Come for the Calamari, Stay for the Panna Cotta

The name of one of Astoria's newer Italian joints, Via Vai, is quite fitting. Meaning "coming and going" in Italian, the phrase perfectly describes the nature of most of us New Yorkers, but--as we well know--us busy people always have the time to sit down for a nice meal.

Photo credit: therestaurantfairy.com

My boyfriend and I were invited for dinner a few weeks ago before laughing out loud to Larry David in his Broadway debut in Fish in the Dark (highly recommend!). The space is great, and conveniently located near the Ditmars N/Q stop. I especially loved the white subway tile, the glamorous Faema espresso machine, and the Italian-designed Pavesi brick pizza oven which sits as the centerpiece of the restaurant.

We started with the fried calamari served with fried artichokes and citrus zest ($13). This was a large portion for an appetizer, and properly served with a half lemon in mesh wrap for drizzling. The fried artichokes were a nice touch since I love artichokes but hardly ever eat them.

Fried calamari

Next up were the polpette, or beef meatballs with tomato sauce ($10). Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best. The standout of this dish was the tomato sauce: tangy, not too sweet, and meshed well with the slightly rich classic ricotta-based meatball.


The special pasta for the night was beet gnocchi with parmesan fondue, porcini sauce, and toasted hazelnuts. This was a very interesting dish and the colors made it quite beautiful. A bit rich for my taste, but delicious nonetheless.

Beet gnocchi
For a secondi, we tried the maiale, a pork filet tenderloin with prosciutto and sage saltimbocca, white truffle mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus ($22). The meat in this dish reminded me of breakfast a bit, likely because of the spices used. The asparagus were great (I was craving veggies!), but the mashed potatoes left something to be desired (I think someone forgot the cream or butter or something).

The standout of the meal was dessert, which we unfortunately had to rush through (so no espresso :( ) in order to make it to our show on time. We tried both the panna cotta with caramel sauce and the tiramisu (served in a martini glass!)--both $8. The panna cotta was super creamy and both desserts were as traditional as they come. I felt transported back to Rome. If anything, go to Via Vai just for the dessert!

Overall the meal was good and the ambiance pretty great. If I was to return, as mentioned, it might just be for the dessert and to try something made by that goddess of an espresso machine. The pizzas looked pretty incredible as well. Even though it's Astoria, you can never have too many Italian restaurants!

Via Vai on Urbanspoon

Note: We were comped a meal for two in exchange for this review, but all opinions are our own.


Man Oh Manischewitz!

For those of you who don't know, the Jewish holiday of Passover begins in less than a month. To celebrate, Manischewitz is hosting their first ever pop-up event in Chelsea Market to showcase all of their kosher for Passover products and give new inspiration to old recipes. I attended the press preview last night with Hailey of Barton's Bites, but you can check it out for yourself over the next few days (details below).

First things first, there was a giant "gumball" machine dispensing coconut macaroons. Start dinner with dessert? Yes, please!

Hailey and I with the macaroon gumball machine
Then we made the rounds to the individual food tables. First up was some comforting carrot, quinoa and spinach soup. Then 2 different kinds of matzah pizza--margarita and pesto. Lastly, potato latkes with a multitude of toppings (I chose the apple and fennel slaw).

I must admit, I was surprised (but happy) to see them serving wine other than the notoriously sweet Manischewitz. Instead, they featured Sam Adam's beer and Israeli winery Tishbi.

Now back to dessert. The fact that there are pistachio orange macaroons blew my mind. At the event, they served them with a dollop of cream cheese icing. You could also dip your macaroon in a chocolate fountain and top with sprinkles or coconut. Lastly, the cupcakes (I tried red velvet), were deceptively cakey (always a struggle with pastry items kosher for Passover), and I give them 2 thumbs up!

There were also celebrity chef demos and tastings! Chef Jamie Geller, cookbook author and publisher of Joy of Kosher magazine, showed us how to fancy up your latkes with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. And Chef Katsuji Tanabe, winner of Food Network's Chopped, current contestant on Bravo's Top Chef Boston, and owner of MexiKosher Restaurant in LA, made us some sashimi tuna on matzah crackers.

Chef Jamie Geller

Chef Katsuji Tanabe

We had fun oogling all the new products and brainstorming how we can mix things up for Passover 2015. Carrot cake macaroons anyone? :)

There was also a photo booth and a step-and-repeat, so I'd call it a great event.

Oh, and a crazy awesome gift bag that will get me most of the way through the holiday. It included vegetable broth, garlic and rosemary crackers, carrot cake macaroons (!), red velvet cake mix, potato pancake mix, salmon caviar, The Joy of Kosher magazine, and "The Afiko Mensch" (a Shark Tank product!). Just add matzah and you have an instant seder!

