Thursday, May 21, 2009

Voilà Restaurant- Be a Good Neighbor…Now!

no parking tow away zone
If you've driven down Brambleton recently, you can’t help but notice that the bordering York Street is a complete, chaotic mess. I worry about how it is affecting the business of one of my favorite lunch spots, Machismo. York Street no longer has any available parking. Street parking on the neighboring side street, Botetourt, is also non existent as all the businesses and tenants of York struggle to find a place nearby. Lucky for me, I prefer walking there on my lunch hour, so it hasn’t affected me personally, but I know they have got to be feeling the pinch as other diners drive to a more accessible establishment.

Last Friday I walked there with a group of work buddies. Taped on the side door (the best one to use now due to construction) was a note letting patrons know that if they chance parking in the neighboring Voilà Restaurant parking lot they will be towed. GASP! Say it ain’t so!! Is this the proper way for merchants and neighbors to work together and help each other during Norfolk’s implementation of Light Rail?

Let me preface this by saying that I am a firm believer in capitalism. Further, I have a pretty good understanding of competition and what it takes to operate a successful business. But here’s by problem with Voilà Restaurant. Have you ever eaten at Voilà? Do you know anyone who has? Have you ever walked by or driven past the building at lunchtime and seen a light on? Or seen anyone inside, much less anyone inside seated and actually eating? Hmm… me either. What I see is perfectly good parking spaces, sitting empty day after day, hour after hour. I can only assume that they have at least one person working. He’s the guy that calls the tow company when someone with a burrito craving dares to occupy one of their empty spaces for 10-20 minutes.

So I say, “Shame on you, Voilà!” Go next door and work something out to with your neighbors. Even if you only give them one or two designated spaces, it could be the helping hand that they need right now. Show the world (or at least the city of Norfolk) that even a capitalist can be a good guy!


Friday, May 15, 2009

Felix: The Last Meal

Je t'aime Felix t-shirt
Ah, Felix. I love Felix, as does Nikki. We stumbled on this lovely French bistro a few years ago when we were walking through reality, I was dragging Nikki in every fun shop I could find, since there are a lot! We stopped in for a drink and a break but already had plans to eat in Little Italy (at a place that highly disappointed Nikki and I have yet to live that one down). We vowed to eat at Felix the next time we were in SOHO. And here we were, our last day in New York and in need a a last good meal. Felix was the destination. We hopped on the E train and headed back to SOHO. Felix is so much fun - all of the tall windows open to a almost an outdoor cafe, very airy and bright in the daytime and then dim (the right kind of dim) in the evenings. The service is wonderful, the other diners are interesting and the food is excellent. Nikki ordered the cheeseburger and pommes frites and I ordered the cheeseburger topped with an egg and pommes frites. Both came with a small green salad, drizzled with a light vinegerette, which is always a nice addition. I love a little salad with my burger. Excellent, excellent, excellent. For a 'last meal', this was perfect. Felix had some business lunchers and a group that looked like travelers. Funny, we started our trip at a French bistro, cheeseburgers and pommes frites and ended that way too. While some might say 'why would you order a burger'...well, because these burgers are not of the usual mediocre quality you find most places. And because we wanted to - and that is all that matters (with anything, of course!). Going for the 'last meal' excuse again, I had to order dessert...and Nikki had already seen the Profiteroles come out and she knew that is what I should order. Wow, were they good. These were filled with vanilla ice cream (often, it is filled with custard). We were very full, as Felix does not scrimp on the portions. Our waiter reminded me of a French Adam 'MCA' Yauch of the Beastie Boys and I definitely love the BB crew. The burgers were both around $17, which is well worth it in my book. Felix is a great spot for a drink, lunch or dinner. Their website is currently under construction but check back soon or just get over there for a drink and a meal.

Felix is located at 340 West Broadway, New York NY 10013.


