38-40 Carmine St,
New York, NY 10014
Official Site

A la carte tasting is what I often refer to as small plates or tapas style dining. To be able to sample a variety of dishes is a pure joy to the palate. Along Carmine Street in the West Village, Carma, an Asian tapas and wine bar allows guests with such experience. Their modern Asian fare with Western influences was created by the same executive chef of the Michelin starred DinTai Fung. The food was such hit for New Yorkers that Carma expanded to the East Village with Carma Dim Sum Bar.

The restaurant has two separate dining rooms filled with smooth wooden top tables and Danish designed chairs. It has exposed brick walls, herringbone pattern oak floors, and light bulbs that drop down from the ceiling illuminating the whole space. During good weather, an outdoor area in the back is available for al fresco dining. The vibe in the restaurant is chill and is equaled by a tremendously friendly service.

One menu is offered all day at Carma that consist of mainly small plates made for sharing. Many of the dishes are moderately priced, none exceeding more than $20 (except for the whole fish which is market price). Dining in a group allows everyone to easily sample the whole menu.

Highlighting Carma’s “Signature Dim Sum” was the Foie Gras Soup Dumpling. Decadent foie gras infused soup trapped inside the dumplings is released in one bite. This was probably the best dumplings I’ve ever had.

The tapas selection of Tempura Fresh Water Eel…Burrata Cheese, Cucumber, Served with Bun, was nicely done in putting together the richness of the Burrata cheese with the eels graininess. Mexican inspired PEKING DUCK TACOS – Shredded Peking duck marinated in homemade Hoisin BBQ sauce came in three small hard tacos. The combination of the flavorful shredded duck meat and the homemade guacamole created a terrific filling.

Fresh White Fish Cakes looks more like Chinese mini buns than a cake. Cooked pan fried, giving top and bottom a burnt crust, and in the middle of the cake was the delicious grounded white fish stuffing. Five Spice Beef…Served with Pickled Radish were slices of sweet marinated cured beef served in room temperature. It had dry texture similar to beef jerky but is also tender and is easily chewed.

The Kung Pao Organic Chicken Breast…Hot Chili Pepper, Peppercorn, Spinach Sauce was not your typical Kung Pao chicken. The sauce was made from spinach sprinkled with pepper corn and nuts that surprisingly went extremely well with the all fieriness on the plate. This was an ingenious reinvention of classic Chinese fare. The Organic Chicken Lettuce Wrap on the other hand was the weakest and the most uninspiring dish I had here. Yet it still managed to please my palate with its flavorings.


Vegetable dishes such as The Spicy Hunan Chinese Celery & Smoked Tofu had a good blend of spiciness and smokiness. The mixture of the contrasting texture of the tofu softness and the crunchiness of the celery worked well together. Roasted Japanese Eggplant with spicy garlic sauce was served piping hot in a cover bowl. Once the cover was removed it yielded beautiful savory aromas. Eggplant served like a sponge absorbed all those fantastic flavors from the sauce.

“Carma House Special” like the Baked Miso Cod, was a sumptuous piece of cod coated in sweet sauce. Fresh sautéed Chinese broccoli and eggplant on the plate serve as a terrific accompaniment to the cod. The fried Coconut Milk Calamari has a beautiful crispiness and the distinct coconut milk can be tasted in the batter.

The kitchen’s creativity in reinventing Asian cuisine and incorporating global ingredients was impressive. On every plate there was an assortment of flavor combination that worked well with one another while also keeping the taste of the Far East intact. To pair perfectly with their food is their decent drink list that consisted of an eclectic wine selection, imported beer, Asian inflicted cocktail, and an assortment of sake.

New York City is full of “Modern Asian” or “Asian Fusion” restaurant, which have its unique differences. This can cause some confusion on the plate which type really is. At Carma, they are able to blend East and West cooking that produces a successful “Asian Fusion” cuisine.

2016 Dining Recap


Having visited a handful of Michelin starred, World’s 50 Best and other top restaurants in Asia and Europe, 2016 was great dining year. My journey began at Hong Kong where I dined at Lung King Heen, the very first three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the world. Needless to say, it had an extremely high quality Cantonese food. The restaurants location on the fourth floor of the Four Season hotel boasts a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor. The two Michelin-starred Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental offers a terrific weekend wine lunch which consists of five courses paired with four glasses of wine. This was one of the best deals out there at 928 HKD for a restaurant at this caliber. Dinner at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the only of the L’Ateliers with three Michelin stars) was also quite superb.

I waited in queue for hours at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, which at that time was the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world (until that distinction was awarded to Singapore’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken in the summer of last year). The dim sum was tasty and I enjoyed every single dish that I had. Frog legs and chicken congee at Tasty Congee & Wuntun Noodle Shop in the IFC was nothing short of delicious. Even better was the chicken and fish congee at the concierge recommended Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. 208 Ducento Otto serves up wonderful cocktails while Angel Share Whisky Bar & Restaurant and its expansive list of whisky is a must-visit for enthusiast while in Hong Kong.

