The Stand: A Comedy Club Where The Food is No Laughing Matter

When most people picture comedy clubs, good food is not what comes to their minds. Indeed, many prospective patrons may fear or resent the obligatory dining that accompanies many venues these days—fare which consists of little better than flat, overpriced drinks and dehydration-inducing, microwaved finger food. Fortunately, The Stand proves that enjoying both is totally feasible.

Atmosphere

Located in a section of Gramercy that is still deciding if it wants to be commercial or residential, The Stand looks fairly unassuming. Its glass-door exterior and neon light letters give it the appearance of a typical, small bar or club. However, it manages to make the most of its space. A staircase leads to the downstairs comedy club section. On the upstairs restaurant floor one finds plenty of seating room. To the left, one finds polished wooden tables with seating on either a plush-leather sofa or mahogany chairs. To the right, lies the equally cozy bar.  Engraved tin ceilings and a full-length, horizontal mirror add high-class charm to a casual dining space that is intimate, yet never seems too crowded.

The wait-staff consists of hip twenty-somethings that are well suited to engaging with people of any age, but are especially adept at making conversation with college kids. My waiter consistently refilled my water and asked me how I liked things. At The Stand, I felt like a new addition to a new, energetic group of friends. In general, everything felt laidback and fun.

The Food 

The food leans a little on the pricey side for the average twenty-something (pretty standard for the neighborhood), but the quality and innovativeness of the menu more than make up for the cost. It is important to clarify that The Stand features two menus—one with main courses for upstairs and one solely with appetizers downstairs. I recommend getting dinner upstairs before heading down.

After hearing several other customers call for order after order of them, I started with the Cheeseburger Dumplings for my appetizer. They come four to a plate on a bed of greens along with the delicious house sauce. The portion was deceptively small as I found high-quality beef and tons of cheese inside every bite. By the time I had finished, I felt as if I had eaten a medium-sized cheeseburger.

Cheese Burger Dumplings

Cheese Burger Dumplings

Made from a secret blend of condiments and a surprising ingredient (both of which I promised the hostess I wouldn’t reveal), the savory yet sweet and sour house sauce provided the perfect dipping opportunity for the dumplings and an excellent dressing for the greens.

Continuing to sample the menu’s most popular items, I tried the Truffle Mac ‘N’ Cheese—a side dish that I found as satiating as most main courses.  Baked in a large bowl and doused with enough truffle essence to perfume the air around me, it is an excellent value and can work as an appetizer to split or an entree.

Truffle Mac 'N' Cheese

Truffle Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Based on my waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna for my main course.  I was presented with a very generous helping of sliced and seasoned tuna and a second well-dressed salad with a rich, creamy aioli sauce. The dish very much lived up to the menu’s claim of “sushi grade yellowfin!” Crackling and spicy on the sides, but succulent all-around, the tuna managed to exhibit excellent steak-like quality,

Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Yeah, that's a regular portion!

Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Yeah, that’s a regular portion!

For dessert, I enjoyed the Nutella Fondue Pot, which is composed of fresh fruit, just-baked cookies, and roasted marshmallows around an igneous pool of hazelnut-chocolate goodness. Apparently, it’s a hit with couples and people who pretend they eat healthy. If you’re with a group of people, then it’s a great way to split dessert. Unrepentantly single, I savored ever last bite by myself!

Nutella Fondue Pot. Being alone never tasted so good!

Nutella Fondue Pot. Being alone never tasted so good!

Completely stuffed after my meal, I lumbered downstairs for one of The Stand’s comedy shows. While I found myself too full to order anything downstairs, I was happy to note that both the Cheeseburger Dumplings and the Truffle Mac n’ Cheese could be ordered in the comedy club area.

Comedy Club Bonus 

For fifteen to twenty dollars, one can enjoy about an hour and a half of stand-up from some of the most celebrated comedians in New York.  I had the pleasure of seeing a performance from the famous Nick Dipaolo along with headliner Ari Shaffir and Mike Lawrence —all three of which have graced Comedy Central. Each routine felt wonderfully organic, building up from the one before it and always considering the audience. Religion, age, race, sexuality, and domestic violence were all fair game, but at no point did it seem like anybody in the room was offended. Everybody up there was a seasoned pro and in the short moments when the laughter died down, they had no problem taking a turn for the self-deprecating.

