Vandal Restaurant

I didn't want to like this place...

Vandal is a behemoth space in what formerly housed The General restaurant and Finale nightclub.  It calls itself a marriage of "Street Art" and "Street Food" with acclaimed chef Chris Santos (Beauty & Essex, Stanton Social, judge on Food Network's Chopped) at the helm food-wise and the Tao Group doing everything else I assume.  Full disclosure, both Tao Group and Beauty & Essex have been fantastic supporters of hotel concierges, but I'll try not to be a shill.

Vandal is on the Bowery, which is has now become the new happening area of the city for dinner and hanging out.  Like Beauty & Essex, you have to walk through a store of sorts to get to the host, this time it is a flower shop run by the upscale and contemporary florist Ovando.   Beautiful arrangements, but weird place for a flower shop, yes.  Once past Seymour & Audrey you are face to face with the "Front Desk", to the right a gargantuan statue of a pink bunny doing some break-dance move and to the left coat check.  Large murals of additional art pervade throughout the various spaces.  These are curated by Hush, the renowned British street artist.

Steak Tartare on a Pretzel (left), Tuna Crudo (right)

Steak Tartare on a Pretzel (left), Tuna Crudo (right)

There is one large bar that was ridiculously packed with the normal types for a new, hot place; older well dressed and adorned men, younger well dressed and adorned girls.  There are numerous drink options (like I am glad I am not a bartender there so I don't have to memorize all these) and beer by the bottle.  There are two main dining rooms and beautiful "private" room called the Garden Room.  The servers all looked eerily alike, attractive, dark haired women and were very attentive and friendly.  My server happily made suggestions when I asked and I followed her lead.  

Just about everything I had was very good.  I really liked this spicy, vodka based drink I had.  Guess I had too many cause I can't remember the name.  Other highlights were New York Pretzel Steak Tartare; a creative new take on beef tartare with a nod to NYC.  "American?" Kobe beef spread over a large soft pretzel with a smoked aioli and pickled mustard seeds. I did wonder what it might be like if there was a hard pretzel rather than soft to introduce a new texture.  Just the same it was delicious. The Tuna Crudo seems standard, but was very good. The Octopus Hurache was fantastic.  I know it seems like everyone has octopus on the menu these days, but you have to try this one with a roasted green chile sauce.  The grilled Chilean Sea Bass Tacos featured huge chunks of bass, avocado, slaw and salsa.  You getting hungry yet? Save room for pizza.  The next table over ordered the Wild Mushroom Pizza and I totally fell for the power of suggestion as soon as I saw and smelled that pie. It was a perfect thin and crispy crust, topped with mushrooms, cheese and caramelized onions.  Heaven.  The only thing I wasn't crazy about were the Korean Rice Cakes with kim chee.  I really like the idea, but the rice cakes, which resembled gnocchi, were just too gummy for my liking.  I might actually try this dish at home with gnocchi instead. I wanted to have dessert but I was too full of all the delicious food I did have.  I will be back, there is a lot more on this menu that covers the whole world that I want to try.  

Wild Mushroom Pizza

Wild Mushroom Pizza

Once you are done with dinner Vandal wants you to continue the party downstairs in their lounge.  An undulating bar is the focal point of the room with chaise lounges built right into the bar so all one needs to do is reach behind them to receive a drink from a cocktail professional.

As I was leaving, it all came together for me: drinks, dinner, more drinks, hopefully a hookup and as you leave buy a flower for that lucky girl or guy.  Tao has thought of everything and covered all the bases.  Like I said I didn't want to like it it because of how popular it will be, but I did like it, a lot and I will be back for more.



Duane Park

So you want something different, something other than the meat and potatoes song and dance that calls Broadway home those days.  How about super hot Burlesque?  How about amazingly talented entertainers?  How about fantastic food and drink?  How about all of the above?  Crawl slowly and cautiously downtown to the last vestige of real art in New York City, the East Village. Formerly home to the Bowery Poetry Club, this is the current home of Duane Park, a crazy, bawdy and extremely entertaining venue for the lost art of burlesque and showmanship.