That same journey through Asia led me to Tokyo, Japan. I had my very first meal in this sprawling metropolis at RyuGin, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant which has three Michelin stars and ranked number 31 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant. The modern kaiseki that it serves is a reflection of the agricultural bounty of Japan. With each dish skillfully prepared, this was one of the best meals I’ve had. In Ginza, the Omakase at the three Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshitake did not disappoint. The fish and other seafood used in every single piece of Nagiris were extremely fresh. Sushi might be star of the show at this restaurant, but the cooked dishes were equally sublime. It was highlighted by the abalone liver sauce mixed with sushi rice which was a mind-blowing dish that still resonates in my memory.

Hideki Ishikawa is Japan’s most decorated chef/restaurateur with three restaurants under his belt totaling eight Michelin stars. He also has the distinction shared by the likes of the Robuchon’s , the Keller’s and the Ducasse’s to have two restaurants at the same with the maximum rating from the Michelin guide. At his eponymous Ishikawa, I was served a wonderful contemporary style kaiseki that shows simplicity with plenty of subtle flavors. I also visited Kohaku the other three star restaurant of Chef Ishikawa, which is located in the same area and within walking distance from each other. The kitchen is under Koji Koizumi a disciple of Chef Ishikawa. There are many of similarities between them, but the two are distinctly different at the same time. Kohaku is a more modern prepared kaiseki that incorporate foreign ingredients, which are not usually use in Japanese cuisine.

Japan is surprisingly home to one of the finest French restaurant outside of France. Others can argue that it might better than its home country due to the high quality of ingredients it uses produced by Japan. Many of the top French chefs has an outpost sprinkled throughout country, but a large number of them are concentrated in Tokyo. I had a superb tasting menu at Chef Pierre Gaganaire, Two restaurant Peirre Gagnaire Au Tokyo on the 35floor of the ANA Intercontinental, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Each plate were carefully crafted, using only the finest local ingredients. As a bonus, guests enjoyed the scenic view of the whole city as the backdrop while dining. In Roppongi Hills, I dined at Chef of the Century Joel Robochon L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Along with Paris, the Tokyo branch is one of the first L’Ateliers. Having previously gone to the Hong Kong location, these two Michelin starred restaurant are a lot more casual, yet the quality of food is equally top-notched.

Inside the train station in Ginza, resides a minuscule ramen shop called Kagari Echika, which has garnered a lot of following. They served me tasty bowl of ramen, with a broth that has a certain delightful creaminess. In Shinjuku, high above the mall of the train station is Tenichi, where I had some delicate fried tempura accompanied with fresh sashimi. While at Sushi Mamire, I was served with affordable yet enjoyable pieces of sushi and rolls. Pagliaccio Due in Shiba, is an Italian restaurant that serves pleasant dishes like the Seafood Rissotto, and the spaghetti with fish. Night caps in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, were made lively with tunes from a funky jazz show. Soon after I feasted with the hotel famous weekend brunch. Finally, visiting Japan is not complete without trying the world famous Kobe beef. At Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, I had a magical experience without breaking the bank. The beef was as good as advertised, and every bite was heavenly like cotton candy that melts in the mouth.

From Izakaya’s, to noodle shops, to high end kaiseki, sushi (as well as low end), and to fine French restaurants, I had the greatest time dining in Tokyo. The uncompromising use of quality ingredients in this city restaurant makes Tokyo the gastronomic capital of the world. The two weeks I spent there was simply not enough.

The next stop in my search and passion for fine dining was a short trip to Basel, Switzerland. I had the opportunity to dine at the three Michelin star, Cheval Blanc. The restaurant is located in one of Europe’s oldest hotel Le Trois Rois. Bavarian chef Pete Knogl, is in charge of the kitchen and under his leadership Cheval Blanc was elevated to culinary stardom. The tasting menu has global influences and shows the precision cooking technique of Chef Knogl. Each dish was light and has a fantastic complex combination of flavors and textures.

I couldn’t end 2016 without grazing the home front for some great eats. After all, no one can beat New York City in anything, (at least to a New Yorker that is). I had very good meals at the Upper East Side’s, The NUAA. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves refined Thai fare that’s geared towards the Western palate. Last year, I saw an onslaught of new eateries opening up in the Financial District improving the neighborhood’s restaurants scene. Among them is Eataly Downtown which opened to the public last summer. Much smaller than its older siblings in the Flatiron, this mega food market brought a slew of dining options that includes another outlet of the seafood haven, Il Pesce. The restaurant offers appetizing sustainable seafood prepared in the simplest form. As the last stop of my 2016 journey, West Village Carma Asian Tapas, served an unmatchable creative Far Eastern fare in small plate format. I enjoyed the way the kitchen recreated classic Chinese dishes, as well as using other Western ingredients that aren’t usually found in Asian cooking.