The Stand is a great place to take a friend, a relative, an acquaintance,  a date, or someone you plan on dumping for brunch, lunch, or a night out. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can hazard bringing Mom or Dad to the comedy club level, but you have been warned.

As the hostess assured me, “At the Stand, the food is no joke!” I might also add that either as a restaurant or a comedy club, The Stand stands on its own, but altogether, it presents some of the best Manhattan has to offer.

The Stand

239 3rd Ave (Between 19th and 20th) New York, NY 10003

(212) 677-2600.

Website: thestandnyc.com

Open from 11 to 5 PM for Lunch and 5 PM to 12 AM for Dinner from Sunday to Thursday, and 5 PM to 2 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. Brunch from 11:30 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.

View of the Comedy Club area

View of the Comedy Club area

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The Five Reasons I LOVE Cold Fried Chicken

Now this is something that I’ve wanted to share with people for awhile. Let me tell you first that I totally love fried chicken and indulge in a plate of fresh fried goodness when I can. This post is NOT about hating on hot fried chicken. It is about one’s options when presented with leftover chicken and I am merely writing about some of the merits of enjoying it chilled rather than reheated or nuked.

1. You don’t have to worry about burning your mouth.
Now this one might be kind of obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sunk my teeth into some hot, delicious morsel only to horribly singe my taste buds and lose my appreciation for the rest of the meal. Dead taste buds remain numb when it comes to their function but still manage to feel pain and will stay sore for at least a couple of days. While the tongue is a fast regenerator, cold fried chicken allows you to take some of the danger out of your home dining experience.

Some things are best  served cold! Credit to Claudia and PJ Potgieser  http://www.dutchduowildlife.nl

Some things are best served cold!
Credit to Claudia and PJ Potgieser
http://www.dutchduowildlife.nl

2. You don’t have to go through the trouble of putting it into a microwave oven.
While many households do carry a way to heat their food, there are some that just don’t have microwaves for whatever reason. For the dorm-inhabiting college student, a microwave oven isn’t always a guarantee. Or, a microwave is available but its communal nature prevents the eater from satisfying their late-night munchies. Regardless, cold fried chicken eliminates the need for that extra step or appliance (assuming you have a refrigerator). Don’t get me started on why you shouldn’t use an oven. And you STILL won’t have to worry about burning your tongue OR your fingers!

It's not as bad as it sounds!

It’s not as bad as it sounds!

3. Cold chicken stays crunchy like Nature intended
Unlike revenge, fried chicken is a dish that can be served cold but still maintain its delicious integrity. Let’s face it, there’s no way to save everything when it comes to leftover fried chicken, but sacrificing temperature for texture and flavor isn’t a bad way to go. Even fresh fried chicken can disappoint when the skin peels off the meat too readily, and reheated chicken suffers the problem to an even greater extent, only it comes with the added flaw of being saggy and tasteless. Like a crisp autumn day or a persistent ex, cold fried chicken will cling to your every sense and refuse to let go!

4. It’s fast and easy to transport

Unless you have a KFC Go Cup! I mean if you have a KFC Go Cup on you right now, what are you doing here?

Unless you have a KFC Go Cup! I mean if you have a KFC Go Cup on you right now, WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE?

Whether you’re heading to the beach for a picnic or looking for something to throw into a cool salad before your day begins, cold fried chicken turns yesterday’s leftovers into a speedy and proactive answer to tomorrow’s schedule! Nobody in their right mind would reheat their chicken only to take it outside and expose it to the elements.

5. It’s like a metaphor. Don’t read this if you haven’t finished The Great Gatsby yet!

In Chapter 7 of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, antagonist Tom Buchanan and his wife Daisy reignite their flawed and largely dispassionate marriage over a plate of cold fried chicken. Now for some people this might not mean anything. Baz Luhrmann didn’t even see fit to keep it in the movie (just one of several blunders in his career). However, for the discerning student of literature, this dish means so much more. As a form of comfort food traditionally associated with the American South, the cold fried chicken represents the triumph of money over freedom. It’s a metaphor for the sheer power of old money and possibly corruption itself. Daisy and Tom can afford more expensive food, but they choose to eat cheaper fare on their own terms, and in the end, they don’t even touch it.

It's also likely that Carey Mulligan isn't even allowed to think about fried chicken!

It’s also likely that Carey Mulligan isn’t even allowed to think about fried chicken!