La Rivista Ristorante and Wine Bar: 20 Years and Counting

La Rivista Ristorante and Wine Bar, New York Restaurant
Our last dinner for this NYC trip - sad, but at least we had a really good Italian meal. After foraging the American Museum of Natural History for four and a half hours (and still not seeing everything) and then having a trying experience at Bloomingdale's (the shoe department customer service has gone caput - and I told them Nordstrom would have found those shoes and mailed them to me!), we were beyond tired and very hungry. We wanted something not far from the hotel, so we could stagger back after dinner. Though we had dined on Italian the previous night, Nikki and I had no problem choosing this cuisine again, and had made it back to Restaurant Row. It is one of our favorites. We were greeted by the owner's son and I overheard him tell another diner the restaurant had been there about twenty years. Sounded like a promising meal. La Rivista had relaxing lighting and a very appetizing menu. Nikki and I started with Crostini Di Polenta Con Funghi (roasted polenta with mushrooms ragu) and it was phenomenal. It was a larger portion, so ample to share. I ordered the Ravioli Alla Salvia (goat cheese ravioli with cream and sage). I wanted something with cream and this dish hit the spot. The ravioli was homemade and the sage was not too heavy. A little of that spice goes a long way. Nikki ordered Fettuccine Fresche Al Ragu Bolognese (fresh fettuccine with bolognese meat sauce) and was equally pleased. I sampled hers and agreed. A lot of meat in the sauce and more fresh, homemade pasta. To top it off, we ordered the chocolate mousse cake and it was the perfect ending to a great meal. Very rich, but that's exactly how I like most things. The portions were generous and the prices reasonable.

If you are in Midtown, I definitely recommend La Rivista Ristorante, located at 313 W 46th Street, between 8th & 9th, for lunch or dinner Monday through Saturday.


Click Here to view the Menu

Zevin, The Unknown

Prior to heading to the American Museum of Natural History, Nikki and I decided we needed lunch. This was good thinking on our part since the museum was a great, yet lengthy experience (I mean that in a good way). We had taken the subway uptown and decided to walk down Columbus Avenue to see what the Upper West Side had to offer for restaurant fare. We saw sushi, a few Tex-Mex places, Italian and then Greek. I definitely could have eaten Italian AGAIN, but let Nikki talk me into Greek, which I also enjoy. I just have a bad habit of getting hooked on something and eating it day after day. Into Zevin we went. We arrived right around noon and were the first of the lunch crowd. First of all, Zevin had excellent bread with olive oil. It reminded me of foccacia which I adore. The menu had a variety of Greek dishes but there were also two pre-fixed lunch specials and to have some variety in addition to trying a few things, Nikki ordered one of the choices and I the other. Mine began with a bowl of red lentil soup and Nikki's started with a plate of hummus. Now, I am not one to jump for hummus, but this was fantastic. A LOT of flavor. The soup was good. I did squeeze too much lemon in it, so make a mental note not to do that. The second course consisted of a fava bean dish in a tomato base with potatoes, carrots and celery for me and a Mediterranean salad for Nikki. I really enjoyed the fava bean dish. It was a cold dish and reminded me of Gazpacho. For the entree, I selected grilled salmon with vegetables (squash, zucchini, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower) and rice. The salmon was perfect. The vegetables were so-so. Steamed and not a ton of flavor. The rice was fine, but nothing too exciting. Nikki ordered the 'grilled meat' plate which was grilled chicken patties and grilled beef patties and the same vegetables and rice that came with my dish. She enjoyed it. I tasted the grilled patties and they were a little too 'grilled-tasting' for me. I would rather not taste the grill itself. My assortment also came with a dessert, baklava with a little whipped cream and a honey-soaked apricot. Not something I ever would have chosen, but it was pretty darn good. The baklava was not too flaky and that apricot was so full of flavor.
I mentioned in an earlier review that we enjoyed not being rushed, but the service was a little slow for our liking, especially since we were the first table to arrive and it was not extremely busy. We needed to get to the museum! The trick is that I cannot find Zevin anywhere online, but it is located on Columbus a block or two down from the American Museum of Natural History (the rear entrance is on Columbus). I probably would not rush to eat here again, as it was just 'fine' in my book. You do get to watch the Upper West Side walk by - lots of nannies, kids and kids in strollers. The kids were dressed to the nines with matching rain boots and umbrellas. Do visit the museum - that is a delightful treat.


