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Holiday Survival Guide: Best New Bars of 2013

December 15th, 2013 No Comments

Mary Rambin Drinking a Beer

When I go home over the holidays, I like to try the new hot spots all of my friends have been raving about. Thrillist just posted this list that includes bars from all over the country.  They rarely lead me astray, so if you see your city, give their rec a shot!

Click here to read the full article with descriptions of each place.



    What you’re getting: A Jester King seasonal
    What you’re getting: The Dealer’s Choice

Cambridge, MA

    What you’re getting: A VFW Old Fashioned

Charleston, NC

What you’re getting: Moscow Mule with homemade Sweatman’s ginger beer


    What you’re getting: Fernet & Cola
    What you’re getting: Poipu Beach Boogie Board; a Treasure Chest (if you’re a baller and/or shot-caller)
    What you’re getting: Dusek Punch



Las Vegas

    What you’re getting: The Crucifix in a Deathhand; the Burning Bush

Los Angeles

    What you’re getting: A delicious gin cocktail
    What you’re getting: Any drink on their extensive list; the Toucan Sam if they’ve got it


    What you’re getting: Whatever sweet tiki drink Susie Hoyt wants to make you


    What you’re getting: The Pain Killer




    What you’re getting: The Honesty of Constant Human Error

New Orleans

New York

    What you’re getting: A beer you’ve never heard of before that’s probably been barrel-aged
    What you’re getting: Morning Reviver
    What you’re getting: Remember the Maine



San Diego

San Francisco

    What you’re getting: Eye of the Tiger
    What you’re getting: A crazy sour beer you’ve never heard of


Washington DC

    What you’re getting: The Daily Punch
    What you’re getting: James & the Giant; the Stroppy pale ale


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Check out your new favorite taco, NYC.

November 7th, 2013 No Comments

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 9.15.03 AM


You will find it here:

Ottos Tacos ExteriorOttos Tacos Loca

Specifically at 141 Second Ave between St. Mark’s and 9th.  You know, where tons of great chefs are opening up their casual counterparts.  In this grab-n-go taqueria, you’ll find these guys (Chef on the left, my long time friend Otto on the right):

Otto and Chef Jose

Serving up this seeming simple but blow your mind flavorful menu (click to enlarge):

Ottos Tacos Menu


Don’t get dressed up or wear heels cause you’re walking in starving and taking tacos out to devour.  There are a few seats, but I expect once word gets out, they’ll fill up fast.

When you go, tell Otto I sent you and give hime a big hug for me!

Very proud of you my man.

Mary Rambin Otto's Tacos

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“Where should we go for dinner tonight?”

September 13th, 2013 No Comments

Thrillist iPhone App


When the questions arises, I can NEVER think of the places on my wish list or Eater’s hit list.  No more guessing or driving around in circles with the new Thrillist iPhone app.  

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There’s a new one in your hood. Have you tried it?

June 27th, 2013 No Comments
The Smile, NYC

The Smile, NYC

It seems like every time I open a magazine, there’s a feature on an up-and-coming food city.  That city is different EVERY time.  Which means, it’s likely you live in one and have great new restaurants opening up around you….daily!  So it’s time to ditch the old favorites and try a new spot. (Randall, that means you too.)

I wrote about Baltimore and Oakland just last week.  Denver and Houston are topping lists.  Atlanta has been a breading ground since Richard Blais won Top Chef.  Chicago, with 2 years of Michelin ranking under its belt, has been killing it with foodies.

What I’ve found is that no matter where I am, I can always find an exceptional farm-to-table restaurant.  Pretty much in any neighborhood.  I know “Farm-to-Table” sounds cliche, but can we really argue with chefs who are using locally sourced produce and preparing it in a clean and creative way?

New FTT restos are popping up on every corner in NYC and LA.  Below are 2 in each I think you’ll enjoy as much as I do. All of them are small and super cute, which means a reservation is a good idea.  If there are only two of you, you could luck out on a bar seat (except at The Smile).

