Category Archives: Food

Yelp Elite Events: Tufino Pizzeria & Spa Castle

Last week, I attended two Yelp Queens Elite events. The first one was at Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana, where I thought we would only be served pizza and that I would get bored with the food. Oh, how wrong I was! The other event was at Spa Castle and it was already full with a few hundred person waiting list so I had pretty much resigned myself from ever getting to go. Luckily, Jando (the Yelp Queens Community Manager – get to know him, he’s awesome!) let me in and I had such an amazing, relaxing evening and you can read all about it below!

Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana is a small, but cute and cozy spot with great atmosphere in the heart of Astoria. I loved the huge windows that lead to the street. It gave the place nice lighting and feel.

tufino_meThe restaurant started us off with several amazing appetizers. First there were mini meatball sliders (one of my favorites) with grated parmesan cheese and basil on a brioche bun. The meat was warm, flavorful, juicy and the basil added to the already delicious sliders.

tufino_sliderThen there were mini capellini cakes with vodka sauce that was fried to perfection and extremely crispy. They tasted a little bit like potato. We also had fresh mozzarella, tomato and bread crumb on skewers, which were light and refreshing. Next came the warm farro (a type of grain) salad with wonderfully tasting pesto sauce. After that was another favorite of mine: Zucchini fries. They were hot and fresh out of the oven, with well seasoned breading and a light dusting of parmesan sauce.

tufino_zucchiniSoon after all those appetizers, the thin crust pizza started coming out. I tried most of the different types of pizza, starting with the Margherita, which was made out of organic tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan and basil. This was quite good but I preferred the other types of pizza that had toppings on them.

tufino_margheritaProsciutto e Arugula came with mozzarella, prosciutto, lemon juice and truffle oil with baby arugula and parmesan shavings on top. This was wonderful, with delightful tasting meat and all the other flavors came together nicely.

tufino_argula pizzaI also had the San Gennaro, which consists of mozzarella, Italian sausage, peppers, onions and parmesan. The sausage was savory and zesty.

tufino_sausage pizzaMy favorite pizza of the night, however, was Grape Expectations, which had red grapes, gorgonzola, Italian pork (which tasted like bacon) and house made honey. The grapes on the pizza was unique and unexpected, but worked really well and combined flawlessly with the gorgonzola, meat and honey. It was a mix of sweet and slightly savory, and completely mouthwateringly delicious!

tufino_grape pizzaThe service was great, though I would have liked some options for non alcoholic drinks, besides water. But the servers were really patient, friendly and allowed time for some of the Yelpers to take photos of the food, then making sure we all got what we wanted.

Then there was Spa Castle Night, which totally came at the perfect time because I needed to get my mind off of things and just totally chill & relax: CHILLAX!

It was my first time at Spa Castle and what a wonderful elite experience I had! We were given watch keys which were ingenious… They connected to our very own locker and were also scanned when we bought anything- We were allowed 2 free drinks. They also gave us uniforms to wear around the spa and a small towel. I would have liked a bigger towel, because I was in and out of the pools throughout the night.

First, I met some really awesome folks and we checked out the outdoor pools, which had a spraying area and also different massage water jets etc. There was also a nice bubbling jacuzzi. Then we checked out one of the pools inside which was right by the bar and had stools set up along side it. I don’t drink so I asked if the free drinks included any non alcoholic drinks. At first they said no, but then allowed me to order soda so that was really nice.

spacastle_meShortly after that, we headed to the upper floor to get some food. There was a lot of fried food which was tasty: Mozzarella sticks, chicken strips, french fries, fried chicken, shrimp tempura. The shrimp tempura and fried chicken were my favorites. Also salad and delicious fruits: Mango – extremely fresh and sweet; pineapple – sweet and juicy; grapes – wonderful and sweet. It was nice to have that since the fried food was so heavy.

spacastle_foodAfter that we headed back to the outdoor pool area and tried out one of the body massage areas which was AMAZING! It was great to feel the water jets on my back, legs etc. We also enjoyed the foot massage pool and our 2nd drink.

