Ai Fiori is the latest in Michael White’s empire of haute Italian cuisine (Marea and Osteria Morini are the others). Osteria Morini is home of the Stracci Pasta, one of the best dishes I’ve ate this year. Ai Fiori has been on my list since it opened in April and has received accolades as one of the best new openings this year. I finally made it for a holiday dinner with colleagues which was the perfect occasion for this restaurant. Ai Fiori is located in the Setai Hotel on Fifth Avenue.
One of my downfalls lately is too much attention to the recommended dishes at each restaurant instead of just ordering what I want to eat. My meal choices closely followed the NY Mag what to order choice. We started with our own appetizer, ordered three pastas for the table and then each had our own entrees.
For appetizers we tried the Branzino and the Bone Marrow (not pictured). They were underwhelming. The crudo was fresh but combined with the caviar it was too fishy for me.
Michael White is the master of pastas and they did not disappoint. The Spaghetti was my favorite which surprised me because the first time I had Bottarga was in Italy and I despised it. The Agnolotti was very rich but delicious and the Risotto was way too fishy.
The main course was a lamb crusted in fois gras which was extremely rich. I finished it and was glad I ordered it but would not order it again. The other mains at the table were the Vitello and the Lobster neither of which packed as much flavor as the lamb but both seemed lighter.
I recommend skipping Ai Fiori and trying Osteria Morini or Marea instead.--DBlock
Forcella has recently been receiving a lot of buzz within the blogging community. I’m always up for trying new pizza spots and this one stuck out as a must get to before they get their liquor license. We arrived at 7pm on a Saturday without a reservation which was perfect timing to snag a seat at the bar with no wait. However it became quite crowded shortly after we sat down. The host and waiter were very warm and welcoming and both spoke Italian which I thought was a benefit.
The appetizer menu is limited so we went straight to two pies ordering the Montenaro from the fried pizza list and the Materdei (margherita and hot salami). Both were delivered to the table hot and delicious. The pizzas both tasted really good and were made with fresh imported ingredients. The Materdei was not as crispy as I would have liked but had a really nice char from the wood-oven. The bill was $40 for two people (two pizzas and two sodas) and it seems like this will turn into even more of a scenester place than it is now once they get their liquor license. I would gladly come back, if you are a pizza fan this place is definitely worth a try.
Meatball Shop is a place that was on my bucket list since it opened. The concept is genius, an entire restaurant dedicated to serving various kinds of meatballs. Honestly I never order meatballs out… ever. I am bias, there are about four people in my family that all cook better meatballs than the ones I have had at restaurants. There is no reason for me to order meatballs except to be disappointed. When I heard about The Meatball Shop I thought maybe finally there would be a Manhattan Rival to my family’s version.
We arrived around 9pm on a Sunday and had to wait for 90 minutes to be seated. The interior of the restaurant is kind of small and the tables are long and cafeteria style so get ready to sit with strangers. The laminated menus are fun and you use a small marker to check off what you want to eat (this is a cool concept). There were about six of us so we each got something different and got to try a ton of the meatballs and sauces.
I ordered 3 sliders for myself each without cheese and with a different choice of sauce:
Classic Beef – Spicy Meat Sauce
Spicy Pork – Classic Tomato Sauce
Veal – Classic Tomato Sauce (the veal was the special of the day)
My friends ordered a couple of bowls of balls to split for the table including the chicken, vegetable and tried the mushroom gravy and parmesan cream sauce. We ordered a bunch of sides and I tried the risotto & spinach, which were both very good. My friends’ favorite sauce was the parmesan cream sauce (they raved about it but I don’t eat dairy).
The meatballs were okay but definitely did not live up to the hype. The sliders did not have enough sauce on them and I tried to compensate by dipping in the bowls of sauce that came out with the other orders but the bread did not soak up the sauce like normal Italian bread does. The meatballs themselves were the right size but the meat was not totally mixed through and contained large chunks of garlic and was not as tender as I like (I don’t think they use white bread in the mixture, probably just breadcrumbs). The beef was a bit bland and the sauce was not that spicy. The spicy pork was definitely my favorite and the tomato sauce was flavorful. I thought the veal would be my favorite when I ordered it but it ended up being my least favorite.
The A La Carte balls are served with focaccia bread and I did not like this choice at all! Meatballs should be served with a rustic Italian bread. The focaccia was not a good pairing for the sauce and everyone ate the leftover sauce with a spoon rather than with the bread. One of my friends ordered a hero which was served on what they call a baquette that by far looked like the best option.