In the comments below, go ahead and share your new favorite so we can give it a shot if we’re in your neighborhood.  Thanks in advance!


(To see the images larger, click the pics.)



The Smile, 26 Bond Street, NYC, (646) 329-5836 thesmilenyc.com

Quick note: celeb scene is almost as good as the food.  If you do go to The Smile, say hello to Lily from my SoulCycle training group!


Tiny’s 135 West Broadway TriBeCa NYC (212) 374-1135 TinysNYC.com




Willie Jane, 1031 Abbot Kinney, Venice CA (310) 392- 2425 WillieJane.com



Rustic Canyon,1119 Wilshire Blvd Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050 RusticCanyonWineBar.com

Rustic Canyon has been around for a while, but they just changed chefs.  Now at the helm is Jeremy Fox who is was previously at the only vegetarian restaurant to ever earn a Michelin star (Ubunto in Napa).  We at there last night and his food was fresh and extraordinary.


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LA locals will laugh at NYC’s new burger joint

June 6th, 2013 5 Comments

Fat Burger New York on Eater



When I saw on Eater that Fat Burger is opening in New York, I actually laughed out loud.  Where do I start with this mess:

First of all, restaurant concepts and brands should generally move East to West.  Especially chains.  Even when they do move from NYC to LA, I find the West Coast outpost to be far inferior to its NYC parent (STK, BLT, Fig &  Olive, there are others…). Northern California cuisine is another ball game, but I can’t think of any SF restos that have come to NYC. (Chefs obviously excluded – they’re smart enough to start something new in NYC!)

While I will admit to downing my fair share of Fat Burgers, that hasn’t been since college when it was the ONLY boutique burger joint in town.  Now there are a handful to choose from that blow a Fat Burger off the griddle!

BUT! We must consider the location they chose: Murray Hill. Due to its affordable doorman buildings, I finished my 3 year NYC stint on 30th and 3rd.  Now, when I go back to my favorite mani/pedi lady, I’ve found the midtown east hood has grown up since it’s “Curry Hill” days when it was the playground for B ‘n T (Jersey kids driving into the city to party). My goodness does that crowd love a new concept and chowing down late night.   Otherwise, new finance twenty-somethings are the locals and tend to need some serious hangover grub.  So, my thought is, the people probably haven’t changed that much and Fat Burger will be a huge hit.  Extra bottom line bonus if they deliver.

For those of you with a discerning burger palate – I hope that’s all of you – hear me when I tell you: NOT WORTH IT!


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Why can’t we just leave Mexican alone

May 23rd, 2013 4 Comments

Empellon tacos

It’s a very common misconception that Mexican food is “heavy” and “unhealthy.”  As someone who has lived in Mexico, I can tell you, nothing could be further from the truth.  While some regions in Mexico make rich sauces like mole, the majority of the food is as farm-to-table as our coveted Northern California cuisine.  They slaughter the cows at the local ranch, catch the fish on the coast, harvest the veggies from the farm, and grill it up to order.  In fact, it’s so fresh, some people won’t even eat the veggies in Mexico and instead reach for anything processed.

So let’s be clear:  Mexican food is healthy.  Tex Mex is not.  Most of what you see and eat is Tex Mex: fried and covered in queso and tortilla chips.  Tacos are what you believe them to be, but the meat should be lean, the tortillas hand-made, and herbs the topping in leu of sauce.  That’s what the taco above appears to be, but the taste was all wrong.

I’m on this rant after this taco, amongst many others we ordered at Empellion Cocina, an East Village restaurant that has been deemed authentic and voted one of New York’s best.  So, I just can’t see this all go down anymore.

In this case of ex-pastry chef Alex Stupak’s cuisine, I think Pete Wells said it best in his NYT review:

“Mr. Stupak’s cooking at Empellón Cocina resembles the food of Mexico the way a dream resembles life. Everything looks familiar, except that the light seems to be coming from a different direction, and did that river always run right through the bedroom?”