So the next time you’re chowing down on fried chicken and you’re worried that it won’t keep well, keep in mind what I’ve told you before you leave a pile of bones!

SO MUCH WASTED CRUNCH :(

SO MUCH WASTED CRUNCH 😦

Masq Makes Mardi Gras a Manhattan Occasion

New Orleans might be almost 1500 miles away from Manhattan, but husband and wife duo George and Nora Chaprastian change reality into a Mardi Gras parade at Masq, a New American and New Orleans-inspired restaurant that livens up Midtown East. Named after the lively masquerades associated with Louisiana’s capital, Masq whisks diners away from the hustle and bustle of its Manhattan location. With a dazzling array of colorful Christmas lights, beautifully haunting Italian masks, and luxurious vintage furniture, it really brings the ball to its diners.

Executive Chef Marc Getzelman directs Masq’s food and pastries as well as its wine, always making sure to complement each of his dishes with an appropriate drink. We were treated to a feast of New American appetizers and New Orleans classics, each crafted with meticulous precision and impeccable style like the rest of Masq’s dining experience.

The Macaroni and Cheese Croquettes with Bacon and Jalapeno were an all-around great way to start our meal. I found the tangerine-hued remoulade sauce quite courteous. It added a moderate amount of tanginess that did not interfere with the more delicate flavors in the macaroni and cheese. With a pescatarian diner in our presence, Chef Marc was more than happy to accommodate our table with a bacon-free version.

Mac 'N' Cheese Croquette with Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeño. Served with Spicy Remoulade Sauce

Mac ‘N’ Cheese Croquette with Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeño. Served with Spicy Remoulade Sauce

Our second bite came in the form of the Prosciutto Fig Flatbread–a highlight of the evening for me as it managed to be light, savory, sweet, and filling all at once. Hefty portions of prosciutto, swirls of sweet goat cheese, and summery arugula leaves enhanced the thin, crunchy slices. In terms of texture and flavor, I found it to be a perfectly balanced treat and won’t hesitate to order it again. Chef Marc mentioned to us that flatbread has always been a part of Masq’s repertoire, but that the prosciutto-decked variant started off as a special that ascended to the main menu based on popular demand. I wholeheartedly support that motion. Chef Marc and the Chaprastians reassured us that they are always open to customer feedback and that the evolution of the menu is part of what makes Masq a great restaurant.

Prosciutto Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula

Prosciutto Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula

The third and final appetizer was the Asian Marinated Salmon. Normally I find myself a tad skeptical of things labelled “Asian” on any menu, but Masq’s Honey Garlic Soy Sauce assuaged my doubts and has my approval. The addition of honey to a well-executed soy garlic sauce created a new innovation in sweet and sour for this salmon. Perfectly marinated to a dark crisp on the outside and served over a bed of fresh greens, Masq’s salmon dresses to impress.

Asian Marinated Salmon -  Served in Honey Garlic Soy Sauce with Mixed Greens

Asian Marinated Salmon – Served in Honey Garlic Soy Sauce with Mixed Greens

Each of the New American appetizers impressed me. I would’ve been happy to eat a meal solely composed of the Flatbread and the Salmon. They were the kind of dishes that embody a summer picnic for me—a welcome respite from a cold winter evening. However, it was the Louisiana-style cuisine that really warmed my palette that night with jazzy seafood entrees that definitely warrant a taste whether you’ve been to New Orleans or not.

Served on a sweet Hawaiian roll, Masq’s Shrimp Po’ Boy tastes decidedly rich despite its namesake—a welcome change! Succulent yet crunchy shrimp dusted off with pure chili powder on the most luscious of buns made for a winning sandwich. With the powder on the side, I could happily adjust the amount of kick in the sandwich to my liking.

Shrimp Po' Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll with Coleslaw

Shrimp Po’ Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll with Coleslaw

Masq gave us a classic Jambalaya for its final course.  Now, Jambalaya is one of the first dishes that comes to mind when one thinks of Cajun food. A rice, seafood, and meat dish punctuated with plenty of punch, I’ve come to think of it as the spicy, younger sister of Paella, the dish’s Spanish predecessor and a personal favorite. As a supertaster, I found myself a little hesitant to try the Jambalaya at first. True to tradition, the rice dish brought an intense, fiery flavor that emanated primarily from the peppery Andouille sausage. However, Masq presented a more nuanced incarnation, cooling their Jambalaya’s heat with the addition of fresh, cool goat cheese that balanced out the overall spiciness of the dish and provided a rich, creamy counterpoint. These little tweaks really allow Masq to stand out from their competition as it very much retains the authenticity of Louisiana’s cuisine without steamrolling the experience onto less spice-savvy diners.

