Extra Virgin, West Village

Image courtesy of www.vipnyc.org

Image courtesy of www.vipnyc.org

Extra Virgin is the kind of neighbourhood restaurant that you go back to time and time again. Relaxed, comfortable and dependable, the menu here is consistent and provides tasty delights and hearty mains with love.

The inside is warm and welcoming, with a dominant bar to the left of the space and single wooden tables dotted around the remainder of the restaurant. An exposed brick wall to the right adds to the depth of the interior and compliments its cosy charm. A spattering of tables on the street provides outdoor dining when the weather permits.

The menu here is based on Mediterranean fare, offering simple yet robust dishes. One highlight is the nightly specials, which rotate and feature classic comfort food such as osso bucco and spaghetti and meatballs. Other tempting offerings include stick-to-your-bone meals – think butternut squash ravioli, which borders on heavy and bland without the addition of salt, and wild mushroom risotto, as well as lighter fare like pistachio crusted goat cheese salad and many versions of fish. Of excellent quality is the rare seared sesame crusted tuna, with coconut rice, warm red curry vinaigrette, baby cucumber, cilantro and radish.

Extra Virgin makes for the perfect date spot. The space is dimly lit and tables are dotted with tea light candles, pumping up the romantic atmosphere. The staff here are friendly and accommodating, which makes the dining experience a pleasure. Feels a bit like coming home.

Recommended: Pistachio-crusted goat cheese salad, roasted beets, endive, watercress, granny smith apple vinaigrette; Rare seared sesame-crusted tuna, coconut rice, warm curry vinaigrette, baby cucumber, cilantro, radish; Halibut simply grilled, fresh herbs, tomato carpaccio, arugula, extra virgin olive oil.

Price: $$

Best for: Dinner/brunch

Must try: Pistachio crusted goat cheese salad

Organic: No

259 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014 (West Village)

 212-691-9359

www.extravirginrestaurant.com 

 

Sweet Green, Nomad

Image courtesy of www.immaculateinfatuation.com 

Image courtesy of www.immaculateinfatuation.com 

When looking for a salad bar in New York, one is somewhat spoilt for choice. Dotted all over Manhattan, salad bars can be found everywhere – from upscale, industrial-sized spreads at Whole Foods, to smaller and less known bars in the local bodegas.  

New on the salad bar scene is Sweet Green. Originating in Washington DC, Sweet Green offers all the usual salad essentials. The difference here? All food is sourced from local and organic farmers. Sweet Green approach is to ride the wave of consumer awareness demanding food be ethically sourced and local communities be supported. It is, intelligently, giving consumers what they want, by providing healthy, fast and delicious food in a sustainably designed store with a hint of hipster cool.

The flagship New York store sits at 28th and Broadway in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Nomad. Finding itself next to heavy hitters such as the Nomad Hotel and the Ace Hotel was clearly no mistake for the savvy young and passionate owners of Sweet Green. In keeping with the vibe of the area, the outfit of the space inside is also aligned with the business’s core values. The large space is fitted out with natural looking materials, with a large wooden stacked arena seating arrangement at the back, nestled below a dominant blackboard that inspires customers with quotes, healthy information and other generally uplifting mantras.

To the food: being a salad bar, the usual options avail. In the salad department customers are given the choice of a pre-determined seasonal salad from the menu (which varies from store to store), or can construct their own from a wide range of ingredients, including raw seeds (flax, sunflower and sesame) warm grains (organic quinoa and farro) and organic spicy broccoli. “Premium” ingredients feature options such as local goat cheese, citrus shrimp and baked falafel. The dressings are as varied as they are delightful – truffle oil, lemon tahini, miso sesame ginger and carrot chilli vinaigrette are but a few.

Pressed juices also feature on the menu here. Along with all other items at Sweet Green, these are private label, and feature the usual super green options and other healthy-sounding delights.

In an attempt to follow on with the healthy spin, Sweet Press offers a frozen yogurt bar too. Again, the point of difference here is that the yoghurt is made from organic Stonyfield yoghurt, which is fat free and “all-natural”. It seems an odd addition to such a clean and pure eatery, but again, Sweet Press is clearly just giving their people what they want.