In other words, Stupak puts a “modern” twist on Mexican food like so many others have done in the past.  I would respect that, if the food tasted good.  You won’t catch a real New Yorker eating in a Rosa Mexicana chain restaurant, but no one can deny the food is inventive and usually delivers.  Both Otto (who will soon open what will be the city’s finest taco shop) and I were completely disappointed with the four varieties of tacos we tried at Empellon.  Top that off with a tiny shot of $30 sangrita and you won’t catch Otto or I in there again.

Otto Cedeno of Otto's tacos

This little mishap reminds me that the Mexican food in LA sucks too.  How that’s possible, I will never understand, but it’s the truth.  At least in Houston, people fully embrace the term Tex Mex and treat it like local cuisine.  Pretty much any mainstream joint in Texas will offer chips, salsa, and guac on the menu because we love the combo so much.

Here’s the rub for me.  Authentic Mexican food is not always an easy food to prepare and so it should be served without a lot of extra fan fair. In its “simplicity,”  the cuisine shines and is far from being heavy or overwhelming.  As you can see, I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Mark Bittman offers insight in this interview.

via TheMijaChronicles.com

Mark Bittman Interview via TheMijaChronicles.com


So, go ahead! Chow down on Tex Mex; love it for all its richness.  Devour inventive enchiladas and suck down frozen margaritas without shame.  But let’s respect the Mexicans and not attribute that delicious mess to them.  To each their own taco, ya know.

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Are new, trendy NYC restaurants worth the $$

April 25th, 2013 No Comments

Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu Vegetarian

You look at a dish like this and you’re thinking “Absolutely!”

Well, there’s more than meets the eye in this case.

The mushroom delishiousness you see before you was created by Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park, one of New York’s FINEST restaurants.  Every single bite in his tasting menu BLEW MY MIND, as I expected it would and the price tag would suggest it should. Let’s see another plate shall we?

Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu Carrots

Fresh ground raw carrots with flavors on the side.  They suggest you mix them all in.  Here you see the waiter grinding the carrots in a meat grinder at our table.  Such a unique presentation.  And each course delivered more of a production!

Eleven Madison Park Tasting Menu 3

After 8 or so courses, I  understand why EMP (as the foodies call it) is an NYC institution.  The vaulted, yellow-lit dining room is beyond stuffy, but I forgave that after I could not stop raving about the second course.

However, such overwhelming satisfaction was not the case with my experience at Humm’s new-ish, trendy outpost – The NoMad – where his famous $80 roasted chicken left me bored and hitting the door without dessert.  As many foodies tell me, I’m crazy for making this claim (the chicken made Jerry Seinfeld cry apparently), but my taste buds, my money, my disappointment.

So how do you know if you the restaurant everyone is talking about is worth fighting for a reservation, possibly sitting down at a ridiculous hour (6:30pm or 10pm), and then paying what seems like an arm and a leg for your dinner?  The answer is:  you just don’t know.  What I can give you is your best bet: follow the restauranteur/hospitality group you love, not just the chef.

In my recent travels and current stint in NYC, I’ve tried a handful of new restaurants, all of which received winning reviews from either publications or my foodie friends.  Some lived up to their accolades, others did not.  What I should have used to decipher whether or not I should go after the referral was their previous venues.  You’ll see how the role of the hospitality group plays out in my personal winners and losers below.

ABC Kitchen – Winner

Just like the NoMad, everyone and their mother can’t get enough of Jean-Georges‘ Chelsea restaurant helmed by Chef Dan Kluger.  JG is a bit of unique case because he’s a chef and restauranteur.