Da Rosina: A First Glimpse of Restaurant Row

After our afternoon break, we strolled around a bit and then headed to dinner. I had been down 46th Street the night before and hawked a few restaurants, so Nikki and I decided they were worth a try. 46th Street is also known as Restaurant Row, which has quite a few restaurants, Italian, Brazilian, sushi, Tuscan steak and something called Bourbon Street that I would recommend staying away from. It looked very touristy and was super noisy. 46th Street reminds me of Little Italy in NYC and Little Italy in San Francisco, where restaurateurs greet you on the street to sell you on their particular locale. We approved of Da Rosina's menu and headed inside. I started with Mozzarella Caprese and Nikki had the Insalata Cesare. She was very pleased with her salad. The mozzarella was great, but the tomato was a little bland. For my entree, I ordered the Tortellini alla Panna (homemade tortellini filled with ricotta cheese in cream sauce), which was very good. I actually chose pesto sauce over the cream sauce, which ended up being a great choice. The pasta being homemade makes a big difference. Nikki ordered the Linguine alle Vongole (linguine with fresh clams in white sauce). She said it was a little watery and she prefers the clams diced in the pasta, rather than in the shell. She was not disappointed, but prefers her way of making it. Lastly, for dessert, I ordered the Chocolate Mousse cake and Nikki had the Tiramisu. Both desserts were excellent and homemade. We must have had four waiters after the host seated us. We noticed this in a few restaurants. A lot of help and service. Da Rosina was a very tightly run operation and everyone was exquisitely friendly and helpful. A good Italian meal in a nice atmosphere...there is not much better in regards to dining out. Da Rosina is located at 342 W. 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10036 serving lunch and dinner daily.


Algonquin Hotel: A Taste of Midtown Manhattan's Social Life circa 1902

Algonquin Hotel ExteriorSunday afternoon, we saw 33 Variations with Jane Fonda and Colin Hanks. Great play about a Dr. (**) (Fonda) who struggles to write her last monograph about Beethoven's thirty-three variations on **'s waltz while dealing with the unavoidable complications and demise of ALS. Hanks plays the love interest of Fonda's only daughter. I highly recommend this show. After the play, Nikki and I decided to have a drink and an afternoon snack at The Algonquin Hotel. Opened in 1902, The Algonquin became the social scene as 'New York’s social life was moving from downtown ballrooms to what has become today’s soaring Midtown'. Famous literary figures, cabaret singers and other celebrities and socialites have made this hotel historical. Nikki ordered a gin martini up with a twist, of course. She is against anything 'light' or faddish when it comes to drinks - no fruity drinks for this connoisseur. I ordered the black and white cake. It was smooth and creamy with just the right amount of everything. Their appetizer menu in the lobby lounge area also included lobster macaroni and cheese. I have made a note that I have to order that during my next visit. If we had not been planning on dinner soon, I surely would have jumped on it. Not that the cake was logical, but I had to have something there. It is a great place to sit, have a drink, snack and/or dinner and relax. The hotel is beautiful and in that old, classic way. I would like to stay there for a visit as well. The Algonquin is located at 59 W 44th Street, New York, NY 10036 and has two dining rooms, a bar and the lounge. The Oak Room Supper Club serves dinner and often has entertainment (Jazz Brunch on Sundays!). The Round Table serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Blue Bar offers bar fare and lots of drinks from 11:30am - 1am daily. Lastly, The Lounge, the restored Algonquin Lobby, with writing desks and Edwardian furniture in deep jewel tones, serves tea, coffee, cocktails and lighter fare from noon until 4pm and continues cocktails into the evening. Definitely visit The Algonquin Hotel during your next Manhattan visit.

Algonquin Hotel Sign

The Little Owl: A Favorite of the Village and Lou Reed

Exterior The LIttle Owl New York SOHO Restaurant
If you are looking for a wonderful meal in a quaint, non-touristy locale, visit The Little Owl in the Village. My mom had read an article on the Owl and decided it was our type of spot. After purchasing winning (we scored front row seats to 33 Variations with Jane Fonda and Colin Hanks the day of the play!), we hopped on the 1 train and headed from Midtown to the Village Sunday morning for brunch. Upon arrival, the small restaurant was full, but there was only a ten minute wait. The hostess said we could wait outside on the benches under the awnings or we could 'wait right up there'. She pointed to the corner of the restaurant to indicate 'up there' and it was a two-step waiting seat, almost like a balcony window but you climbed a three-step ladder to get up there and you were looking down at everyone eating! We had to have our photo taken up there because it was so funny. There were pillows and you could order drinks while you sat...'up there'. You could squeeze three to four people up there but two sat very comfortably. We ordered drinks and waited less than ten minutes and our table was ready. Seated by the window, we were able to watch the Villagers walk their dogs or take strolls on this semi-rainy Sunday. The rain does not slow down New Yorkers! I chose the Gravy Meatball Sliders, made with beef, pork, veal and pecorino, and the Asparagus endives and vinaigrette. Nikki* had the Poached Eggs fontina sausage buns, greens and Hollandaise and the Cheddar Grits. The sliders were absolutely wonderful, that melt in your mouth flavor. The asparagus was also splendid, the endives, potatoes and scallions gave the vegetable a taste twist I had not experienced previously. Nikki was very happy with her poached eggs and cheddar grits. The atmosphere was very enjoyable and apparently, Lou Reed dines there from time to time. Another bonus! My only complaint (and I should have known or asked) was the price of soft drinks...$4 and they did charge you for refills. It is soda and just a little ridiculous. I should have ordered a shot for that price. I would have certainly had more bang for my buck. While in Norfolk, I would boycott a restaurant that charged this for a soda (I NEED a diet Coke in the morning!), it is New York and my leniency is greater. I highly recommend The Little Owl. Try to sit in the waiting area 'up there' - it is a great way to see what everyone else is eating and it might help you choose your meal. I eyed the sliders from 'up there' and knew right then that those would be my selection. Hoot-hoot over to The Little Owl.