Your guide like mine may be high pitched and scratchy voiced Cunio, the demon spawn of Freddie Mercury and Janis Joplin in a good way, no, an awesome way. He will guide you through the the many talented performers along with a band tighter than... well let's just let your imagination run wild. There are sword swallowers, hoop masters, fire eaters and good old fashioned burlesque performers giving their all for your entertainment and adulation.  Take this back to Des Moines with you Daisy Mae!  

This is not art for the faint of heart. This is for those that like to take the horse by the reigns and drag him through the mud, the ones that heed the call to arms and those that spit in the eye of danger, for those that want to live and be inspired.  Those that want a taste of Old New York! 


Noreetuh - quick take

Whenever a new Hawaiian restaurant opens in New York City I take notice.  Yes because I am part Hawaiian but also because there are so few of them.  Just opening recently Noreetuh bills itself as a casual Hawaiian inspired restaurant from three guys that worked together at Per Se.  It is a small two room affair with a small bar in the East Village.  Here are my initial reactions.  And to be fair I will return after a month or so to let them get into their groove:  

  • lots of wood and minimal feel to it
  • currently only beer, wine and sake
  • The poke was hands down my favorite.  Definitely had a classic poke taste with big chunks of tuna, crushed macadamia nuts and different types of seaweed.  Jalapenos were a great touch and added some zing. 
  • Monkfish liver was a close second, almost like a dessert with the sweetness from the fruit. 
  • Also was a fan of the musubi
  • Fluke was moist and had a great crunch and taste from the mochi, great idea
  • Pineapple dessert: impressive looking but really sweet, where do you get the baby pineapples? 
  • Why do they have such a big bathroom in such a small restaurant? 

Zuma New York

Grilled scallops with butter, shisho and plum

Being in the midst of opening an iconic hotel I know anticipation.  And there is genuine anticipation for Zuma in New York City.  I have been asked more than a couple times for reservations at Zuma in 2014 only to let the guests know that they were not open yet.  Well, the wait is now over.  Zuma is a contemporary Japanese restaurant with locations in  Hong Kong, London, Miami, Istanbul and Dubai to name a few locations.  The New York location is opening next week and I was lucky enough to try it out during the soft opening.

Grilled asparagus with wafu

Teryaki Salmon

Yellowtail with chili, daikon and ponzu

Zuma is an expansive space featuring stone walls and gorgeous teaked wood, a yin and yang if you will.  The main dining room has both a sushi bar, a yakitori counter and a large bar.  The upstairs bar features more seating and a lounge area where dinner reservations can be made and you can look over the main dining room.  The private dining rooms are also on the second level with many configuration options.  The room was buzzy and loud, probably due to the reverberations from the stone walls.  I sat at the sushi bar and loved the theater of the Sushi Chefs preparing the dishes.  The Yakitori/grill counter looked less appealing as there were stacks of dishes in front of the diners and the chef of to the side barking orders.

Beef tataki with pickled daikon and truffles

But let's get to the food and drink.  The two cocktails I had were flavorful and though there was definitely alcohol, you could not taste it.   The Rubabu is their signature cocktail with with vodka, sake, rhubarb, and passionfruit.  Fruity and refreshing.  Also had a Cooler made with tequila that was fantastic.  Food was gorgeously presented and everything tasted fantastic.  Highlights for me were:

  • Beef Tataki with pickled daikon and shaved truffles - slices of raw beef wrapped around pickled radishes and topped with earthy slivers of truffles
  • Yellowtail sashimi with pickled garlic slices and a ponzu green chili relish
  • Seared scallops on a butter sauce topped with something similar to a plum gastrique and shisho leaves
  • Chawanmushi for dessert - creamy custard with slices of tropical fruit

Zuma bamboo dessert


Delicious food, buzzy atmosphere, great service and a beautiful setting; Zuma New York has all the ingredients for success.  Zuma has a built in fan base and I believe that newcomers to this will join the into the hype.