Although we tend to frequent the same quarters of this town, we certainly always make our rounds and are extremely grateful for the variety that lies before us. In more recent days, we’ve spent some time strolling, shopping, and dining on the Upper East Side. There is so much this fine neighborhood has to offer.
Once home to some iconic figures, such as the Rockefellers, Roosevelts, and Kennedys, the Upper East Side is now the residence of some of the best art, shopping, and culture on Earth. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney all grace New York with their decadent collections. Endless galleries, illustrious boutiques, and luxury hotels line the streets. Among shopping and culture, some of the finest dining in the world resides on the Upper East Side. Michelin-starred restaurants live in every corner of this swanky ‘hood.
Michelin-starred French restaurant, Rouge Tomate, has been on our agenda for quite some time. As Rouge Tomate just so happens to hold a permanent spot on New York’s Restaurant Week list, we felt it would be the perfect locale to visit during this infamous time period. We’ve learned from past (not-so-great) experiences that while one would imagine that Restaurant Week is a time when restaurants try to “wow” their patrons, sometimes we have found quite the contrary. We have often felt that the Restaurant Week output can be a mediocre front of what otherwise great restaurants can really do. It’s surprising, as one would think that restaurants would want to display their finest dishes in hopes of attracting new clientele; however, from our experience, we have chosen not to return to certain restaurants because of what they have delivered (or, haven’t…) during RW.
We made a decision to attend the best of the best for Restaurant Week… Michelin starred restaurants and those that have been consistent with reviews, regardless of the occasion, topped our list. With one Michelin Star, we expected Rouge Tomate to put its best foot forward, and it surely delivered. A fabulous multi-course dinner on the UES!
Just a few short days later, A headed back uptown in search of some window shopping, a stop into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and of course, a few yummy snacks. While exploring the streets, A and her sis L, stumbled upon Sant Ambroeus after a long day of viewing ancient artifacts. They were allured by the window seats, pastry-lined counters and overwhelming aromas of rich cappuccinos… a perfect spot to finish the night. Daintily devouring pastries, gelato and perfectly crafted coffees, this Italian escape is a gem on Madison Avenue.
With the UES as a recent reoccurring theme, it was fresh-on-our-mind when A+L decided or an impromptu dinner. On a Friday night, 2nd Avenue is packed with sidewalk diners at candlelit cafes and restaurants sipping on wine and having great conversation. With so many alluring choices, it was hard to decide! The massive, wooden front door of Bocca East attracted our attention, and the cozy, rustic Italian decor invited us in. We enjoyed a truly authentic meal served by an energetic waiter from Napoli. It really transported us back to a favorite dinner we shared in Siena, Italy inside an ancient Etruscan ruin. The atmosphere, wine and meal were one for the books! A+L are officially hooked.
K+M have been finding themselves roaming these parts more often since it is only a hop, skip, and a jump from Sunnyside. We have found the Upper East Side to be an unwavering source for brunch spots, wine bars, and shopping. We depend on the UES for everything from groceries at Fairway to an emergency outfit from DKNY.
Although sometimes it can be difficult to sift through a bit of the pretentiousness that inevitably exists, there is an incredible amount of authenticity, genuine charm, and fun to be had on the Upper East Side. It does exist here and throughout NYC. We have sought out the best the Upper East Side has to offer… and this is only the beginning.
Pastries and Coffee (A+1)
www.SantAmbroeus.com Pastries/ Gelato/ Italian, Coffee/ Cocktails, Manhattan
If there is one thing that we can never get enough of, its that feeling of being transported back to a vacation in Europe… sipping an expertly made espresso crafted from a massive silver machine, with a floater of light and fluffy frothed milk. Is it really weird that European cafe culture haunts our dreams? If you ask any one of us separately what the first thing you need to do when stepping off a plane in Western Europe and the answers will all be same… have a coffee… step up to the counter at the coffee bar and sip that liquid gold while chatting about the weather… and maybe noshing on a buttery pastry or croissant. We found our ‘teleport’ on Madison Avenue (with additional locations in the West Village and Southampton).