I do commend Meatball Shop for the unique idea, affordable prices and charming atmosphere but overall I will not be back. If you don’t mind the long wait it is worth a try.
Nothing like homemade
Poor bread choice
LONG wait times
Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars (docked a .5 for the wait)
Recommended Dish: Hero with Pork balls & Classic Tomato Sauce on white bread--DBlock
When the wait at Eataly’s Pizza and Pasta dining area was 90 minutes we decided we could venture downtown to get our Batali fix at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (5th Avenue & 8th Street). This was my first trip to Otto and as soon as we stepped inside the restaurant’s ambiance impressed me. We were seated right away (Sunday around 4pm).
The server was friendly and had a ton of suggestions and really knew his way around the menu. We started with my favorite kind of antipasto – a meat platter of Prosciutto, Pancetta, Coppa, Testa & Salami. All of the meats were awesome except Testa. For those of you that don’t speak Italian Testa means Head and yes it was Head Cheese. I had a few awful experiences with Testa in the past but decided to try it again… still GROSS (for those of you who don’t know the definition of head cheese is a meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig). Out of the things I have tried I think Head Cheese/Testa is the most repulsive and I still do not like it. But hey four out of five of the meats were delicious.
For the main course we ordered two pizzas:
The Margherita D.O.P. (Tomato, Bufala Mozzarella and Basil)
Quattro Stagione (Four Seasons, tomato & mozzarella served with one-quarter of each: swiss chard, mushrooms, peppers, cotto)
Both of the pizzas came to our table piping hot. The mix of a perfectly cooked crust, great tasting sauce and delicious toppings hit the spot.
The waiter told us we couldn’t leave without trying the homemade gelato. They have about 10 flavors) we tried Salty Peanut and Vanilla. They were so creamy and had just the right amount of sweetness for the perfect post meal dessert.
There are many other dishes on the menu (most for under $10) including vegetable sides, pasta dishes, about 12 different pizzas, various cheeses. I plan on coming back multiple times to try many other dishes. Don’t get me wrong there are definitely better places to get pizza in the city but this is a trip worth making.
I have nothing bad to say about this place except if you have friends that don’t like pizza or pasta (1. you shouldn’t be friends with them) but they probably will not enjoy it.
Review: 4/5 Stars--DBlock
A few weeks back a bunch of my friends and I decided it was time for a holiday dinner. Out of all the different places to choose from in NYC someone suggested San Marzano Brick Oven Pizza, in the Lower East Side (Clinton Street), because they offer an AYCE/D special for $40/person for 2 hours. Obviously I am a fan of AYCE/D dinners so to the LES we went.
We were seated immediately and they did not make us wait for the entire party to give us a table. The restaurant was empty for a Thursday night and they started by bringing out various appetizers including:
Antipasto platter with olives, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, speck, salami, grape tomatoes and freshly baked bread.
Meatballs (baked to order in mushroom marinara sauce, served with fresh bread)
Brussels Sprouts (with pancetta, Fuji apples and pecorino Romano)
Fresh Mozzarella with Basil & Tomato
We were able to order a second round of everything we liked (which was everything) and they were generously refilling our wine glasses (choice of beer, house white and house red). Once we had our appetizer fill they brought out two pizzas:
Fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil, extra virgin olive oil
Fontina, goat cheese, caramelized onions, shitake and button mushrooms, roasted garlic, thyme, white truffle oil
We ordered another round of each and they came out within about five minutes. The pizzas were very good had a great flavor (good tasting sauce), not necessarily a crispy crust but that pliable type of brick oven crust with a smoky taste. The cheese was high quality and although I did not try the Caprino my friends raved about it (when does truffle oil ever go wrong?).
I highly recommend this place for affordable group outings/dinners. It’s not the type of place you go to get hammered (not sake bombing style) but it was great that we didn’t have to settle the check at the end of the meal and we were all well fed. I will definitely be back for the next group special occasion.
Great homemade bread
Brussels Sprouts & all appetizers are as good as they sound on the menu
Really good/quick/fresh to order pizzas
To get the most out of the $40 deal I recommend bringing at least 6 people
Far walk to the subway
Reservations Required for special
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars (if going with a group I’d raise this to a 4/5 stars)
Recommended Dish: Antipasto & Margherita Pizza--DBlock