I’ve eaten at ABC twice now and cannot wait until my next visit!  Kluger delivers the freshest farm-to-table food in Manhattan in the most delightful way.  His food is intricate without being unapproachable.  Coupled with the beautifully-appointed dining room, dim lighting (a must for me!), creative wine list, and celeb scene, ABC Kitchen makes for the perfect NYC dining experience.

ABC Kitchen Tuna20130425-054318.jpgABC Kitchen fishABC Kitchen FennelABC Kitchen cookies

Even the chocolate chip cookies were so unique I ordered another plate to take home!

AG Kitchen – Loser

AG Kitchen tacos

I hate wasting my time to write about this new Upper West Side taco, burger, pub, diner, whatever they want to call it.  But I will just to warn you, DON’T GO!  A friend referred me so we went last week for a quick bite.  The service was slow, the staff uninformed about the preparations, the food itself was overcooked and cold, and the drinks were hardly existant because the bartender rarely came around to ask us what we wanted or needed. And we were sitting at the bar!  It was so bad I felt the need to speak with the manager (very politely) at which point she insisted we not go elsewhere, but instead we should stay and she would send us out a bunch of food.  At this point, we’re starving, so we stayed and waited for what seemed like forever before this buffet of bites came out.  Honestly, it was just as bad as the first round we had ordered.  I really wanted to like it because she was so nice, but bottom line, the food was terrible.

Saxon + Parole – Winner

Saxon + Parole

This East Village hot spot is everything I want in a New York City dining experience:  interesting decor, a variety of food at a range of prices, a moderate-sized bar with interesting bartenders serving up inventive cocktails, and a lively, intimate scene.  I usually prefer to eat at the bar by myself or with one other person instead of the dining room, so the bar is a big deal for me.

Saxon + Parole Bar

When I found out that the venue was opened by the same hospitality group as one of my favorite spots Public, it made sense why I liked it so much.  They have the formula down!  And most importantly, the food is solid.

Fish at Saxon + Parole


John Dory – Loser

As a person who doesn’t like The Breslin due to it’s very pork-centric menu, I should have known that an oyster bar/raw fish restaurant opened by the same chef would probably not be a place I would want to eat.  I like fish, but usually not raw.  And I hate oysters and lobster.  I’m not sure why we walked in and sat down….probably had something to do with the young crowd inside and the variety of beers on tap.

If you like all of those things, I suggest you go.  However, I caution you, the prices seem high for the small slivers of fish that are put down in front of you.

For more great places to eat in NYC, click here!

(Full disclosure: no media rates were extended for these reviews.  John Dory photos not mine, click the image to link to the original source.)

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Where to eat right now: NYC

August 17th, 2012 5 Comments

On my recent trip to New York, I called on all of foodie friends to refer me to the latest and greatest on the island.  I say that because there are TONS of amazing restaurants in Brooklyn, but I never can get motivated to get out there.

Below is the list I complied with my own favorites.  The restaurants maked with an aesterick have reviews below.  You’ll be shocked to know THE HOT dinner spot was not all that, and no one offered me chips ;)


  • Cafe Grumpy
  • Saturdays
  • My old favorite: Stumptown at The Ace Hotel


  • Rocket Pig
  • Nicoletta
  • My old favorites:  Maialino in The Gramercy Hotel, Friend of the Farmer, Alidoro Sandwich Shop in Soho (Above. I always get the Brando.)


  • Acme
  • Neta
  • Nomad @ Nomad Hotel*
  • Beauty & Essex*
  • Mission Chinese Food
  • Rosemary’s
  • Isola @ Mondrian Soho
  • Red Farm
  • Hudson Clearwater
  • Brushstroke
  • David Burke Kitchen*
  • A favorite I skipped: Locanda Verde


  • Rooftop at Met
  • Jimmy – Rooftop at The Jane*
  • NoMAD hotel
  • Parlor in SoHo
  • Standard Biergarden
  • Gin Palace
  • Booker & Dax
  • Tippler
  • New bar @ Le Bernardin
  • Hurricane Bar
  • Avenue

Since I only had 4 days in NYC I couldn’t possibly make it to all of these places!  Out of the ones I did visit, some delivered, and others disappointed.