Named for the patron saint of Milan, Sant’Ambrogio, born in 334 A.D., the restaurant is a homage to the Milanese people who often call themselves ‘Ambrosiani’. Located just a couple of blocks off of Museum Mile, we stopped into the Italian eatery, pasticceria and gelaterria, in search of something sweet. The elegant candlelight through the windows attracted us first, and upon entering, we excited set eyes on the stand up coffee counter complete with professional machine (as it should be!), located across from a massive glass display housing an assortment of pastries and homemade gelato! We ordered up espressos, cappuccinos, and many scoops of creamy gelato. The Lemon Tart was decadent and delicious and are only regret was not ordering more! Although pricey (desserts and gelatos are $10.50 each), the taste treats were to die for. Next time, the Gianduia (hazelnut sponge, hazelnut wafer, giandula mousse, hazelnut cream layers) and the Sfogliatine di Pesche (puff dough, almond cream, pastry cream, peaches) are at the top of our list of calories to consume. Scoop up one of the quaint window seats and watch Madison Avenue stroll by flaunting their giant shopping bags tagged with luxury labels, and enjoy every decadent bite.
Sticking close to their Milanese roots, where Sant Ambroeus first opened in 1936, the afternoon tea menu includes fresh paninis, salads and light fare, like their menu in Italy. When the lights go down, dine in their romantic back room and order your three traditional Italian courses… Antipasti (Polipo grigliato su Caponatina, Tartare di Tonno, Insalata di Nettuno), Primi (Tagliatelle in a veal ragout, Classic milanese saffron risotto, Ravioli with beets, ricotta and seasonal vegetables), and Secondi (Rack of lamb, Veal loin, Braised baby pork shank). The options are diverse and innovative and reminiscent of your trip across the pond.
What we ate…
- Espresso (A)
- Cappuccino (+1)
- Vanilla Homemade Gelato (A+1)
- Lemon Tart (Lemon Creme and Shortbread Crust) (A+1)
A: An expertly prepared coffee and perfectly created sweets. I heart Madison Avenue.
Our Rating Scales…
- Scene- Coffee, snacks and desserts… authentic Italian.
- Food/Drinks- 3.5: Pleasantly stellar
- Tip Worthy- 3: Gratuity included
- Coordinates- 4: Neighborhood- Centrally located
- Restaurant Return Rate- Green light
Modern American Cuisine, Wine & Cocktails, Manhattan
Situated between bustling Central Park South and swanky Madison Avenue is the Michelin-starred restaurant, Rouge Tomate. Featuring modern American cuisine with a twist, Rouge Tomate boasts local and seasonal fare with the highest nutritional value. The evolving seasonal menu is collaboratively prepared by chefs and knowledgeable dieticians with the goal of maintaining the nutritional integrity of the food. They follow an approach known as S.P.E., which, in Latin, stands for: “Sanitas Per Escam,” meaning Health through Food. From the zen-inspired space to the freshness and quality of the meal, Rouge Tomate aims to bring environmental sensitivity to every meal while satisfying patrons with their high-caliber service and cuisine.
As we love to participate in Restaurant Week to sample new spots on our short list, we decided Rouge Tomate was a must. It was on the agenda for far too long, and as it is a consistent Restaurant Week participant, we planned ahead and made our reservation, knowing well this notable establishment would put their best foot forward.
2+2 united on the streets of the Upper East Side. We entered the two-story interior and were truly “wowed” but the beautiful ambiance. We were greeted with smiles and quickly taken to our “cubicle” that overlooked the entire restaurant, including the subterranean level with illuminated pools. It was truly the best seat in the house!
We began with a round of cocktails before participating in the wine-pairing with our 3-course meal. Like the food menu, the beverage list is filled with cocktails featuring seasonal fresh juices and accoutrements, as well as biodynamic and local estate wines.