Image courtesy of hungree.com 

Image courtesy of hungree.com 

Lines at lunch can be long and out the door, so come prepared to wait a while before you receive your green delight. Worth it though for a salad with a healthier difference.

Recommended: “Make your own” salad with any number of combinations

Price: $

Best for: Lunch

Organic: Yes

Wifi: UNKNOWN

 1164 Broadway, New York, NY 10001 (Nomad)

 646-449-8884

www.sweetgreen.com  

 

Dukes Coffee, Melbourne

Image courtesy of www.flickriver.com 

Image courtesy of www.flickriver.com 

There is high competition for good coffee on Melbourne’s Chapel Street so for a café to stand out in this trendy district, it needs to offer something more than just a decent cup of Joe. Dukes Coffee fits that bill perfectly.

Dukes oozes cool and hip Melbourne charm. From the quality of the coffee, the range of food on the menu and the friendly service, Dukes has all bases covered. The interior is industrial chic, with a long communal table nestled at the rear of the venue, in front of a slightly open kitchen, where cooks can be seen assembling tasty delights. Smaller tables dotted throughout seat urban hipsters, as does the spattering of tables outside on the street, where diners can people watch on the popular fashion strip.

Attention to detail is what comes to mind here. The coffee is dark and rich, however an espresso did leave a bitter twinge on the palate. The breakfast menu is diverse, offering popular egg dishes as well as more creative flavours. The giant stack of buttermilk pancakes is a popular item and the hummus avocado bread with poached eggs and candied honey bacon bits adds a twist to an otherwise classic dish.

Fresh cakes and other sweet delights are delivered daily and placed delicately and with great care in a display fridge at the counter. Huge cupcakes dominate but other favourites are gluten free friands and many varieties of chocolate indulgences. Pastries are fresh and perfectly buttery, as they should be.

Come for the coffee and stay for breakfast. A great Melbourne scene to sit and experience some of the finest coffee in town.

Image courtesy of www.broadsheet.com.au

Image courtesy of www.broadsheet.com.au

Recommended: Hummus avocado bread with poached eggs and candied honey bacon bits

Price: $

Cuisine: Contemporary Australia

Best for: Breakfast/brunch

Organic: No

Wifi: No

169 Chapel Street, Windsor, Victoria 3181

(03) 9521 4884

www.dukescoffee.com.au

August - West Village

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I never order chicken at restaurants. Ever. To me, chicken belongs in salads and sandwiches with avocado. At August however, it’s different. In fact, if you ate there and left without ordering the chicken, you would be missing out.

So, what’s so good about this chicken? First of all, it’s organic, which is a big tick in my box. Secondly, the taste. The best way to describe it is like KFC, without the deep-frying, chemicals and trans-fat. It comes roasted (and you know this is true as it takes a good 20 minutes to cook), with the perfect amount of skin left on both the breast and the little wing they serve with it. It is succulent and melts in your mouth. To be honest, it is an extremely large portion of chicken but there always seems to be room to finish it.

The third great thing about this dish is the accompaniments. In its menu-form, the chicken is actually served with mash potato however, being the potato/starch avoiding individual that I am, I switch this out for their brussel sprouts. Oh. My. God. It was these brussel sprouts that started my obsession with this little winter vegetable. Crisp, fried and salty, these little things are like a forkful of heaven. Also on the side are garlic and chilli coated green beans and, while they are served cold, they work beautifully and meld with the rest of the flavours so well. To top it off, the whole dish is topped with a gentle yet salty chicken jus, which complements everything involved on the plate.

Despite the exceptional chicken, the physical space that is August is impressive. The restaurant offers both an informal bar space where diners can enjoy either a drink before dinner or a casual meal and a garden atrium-style area where tables line a square-spaced room and are lit with small tea light candles. It is extremely romantic and peaceful.

The staff are a treat also. As we’ve become regulars, we chat away to Thomas behind the bar (who makes a mean cocktail), Joe the waiter, the owner and various chefs. The familiarity of the staff gives August such a great local feel. This place has become a once a week experience for me. Get there tonight!

Recommended: Roasted organic chicken with chilled green beans and fried garlic (I swap out the mashed potato for the fried Brussels sprouts!)

Prices:  $$

359 Bleecker Street

New York, NY 10014

212-929-8727 

www.augustny.com