Spice Market

When I was in middle school, Spice Market became the place to be. We went often to enjoy their prix-fixe lunch menu, where we salivated over the Black Pepper Shrimp and Dried Pineapple, which is enrobed in a sweet and sour tamarind chutney, and the Spiced Chicken Samosas, which are perfectly spiced with a crisp, light crunch. The restaurant specializes in asian fusion, which, being Indian, we appreciate. However, it is the level of authenticity that really takes it to the next level. Those samosas? They’re better than many of the ones you would find in India.

As the years passed by, Spice Market changed its marketing strategy. They disposed of the prix-fixe lunch and replaced it with a bento box lunch. It was good, but it just didn’t match up- not to mention the fact that they removed our two favorite items from the lunch special. We would go and order straight off the menu, but we found ourselves drawn to Vongs, wthe owner’s other restaurant that was closer to our house. It was absolutely divine, with a similar palette as Spice Market, and we were crushed when it closed two years ago.  Of course, that sent us back to Spice Market. Their desserts have improved- the home-made sorbets and ice creams come packaged in mini Chinese take out containers, and the Ovaltine Kulfi is a chocoholic’s dream come true.

Now, they have re-instated the prix-fixe that we adored so much. The samosas are on there! Unfortunately, the black pepper shrimp is not, but you can always order that on the side. The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with teak temple-like structures and knick-knacks reminiscent of old Hollywood portrayals of Turkey. The service truly depends on who is waiting on you- some servers are gracious and welcoming, others just rush you along. However, the food is worth it, regardless. Reservations are recommended- this place has become one of NYC’s hot picks. Definitely check it out and let us know of your comments!

xx,

F,L,B

http://www.spicemarketnewyork.com

Fig and Olive

Fig and Olive is now becoming one of the city’s hot spots, but when we started going there almost four years ago, it was relatively unknown. As per its name, the restaurant uses only olive oil in its dishes. The vast variety of olive oils that they utilize serve as the decoration, adorning the walls along with sprigs of rosemary and producing a sense of comfort. This integration of ingredient and space makes you feel as though you were splayed on a blanket in an Italian vineyard, or picnicing along the French Riviera. However, the food is nothing short of exeptional, so while you are lured into a sense of complacent relaxation, your taste buds are stimulated to the point of uncontainable ecstasy.

When you first sit down, you are served pieces of bread with three different olive oils to taste. The bread used to be unbelievably delicious- we went through three loaves once (and it should be stated that we are tiny, skinny, small-boned women) just because it was so addictive. Maybe that’s why they changed it… Now the bread is still good, but it is possible to stop consuming it. Keep note of which olive oils you like- all the oils are for sale, along with some of the best balsamic vinegar you will ever taste in your life. Our favorites are the Picual and Chemali olive oils and the 18 year aged Balsalmic vinegar.

For the main course, we always go with the grilled branzino with snow peas and figs. We order the roasted potatoes and sauteed mushrooms as sides and just revel in the subtle flavors that nonetheless explode in the mouth. Dessert is a must- the warm caramelized apple tart is as beautiful as it is delectable, and it is served with homemade vanilla ice cream. The vanilla beans that they use are so delicately fragrant! We always ordered the same thing, but the last time we were there we tried the warm marzipan tart that was served with olive oil gelato and oranges. The tart was delicious, but the gelato stole the show. We were a little hesitant about olive oil gelato, but we are complete converts. It’s more subtle than vanilla, but it has such a warmth about it… Definitely try it.

Make a trip to one of their three locations: Meatpacking, 5th Avenue, or Lexington Avenue. And please, do comment about any of these restaurants after you visit- we’re curious about what you think!

xx,

F,L,B

Houston’s/Hillstone

Houston’s is one of those places where you are made to feel like family. Located on the bottom floor of the Citigroup Center, one almost misses this gem. The first few (I hate to say it) years that we walked by, we opted not to enter because all we could see was the bar. However, tucked inside the dark grotto are plush, crimson booths where families laugh and relax together. The wait staff is attentive, bright, and welcoming. Plates are brought and taken away so surreptitiously that one doesn’t even realize that the waiters had been to the table at all. We will always regret not trying it sooner.

The food is home food, dressed up only to be pleasing to the eye. It’s food that you think, “oh, yes, this reminds me of the dish my mom made…” but because of their special touches, you choose to return for more rather than make it yourself. Anything- and really anything- is good. The rib eye is thick and juicy with a sweet-spicy marinade that takes well to vegetables and rice (their rice and beans are to die for) alike. The crab cakes are the only crab cakes that we’ve ever had that are all crab with a light crust, rather than all crust with a dusting of crab. The fresh fish is simple, light, and elegant, served with a hint of lemon to awaken the pallet. Their “Famous French Dip” sandwich is tender prime rib on home-baked french bread, and when combined with the horseradish and au jus (for dipping, but we like to drink it as a soup), it’s divine. The french fries are paper thin, crisp, and just salty enough- far and away the best fries ever. The balsamic braised cabbage is balanced with tangy goat cheese, the spaghetti squash is both beautiful and delicate, with notes of maple, and, for dessert, the apple-walnut cobbler is perfect for fall or winter. The tender baked apples are topped with a pie-like crumble, caramelized walnuts, and vanilla bean ice cream for a heartwarming treat. Portion-wise- for us, we share, but we are tiny people. The food is so good, you might have no trouble on your own, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself going back week after week : )

xx,

F,L,B

Vatan

Vatan is an example of New York’s ability to integrate so many cultures into the everyday. We are originally from India, so we love Indian food. We rarely cook traditional Indian food at home though- our cuisine is more of a fusion of various cultures (Indian, American, Italian, Greek, etc.) Vatan is always a treat. It’s Gujarati food, which is vegetarian, but even the most die-hard carnivore will be satisfied. We love our meat and fish, but Vatan makes us forget about such items with their perfectly crisp samosas and salty-sweet  batatavadas. And that’s just the appetizers. For a $30 prix-fixe, one gets 3 thalis: the first with appetizers, the second with entree items, and the third with dessert (fabulous chai tea and mango ice cream).

Now, the only warning is that while the entree thali is delicious, the appetizer and dessert thalis steal the show. Regardless, all the food is amazing. So, go prepared to eat and spend time with the ones you loved.

xx

F, L, B