Tag Archives: midtown

Dos Caminos

Sometimes, chain restaurants can be terrible (eg. Olive Garden, Golden Corral).  Sometimes, chain restaurants can be satisfying and comforting (eg. McDonald’s, Cracker Barrel).  And then, once in a blue moon, a chain can be delicious – somewhere that you actually want to go to.  In comes Dos Caminos.  Part of B.R. Guest Restaurants, Dos Caminos is an upscale, gourmet Mexican/Southwestern restaurant with 3 locations in New York and 1 in Las Vegas.  I have been to two of the New York locations – Park and Third Avenue – and though the design and atmosphere is very different at each of these locations, the quality of the food and the diversity of menu items and prices is superb.

I was first taken to Dos Caminos Park almost 2.5 years ago, long before I lived in New York, and I was instantly in love.  I thought to myself “Gosh, if all restaurants in New York are like this, then I’ve GOT to move here!”  The restaurant was packed, all of the guests were young and attractive, the decor and dim lighting was sexy and urban, and the menu was interesting and unique (both for food and cocktails).  My favorite part about that night was the table-side guacamole preparation and the daily margarita special – a passionfruit margarita served on the rocks.  I went to Dos Caminos Park two or three more times over the course of that year, and it was consistently delicious; furthermore, the menu kept changing and there were always inventive daily specials (to this day, I think about a side of souped-up creamed corn they served alongside one of their specials).

The following year, I also spent quite a bit of time in New York, and I decided that I would branch out to other restaurants that were like Dos Caminos so that I could see if it was really “all that” in the world of “high concept Mexican” (to borrow a term from NYMag).  I ate at Rosa Mexicano.  I had dinner and brunch at Agave.  Rosa Mexicano had some great desserts; Agave had terrific margaritas – but, alas, the overall experience at either restaurant couldn’t out-do Dos Caminos.  So I kept going back for more.

However, I noticed that some things started to change at Dos Caminos.  The restaurants seemed a lot less sexy and a lot more B&T (for those of you who don’t recognize that term, check out Urban Dictionary).  There were a lot of bachelorette parties and groups from work.  The guacamole wasn’t prepared tableside anymore.  There weren’t daily food or margarita specials.  Nonetheless, the food was still tasty.

Their guacamole is by far my favorite guacamole ever.  Now – I’ve been to Houston, San Antonio, and other cities in the southwest plenty of times, and I’ve eaten a lot of guacamole in my life – and this really is my favorite.  It’s super fresh, the avocados are still chunky (I HATE when people blend them into a mush), there are plenty of pieces of tomato, onion, and cilantro, and they allow you to choose how mild or spicy you’d like it.  Now, admittedly, this stuff is expensive – $12 for 2 people and $22 for 4 (don’t believe them when they say it can feed 4-6, because it definitely will not).  But you know it’s worth it when you have never ordered it and not had it completely disappear in under 15 minutes.

I’m also a huge fan of their Mexico City Street Corn (as you may remember from my review of The Redhead).  It’s the perfect size for one (about half a corn cob), it has tons of flavor, and the toppings of mayo, lime, chile, and cotija cheese perfectly replicate what I know Mexican street corn to be.  I get it pretty much every time I go, and it’s always the first thing gone from my plate.

I’m also a huge fan of the ribeye steak alambre.  If you like steak, this piece of meat is very good – very well seasoned, cooked to perfection, and served with plenty of flavor-boosting additions such as applewood smoked bacon and chimichurri sauce.  What’s best about this dish, however, is the arroz con crema.  I love risotto, and to me, this rice side is the perfect Mexican interpretation of risotto.  It’s very creamy and cheesy without coming across like it’s from a box.

Other consistently enjoyable dishes are their Tacos en Cazuela.  I’ve had the Chicken Tinga and the Lamb Barbacoa.  Of the two, the lamb is far superior.  The chicken was good, but the lamb was succulent and spicy, whereas the chicken was a little dry and a little bland – I had to add salsa to the chicken, whereas the lamb was great as a stand alone item (which reminds me, their chipotle salsa is delicious, though their salsa verde and their habanero salsas I could do without).