The Little Owl is located in the Village at 90 Bedford Street, New York, NY 10014 and serves lunch and dinner during the week and brunch and dinner on the weekends. View their menus at

Cercle Rouge: Tribeca and a French Brasserie

Cercle Rouge Logo
Upon arrival New York on Saturday, Nikki*, my mom, and I jumped into planning mode. We decided a ride on the Staten Island Ferry followed by a nice lunch at The Little Owl was our plan before we had to head to God of Carnage with James Gandolfini and Jeff Daniels that evening. We made it over to Staten Island and back, passing Lady Liberty and admiring the Manhattan skyline (you will be able to climb up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty beginning July 4th - mark your calendars). Departing the ferry, we found ourselves in a Romanian festival outside the Customs House in the Financial District. What fun - there were many vendors showcasing kabobs, corn cakes, falafel and other amazing choices, clothing, jewelry and other items. Of course, I had to stop and check everything out, so that delayed us a bit and we also saw a church from the ferry and wondered if it was the church that became such a moving focal point right after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. This was not that church, but after walking a few short blocks we did come to St. Paul's Chapel (see St. Paul's Chapel entry below). After our time at St. Paul's, Nikki and I stopped in an Irish pub around the corner to take a breather (aka beer break) and decide what our next move was. We had missed brunch at The Little Owl, but we knew we had spent our time more wisely. After a beer or two, we set off towards Tribeca in hopes we would find a restaurant on the fly that was to our liking. We passed a few that looked good, but nothing that made us want to run in and order. Finally, we spotted Cercle Rouge, a lovely French bistro. Since we love bistros, we knew this was the place. It was absolutely charming inside and while it was hard to decide at first, we both settle on the burger and pommes frites. I must admit that we spied burgers at another table and decided that we each HAD to have one (we did a lot of food-hawking on this trip). Furthermore, it was around 4pm and we had not eaten all day, so we needed something fulfilling. The burgers looked scrumptious! We both settle don Gruyere cheese, so I can only review one plate, but trust me, it was worth it. We also had a side of the creamed spinach which was made with a very light cream and a lot of garlic - very, very good. Service was very good - everyone was the opposite of pushy, which is a nice change from some restaurants that want to throw you out the second your food hits the table. Full and happy, we relaxed a moment before heading back to Midtown. I highly recommend Cercle Rouge but maybe not if you are in a rush. I think this is a relaxed staff and your meal might take a bit, but remember, good things come to those who wait! I was on vacation, so my usual impatient nature was on the back burner.

Located in Tribeca, Cercle Rouge services lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and brunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday.


Unlike me, my friend Alex does not look for child friendly places to dine. In fact, she probably prefers places that ARE NOT. However, when researching this restaurant my attention was peaked when I noted that Brunch is held on both Saturday and Sunday. In addition, it is accompanied by a magic show with balloon giveaways for kids. I can only assume that Alex overlooked this feature...


Saint Paul's Church: Unwavering Spirit

Saint Paul's Church, Norfolk, Virginia
While this is not a restaurant review, I must take a few moments to mention St. Paul's Chapel. Entering the graveyard, you see tombstones so old that the engraving is no longer legible. The church yard and the church itself are beautiful. Built in 1766, St. Paul's is Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use and the home to an extraordinary eight-month volunteer relief effort after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Nikki and I spent some time going through the church and I cannot describe what comes over you upon entering the church. Unwavering Spirit, a new interactive exhibit, honors that ministry and its legacy of love and compassion. This exhibit shows the strength, courage and enormous outreach that those rescue workers and volunteers put forth September 11, 2001 and the days, weeks, months and years following. If you visit New York, I encourage you to visit St. Paul's Chapel.