Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bits and Morsels

Crispy fish tacos at Diablo Royale.

by Erin Frankel

Diablo Royale is one of my all-time favorite neighborhood Mexican joints. The space is small and cozy, and the vibe is always upbeat. The drinks are ambitious and the food is reliable thanks to a contemporary spin on traditional Mexican cuisine. I frequent the West Village location at least once a week. My admiration for Diablo inspired me to also try Diablo Royale’s newest sister restaurant on the East Side in the same week, Diablo Royale Este, a much larger, even livelier version of the original.

You must start with Diablo’s deliciously fresh and creamy guacamole garnished with crumbled queso fresco and plenty of onion and cilantro. It can be ordered mild, medium or hot. We went for the medium which we attacked with the hot, fresh corn tortilla chips that Diablo concocts in house.

Clockwise from above: Tequila gimlet; The Cactus, a fresh Raspberry Margarita with Jalpeno Infused Sauza Blanco Tequila; Shots of patron.
I can never resist a few rounds of their unique, high-end tequila cocktails. I typically go for my standard Tequila Gimlet, but this time around I tried a new favorite, The Cactus; a fresh raspberry margarita with jalapeno infused Sauza Blanco Tequila.

Diablo Royale serves a selection of appetizers and entrees that are worth trying, but anyone who has ever been to either location knows the real reason to go to Diablo Royale is for the tacos. The taco selection is impressive. I’ve tried every one on the menu — both the staples and the nightly specials — and each and every one is uniquely fresh, flavorful, and spicy. The tacos run the gamut from Chicken to Chorizo to Pork to all different grilled and fried fish varieties to some specials like the falafel tacos, lamb tacos, and even most recently, the delicious fried chicken tacos.

However, I tend to get the same combination each time: the sautéed white shrimp prepared with oven roasted tomatoes and chipotle salsa; the lime marinated tilapia topped with slices of fresh avocado, and flavored with pico de gallo and Serrano crema; and my favorite — the crispy tempura battered tilapia served with guacamole and spicy cabbage slaw, which adds just enough spice to kick the fish’s flavor up another notch.

Diablo Royale is definitely not for the vegetarian, the diet conscious or the more formal diner seeking a quiet refuge, but if you are looking for a fun, raucous crowd and flavorful, spicy Mexican cuisine, flock to one of the Diablo locales.
Fried chicken and grilled steak tacos. Crispy fish, fried chicken, and grilled fish tacos.
Shrimp Tacos.
Diablo Royale
189 W 10th St
Brunch at The Mussel Pot. With the weather getting warmer, we’ve got one thing on our mind: Seafood. And because almost anything is better in brunch form, and al fresco, why not shellfish for breakfast? I’ve had my fair share of creative renditions of breakfast (pizza, tacos, pasta) but never shellfish ... and a big bowl of mussels at that.

The Mussel Pot is an enclave of serenity hidden on a crowded, busy street in Greenwich Village. The moment you walk in, you immediately feel a sense of calm.
Clockwise from top left: Front view; Mussel Pot Bellini; The dining area.
The sleek, minimalist dining room leads you through large open doors into a beautiful zen garden where you are seated around a cascading rock waterfall, greenery and a koi fish pond (a first for me in New York).

The extensive brunch menu is filled with sophisticated and unique varieties of shellfish integrated into standard brunch fare.
The garden view at Mussel Pot.
The signature highlight that always beckons is the Lobster Omelette with fresh black truffles and pancetta, sprinkled with a cheese fondue. The lightness of the lobster meat is beautifully balanced by the mixture of cheeses, ultimately creating a rather unique flavor for the egg dish.

We also ordered the Mussel Fra Diavolo, one of several creative concoctions of mussel dishes (the chef offers over two dozen different types of sauces) on the menu. The spicy Fra Diavolo sauce added the perfect kick to the hot, juicy mussels for an early morning shellfish fest. Wash all of it down with the raspberry-infused bellini.
Lobster omelette.
Mussel Fra Diavolo.
The Mussel Pot
174 Bleecker St., nr. Sullivan St.
There are plenty of sports bars in New York City but the great ones that serve quality food are few and far between. The Windsor, a neighborhood restaurant bar with a strong emphasis on good food and mixology, is definitely number one on my list.

Typically I am at the Windsor on a weekend afternoon with friends (most recently watching The Masters) or early on a weeknight watching a Knicks game with many of my fellow high school acquaintances who all come to the Windsor for the same reason: It is truly a second home for those born and bred New Yorkers who have now moved downtown but want to keep their Upper East Side friends close by. On any given day and night, you will walk into the casual yet upscale restaurant/bar and find at least two people you know from high school.
The bar at The Windsor.
The ambience is cozy, quaint and sophisticated. From the outside, the bar is fashioned to look like an exclusive West Village restaurant set underneath a charming townhouse on the corner of West 4th and West 10th street. This is not your typical sports bar. The small white French windows open to a rather preppy crowd of bankers (most of whom are transplants from the Upper East Side) and a lot of well-dressed girls sitting in booths against pin-stripped walls.

Truffle grilled cheese.
There isn’t much fist-pumping or Guinness guzzling. The crowd is more mature, sedated and chooses martinis and cashmere sweaters over bud lights and jerseys. If you come for Happy, drafts are a mere $5 and unique cocktail varieties, like Sloney Poney and the Pornstar Martini, are only $7.

I always come to The Windsor for the amazing pub grub. The Windsor has, by far, the highest quality and most upscale bar food in New York City. Practically everything on the menu is amazing — including the Caesar salad, the warm goat cheese beet salad, and the Chicken Paillard for those attempting a healthier diet.

But for those taking advantage of The Windsor’s refined, polished take on hearty grub, best sellers include the lobster BLT, the mac & cheese with truffles, the truffle grilled cheese, and my all-time favorite, the organic turkey burger with truffle aioli, melted gruyere cheese, and sweet potato fries.

Even when there isn’t a sporting event on television, the New York City born and bred owners welcome you in for some cocktails, snacks, and casual fun all set against some nice rock and roll tunes.
Organic turkey burger with truffle aioli, melted gruyere cheese, and sweet potato fries.
The Windsor
234 W 4th St
(between 10th St & Charles St)
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