Sunday, June 26, 2016

Caffe Bene (Bensonhurst) - 18th Avenue location

I've been recently coming to Caffe Bene a lot , at least once or sometimes twice a week. It's a very cozy, comfortable atmosphere and has that local, neighborhood vibe to it. There's an abundance of seats and tables available and a couple of outlets available if you're bringing your laptop to do work or you need to charge your electronic devices. Most of the customers are between High School students - 50-60 year old

I typically come here to get my blogging done and Yelp reviews on the days I don't have internship. It's also pleasant to sit here while they have the AC on a good blast. There's a lot of beverages to choose from, sandwiches, waffles, and sweets.


I've recently been addicted to their Portabella Sandwich because it's super crunchy, delicious, and I love mushrooms. It typically come with mustard, but I hate mustard so they usually do well in removing the mustard for me. I've also tried their Mango Berry Mojito (non-alcoholic) which is quite refreshing, but too bad it only comes in one size. 

Any way, I really like this Caffe Bene mostly because of the cozy and relaxing atmosphere and it's convenient to Will's house. They haven't built one near me on 86th street and I think they should build one for many reasons. Food and beverages can be a little bit expensive in my opinion. Staff is very friendly! There's one man that works at this location and it's quite possible he could be the manager, usually brings the food and drinks to the guest that ordered it. Now that's good memory and service if you ask me. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ramen Quest: Totto Ramen, Midtown East

My girl friend Diane and I recently had lunch at Totto Ramen in Midtown East. I've been to Totto Ramen in Midtown West a few years back and I thought it was so so. I decided to give Totto Ramen another chance and checked out the location in Midtown East with Diane.

We met around 12-12:30PM on Friday at Totto Ramen and that's just like prime time for lunch, so expect a wait if you decide to come. They also don't sit you until your whole party is present, otherwise you will be pushed to the bottom of the list.

I wasn't very impressed with the decor, but as soon as you walk in you can see the counter and open kitchen and the walk way was narrow too. It was also very dark, but at least there's a lot of seating in the back of the restaurant.

It was super busy at the time we went and slightly difficult to flag down the staff when you need them.

Moving along to what we really came for:

Pork Paitan 
Diane ordered the Pork Paitan ($10.00) with corn ($1.00) and a poached egg ($1.00) , but it was also accompanied with onions, char siu and pulled char siu, and topped off with scallions. Her ramen looked extremely yummy, creamy, rich, and the corn really pops out and brings color to the ramen. Diane enjoyed her bowl of ramen very much that she finished everything down to the broth!

Mega Paitan
I decided on the Mega Paitan ($16.00) and I added a poached egg ($1.00). The Mega Paitan was accompanied with wavy noodles, their original Paitan soup topped off with variety of char siu pork, garlic, onion, bean sprouts, scallions and cabbage. I honestly couldn't finish the ramen or my bowl which is a true shame. I got full easily because it was so meaty and so much pork. 

If you're a pork or you just love meat, this is the ramen for you. I don't think I would order this again though typically because I thought it just wasn't for me.

Before we finished eating our ramen, we received our bill. I thought it was weird and silly for them to have a printed receipt, but then there were two post-it's with a suggested gratuity of 18% which I thought was absurd since it's just the two of us and it's only lunch time, but there was also another mistake they made because they wrote our total bill came out to $50 - $60.00. I quickly flagged down the waiter and did the math in front of them. They apologized and recalculate our bill for us.

Overall, the ramen was on point, but it didn't really leave me wanting more of it. I wasn't particularly a fan of my own ramen, so maybe I will give Totto Ramen another chance. There is a third location I haven't visited yet, so that's on my to do list.

Service: 70%
Food: 80%
Taste: 50%
Likelihood to return: 50%

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Raizes Churrascaria - Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Earlier this month, Will and I went to Raizes Churrascaria for our friend's 30th birthday. It was the first time I had Portuguese cuisine, so I was excited to try out the restaurant.

The restaurant is directly located across a funeral home which is a bit disappointing and sad to see. If you're not uncomfortable with a funeral home across the street, the restaurant can be quite cozy and comfortable. It's quite spacious and definitely a good spot to come for food  and drinks with family or friends.