Masq's Jambalaya consists of Cajun Spiced Chicken, Andouille Sausage, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese. Make sure to mix the goat cheese!

Masq’s Jambalaya consists of Cajun Spiced Chicken, Andouille Sausage, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese. Make sure to mix that goat cheese!

For dessert, we were treated to Sabayon, a deliquescent egg custard topped with fresh whipped cream and a quartet of berries. Elegantly served in a champagne glass, the Sabayon gave us a soothing and refreshing finish to a sizzling dinner with strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry adding vivid colors and aromas to an already fluffy dessert. Once more, I enjoyed a sweet taste of summer!

Sabayon with Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry (not pictured here), and Whipped Cream

Sabayon with Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry (not pictured here), and Whipped Cream

Aside from its delectable food offerings, Masq has a lovely horseshoe shaped bar with full service and a massive assortment of wine and liquor selections. However, for me, Masq’s main attraction lies in its private party lounge. The Red Room is simply a work of opulence with red velvet curtains and furniture, Persian rugs, fanciful sconces, and beautifully-crafted vintage decor. Whether you’re looking for a reasonably priced bite to eat, a break from your regular Manhattan routine, or a space for your next party, Masq has something for every New Yorker or out of towner looking for an authentic dining experience.

From 8 to 11 pm on Thursday nights, Masq brings in live music to enhance the party vibe.  When the season comes, Chef Marc also promises crawfish on the menu.

From 8 to 11 pm on Thursday nights, Masq brings in live music to enhance the party vibe. When the season comes, Chef Marc also promises crawfish on the menu.

The Red Room seats 45 and makes an ideal location for your next party!

The Red Room seats 45 and makes an ideal location for your next party!

Masq

Address: 306 East 49th Street (Between First & Second Avenues)

New York, NY 100017

Website: www.masqny.com

Phone: (212) 644-8294

Hours

Lunch: 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday to Friday.

Dinner:  4:00 PM  to 10:00 PM, Monday to Wednesday. 4:00 PM  to 1:00 AM, Thursday to Saturday.

Happy Hour runs from 4 PM to 8 PM from Monday to Friday  (1/2-price on specialty cocktails and select global wines by the glass).

Closed on Sundays.

Masq’s Lunch Menu

Masq’s Dinner Menu

Giano: Where the Past and the Present Meet… the Pasta!

An Epic Concept

Named for the dual-faced Roman God of the past and future, Janus, Giano was designed with a desire to marry the past with the present. Owners and native Italians Paolo Rossi and Matteo Niccoli sought to capture the beauty of changing times yet still hold onto vestiges of the past through their décor and cuisine. In keeping with this theme, the restaurant has traditional mahogany tables and brick walls coupled with more avant garde furniture pieces like feather-shaped lights and swinging rope. Giano also offers a lovely, decorative garden area for dining outside in warmer weather. It’s an eclectic atmosphere that one might find worth visiting for the décor alone, but the food is what has sustained this marvelous restaurant for the last six years.

Giano's beautiful garden area is open to diners from April to October.

Giano’s beautiful garden area is open to diners from April to October.

The Most Appetizing Asparagus Ever

My meal started with a rich and varied trio of appetizers, Crochette di Ricotto e Tonno (Tuna and Ricotta Cheese Croquettes), Polpette al Pomodoro (Grass-fed Meatball in Tomato Sauce), and Asparagi Gratinate  (Asparagus Wrapped in Speck and Fontina Cheese). I can happily recommend any of the three.

The tuna and ricotta cheese croquette presented a crunchy, creamy treat that managed to fit delicate morsels of tuna in a warm, breaded shell.

Deceptively simple in appearance, the meatball consisted of savory and tender beef bathed in a bold and zesty tomato sauce that changed my perspective on an Italian classic.