Before choosing our courses, we sampled some of the tasty seasonal toasts. While both selections were quite delectable, we highly preferred the Wild Mushroom with the delicious fresh Cow’s Milk Ricotta with touches of leek and thyme. Impressed with our preview, our palettes were excited for the coming dishes. Immediately following, we savored the amuse-bouche, a fresh squash soup with pumpkin seed, pumpkin oil, and chives. It certainly whet our appetites even more and we were thoroughly excited for the main event!
While the 3 of us started off with the Parsnip Soup, L took his usual route on the road less traveled and selected the Arctic Char Crudo. Our soup was outrageously delicious, but of course we had to try out L’s appetizer. Thank goodness for sharing! As for our entrée, we each got something a little different (well, the boys both went with the pasta) so the sharing could continue and we could truly get an overview of all that Rouge Tomate had to offer. A was thoroughly impressed with her chicken… the flavors were fresh and pronounced. It’s hard to find a chicken dish that makes a statement, and the Moroccan-inspired flavors surely did the trick. K savored every bite of her Hake. Plated with various consistencies from the herb crust to the bed of caramelized onions and puréed turnips, each bite was better than the next. While the girls were fully enjoying their selections, the boys were a bit hesitant.
While A+K were boasting about the freshness of their meals, the boys felt a bit of the opposite. When we sampled their Spaghetti alla Chitarra with chunks of lobster and sea urchin, we all agreed that there was a strong fishiness that is uncharacteristic of fresh seafood. We tried to chalk it up to the idea that this was a product of the mass produced Restaurant Week menu, and with all of the other options being so flavorful and fresh, we decided it wasn’t a true representation of Rouge Tomate’s best.
Ending with some unbelievable desserts helped our palettes remember the finest ingredients that Rouge Tomate strives to put forth. We ordered two of the flourless chocolate cake and two of the passionfruit pudding to share among the four of us and to top off our experience. The components were creative, crisp, and interesting….the sour cherry, hazelnut, and aleppo pepper brought out the richness of the chocolate. The passion fruit pudding was complemented by other tropical goodies like pineapple, mango, coconut, and cilantro. Yum!
Overall, we were impressed with our evening at Rouge Tomate. The service was more than hospitable. The ambiance was all-emcompassing. So many of our dishes were unique, fresh, and flavorful. Our cocktails were inventive and the wine selections creative. We certainly want to make a second visit to sample the full menu. The current menu has many new seasonal selections that sound simply wonderful.
In addition, Rouge Tomate has a food cart in the park, located on 64th and 5th Avenue. They serve up fresh sandwiches, burgers, soups, and homemade ice cream. They also offer a great “Lunch Box” option for $11, which includes a sandwich, soup, and a drink. It’s a steal! Such great snacks to take into Central Park and picnic! We can’t wait to get over there!
What we ate…
- The Ruby Red [Resposado tequila, Ruby Red Grapefruit, luxardo bitters, sage, club soda] (A)
- Lambrusco [2011 IGT Lambrusco Rosso Emilia, Lini 910] (K)
- The Jasmine [House-made jasmine infused gin, apple juice, lemon juice, fresh muddled jalapeño] (L +M)
- Wine Pairing (2+2)
- Chef’s Selection of Seasonal Toasts (2 + 2)
- Parsnip Soup [Apple, Hazelnut, Prosciutto, Chive Olive Oil] (A+K+M)
- Arctic Char Crudo [HorseradishYogurt, Trout Roe, Dill, Pumpernickel] (L)
- Amish Country Chicken [Fregola, Moroccan Spices, Medjool Date, Apple, Marcona Almond, Beldi Olive] (A)
- Herb Crusted Atlantic Hake [Caramelized Onion, Baby Turnip, Yogurt Gribiche, Red Cabbage-RieslingVinaigrette] (K)
- Spaghetti alla Chitarra [Maine Lobster, Preserved Jersey Tomato, Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Basil] (L + M)
- Flourless Chocolate Cake [Banana, Sour Cherry, Hazelnut, Aleppo Pepper] (2+2)
- Passion Fruit Pudding [Pineapple, Mango, Coconut, Cilantro] (2+2)
A: I loved the variety of flavors offered on the tasting menu! From Parsnip soup to a Moroccan inspired chicken… everything was delicious! Plus the service was top notch. We adored our table overlooking the restaurant from our perfect birds-eye vantage point.