I like that Raizes Churrascaria has an extensive menu of wine and beverages. I ordered this:
White Sangria
It was the perfect weather to have a White Sangria, plus I've never had one before. The White Sangria was actually very light, refreshing, and didn't have strong aromas like a red sangria does.

There was about 10-18 of us so it was a little difficult to share appetizers, but here's what we tried:

Appetizers
Our friend ordered three appetizers for us all to share: grilled oysters, shrimp mozambique, and cod fish croquettes. I only tried the cod fish croquettes which turned out to be mediocre, nothing too over the top. Will and I ordered the Pot O'Mussels with Port Wine Lobster Sauce which turned out to be mediocre as well. We've definitely had better mussels at other restaurants before.

Grilled NY Strip Steak
Will ordered the Grilled NY Strip Steak with a side of fries. He asked for the steak to be medium well, but it turned out to be medium rare which he wasn't too happy about it since he can't eat meat that's too red, but at least the fries were delicious!

Broiled Seafood Combo
I ordered the Broiled Seafood Combo with a side of sauteed kale. The broiled seafood combo included: stuffed clams, sea scallops, filet and shrimp. Everything was cooked just right. I tried to eat a sea scallop, but it was a failure as I just spat it back out. I've been afraid of eating scallops ever since having food poisoning back in December. I don't like the taste or the smell of it anymore. The sauteed kale was different, but I liked it. 

Overall, I thought the food was alright, but I feel there wasn't enough flavor. It was nice to eat in a different setting and part of Brooklyn compared to where we usually eat.  The space, decor, and ambiance was definitely nice and big. Will Will and I be back? The chances are 50/50 because when we saw there was a funeral home across the street, we were shaking our heads and the food was so so.

Just a note:
The restaurant opens their windows during warmer weather and it's a lot of traffic crossing by the restaurant, so there's a lot of outside noise.

As I've mentioned, it's also across from a funeral home so if your superstitious or don't feel comfortable eating across a funeral home - I would suggest going to another restaurant.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ramen Quest: Ganso Ramen

The first time I tried Ganso Ramen was February 2013, so therefore a revisit was necessary. I heard mixed reviews regarding Ganso Ramen, so I wanted to see for myself if the ramen was as bad as everyone I know says it was. I came here with my old colleague and Will, since both still work nearby in Downtown Brooklyn.

The ramen shop was quite large, more spacious than your average traditional ramen joints. It's very modern and chic with random Japanese posters and a chalkboard hanging on the wall. Service was on point and servers were friendly and attentive, but those are probably the only positive notes about the experience.

Japanese Fried Chicken
I ordered the Japanese Fried Chicken ($9.00) which is quick-fried and boneless and comes with a yuzu-mayo dipping sauce. I was little disappointed that it was only four pieces for $9.00 and I've also had better Japanese Fried Chicken in other ramen spots.

Will and my friend Wesley detected a little bitterness in the fried chicken which created a red flag and addressed it to our server. Our server spoke with a chef and the chef offered to make another one for us. 

Sizzling Gyoza
We also ordered the Sizzling Gyoza ($9.00), but it wasn't sizzling when it arrived to our table. I looked back on my review of Ganso on Yelp and there was definitely a $2.00 increase on the gyoza and the way they served it is different from what I had three years ago. The gyoza was cooked correctly and had good flavor and juices, but still $9.00 is a lot for gyoza.

Tonkotsu Ramen (Hakata Style)
Will ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen *Hakata Style* ($17.00). It's a rich, creamy pork broth with thin, straight noodles, roasted pork belly chashu, half egg, greens and extra flavors of sesame and roasted garlic. His ramen looked a lot better than mine. I tried his ramen and the broth is indeed rich, but salty and noodles were okay, but definitely not al-dente.

Tonkotsu Ramen (Kagoshima Style) 
Wesley ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen *Kagoshima Style*, slightly different and similar to Will's ramen. The only difference is that the broth has garlic and soy sauce.The toppings and noodles are all the same as Will's. Wesley is used to eating salty foods, but to him this over the top salty. He also had two beers to wash down the salt.

Braised Short Rib Ramen
The Braised Short Rib Ramen ($16.00). It's a deep beefy broth with thick Sapporo noodles, Hatcho miso-braised beef short rib, half egg, and greens. Honestly, I wasn't a fan of the braised short rib ramen because it was extremely salty which ruined majority of the ramen. However, at least the short rib was tender and moist.