spacastle_poolThen I headed to Sauna Valley and I really liked the whole set up of it. There was a bridge, water flowing, and different colored lights flashing peacefully.

spacastle_saunasI got some friends to join me in trying out all the saunas. We started with the hottest ones first and my favorite was the Gold Sauna. It was a nice temperature, not too scorching and there was a bench to sit on. The most aesthetically pleasing was Jade Sauna which was a dome with gorgeous colors and stones, but at 180 degrees it was a little too warm for me.

spacastle_jadesauna
I also laid down in the infrared zone for a little bit. It was okay. I didn’t feel much of a difference after. I just laid out on the long chairs after and then headed back to the locker room. There was a nice area with a massage chair and comfy blue couches just for the girls there.

The one complaint I had about Spa Castle is that it was confusing to navigate and I didn’t even see/know about some of the amenities, such as the Ice Land, which would have probably been my favorite room of all since I LOVE ice! Thankfully, we received a free certificate for another visit, so I will definitely check it out when I come back.

Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana
36-08 Ditmars Blvd
Astoria, NY

Spa Castle
131-10 11th Ave
College Point, NY

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Dining at Alta

altaAlta is a lovely, charming restaurant with an elegant, yet homey feel, in a converted townhouse in the West Village area. The place is easy to miss because there is no sign out front, so you have to be looking for it.

My friends and I were seated downstairs near the fireplace and we ordered 5 dishes to share.

First came the bacon wrapped dates and olives (I requested only dates since I don’t like olives) which were stuffed with almonds. This was amazing! The bacon was perfectly crispy, full of flavor and the dates were sweet, chewy, wonderful. The roasted almond added a bit of crunch and wonderful taste.

alta_baconThen, the brussel sprouts, mixed with granny smith apple, creme fraiche and pistachio. The brussel sprouts tasted so good and were juicy, with great seasoning. I would have liked more apple in the dish though.

alta_brussel sprouts
The lamb meatballs had a charred red pepper sauce and some sort of white cheese. They were pretty good, but not particularly memorable for me.

alta_meatballsRoasted salmon came on top a summer vegetable salad of squash, corn, tomatoes and string beans. I enjoyed this dish a lot. The salmon was charred just a bit with the skin still on it and was slightly flaky, not fishy at all and was just delicious. And the salad was nice and fresh.

alta_salmonWe also ordered the roasted trumpet mushrooms, consisting of porcini caramel and breadcrumbs. This was quite good with a very savory, appetizing sauce with the best tasting breadcrumbs I have ever had!

As for dessert, we tried two different ones: First one was the Chocolate Peanut butter Napoleon, which consisted of chocolate cream, peanut butter ganache and malted milk chocolate ice cream. This was delectable with perfectly flaky cake with layers of yummy chocolate and peanut butter. And the ice cream was creamy and sweet.

alta_napoleonThe other dessert we had was the Georgia Julep Parfait, which came with roasted peaches, bourbon ice cream, mint granita and pecan praline. I really enjoyed this. The bourbon ice cream was superb, with amazing rich bourbon flavor and paired perfectly with the refreshing peaches and roasted/sugary pecans.

alta_peachesThe service was top notch and since one of my friends knew the host, our drinks and desserts were free! We weren’t expecting that special treatment, so were pleasantly surprised. And I would absolutely come back to try other dishes and that’s saying a lot, because I normally don’t like dine in the same restaurant twice.

Alta
64 W 10 St
New York, NY

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RW Lunch: i Trulli

i Trulli is a lovely and charming Italian restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor garden in the back, where a friend and I enjoyed our Restaurant Week lunch meal.

i trulli_meFirst we were given water and our glass was always full. Then the waiter brought out a small basket of bread: There were 2 different types. One was foccaccia like with sun-dried tomato, fennel, rosemary and other seasoning. The other was rustic brown bread. It came with nice fluffy and creamy butter.

i trulli_breadI had the baby calzones for my appetizer. One had cheese and tomato filling, while the other was sausage and broccoli rabe. I think I liked the cheesy one better. There wasn’t enough of the filling in the other calzone.

i trulli_appsFor my main course, I chose the “straw and hay” pasta dish, Paglia e Fieno, which came with peas, pancetta (lots of it, to my delight) and cream sauce. It was truly delicious! The pasta itself were long strips of golden yellow and green colors and cooked to perfection. The peas were fresh and wonderful, the pancetta was incredibly flavorful with just the right amount of salt, slightly crispy with tons of great seasoning. It tasted amazing. The dish also came with lots of Parmesan cheese. It was very rich and filling.

i trulli_pastaMy friend had the Pork Scaloppini which was pork medallions with bread salad of tomatoes, onion and cucumber. The presentation was really nice and I loved that it was so colorful, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the pork. It didn’t taste all that flavorful to me and was a bit too chewy. The salad was pretty tasty though.

i trulli_porkchopDessert was Torta di Cioccolato, chocolate cake with a scoop of coconut sorbetti. When we were first served dessert, my friend and I felt that the portion size was quite small, but it still satisfied us. The cake, however, was more like a mini brownie with chocolate drizzled on top. The ice cream was in a perfect small ball and there was toffee peanut brittle underneath it. I enjoyed the cake which was chocolate-y, moist and slightly sweet, while the coconut sorbetti was refreshing and light.

i trulli_dessertI really enjoyed the meal, atmosphere and attentive service at i Trulli.

i trulli

i Trulli
124 E 27 St
New York, NY

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Popbar: Gelato on a Stick

I love Popbar in the West Village. It’s the perfect dessert spot for summer and any other season. It’s gelato on a stick… Made with fresh, natural ingredients and dipped in different types of chocolate with the option to add toppings. Such a simple, yet delicious concept.

popbar_me1I’ve been to Popbar numerous times and twice this weekend! Some flavors I’ve tried (all dipped in milk chocolate): Dulce de Leche (probably my favorite flavor- extremely sweet, rich, wonderful); peanut butter (just delicious); pumpkin (seasonal treat- nice and yummy).

popbarRecently I had the coffee with milk chocolate and that was delectable. Loved the smooth coffee-chocolate taste. Today I had the strawberry yogurt with a new dipping sauce: Caramel dark chocolate. I loved the strawberry taste- Very creamy, sweet (but not overly so), refreshing! And I enjoyed the dark chocolate, but I felt like the caramel flavor was not that strong.

popbar_popsicleI really want to try the blood orange, green tea, hazelnut, pistachio & mixed berry flavors next. Looks like I’ll have to come back quite often… Which is perfectly fine by me. This is one of the few establishments I would travel out of my way to go to!

Tip: The Popsicles melt quickly, so it’s better to stay in the store/sit right outside to enjoy/eat it versus walking out with it.

popbar_me

Popbar
5 Carmine St
New York, NY

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June 2015 Yelp Elite Events

I recently reached Elite status on Yelp.com and have finally experienced several amazing Yelp events, from an ice cream tasting, to dinner at an Australian restaurant and an outdoor affair with appetizers and treats.

The first event I went to was the Milkmade Tasting Room ice cream tasting in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Milkmade is a small shop that is easily missed if you’re not looking for it. They had 5 unique flavors and I was able to try all of them. Below, are the flavors in order from my favorite to least favorite.

RVC

Red Velvet Cupcake was creamy sweet and delicious. I enjoyed the cream cheese flavored ice cream with a multitude of red velvet crumbles.

Fingerlakes PB&J

This peanut butter and jelly flavored ice cream was a wonderful smooth base of peanut butter, accented with a jelly swirl.

Open Sesame

This was black sesame with caramel. It had a strong nutty flavor with a lovely sweetness.

Blueberry

This flavor was simple, light and tasted perfectly of blueberries. Beautiful purple-blue color as well.

