Restaurant Review: Next Door, Upper West Side Manhattan

The gentrification of Upper West Side Manhattan resulted in trendy store fronts, a canine obsession with pet stores on almost every corner and million dollar apartments with views you would kill your 2nd born for.  Cute trendy restaurants and diners snuggled closely together with its trendy patrons walking back and forth between them trying to make a decision as to which one to grace with their presence.  I spent my New Year weekend in this Fort Washington area of NYC, so of course I had to try one of these “to die for store front restaurants”.  We chose the trendy Next Door restaurant located at 813 W. 187 Street between Fort Washington and Pinehurst.  Next Door was a trendy, Upper West Side Manhattan MESS.  I don’t even know where to begin because I’m still in somewhat shock as to why they served the food they served to us.  I ordered pancakes and a omelette with spinach, onions, turkey bacon and cheese.  My friend ordered a Belgian waffle cooked LIGHTLY.  As the food approaches, my plate is in the front, so far so good.  Then here comes this dark chocolate-brown Belgian waffle.  It’s CLEARLY overcooked because it’s as dark as a dark chocolate snickers bar.  As I pour the syrup on my pretty brown pancakes, I move each one around so that the syrup can get to all of them.  As I get to the bottom, there’s a pancake that’s as black as the Ace of Spades in a deck of cards.  BLACK. Not a little dark brown but literally burned BLACK.  Zoom in to my omelette.  I cut it open with  my fork, the cheese is still rock hard as if it just came out of a refrigerator, spinach is still cold and turkey bacon is barely cooked.  As I cut some more, egg is oozing everywhere.

My friend goes to the bathroom and returns to tell me that the cooking staff is preparing chicken on a cutting board that’s sitting on top of a garbage can.  Who does that?  What cook literally sees food that has been burned black and says “they won’t notice.”?  What waiter looks at the blackened food that’s not supposed to be blackened and says “let me bring this to my customer”?  WHO DOES THAT?!?

Later that day we walk to a diner next door to Next Door called, Vicky’s Diner.  As we’re eating our bland food, I look over and there’s a LONG bone straight strand of hair hanging off the food.  The waiter comes over and looks at me and says “where did that come from?”  Mind you, I’m rocking a buzz cut so I have NO hair plus the hair CLEARLY came from someone not of African descent and last time I checked, that’s not me.

As you can tell, I will NEVER go to Next Door again  nor will I ever recommend it to anyone.  It was an epic fail on so many levels.  I hope you didn’t get your panties in a bunch because I said “Upper West Side Manhattan”.   Remember, all that glitter is not gold.


Fusion Grill: Innovative Chinese on Capitol Hill

I spent a very long weekend in my 2nd favorite city, D.C.  My love for the city has doubled since this trip but let’s talk about one of my pastime favorites:  EATING.

The 8th Street area of Capitol Hill is eclectic to say the least.  If you love busy intown hot spots, then this is the place for you.  Filled with mostly specialty restaurants (you will not find any of the big chain restaurants), you can get any food fix you like in this area.  I got my fix of Chinese  at a very cute spot called Fusion Grill.  Located at 515 8th St S.E., Washington, D.C., Fusion Grill boasts about the fusion of innovation and tradition by serving grilled and traditional Chinese cuisine and some non-Chinese cuisine.  My guest and I went for Sunday breakfast, which traditionally isn’t a meal that’s served in a Chinese restaurant, but to my surprise it was PERFECT.  Our meal consisted of coconut brioche french toast served with ginger maple syrup, two scrambled Amish eggs, shrimp tempura and jumbo lump crabcake.  It was just enough to start a Sunday.  The place was clean, cozy and eclectic.  Service was only ok because we had a new waitress so I’ll chop that up as her having new employee jitters.  But the staff as a whole were friendly and knowledgable.  Every plate that came out looked and smelled delicious especially the organic scrambled tofu that included roasted tomatoes, curry, caramelized onion, pea shoots and sweet potato wedges.  Don’t let tofu scare you away.  Can’t wait to try it out.  If you’re ever in the D.C. area you must check this restaurant out.  Great date spot as well.

Sunset Lounge “Day Party” returns for 4th of July celebration

Who says you have to party at 12 midnight anymore?  The “day party” is a great concept.  I get it.  Sunset Lounge, a group of young forward thinking entrepreneurs, has brought a fairly new concept to the forefront of Atlanta’s “night life”, now “day life”.  Whether this group is the first to do it, that’s up for debate but regardless, they are doing it.

Hundreds of people come together at Shout Restaurant located in Midtown Atlanta for this day party for good food, good music and good times.  I’m not sure if I experienced that this time.  It could have been the fact that it was 1000 degrees outside and we’re sitting on a rooftop at high noon or that there were just way to many women there or I wonder if I’m just getting old?  Scratch that.  I’m not old.  But it was 1000 degrees out and there was way to much estrogen in the building.   I guess that works out for you men but I prefer to be around some testosterone…cute testosterone at that.   The music was descent but not great.  I’m not sure if they changed the DJ but I remember being very pleased about the music at the last one I attended.

If you read my first review of this event back in September ’09, I almost wrote this event off because of Shout.  I felt that Shout being understaffed for this groups event was a sign of disregard and disrespect and the manager on duty that time had a horrible attitude.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a positive review about Shout this time around and I’m not surprised.  I’m assuming that Sunset Lounge and Shout made arrangements for this event months in advance so why is the waitstaff unaware of ANYTHING?  No one had any clue if the event had any drink specials.  They weren’t aware of any food specials.  When we asked our waiter about it, he asked another waiter standing at another table and that waiter didn’t know.  So that waiter asked another waiter across the patio and that waiter didn’t know.  We arrived there when doors open to avoid the crowd and the wait for food and drinks.  We still had to wait a long period of time for our drinks.  Some of the food that was ordered came out room temperature.  But this is how Shout is on a regular day.  I’ve honestly never had a positive experience at this place.

At the end of the day, kudos for Sunset Lounge and their day party.  They have a huge following so expect a large turnout if you decide to go to their events.  They opened the doors right on time and didn’t play that “lets keep the line waiting” game that most of these promoters and venue participate in.  They had someone passing out free hand towels and t-shirts.  Sunset Lounge staff/affiliates were pleasant.  If they bring back the previous DJ, bring in more testosterone and LEAVE SHOUT RESTAURANT, then I’ll be back.  Until then, lights out for me on this day party.  Although I will not return if they continue to patronize Shout, I still recommend this event.  Experience the Day Party yourself.

Cafe Circa

Cafe Circa sits on Edgewood Avenue in the Historic Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta.  This restaurant has a great bar, wonderful decor and an overall pleasant setting for a quiet evening with your cutie pie or laid back night out with your girls or boys.  A few people have told me that the food is not that great but I typically do not let another persons experience deter me from trying something out.

I’ve been to Cafe Circa 4 times.  Three of those times I ordered food.  My first dining experience was a simple ceasar sald.  The salad was so salty I could not finish it.  A salty salad was not enough for me to write them off.  Plus, it could have just been an off day for the chef.  Nothing to say “I’ll never go there again.”  Unfortunately, the other 2 subsequent times yielded the same result: OVERLY SALTY FOOD.  I wish I had something positive to say about the menu but with giving it 3 tries and all 3 times I could not finish my dish because of the salt level, maybe the people who warned me about the food were right.

Even with a not so great dining experience, Cafe Circa still has perks that are a plus for Cocoa Chicks CritiQues:  friendly staff and a GREAT bar!  There is nothing better than walking into a facility and being greeted with the staff like Cafe Circa’s.  They are always friendly, always professional and always customer service focused.

Will I return?  Yes, but for drinks only.

Merengue Restaurant Boston, MA

Although I’ve moved away from home and do not miss Boston at all (except for the friends and family) one thing that I absolutely love about that city is the diversity.  With diversity comes all kinds of good eats!

I went home recently and finally went to a restaurant that has been 5 blocks away from me my entire life that I always walked by.  Merengue Restaurant located at 156-160 Blue Hill Avenue, brings Dominican Republic cuisine to the heart of Roxbury.  With dishes like Langosta al Gusto* (Lobster in Garlic, Vinaigrette, Creole or Coconut Sauce) and Combinacion de Mariscos al Gusto* (Seafood Combination with Lobster, Shrimps, Calamari, Octopus & Mussels) you will enjoy something on the menu.  When you walk in all your senses are greeted with something Dominican.  The aroma, the sounds and the authentic Dominican decor gives the feeling that you are on their island enjoying their food.

Unfortunately, my first experience wasn’t great.  We waited 35 minutes for salmon, salad and rice and beans.  The waiter did not come over one time to apologize for the delay or just give us an update on our food.  When the food finally arrived my salmon was as hard as an over cooked piece of steak and my beans were cold.  I was completely thrown off by this because I’ve heard nothing but great reviews.  Will I go back?  I’m thinking about it because everyone’s food looked and smelled really good.  Luckily I’m in the mood of giving second chances.

If you’re ever in Boston go check them out.  I think they just had an off day.