The noodles were slightly wavy and overcooked in my opinion. 

I thought after three years maybe the food would be different and it was different, but not in the way I had hoped. Everything has gotten pricier and definitely saltier. We were all very discouraged from the quality of the ramen,and sad to say we won't be returning to Ganso.

Service: 85%
Food: 50%
Taste: 40%
Likelihood to return: 45%

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

10Below - Chinatown, NYC

After hearing and reading months of hype about 10Below in Chinatown, my boyfriend and I along with my sister and her fiancĂ© got a chance to visit the much-talked about 10Below. It's located close to the beginning/end of Mott Street in Chinatown and is actually below.

It gets crazy packed here as I've seen and heard which is why we decided to come on a not-so-busy time - early Sunday afternoon. There was already people coming in for the rolled ice cream before us. There's limited seating, so keep your eyes peeled for seats as soon as they open up or at least a place to stand and eat.

Here's how the process works: You choose the mix-ins (candy, fresh fruit, cookies, etc.). They go into a cold plate along with liquid ice cream. The ice cream maker uses a bench scraper to chop and spread the mixture into a very thin sheet, which freezes in under two minutes. Then the sheet is scraped away from the ice cream maker to form ice cream rolls!

Here's a small video I took while waiting for the Matcha Made in Heaven concoction:

video
Matcha Made in Heaven
I got the Matcha Made in Heaven with additional toppings of strawberries and coconut. Will and I shared this. The texture and taste was definitely different from the one I had at 321 Ice Cream. There was strawberries incorporated in the ice cream which gave it a nice flavor as well as a pleasant tartness. It was absolutely delightful and just melted so graciously in my mouth.

S'mores Galore
My sister's fiancĂ©  got the S'mores Galore, but also added an array of items as you can see. He added pretzels, an Oreo, and graham crackers. This is definitely a cup of fatty delicious dessert. I don't think I could be as bold or daring as he is in getting such a heavy dessert especially after dim sum.

Overall, 10Below is definitely a gem and although other spots are falling into the rolled ice cream family too; it's still different and unique. The hype is definitely somewhat true and the rolled ice cream is definitely yummy! However, I don't think I would or could survive in the chaotic line in the evening, so best to come during it's opening time and early. Now it's time to try the Flushing location soon.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Ramen Quest: HinoMaru Ramen

It was just about a month ago where my sister, Will, and I visited HinoMaru Ramen in Astoria, Queens. We were on our way back from our cousin Cindy & Josh's baby shower and you can read all about it here, but we wanted to grab a light dinner before getting back into Brooklyn.

HinoMaru Ramen is located on a heavily trafficked area and positioned perfectly for the lunch and dinner crowd. We came around 5:30-6PM and it was certainly very busy. The dining room is spacious and casual and there's a blackboard to your immediate left, announcing the day's specials and large open kitchen towards the back. There's tables for two people with low stool seating or others fit for slightly larger group. I also liked that there's another section to the restaurant all the way in the back which allows for a larger party and a little privacy.

You won't find sushi or exquisite classical Japanese cuisine at HinoMaru Ramen. However, what you will find is authentic examples of Japanese soul food. I also found that they had a beer and ramen pairing menu:


Ika Maru 
For an appetizer, the three of us shared the: Ika Maru (whole grilled squid , $7.00). As amusing to watch the bonito flakes animated by the air currents inside the restaurant (it's aliivve!), the grilled squid was mediocre. I feel there wasn't enough sauce and I feel the bonito flakes didn't do much for the grilled squid except served as an edible garnishment and for texture.

The main event here is, without a doubt, the ramen.

Shio Ramen
My sister ordered the Shio Ramen and she added all the toppings you would find in the Vegeterian ramen. The ramen consisted of: blend of chicken, fish, and pork broth with cha-shu, scallions, bamboo, bean sprouts, and fish cake. The vegeterian toppings contained: carrots, red ginger, Chinese broccoli, corn, cauliflower, mushrooms, broccoli, fish cake,and cha-shu pork.)  She's not a vegetarian, but she loves her vegetables. She wasn't a fan of  the fact that the vegetables tasted and looked stir-fried, but it really did make her ramen pop and vibrant.