Chinatown Chocolate

This chocolate flavor had traces of cinnamon, sichuan pepper and fennel so it was quite interesting. I found the extra flavors to be a little bit too busy and wasn’t sure if I liked all of them together.

yelp_icecreamAfter the ice cream tasting, my friend and I headed to the Elite Only event in Queens: Outback to Astoria at The Thirsty Koala, which is an Australian restaurant. The food was delicious and there was plenty to go around. There was ceviche on a circular tortilla chip with sea bass, which were tasty 2-bite size pieces. It tasted both fresh and flavorful.

yelp_cevicheThen there were Australian meat pies, which had sausage in them and they were amazing! The meat was seasoned beautifully and full of robust flavor.

yelp_meatpiesThen there were corn fritter sliders, which came with a jalapeno sauce which was actually quite wonderful, even though I don’t normally like spicy food. The corn fritter was so good, while the sauce complemented the corn fritter well.

Yelp_slidersWe also got to try these delicious meatballs and calamari which had the perfect amount of crispiness. There were also lamb chops, which was a crowd favorite, but not my favorite because it was a bit too rare for me and there was too much fat on it.

yelp_lambchopsThen our table noticed there were kangaroo empanadas going around which we didn’t get a chance to try so my friend asked about it and they made a whole tray just for us! What incredible service… It tasted pretty good. Kind of tasted like well seasoned beef – I would not have known it was kangaroo if no one told me.

After that came the desserts. The first one was called Koala Ball, which was basically a chocolate ball: Hard chocolate outer shell with a soft, gooey, rich, chocolatey brownie-like center. It was absolutely delectable!

yelp_chocolateThe other was a chocolate caramel bar with a shortbread-like base. This was also incredible and the chocolate complemented the caramel just right.

yelp_chocolate caramelMy third Yelp Elite event: Studio Lot Affair, took place outdoors yesterday, at the Kaufman Astoria Studios with foot from Astor Room and cocktails provided by Buffalo Trace. I enjoyed the chicken salad on toasted bread, as well as the chicken skewers with balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. However, my favorite, by far was the maple-candied bacon. It was extremely crispy, both sweet and salty, chock full of sweet maple flavor and just the best bacon I have ever had.

yelp_baconI had such a great time and met some awesome new friends at each of the Yelp Elite events, so can’t wait to attend future events!

MilkMade Tasting Room
204 Sackett Street
Brooklyn, NY

The Thirsty Koala
35-12 Ditmars Boulevard
Queens, NY

The Astor Room
34-12 36 St
Queens, NY

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Memorial Day Weekend Fun

I had a wonderful, fun filled Memorial Day weekend: Fleet Week, Bar Bacon, backyard BBQ with great friends.

On Friday, I headed to Times Square to see The “Rhode Island Sound,” a division of Navy Band Northeast perform. I loved how they sounded: Energetic, polished and fun! The songs they played ranged from contemporary hits such as Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” to more classic tunes, like Prince’s “Kiss” and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” They ended with the catchy “Don’t Stop Believing,” and effectively got all of us to dance and sing along.

fleetweek2015_bandThere were also Marines stationed nearby with guns and a huge military tank. I held one of the guns, as pictured below.

fleetweek2015_marine I also climbed up on top of the tank, which was quite high and was a little disconcerting, but also felt exhilarating being up at such an altitude and able to see all of Times Square.

fleetweek2015_marine2There were also sailors around, so of course I had to take a selfie with a sailor! #SelfieWithASailor

fleetweek2015_sailorsSaturday morning I met up with a bunch of friends to go on the free ship tour. This year, the Navy and Marines came in on the USS San Antonio. We got to see various types of machinery/artillery/tanks, warfare/weapons,  cargo/ammo vehicles, electronics, living quarters and the medical room. My favorite area of the ship was the outdoor upper deck, which boasted a lovely view of the Coast Guard ship and the New York City skyline.

fleetweek2015_me

We had a fun time exploring the USS San Antonio, and couldn’t leave without a group photo with one of the sailors!

fleetweek2015_group picAfter the ship tour, we headed to a nearby restaurant bar in Hell’s Kitchen called Bar Bacon. I had actually heard of the place before and been wanting to try it, because who doesn’t love bacon in everything?