The Manischewitz Experience is free to the public and open at Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011) on the following dates:
  • Thursday March 12: 11:00am to 7:00pm
  • Friday March 13: 10:00 to 6:00pm
  • Sunday March 15: 11:00am to 7:00pm


You Deserve More than a Boring Lunch

I don't know about you, but I get in the habit of being too busy at work to grab more than a boring salad or sandwich from the deli downstairs. Now that the weather is starting to get a bit (*fingers crossed*) nicer, I'm more inclined to want to walk more than 15 steps from my office building. So when the trusty lunch chain Pret A Manger contacted me to sample their new hot menu items (all under 500 calories), I was all in!

My go-tos at Pret have always been the egg salad and arugula sandwich and the almond croissants, and I've always loved their "Made today, gone today" motto--donating all their leftovers to City Harvest daily.

But on my last visit, I tried one of the new Hot Pots--Korean BBQ Pulled Pork to be exact, with only 460 calories. I loved it! It is made with antibiotic-free pork simmered in a sweet & savory sauce with red peppers, honey, ginger, garlic, and cilantro on a bed of red rice and quinoa. It comes with a fresh-made roll and I washed it all down with Pret's strawberry lemonade. Refreshing!

On another visit, I went with the new Spinach and Tomato Mac 'n Cheese and brought it back to my desk. Who ever heard of mac 'n cheese for only 420 calories!? And it was super creamy. I didn't feel like I was missing out at all. FYI, this item is fully vegetarian, but they also have a version with crispy bacon with only 470 calories. On this visit, I also tried Pret's blood orange seltzer.

So if you've never been to Pret, or just haven't been in a while (they're especially easy to find around Midtown), it's high time to check them out again and try one of the new menu items. You're right on track to never have a boring lunch again!

Editor's Note: Pret provided me with complimentary food for the purposes of writing this post but all opinions are my own.


Coney Island Brewery Celebrates Brooklyn History With New Beers

If there are 2 things we love around here, New York City history and alcohol that goes along with it are high on the list. Luckily, the Coney Island Brewing Company took it upon themselves to combine these awesome things.

The brewery was founded in a 2007 by Jeremy Cowen of Shmaltz Brewing Company. Jeremy brewed award-winning lagers under the Coney Island Craft Lager label, all designed with in-your-face artwork featuring iconic imagery and capturing the spirit and flavor of Coney Island.

Inspired by Brooklyn's history, Coney Island Brewing recently launched 2 new beers and we got to try them!

1609 Amber Ale pays tribute to those bold pioneers whose ventures laid the foundation to "The Playground of the World," as 1609 was the year that explorers first set foot on the massive dune along the Atlantic that eventually became Coney Island. They created a bold beer, which they describe as a deep amber ale with a full malt, slightly nutty character and strong citrus hop nose. 

Overpass IPA recognizes the artists, musicians and renaissance souls that staked claim and built DUMBO. Coney Island Brewing created this creative beer to embody by the juicy citrus and tropical hop aromas in a deep golden, richly aromatic IPA.

IPA's aren't usually our first choice, but Overpass is smooth and enjoyable. As for the 1609, it's comforting and perfect for a winter night in (or out!). We also loved the super fun, colorful artwork.

To try both of these beers yourself throughout New York City--on tap and bottled--click here and cheers to history!

Full Disclosure: Coney Island Brewery sent us complimentary beer, but all opinions are our own.


The Perfect Valentine's Day for Your Sugar Tooth

You may recall a sweet post from last May about Sugartooth Tours, but now that Valentine's Day (aka: You-Better-Give-Chocolate-To-Your-SO day) is fast approaching, listen up for a fabulous V-Day experience.

Starting tomorrow, Sugartooth will be offering its Sweeter than Sugar Valentine’s Tour! The tour will take you to 6 decadent shops throughout Chelsea and the West Village. Think half-pound cookies, artisan hot chocolate, and a final stop where you have the option of adding a wine or beer pairing with your final sweet treat for some extra one-on-one time with that special someone. In addition, the tour guides will feed your minds with the tasty and colorful culinary history of Chelsea and brush you up on your Valentines Day history and trivia.

Available tour dates include February 7th, 8th, 13th, 14th and 15th at 5:30pm and February 14th and 15th at 2pm. Tickets are $50/person and include all six tastings. Click here to purchase tickets.


Back in December, my Dad was in town from LA and we had a blast at the Union Square holiday market tour. We tried warm German gluehwein, gingerbread boys and girls, Liegewafels from Wafels & Dinges, cinnamon sugar donut holes from the Doughnuttery, mini canollis from Stuffed Artisan Cannolis, and chocolate dipped pretzels from Fatty Sundays. Here are some pictures from our tour: