Friday, June 26, 2009

Smith's NYC - Value in the City

Stepping into Smith's NYC is a bit like stepping into the horse race scene from My Fair Lady. Everything is black and white and feels oh so chic. We walked past the few sidewalk tables, past the main dining room, and into our dining corridor. It was about as wide as a train car, with booths on one side, and tiny two tops on the other. The mirrored ceiling curved overhead, reflecting the soft yellow light of the chandelier sconces. The place felt delicate and modern, though it was a bit loud. But that may be inevitable when you're in a small space with so many people.

My cousin and I had come for the Spring Chicken Dinner. On Monday and Tuesday nights, Smith's NYC offers a three course meal for two people for $35 total. Given that this is New York, where everything is almost always more expensive than it is in LA, $17.50 a person sounded pretty amazing.

After placing our order we were given a canister filled with two kinds of bread and a little ramekin of hummus. The Italian bread was feather light with a nice chewy crust and tasted so fresh it could have been baked an hour ago. The Olive bread had that same airy freshness, and the bite of the olive went beautifully with the hummus, which had a strong chickpea flavor.

First came the green salad, which did indeed taste of spring. The peppery, almost bitter greens were tossed with shaved fresh veggies like carrots, radishes, and fennel, as well as some tomatoes and snap peas. It was all dressed in a salty almost warm dressing that served to accentuate the bright, crisp flavors.

Then came the main event, an entire chicken with two side dishes. The chicken was served in a cast iron skillet and came covered in herbs. The skin was crispy and positively packed with flavor, while the meat was delicate and tender. Although it was done perfectly, I wouldn't say this was anything to write home about. It felt like the kind of thing you should be able to make for yourself, full of chicken-y flavor, but nothing to elevate it to the realm of extraordinary. (Although, to be honest, I myself have never attempted an entire chicken and therefore have no idea how hard it is to make something this simple so tasty).

The roasted veggies were served in what looked like a mini dutch oven. (I wanted to steal all the serving dishes to do my own cooking for two!). The potatoes, onions, asparagus, and mushrooms tasted as though they'd been frolicking through fields of butter and herbs and were thoroughly enjoyable. The mushrooms in particular were delicious, thanks to their spongy texture soaking up all the delectable flavor.

Our favorite dish of the evening by far was the polenta. They must use about a pound of cheese for each ounce of polenta, as the flavor absolutely explodes in your mouth! The creamy richness was offset by a pleasing tang, probably owing to buttermilk somewhere in the mixture. The tiny dish was so indulgent that we could only finish half of it, but were left wishing we had more room in our stomachs.

We ended the evening with the Chocolate Mousse, probably our least favorite part of the meal (and it takes a lot for me to say that about dessert). Although the texture was rich and creamy, the chocolate flavor was a mere suggestion, not the powerful statement I look for it to be. The best part was the toffee bits on top, the only sparkle of sweet flavor in the whole dish.

Overall, Smith's provides a lovely atmosphere and a terrific value for a night out in NYC. I give this three and a half belt notches.

Smith's NYC has $35 Spring Chicken Dinners every Monday and Tuesday night.
79 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012
phone: 212.260.0100
Smith's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Monday Night Supper at Little Dom's - Mama Mia what a deal!

My new friend L and I had decided to get together for dinner on Monday. I was excited about this, because a ton of restaurants offer great deals on Monday night since it is typically a slow time. One of the cheapest deals out there has got to be the Monday Night Supper at Little Dom's. For a mere $15 you get three courses, and for another $10 you can add a bottle of wine.

Walking in to Little Dom's is a bit like stepping back in history. The worn wooden floor and bar, the green leather booths, the black and white pictures of horse racing, the last rays of sun peeking through the wooden slats. If a Hollywood set designer was looking for inspiration for his 1950s mob movie, this would be a good place to visit. Even the waitresses are dressed in simple diner style uniforms, making the model-esque hostess in her chic black dress look a little out of place.

I made our reservation the night before, and the only times available were 6:30 or 9. So be aware - the word on this deal is out!! Plan well in advance. By the time we left at about 8:30, there wasn't a single empty seat in the place. And points to the restaurant for being very vocal about their deal: there were postcards with the $15 menu on the hostesses stand, and one was given to us with the menus.

Shortly after taking our seats at a small table by the window, the waitress dropped off a white wax paper bag filled with half a loaf of warm sesame baguette. This was served with a simple butter and was delicious. I especially loved that they were so generous with the sesame seeds!

The first course was Shaved Fennel and Parmesan on a bed of arugula. I would have never thought to put these ingredients together, but they worked wonderfully. The crisp bite of the fennel juxtaposed with the creamy robust cheese and the bitter tender greens. The whole thing was lightly dressed with just a hint of citrus to better accent all the flavors. I was happy to see there was just as much parmesan as fennel. So simple, yet so good!

Next came the main course, Beef Braciole, which, I have since learned, is Italian stuffed, rolled steak. It has a very meaty flavor, almost like a brisket or a stew meat. Probably a cheaper cut, this truly does feel like the kind of dish your old Italian grandmother would serve you in Brooklyn crying "Mangia! Mangia! You're too skinny!" (thanks imaginary grandma, I've been working out!;). The beef is rolled around a stuffing of cheese, breadcrumbs, and lots of pine nuts, then sauteed and simmered in tomato sauce. The whole thing was full of hearty meat flavor, accented by the acidity of the tomato sauce and the richness of the filling (L's favorite - she ended up scraping out all the filling from her meat and eating that). Some steamed summer squash was served on the side, a light touch to this heavy dish, though it certainly had it's fair share of butter and seasoning (and the occasional heat of a chili flake).

We ended the night with Chocolate Caramel Tart with Creme Fraiche Whip. This is pure richness on a plate, thank goodness they served such a small sliver of it! The smooth velvety ganache sits atop a thin layer of buttery creamy caramel. The caramel was mostly rich and delicious, but L and I each had one bite that tasted like we'd bitten in to a piece of rock salt. I like salted caramel as much as the next girl, but they need to learn to distribute the flavor throughout, not have it hiding in one place! The shortbread crust was light and crumbly, and the creme fraiche whip felt almost superfluous, given how much decadence was already on the plate. Being a dessert connoisseur, this was certainly not one of my favorites, but that didn't stop me from eating every last bite of it!

Overall, we had a wonderful meal and spent half the time exclaiming about what a remarkable deal this is! The portions are so generous I ended up taking home a doggie bag - so both the hubby and I had dinner for a mere $15!! As L remarked, for $15 you can sign me up for a standing reservation! (The menu does change every week - check the website to see what it will be.) Four belt notches out of five.

Little Dom's has $15 Suppers every Monday Night.
2128 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Little Dom's on <span class=Urbanspoon" src="" style="border: medium none ; width: 130px; height: 36px;">

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sunset Foot Spa - Food Worthy Bliss

I write a food blog because few things in this world make me as happy as good food and saving money. But there is something else that compares: getting a massage and saving money! So I just had to write and tell you all about Sunset Foot Spa.

My friend J and I decided to go on Friday night. I'd read about the place awhile ago and had been meaning to try it forever. Having now experienced it, I can't believe I didn't go YEARS before!! For a mere $25 you get an hour long massage. That's right $25!!

The place looks like a modified pedicure salon, lined with large recliners draped in towels. The walls are a soothing yellow and everyone speaks in quiet voices. The whole thing has a cheap zen sort of feel.

You start seated on an ottoman in front of your recliner. The men then drape your shoulders with a towel and give you a twenty minute neck. shoulder, and back massage. Their hands are strong and it's a pretty deep massage. Obviously, it's not quite as luxuriously flowing as a massage on your bare skin with oil would be, but it's definitely enjoyable.

Then you move into the recliner. They lean your seat back and give you a brief head and face massage while your feet soak in a tub of warm water. Following that, they spend the next forty or so minutes working mostly on your feet (with some work on the calves and thighs thrown in for good measure).

While receiving your massage, you can study the acupressure chart that shows how the different parts of your feet correspond to different parts of the body. Fascinating.

J and I arrived thinking that we'd be chatting away the whole time, but the whole thing was so soothing that we mostly just stayed in our own blissed out worlds. The only interaction came when they got to the "thyroid" portion of our feet, which was somehow very ticklish for both of us - oh those crazy thyroids!

This place would be the perfect respite after spending a night in too high heels or a crazy workout (or really any time you have $25 to spend!). And there were little Chinese candies - so I even got some dining done on this deal!

Sunset Foot Spa is located at:
5419 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Check their website for the other services they offer. I had called to make a reservation, but the woman didn't even take down my name, so I don't think it was altogether necessary.


Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ba Ba Reeba in Chicago - Little Bites of Heaven

Last week my job sent me to Chicago. Knowing that I would be busy with work, and also being fairly unfamiliar with the city, I didn't think I would be able to find any "deals." I simply told my friend E to take me out to a delicious meal, never mind the price (Hurray for per diems!) But, when we sat down in Ba Ba Reeba and I saw that they had "Pintxos" or bite sized tapas for $1.50, I knew I had to order them. And when I then tasted how delicious and versatile they were, I knew I would have to write about them. So, I must apologize for the quality of these pictures as I didn't have my camera on me and these are all from my iPhone.

Ba Ba Reeba is a raucous neighborhood place filled with people young and old, trendy hipsters, families, mature couples and everything in between. They have a huge menu that is entirely composed of tapas. While the tapas are primarily Spanish in nature, the variety and scope of the dishes shows that Chef Gabino Sotelino (say that out loud - it's fun!) is clearly knowledgeable of many different types of cuisine.

The first bite was Artisinal Spanish Cheese and Quince. The quince was sweet and soft without being gummy - a fantastic contrast to the harder, sharp cheese (that I'm guessing was a manchego). It was a simple exploration of contrasting flavors and textures - delectable!

Next I sampled the Mushroom and Rice Croqueta. Traditional croquetas can sometimes suffer from being overly greasy, but these were light and crunchy with a rich warm center, topped with a creamy cheese. The only flaw, if I had to find one, would be that they didn't have a very strong mushroom taste - more a cheesy, creamy, sort of flavor. But, I will never complain about cheesy creamy flavors:)

Then came the Short Rib Stuffed Piquillo Pepper. The roasted piquillo was sweet as a bell pepper. It draped over the juicy short ribs like a perky little cap and the entire thing perched atop a crunchy whole wheat toast bite. For $1.50, that's a pretty substantial mouthful!

Then came a spear of Serrano Ham, one of the most classical tapas out there. However, chef Sotelino has jazzed this one up with a tip from the islands: Caramelized Pineapple. Again we have that delicious combination of sweet and salty - classically addicting.

Our last little bite was a Goat Cheese Croqueta. They must raise these goats on a steady diet of lemonade, I can conceive of no other way they could make the cheese taste SO lemony!! It's almost like a cheesy, lemon mousse, though with enough salt to keep it firmly out of the dessert realm and in the mouthwatering appetizer realm.

$7.50 later, our meal was off to a fabulous start. Given my choice, I would literally have an entire meal composed entirely of small bites. Should you ever find yourself in Chicago, Ba Ba Reeba is well worth the trip!

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba on Urbanspoon