barbacon signWe shared two appetizers: Sauteed brussel sprouts with a delicious sauce and thick cut pieces of bacon and fried pickles. The brussel sprouts were amazing! Such intense flavor and fresh taste! I loved the texture and sort of meatiness of the brussel sprouts. Even if there weren’t any bacon in the dish, I would have been completely satisfied.

barbacon_brussel sproutsThe fried pickles were speared and looked like french fries. They came piping hot so that was good, but otherwise they were just okay.

barbacon_fried pickles

It was difficult for me to choose a main course, because I was looking at two options: French Toast or open faced chicken club sandwich. I ended up sharing with a friend, so was able to experience the best of both worlds. I started with the sandwich, which came beautifully presented. The sandwich came with grilled chicken, Applewood smoked bacon, romaine, organic tomato and chipotle mayonnaise and my, it was delicious! All the ingredients complemented each other and came together perfectly. The chicken was wonderful and juicy; bacon had just the right amount of crispness; the sauce gave it an extra zest of flavor.

barbacon_sandwichThe brioche french toast (only served on weekends) was also artfully presented and came with bacon maple butter, two slices of bacon, strawberries and whipped cream. The accompanying components were very tasty, but the I thought the bread itself was a bit too tough/hard. I prefer my french toast to be fluffy and moist.

barbacon_french toastI also went to a BBQ at a friend’s lovely backyard. We had extremely juicy delicious pulled pork, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, fruit, salad and the star of the event: BBQ ribs! They were succulent, smoky and finger-lickin’ good!

BBQribsLater, we enjoyed one of our friend’s amazing homemade key lime pie. It was delectable… Wonderful light lemon flavor with a killer graham-cracker crust and a bit of whipped cream to add to the already amazing layers of deliciousness. BBQkeylime pieIt turned out to be a great weekend with amazing food, friends and fun!

BBQ

Bar Bacon
836 9th Ave
New York, NY

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Dinner at Sao Mai

I went out with friends to Sao Mai Vietnamese restaurant and we ordered family style, so that we would be able to enjoy a wide variety of dishes.I started off with the Vietnamese Iced Coffee, which was quite strong and not creamy/sweet enough for me… It didn’t enough condensed milk, but it was still pretty good.

saomai_coffeeWe tried many different appetizers, such as the house special platter, which consisted of spring rolls, barbeque chicken, pork and beef and was served with lettuce, pickled carrots, mint leaves and light sweet dipping sauce. I enjoyed the barbeque meat, which was charred slightly (the way I like it).

saomai_appetizersI also really liked the shrimp summer roll with lettuce, mint leaves and vermicelli noodles, wrapped in rice paper and served with peanut sauce. The summer roll was delightfully airy and wonderful. Another appetizer we had was a steamed rice crepe, with minced pork and mushroom which was not one of my favorites.

saomai_summer rollAs for the main courses, we selected one dish per type of meat/fish/veggie: Lemongrass chicken, beef cubes, grilled pork chop, crispy whole fish and tofu with mixed vegetable in traditional Vietnamese sauce. The chicken had a nice flavor to it, while the beef was succulent, juicy and tasty. The pork chop was cooked perfection and had very nice seasoning.

saomai_porkchopThe crispy fish was red snapper with a ginger lime sauce and while it was a bit difficult to cut, it tasted delicious with a great amount of crunch.

saomai_fishOverall, a very full and fulfilling meal. The only downside was that they do not have any dessert, but all was not lost! Afterwards, we headed to nearby Veniero’s pastry shop. For once, I was actually did not need to have my own dessert so we shared amongst ourselves. I tried a little bit of the blood orange/chocolate cake and some of the chocolate cannoli. Both were quite lovely and enjoyable, especially the chocolate parts. The orange cake had a nice delicate quality to it and the cannoli was a bit richer with a more robust sweet flavor to it.

dessertsIt turned out to be a great night of culinary treats and was happy I had the opportunity to try so many different menu options first at Sao Mai, then at Veniero’s.

saomai_me

Sao Mai
203 1 Ave
New York, NY

Veniero’s
342 E 11 St
New York, NY

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