Surprisingly, it was the asparagus that left the biggest impression on me.  Now let me tell you that I absolutely detest asparagus. If you read my previous post on my status as a supertaster, you understand that I am not particularly versed in the consumption of potentially bitter greens.  However, Giano’s asparagus transformed it into a dish of a different species. Swaddled in a sweet layer of Fontina cheese and a second layer of salty speck (it’s like prosciutto), the docile taste of cooked asparagus perfectly complimented by a cocoon of flavor, though the asparagus itself remained a firm and crunchy branch. Wrapping your veggies in cured meats and cheese is a surefire way to enjoy them!

Crochette di Ricotto e Tonno (Tuna and Ricotta Cheese Croquettes) on the right, Polpette al Pomodoro (Grass-Fed Beef Meatball in Tomato Sauce) on the left, and Asparagi Gratinate  (Asparagus Wrapped in Speck and Fontina Cheese) at the top

Crochette di Ricotto e Tonno (Tuna and Ricotta Cheese Croquettes) on the right, Polpette al Pomodoro (Grass-Fed Beef Meatball in Tomato Sauce) on the left, and Asparagi Gratinate (Asparagus Wrapped in Speck and Fontina Cheese) at the top

Going Medieval

Giano really focused on its selection of homemade pastas, treating each like its own separate main course. Paolo and Matteo offered us Bigoli al Ragu D’agnello e Noci Totaste (medieval-style spaghetti in a ragu of slow-braised lamb with crushed walnuts), Gnocchi ai 4 Formaggi (potato gnocchi in a four cheese sauce), and Raviolo di Spinachi e Ricotta (spinach and ricotta ravioli in a sage and butter sauce).

Gnocchi ai 4 Formaggi -  Potato Gnocchi in a Four Cheese Sauce (Parmigiano, Gorgonzola, Fontina, and the rare, overpowering Tallegio)

Gnocchi ai 4 Formaggi – Potato Gnocchi in a Four Cheese Sauce (Parmigiano, Gorgonzola, Fontina, and the rare, overpowering Tallegio)

Raviolo di Spinachi e Ricotta (Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli in a Sage and Butter sauce)

Raviolo di Spinachi e Ricotta – Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli in a Sage and Butter Sauce

The spaghetti dish was so colossal and filling that it threatened to end my tasting session early. Thick, cooked in egg, and served with generous dollops of lamb meat, it stood out as a champion amongst pastas. Filling enough on its own, the addition of the crushed walnut powder added more meatiness to the ragu’s flavor.  While, I certainly enjoyed the succeeding pasta courses—pillows of fine potato gnocchi and the lightest of raviolis beneath a veil of butter, the bigoli al ragu d’agnello e noci totaste is what really exemplified the restaurant’s unique qualities for me. Giano took a peasant dish and made it fit for a king!

Bigoli al Ragu D’agnello e Noci Totaste -Medieval-Style Thick Spaghetti with Slow-Braised Lamb Dusted with Crushed Walnuts

Bigoli al Ragu D’agnello e Noci Totaste – Medieval-Style Thick Spaghetti in a Ragu of Slow-Braised Lamb Dusted with Crushed Walnuts

Non-Pasta Main Courses

Baccala’ alla livornese con polenta came next. Baccala is a traditional dish of seared and salted cod. I’m no expert on European fish dishes, but one of my fellow diners insisted that the Baccala at Giano’s was the best Baccala she has had in the world. While I haven’t been to Europe in over 15 years, I can agree that the Baccala was of a superb quality as it was flaky, succulent and served atop an equally crisp piece of polenta.

Baccala’ alla Livornese con Polenta - Pan Seared Cod with Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Polenta

Baccala’ alla Livornese con Polenta – Pan Seared Cod with Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Polenta

Last up, the Fillet al Balsamico (Balsamic Glazed Fillet Mignon) came with two sides: basil whipped potatoes and pancetta diced over onions. At this point, they kept the portions mercifully small because we were absolutely stuffed after the last four courses. Arranged in an artistic green swirl, the basil whipped potatoes cleansed my palette, preparing me for one, fine cut of beef.

The only thing I can say about the fillet mignon is that I try to avoid red meat when I can, but I finished that morsel without a single regret. One day, I hope to touch someone as wonderfully as this cow’s body and soul graced my appetite. Perfectly seasoned and juicy from bite to finish, I found myself satisfied with even a small piece.

