I made ten more balls and stuck it in the oven, which seemed to work better…but then the outside started to get too brown and the inside wasn’t baking thoroughly. I ended up with this:
Falafel mush, which basically looks like what the balls should have looked like…but in…umm…ball form? I was just about to give up and default to a frozen dinner until I tasted the mush and truth was, I still thought it tasted good. And the worst thing to me ever is to waste food, so this is the part I decided to take a “lemon and make lemon juice” as they say (oh God, I really am turning into my mom). I decided to make it a falafel spread.
I had these Arnold sandwich thins (the Fill ‘Ems, which I think everyone should have in their kitchen…they’re 100% whole wheat and so much healthier, only 100 calories each). I toasted them and spread the failafel in them.
I then chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and parsley and added them to yogurt and added that over the spread.
The combination of the warm, flavorful falafel and the cooling yogurt ended up being phenomenal. My roomie was so full from dinner and said she would just have a bite…ten minutes later she said “I think you have to make your own, I’m finishing this one.” Success.
My improvised falafel sandwich
After the whole fiasco, I tried looking online to see if anyone else had the same issues, and found a lot of people complaining about the same thing with their falafels melting in oil. It was weird though, because I followed the recipe exactly. I called my mom later to tell her about my failafel. “Oh. You just had to add bread crumbs to the recipe,” she said.
How do they know?? My roommate’s mom also said egg is a good addition. I found this recipe online that is very similar to the one I used, but with flour and baking soda. I’m assuming those added ingredients stabilizes the mixture, so I would go with that if you want real falafels, and not my improvised version.
In case you do though:
2 cups dried chickpeas
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 1/2 tbs kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1. Put the chickpeas in large bowl, add water to cover by about 2 inches and refrigerate overnight.
2. The next morning, drain the chickpeas and toss them in a bowl with the onion and garlic. Run the mixture through the medium blade of a meat grinder. Toss the chickpea mixture with the parsley, cilantro, mint, salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander and run through the grinder again.
3. Heat 4 inches of oil in to 350 degrees in a large pot over medium heat. Using a tablespoon, shape the falafel mixture into balls and fry, adjusting the heat as necessary, until browned, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels [Note, this is where I just baked the mixture instead of frying].
I’ve been so excited to test out my new camera [it’s kinda like an SLR on training wheels…goodbye point-and-shoot, hellllo Canon G11]. The first restaurant I happen to use it at was Naya — a Lebanese restaurant in Midtown East.
OK. First of all, Weirdest Welcoming Award goes to Naya.
“How many tonight?”
“Do you have a reservation?”
[Looks at half-empty restaurant] “I mean….”
“Ok, I’ll see what I can do.”
[uncomfortable laugh* He’s probably trying to make a joke]
“This is all I have right now.” [points to a perfectly normal, empty table, sandwiched between two equally empty tables. The seriousness of his demeanor shows us he was in fact, not joking earlier]
I get that maybe they were booked up for later that night. But throughout our meal, the restaurant didn’t get full to capacity — at least as we expected it to after all the deliberation on where to seat us. I could at least appreciate the mod decor (tables are kind of aligned railroad-style since it’s a narrow space and separated by glass — everything else is mostly white).
But then, when we had trouble choosing between the appetizers, the waiter seemed more in a haste than to explain some of them further or give his preference. [“Would you recommend the grilled haloumi cheese plain or filled in the the toasted pita?” “If you like cheese, get the cheese…if you like pita, get the pita.”]. We decided to just go straight for the entrees after that awesome advice.
I know it seems like I’m bashing, but really, the service was awkward and a little stuck-up that day. The food made up for it mostly though. They started us off with fresh olives/oil and crispy papadums (above). We ordered chicken kabab and lamb dumplings in yogurt sauce.
The chicken kababs were delicious — not dry, tender, grilled, tasty meat. What made it over the top was the amazing garlic spread it comes with.
Your breathe might not be OK for the rest of the night but you will be so full and happy it won’t even matter. The lamb dumplings we picked on the fly, and it was a lot less exciting — almost tasteless in the yogurt sauce. If you go, you can skip this one.
Side of rice
Prices are a little more expensive (location probably accounts for this), but stick to the chicken kababs or shawarma sandwich with fries which I heard is equally delicious. Order in if you can…unless, they start making a concerted effort in improving the service after I left my comment card hehehe.
Just being honest
Restaurant Info Naya
1057 2nd Avenue
at 56th St.
New York, NY 10022
Thursdays are starting to become my cooking night with Archana :). We try to keep it healthy and easy and here’s another recipe we stumbled upon using Israeli couscous. I don’t think I ever had this type of couscous before — I’ve only tried the tiny, grainy type. It’s a bit carb-ey but is a good source of protein and fiber, and paired with the right seasoning and veggies as you’ll see here, is absolutely delicious.
We got the recipe from Epicurious but had to make some alterations to the proportions. I’ll give you the recipe we used, which feeds 4.
What you need:
* 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 1 medium-sized zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
* 2 tablespoons minced garlic
* 1/2 cup vegetable broth (canned or bouillon)
* 4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (we used roma tomatoes)
* Salt, to taste
* Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
* 1 1/3 cup cooked Israeli couscous*
* 1 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves
* 1/4 cup chopped parsley
* 3-4 tbs goat cheese
What to do:
1. Place the oil in a large saucepan. Cook the onion, zucchini, and garlic for 8 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring until tender.
2. In the mean time, in another saucepan or pot, put 2 tbs of oil and warm. Add the couscous and stir until lightly brown. Then add 1 1/2 cups of water and heat to a boil. Stir until the water evaporates and it’s warm. Set aside.
3. To the veggie saucepan, add broth; cook 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute more, stirring.
4. Now add the couscous, basil, and parsley. Stir well, adjust the seasonings and heat through.
5. After placing on a plate, top it with a tbs of goat cheese.
The original recipe didn’t have goat cheese in it, but it tastes heavenly with that small addition.