Now that I live in New York, I’ve been to Dos Caminos twice – once with my family and once with a group of friends from work.  The restaurant is still very good, but it has lost a lot of the excitement and pizzazz it had a few years ago.  Service is so-so, the menu is pretty constant, the food is good but teetering toward the hit-or-miss side, and the restaurant tends to be pretty empty on a lot of nights (including during Restaurant Week).

Am I ready to write Dos Caminos off?  No.  But I don’t feel the way about it that I used to.  It’s still very good, especially for a chain, and it’s a great spot for groups – but check out recent reviews like this one and those on Yelp instead of trusting reviews that are outdated before you make a decisions about dining there – because it has definitely changed since opening.  However, I still think that it’s a restaurant in NYC that everyone should try – and I think it’ll be better reviewed by people who don’t have such a long history with it and thus no point of comparison.

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Filed under Brunch, Dinner, Drinks, Lunch

Fig & Olive

On Thursday, I had a startling revelation:  I hadn’t been to Restaurant Week yet!  With nearly 300 New York restaurants participating, it would have been absurd of me – the avid food lover – not to at least try one Restaurant Week menu.  So, I decided to search for restaurants within a comfortable walking distance of Grand Central.  The list was long, and the decision as to where to go was hard, but I ultimately chose Fig & Olive’s Fifth Avenue location.  The idea of fresh, Mediterranean foods accented with artisanal olive oil was very appealing to me, as it sounded like a good match for the season.  I had also heard that it was a pretty lively spot with lots of young, attractive patrons.

When I called to make a reservation, the hostess coldly informed me that I could not make a reservation for one person (yes, I decided to go it alone on this one) and that I would have to come to the restaurant and hope for a seat at the bar.  I was not impressed with her attitude or her seeming prejudice toward single people, but I decided to try the restaurant anyway because it just seems like one of those places you should go to at least once in New York.

When I arrived at 7:30, the place was absolutely packed.  There was a line of about 8-10 people just waiting to speak to the host about being seated at their table.  I was immediately uncomfortable.  People were packed in like sardines, the A/C didn’t seem to be working, and the entire restaurant smelled of mushrooms and body odor.  I also quickly realized that the crowd here wasn’t what I expected – there were a lot of thirty-somethings (and older) having drinks at the bar or dining with large groups of friends and/or co-workers.  The bar looked like a meat market – women were perched on bar stools surrounded by overweight, middle-aged men who were buying them martinis.  I almost felt like I was watching an episode of Sex and the City, but with less cute clothing.  I also utilized the time spent waiting in line to survey the decor.  I thought the design and color palate were very nice – lots of modern, simple lines, neutral tones, and mood lighting.  It had a minimalist feel which complemented the minimalist name of the restaurant and its supposedly clean, fresh, Mediterranean menu.

Finally, I made my way up to the host.  He ignored me for a few seconds, but then asked impatiently what he could do for me.  I informed him that I did not have reservations since they wouldn’t allow me to make them (he said something along the lines of, “Well yes, we don’t take reservations for parties of one) but that I’d like to eat dinner – even if that meant at the bar.  He sighed and asked the woman next to him if she could place me at the “Communal Table.”  She briskly escorted me to the high top, 8-person table and left me with the regular menu and the Restaurant Week menu.

Because I had gone to Fig & Olive with the goal of taking advantage of Restaurant Week, I decided to ignore the regular menu and focus on the Restaurant Week selection.  Ultimately, I picked the Steak Tartar, the Shrimp and Scallops Paella, and Dessert Crostini.  Very shortly after being seated, the waitress appeared at my side with Fig & Olive’s signature bread and olive oil flight.  The idea behind this is very cool – they give you 3 different types of olive oil from around the world (I had one from Greece, one from Chili, and a third from a country whose name I didn’t catch).  However, at least on this particular night, the execution was poor.  The bread was completely flavorless and it had a very dry crumb.  Granted, I do understand that the olive oil is supposed to be the star here, but the bread doesn’t need to be this underwhelming in order for the olive oil to shine.  Furthermore, the waitress was so frenzied – literally, she was running from table to table – that she spent about 10 seconds explaining the olive oils to me.  I would have actually liked more of a lesson on olive oil – and maybe I would have gotten that on a less busy night.  The olive oils themselves were very enjoyable.  One was very clean, bright, and green in color, another was warm, buttery, and golden, and the third was lighter, paler, and had a spicy kick at the end.