Fillet al Balsamico -Balsamic Glazed Fillet Mignon with Basil Whipped Potatoes and Pancetta with Braised Onions

Fillet al Balsamico -Balsamic Glazed Fillet Mignon with Basil Whipped Potatoes and Pancetta with Braised Onions

Giano turns tradition into innovation, taking classic Italian cuisine and decor and revitalizing it for the enjoyment of contemporary customers. With excellent homemade pastas, creative appetizers, and an atmosphere that can be enjoyed by people of any age, looking to the past never tasted so good!

Giano also offers food at the bar with a killer wine selection!

Giano also offers food at the bar with a killer wine selection!

Giano

126 East 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A

New York, New York 10009

Website: http://www.gianonyc.com

Telephone Number: (212) 673-7200

Closed on Mondays, Open from 5:30-11 PM from Tuesday to Thursday and on Sunday. Open from 5:30 to Midnight on Friday and Saturday. From 5:30 to 7 on every day but Friday and Saturday,

Giano also offers a happy hour with a 2-Course $21.95 Prix Fixe Dinner and ½-price on select wines by the glass.

History and Haggis at Incognito Bistro

Located on West 18th Street Between 5th and 6th Avenues, Incognito Bistro brings Italy and Scotland a short walk away from Union Square!

At a Glance

“I think I’ll have the risotto with some haggis to start!”— Words that I never foresaw myself saying! Dining in New York always inspires revolutionary cultures and tastes, but Incognito Bistro really sets a new standard, combining classic Italian favorites with delicious Scottish twists. Scottish-Italian owners Chef Paolo Montana and his wife, Adriana Moretti, who also acts as the restaurant’s hostess, have clearly succeeded in bringing their dual heritage to life just minutes away from Union Square and Gramercy in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, but trained in traditional Roman cuisine, Chef Paolo makes sure to stock his kitchen and menu with all the classic Italian staples. Regardless of national origin, however, every dish sings a different ballad of flavors.

The Food 

The meal started with the Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza, a dish that managed to be sweet, savory, and sour all at the same time as the overpowering saltiness of the fish found harmony with garden vegetables and fresh mozzarella. Next came the second starter, a refreshing Tuna Tartar, which combined succulent fish with a mix of summer fruits. The Green Pea Soup, a velvety silt of verdant cream, rounded out the starting courses.

Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza

Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Green Pea Soup

Green Pea Soup

For me, the highlight of the meal could be found within the resolutely ethnic courses. Before Incognito, I had never thought I would try Haggis, a classic Scottish pudding of sheep meat and occasionally organs. Composed of tender lamb sausage and turnips over a bed of creamy potatoes soaked in whisky jus, Incognito’s variant had me hooked! The preparation and presentation brought something akin to a shepherd’s pie that eliminated any fears or doubts regarding such an exotic delicacy.

The Highland Haggis, a "national" treasure.

The Highland Haggis, a “national” treasure

Incognito continued to impress me with its pasta courses of which I sampled three: the San Paolo spaghetti drizzled with garlic and olive oil and topped with clams and pancetta (tender Italian bacon made from pork belly), a classic lasagna packed with meat, and mushroom risotto with porcini and truffle mushrooms.  Every single pasta dish was al dente as well as flavorful in its own way, but the risotto deserves special mention.

To my delight, Incognito carries through on all of its promises—the truffles were authentic and Italian in every possible way. The blast of earthy flavor coupled with lighter, sweeter hues of wine-infused broth created the most extraordinary of risottos!

Risotto with Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms and Spaghetti in Garlic and Olive Oil with Clams, Pancetta, and Chili Peppers

Risotto with Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms and San Paolo Spaghetti in Garlic and Olive Oil with Clams, Pancetta, and Chili Peppers

Classic Meat Lasagna in a Bechamel sauce of flour and butter.

Classic Meat Lasagna in a Bechamel Sauce of Flour and Butter

Additionally, for the allergic or health-conscious, Incognito also offers gluten-free and whole-wheat pasta alternatives on their menu.

Always generous, Chef Paolo allowed us to try both the Lemon Sole Fillet and Fillet Mignon for our main course. Topped with crispy breadcrumbs and a lemony white wine sauce over whipped potatoes, the Sole disappeared with a crunch as it melted in my mouth. The Fillet Mignon on the other hand was something to sit back and enjoy. Each bite presented a juicy, tender cut of meat. A combination of pepper corns, cognac, and cream made every bite a literal explosion of flavor. These classic entrees proved just as tasty as the appetizers and ethnic eats.