Jimmy – Rooftop Bar at The James Hotel (SoHo) 

I won’t say this trendy bar is better than the Boom Boom Room at The Standard or The Roof Gardens at The Ganesvoort.  What I will say is that I loved the scene:  a beautiful sunset over the Hudson River was the backdrop for a fashionable crowd chatting like they’re all important.  FUN! (haha)  My complaint:  drinking a martini out of a plastic glass is not worthy of $18.  Also, might want to get there early to avoid the big bouncer that shows up after sun-down.

David Burke Kitchen (SoHo)

In the basement of The James Hotel, I found a very spacious, modern, and noisy dining room. Even though I was alone, I still had to wait for a seat at the bar.  The place was packed, but not crowded.  As for Burke’s menu, the dishes were fresh and inventive, but not stellar on the plate.  I enjoyed my soft-shell crab, the company of the friendly bartender, and reasonably priced wine.  It’s what I call a SOLID experience..like The Little Owl, just a lot bigger.

Saturdays v. Grumpy’s v. Stumptown

I had NO idea there was a decent coffee shop in Soho, probably because there isn’t one!  Saturdays is a California surf shop on Crosby where they plopped a La Marzocco in the entry. The talented barista served up a notably better capp than I had at Grumpy’s in Chelsea the day before.  (Their clothing label was equally as impressive.)  I did buy a bag of Grumpy’s Ethopian beans  which made for delicious Chemex pots of coffee in my kitchen the following week.  Stumptown’s pastries are pretty much the only ones worth the calories to me and they always deliver a proper latte.  Since they’re all in different neighborhoods, you should just go to the one nearby and take a load off.


This tapas cafe, a larger version of Bar Jabon in my opinion, is the place EVERYONE wants to go to but can’t get into.  Being that is was a summer Friday when all the locals had already escaped to the Hamptons, I easily found a seat at the bar for dinner.  Unfortunately, only two of Chef Seamus Mullen’s plates delivered the caliber we expected:  pan con tomate + prosciutto, and the snap peas with sheep’s milk ricotta.  Otherwise, the bass and the octopus were both overcooked and the crostinis were cold and bland.  If you’re looking for tapas, go to Casa Mono, the Gramercy classic that never disappoints.  While you wait for your table, grab a plate of prosciutto at Bar Jabon next door.

Beauty & Essex

Stanton Social has always been a favorite of mine – great food + fun, pre-party scene.  When I heard that the chef had opened this new two-story venue, I desperately wanted to go.  But I had to wait…a long time.  Thankfully, it’s still hoppin’.  Entering through a pawn shop on the LES you wouldn’t expect much, but behind the door is…well, another Stanton Social.  The food is equally impressive while the people watching was a bit bland.  However, my out-of-town guests had no complaints.  With champagne service in the bathroom, there’s really not much to whimper about.


The second place everyone in town is talking about is Nomad in the Nomad hotel.  One would think that being a newborn sister of the Manhattan classic Eleven Madison Park you would never hear a complaint.  I heard several when I told friends I had secured a coveted 8:30pm resi there.  As many people who raved about, they gave negative feedback about every dish that was served.  For the prices they’re asking, I wasn’t going to take the risk.  That being said, all of the critics I respect LOVE everything about it.  The bar is said to be a hot spot as well, so that’s where I would dip my toe in to test the waters.

Sweet Revenge

This place was not recommended by anyone, but was OPEN at 3am and serving cupcakes!  Come to find out the West Village cafe has all of my favorite things in one place:  cocktails, cupcakes, wine, beer, and drinkable coffee.  We snagged a little of everything and went to chow down in bed.  The carrot cake took the grand prize hands down.

Many thanks to my foodies, especially @sarahashley and @allisoncook for all of your guidance!


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