The waitress immediately scampered away after dropping off the bread, but she came back relatively quickly to take my order.  I gave her my appetizer and main course selections, and within no more than 3 minutes of placing the order, my Steak Tartar arrived.  This bothered me immensely.  Steak tartar is raw meat.  It should be prepared to order so that it’s fresh – it shouldn’t be made in advance and let to sit out and potentially spoil.  Putting my minor anxiety aside, I took a moment to survey the plate, and I felt that the presentation was nice.  Two pieces of olive oil toast were stacked asymmetrically on one side of the rectangular plate.  In the center of the plate were capers, a smear of mayonnaise, and shallots.  Finally, on the right side of the plate, the formed mound of steak tartar was arranged with a fig placed on top of it.  The steak itself, however, looked absolutely awful.  First, I’ve never had steak tartar prepared using mayonnaise as a binding agent – and I would have thought that a restaurant that focuses so heavily on olive oil might have just tossed the steak in olive oil and seasoning for a cleaner look and taste.  The mayonnaise gave the dish a dirty, brownish grey hue.  To make matters worse, because the meat wasn’t freshly chopped, it had begun to turn brown as it was exposed to the air.  Despite the off-putting appearance and my concerns about the health risks of eating pre-prepared raw meat, I dug in.  And it was absolutely awful.  The bread, though it appeared to be toasted, was actually cold and stale.  And the tartar, oh dear, where to begin.  First, for Restaurant Week, they decided to grind the meat instead of chopping it – so the finely ground, almost shredded meat + tons of mayonnaise + an overwhelming amount of capers and onions meant that, not only was the flavor of the steak nonexistent, but also, I felt as though I was eating a tuna salad.  The capers and mayonnaise were so strong in this dish – flavors that I typically associate with tuna salad – that I wanted to go back to the kitchen and search for the can of  Chicken of the Sea that they used to prepare this.

Within about 5 minutes of the waitress clearing away my appetizer, the paella arrived.  Again, probably not made to order.  The presentation was very average and the serving was small, but the taste of the dish was the biggest problem.  The shrimp and scallops were served atop, not mixed in with, saffron rice, eggplant tapenade, bell pepper, tomato, and garlic.  First, there were only 2 medium-sized shrimp and 2 large scallops – very stingy.  Though I will say that the scallops were seared perfectly.  Second, the rice itself was not fully cooked – many pieces were still a bit crunchy.  Additionally, there was not nearly enough of the fresh flavors of the eggplant and tomatoes (they came across as an afterthought), whereas there was so much bell pepper and onion that those flavors completely overwhelmed the dish.  In fact, the onion had been roughly butchered into such large pieces that some were not even cooked all the way through and still had a mildly opaque, white appearance.

After taking away the paella, the waitress came back to take my dessert order.  Now, I was really excited about this dessert.  Described as a “crostini,” it was actually a shortbread cookie topped with mascarpone cheese, strawberry, and aged balsamic vinegar.  Sounds super, right?  Again, a big let down.  The dessert came out within a minute or two of placing my order – even faster than the appetizer had arrived – and it was immediately apparent that it had been prepared hours in advance.  The cookie was ice cold (though I enjoyed its sweet and salty flavor and the texture of the turbinado sugar on top of it), the mascarpone cheese was hard and haphazardly smeared on the cookie, and the strawberries were very small.  Moreover, they had clearly been sitting atop the cheese for a long time, as the cheese was stained red.  The presentation was very poor on this dish.  The three “crostinis” sat on a bed of what looked like clovers and, again, because they had been sitting in a refrigerator for so long, the greens were stuck to the cookies and had to be pulled off in order to eat the dessert.  Did anyone notice that I didn’t mention the balsamic vinegar?  That’s because there was pretty much none.  I saw a trace of it in a crevice between two tiny strawberries, but there was not a hint of a balsamic flavor in this dessert.

$38 later, I felt full but unhappy (yes, I did eat most of my dinner to avoid having to buy a second one).  I hope for the sake of Fig & Olive that the harried service, the lackluster presentation, and the horrible flavors were a result of Restaurant Week – but even then, that does not excuse my dining experience.  I will not go back to Fig & Olive, even if I were to hear that its food and service is better outside of Restaurant Week, because I think they should be using these 2 weeks to attract new customers, not treat them like dirt because they’re buying a $35 prix fixe dinner.

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Filed under Dinner