Sole Fish with bread crumbs, white wine, and lemon on a bed of mashed potatoes

Fillet of Sole  with Bread crumbs, White Wine, and Lemon on a Bed of Mashed Potatoes

Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Corns, Cognac, and Cream.

Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Corns, Cognac, and Cream

If you’re thinking that I was completely stuffed after the first six or so courses, you’re correct, but Adriana insisted that we enjoy dessert, and after the first look and a bite, I made room. Our five dessert plate consisted of Coppa Scosseze, a Scotland-influenced mix of Ice Cream, Marscapone, and Butterscotch, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake, and Chocolate Torte. All I can recommend is that you try them all at some point. Among other things, Chef Paolo also excels at ice cream, pastries, berry compotes, sauces, and chocolate.

Dessert Platter with Coppa Scozzese, Panna Cotta,  Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Tiramisu.

Dessert Platter with Coppa Scozzese, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Tiramisu

The Atmosphere

Throughout our meal, and in between a rainbow of fine European wines, the whimsical Adriana entertained us with stories of Incognito’s crowning accomplishments. The restaurant has been certified as authentically Italian by culinary authorities from Italy. Its décor consists of original art and painted columns by a descendant of the Pre-Raphaelite Albert Moore. In terms of fashion, Incognito’s entire staff is even decked out with the first-recognized, official Scottish-Italian tartan, Clan Italia. Additionally on Tuesday nights, Incognito features live jazz music.

Incognito's Elegant Dining Room

Incognito’s Elegant Dining Room

View of the Bar

View of the Bar

All in all, Incognito Bistro brought my tastebuds and my heart a much-needed European vacation. Chef Paolo and Adriana have truly outdone themselves with creating an authentic, yet innovative dining experience. If you love Italian food, do yourself a favor and pay this establishment a visit, though be sure to try the Scottish offerings as well.

Be sure to send my regards to Chef Paolo and Adrianna. Their restaurant is a cultural and culinary gem.

Be sure to send my regards to Chef Paolo and Adriana when you visit!

Incognito Bistro
30 West 18th Street
(Between Fifth & Sixth Avenues)
New York, NY 10011
Website: incognitobistro.com
Open Monday to Saturday and closed on Sundays
Lunch is available from 11:30 to 4:00 and Dinner is on from 4:00 to 10:30 (11:00 on Saturdays). Happy hour is from 11:00 AM to 10:30 PM. All major credit cards accepted.

Incognito Bistro’s Dinner Menu

Like What’s a Super Taster?

My talents at work!

My talents at work!

One of the silly, little things that inspired me to try food writing was learning that I am, in fact, a supertaster. As a supertaster there are certain flavors that ignite greater sensations from my tastebuds. It’s a gift that allows me to better pick up on the nuances within foods and discern the ingredients and flavors behind a meal. In my childhood, my grandparents often tried to swap their homemade sauces with commercial or frozen variants. They have yet to sneak something past my tongue!

I first discovered my supertasting status at the book reading for author Joanne Chen’s A Taste of Sweet at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. To demonstrate the variety of perceptions in peoples’ sense of taste, each member of the audience was invited to lay a strip of  phenylthiocarbamide or PTC on their tongue. For some, PTC elicits no feeling at all, but for others, especially supertasters, the chemical leaves quite the bitter taste. In my case, I found the experience so heinous that I ripped the strip off my tongue in seconds but continued to gag for several minutes. At the end of the tasting lesson, I learned that both the ability to taste PTC and the trait of supertasting can be linked to the simple but wondrous mechanism of genetics.

Being a supertaster can come as a double-edged sword for a food writer. Sometimes, there are flavors that are too overpowering for me. The amount of saltiness in a bag of potato chips can send me into a coughing fit. There are certain foods that I will never enjoy, including alcohol, coffee without a ton of sugar and milk, grapefruit, sauerkraut, extremely spicy foods, and bitter leafy greens (though as I age, my taste for kale does seem to be growing).

Now, one might think that supertasters might not make the best food critics based on our sensitivities, which rarely match up with the rest of the population. However, I’ve found that truly delicious meals can be appreciated by anybody. The love, dedication, effort, preparation, presentation, and creativity behind good food all contribute to one’s enjoyment, taste only representing a single facet, though a very important one. In the end, I believe that we supertasters just have a greater appreciation for the meticulousness that goes into preparing our meals–an appreciation that I hope to spread through my writing.