Tonkotsu Ramen + Poached Egg
Will and I had similar ramen, but he had the Tonkotsu Ramen *Hakata Style* with a poached egg ($13.50). The Tonkotsu Ramen *Hakata Style* was filled with: creamy pork broth, cha-shu, wood ear mushroom, poached egg, scallions, bamboo shoots, seaweed and fish cake. The broth was creamy as the menu described and very rich, full of pork flavor.


Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen + Poached Egg
I ordered the Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen + Poached Egg ($13.50) which was: creamy pork broth, cha-shu, bamboo, wood ear mushrooms, scallions, poached egg, seaweed and fish cake). The broth was extremely creamy and rich, It wasn't over-salted which I extremely liked. The poached egg was perfectly poached and runny. It was truly a harmonious bowl of ramen.


All three of our bowls had straight ramen which reminds me heavily of the ramen at Ippudo. The noodles weren't overcooked and cooked to al dente which I liked very much. 

The beer and ramen menu showed that the recommended beer for mine and Will's ramen was Angry Orchard and for my sister was Blue Moon. It made a slight difference, but I think I prefer my ramen and a cup of tea or water.

Overall, I must say I really enjoyed eating at HinoMaru mostly because the ramen and most importantly the broth was excellent. Service was really good and friendly. The atmosphere here is lively, welcoming, and warm. I definitely will be back and it's nice to know there's another reliable lunch and/or dinner option available in Queens besides Flushing and Bayside area.

P.S. - This was mine and Will's first time having ramen in Queens. 

Thanks to my sister Colleen very much for this recommendation!

Service: 90%
Food: 80%
Taste: 85%
Likelihood to return: 90%

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Bibble & Sip

One of the latest and greatest craze in The Big Apple is Bibble & Sip and I can understand why after my first visit. Bibble & Sip was extremely close to Ippudo Westside and since Diane and I had lunch there, I decided to take her with me to Bibble & Sip too.

Bibble & Sip - Exterior (Image credit to: Sideways. NYC)
The cafe is located in Midtown West and is know for it's friendly atmosphere, unique pastries, and adorable alpaca themed decor. There's a limited amount of seating here, but there's a small counter where you can munch on your food and sip on your beverage. The staff at Bibble & Sip are quick, on point, and friendly.

Diane and I visited Bibble & Sip on a Monday afternoon around 1-2PM and I couldn't believe how crowded it already was, but luckily there was little to no line so Diane and I quickly lined up. Unfortunately there were no seats available, so Diane and I squeezed into a small space and just enjoyed our food and beverage on the counter.

I must admit I read a lot of reviews on Yelp to see what were the most popular or tastiest menu items so I would know exactly what to try at Bibble & Sip, so I made a list. Here's what we tried:

Iced Lavender Latte and Earl Grey Cream Puff
Many reviews suggested that the Lavender Latte was bliss, so I decided to give it a try. Since it was quite hot that Monday, I got the iced lavender latte instead. The iced lavender latte was coffee meets lavender in a cup! It was definitely a harmonious marriage of excellent flavors. The lavender wasn't overpowering so I was still able to taste the coffee flavor. Everything was in equal parts in this lavender from heaven latte. It stole my heart!


I also ordered the Earl Grey Cream Puff which was huge and truly earl grey heaven! The cream puff was flaky, soft, and absolutely delightful. The earl grey cream filling was absolute bliss! It was sweet and full of earl grey deliciousness. I took my time to eat it so I can enjoy every bite. I wished I had a whole tub of that earl grey cream because it was just amazing!

Black Sesame Hazelnut Crunch Mousse Cake
Diane had the Black Sesame Hazelnut Crunch Mousse cake which she thought was just amazing, especially with the different combination of flavors and textures. She actually didn't finish it because our lunch was already filling, so she saved it to indulge on later that day.

I am very glad to have tried and visited Bibble & Sip especially to see what my friends were bragging about. I was a little disappointed in the size of this place with limited seating and standing room. I have found another reason to return and that's to try their Matcha cream puff. For those of you who haven't been here, you definitely need to visit it at least once and if you fell in love like I did, a second time.