K: I love the mission and philosophy of Rouge Tomate. I’d love to try their newest menu items. The cocktails were super creative and the new menu has some tasty looking selections. I’ll surely be trying out the Cart in the Park!
L: Some of the best service we have had in a while. The food was very good even though some of the dishes slightly missed the mark. I would love to go back just to hang at the bar.
M : Enjoyed the drinks and loved the small plates. Would like to go back and try some of the other dishes on the menu soon.
Our Rating Scales…
- Scene- Chic, lively restaurant meets zen-inspired oasis.
- Food/Drinks- 3.5: Pleasantly Stellar.
- Tip Worthy- 4: Double the tax and then some!
- Coordinates- 4: Neighborhood – Centrally located.
- Restaurant Return Rate- Green! We must sample the new seasonal selections!
Dinner (A+L)www.BoccaDiBaccoEast.com Contemporary Italian, Wine, Manhattan
Simply put, Bocca East is Italian food that you want to eat. Taking cues from traditional Italian dishes and flavors, the restaurant is pushing the envelope on contemporary Italian. Residing on the corner of a very busy 77th street and 2nd avenue and with a huge oak door at the entrance, Bocca East is hard to miss. Inside the design is clean but rustic Italian. From the brick walls and the wood floor to the natural wood tables and chairs. That is of course until you peak over to the bar and view the massive stainless steel wine refrigeration unit along the wall. Able to preserve wine for up to 90 days, Bocca offers 40 different types of wine daily from its fancy wine dispensing system, with a total selection of up to 500 bottles from Italy.
Our waiter, a native from Napoli was very polite and suggested some of his favorite menu items and wines. After a quick glance at the menu we noticed something was missing. What you won’t find are over sauced, over cheesed, over cooked, heavy dishes that you grew up with. Not that there is anything wrong with that. We love the traditional Southern Italian/New York style food. Who doesn’t love a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs?
But I digress… What you will get are clean flavors and elements that support the main ingredient, not drown it out. Take the Carciofi Croccanti Con Aglio Al Basilico (crispy artichokes with basil aioli). These little bites of goodness are perfectly fried, salted and dusted in parmigiano. We almost ordered another round. The only way to follow up a light appetizer was with a sizeable portion of slow roasted pork shoulder. Pull apart tender and large enough for two. A lot of care went into preparing the pork and it came through bite after bite.
We finished up recounting our time in Italy. It has certainly been a long time since we ate Italian food in NYC that made us feel like we were back in Rome or the Amalfi Coast.
- Chianti Classico (A+L)
- Carciofi Croccanti Con Aglio Al Basilico [Crispy artichokes with basil aioli] (A+L)
- Pici Vongole Veraci e Bottarga [Home made Water & Organic Flour Thick Spaghetti Garlic, Olive Oil, Crushed Red Pepper, Manila Clams, Bottarga] (A+L)
- Roasted Pork Shoulder Special (A+L)
A: Wow! Loved this place! So cozy and warm. The type of place you’d like to sit all day and drink bottles of chianti! The food was a welcome surprise. Sometimes I forget that I actually love REAL Italian food… so many restaurants try to pass off sloppy lasagna and chicken parm as Italian and it forces me to ward off any place with a red sauce on the menu. Bocca East is like a portal to Italy!
Our Rating Scales…
- Scene- Warm, Young and Vibrant. Rome Meets the Upper East Side
- Food/Drinks- 3.75: Nearly Stellar
- Tip Worthy- 4: Double the Tax and Then Some
- Coordinates- 5: Block – Fun is Right Next Door
- Restaurant Return Rate- Green! There are another 499 wines to try!