Though 2016 didn’t boast much of my hometown’s variety of eateries, it was a star studded year of dining in the international level. Overall, I would say it was great and successful year of eating. I’m looking forward to an even better 2017 where I plan to focus on New York City, its outer boroughs and state side. Hopefully, I can sprinkle few international trips here and there.

Aria Wine Bar

Aria Wine Bar
117 Perry St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 242-4233

Tapas or small plates have been a staple of Spanish cuisine for ages. I consider this concept an ala carte version of the tasting menu. It is an excellent way to experience multiple dishes a restaurant has to offer without being committed to an entrée that may be lack luster. In New York City, Spanish restaurants are not the only ones who specialize in this concept. In the case of Aria Wine Bar, it has perfected the small plate offering in Italian style.

I know what you’re thinking… wine bar… soft relaxing music… sipping a glass of wine… maybe nibbling on a Panini… WRONG! Aria Wine Bar is far from your typical wine bar. It is loud… it is cramped! You are literally elbow to elbow with strangers and you are enjoying your food and wine right next to the bartender as he mixes cocktails. You are so close to your neighbors that in addition to your own conversation don’t be surprised if you also hear from one ear the angst of a young adult struggling for independence from overbearing parents and out of the other ear band mates planning their next session. Aria Wine Bar is always packed with beautiful West Villagers on a nightly basis. It nixed the loungey piano music for hip hop and pop music. This is truly an enjoyable atmosphere.

The wine bar is a replica of a cellar in a 19th century home. There are wooden beams that run from end to end of the ceiling, exposed brick walls and worn out wooden flooring for a rustic, chic interior. A wooden communal table next to steel pylon in the middle and a white tiled bar where people can sit in front of each other are paired with industrial metal high chairs. Hanging cured meats and wine bottles that are neatly placed behind each other are visible throughout the place. There is also a weathered wood counter that runs along the windows where diners can choose to sit and do some people watching along Perry Street.

The menu is affordable and extensive. It also includes a selection of cheese plates and cured meats that are available throughout the day staring at 12 PM daily. There are no dishes that are priced over $12 which is a bargain by New York City standards, especially for the quality of the ingredients that are used.

The non-encyclopedic wine lists at this place are mainly consisting of Italian wines with a few from other parts of the globe. The wines are served in an unorthodox style: stem less wine glasses that are priced at an average of $8 per serving. The last time I had this was at Macao Trading Co. in TriBeCa a few years back.

I love going to Aria Wine Bar and trying multiple combinations of small plates so that each experience there is unique. Starting off with Aragosta e Avocado, lobster salad with avocado and arugula. In this multiple protein dish, the lobster was tender while the avocado gave a nice flavor combination. The Insalata De Mare or seafood salad was a pescetarian delight. The plate was packed with fresh sea foods that were perfectly combined. It was so fresh that I had to peak into the kitchen to see if there was an aquarium of edible sea creatures in it!

Pasta plates like The Linguine Vongole or linguine with clams was delicious. The clams were soaked in the sauce which added a sea food taste with a bit of citrus zest. Both the Macheronni al Tartufo or mac and cheese with truffle Carpaccio and the Fettuccini Ai Fungi, fettuccini with wild mushroom and truffle oil, has an earthy flavor that the truffles give to both dishes. Then there is the Raviolli Ricotta, ravioli with ricotta cheese, spinach and asparagus along with creamy sauce was very good as well and the cheese had a nice thick texture.

Next there are the small plates that are very good, like the Vongole a Originate, baked clams with oregano and lemon sauce and the Tortino di Granchio e Funghi or crab cake with mushroom. The crab cake is moist in texture while the citrus infused baked clam sauce was acidic and complimented the baked clams and its stuffing. The Calamari in Umido was another enjoyable dish as well as the Polpette al Pomodoro, meatballs and the Carciofi e Olive, sautéed artichokes and olives.

The non existence of chicken dish in the wine bar is not a deal breaker, but it would have been a nice option in the already outstanding menu. The seafood and pasta dishes more than make up for this loss.

Aria Wine Bar is a quaint and essential New York City food and drink establishment. It has the downtown atmosphere, West Village crowd and great food and drinks. Every person that I brought here agreed on one thing, they all liked this place and vowed to come back.

I was once asked for recommendation for a nice restaurant with reasonable price, tasty food, nice vibe and non-encyclopedia wine list. I answered without hesitation, Aria Wine Bar in the West Village.

Do Hwa

Dining Room

Do Hwa
55 Carmine St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 414-1224
Official Site

Ask any person on the streets of New York City for a Korean restaurant and you would most likely be directed to Flushing Queens or Koreantown (aka K-Town) in Midtown Manhattan since these areas have the highest demographic of Korean population and businesses. I’ve never been to Flushing and quiet frankly the food at K-Town although not bad, just doesn’t do it for me. However there are a few Korean restaurants that have successfully ventured out from those areas. One such restaurant is Do Hwa in the West Village. Located on Carmine Street, this restaurant along with the neighborhood’s eclectic food scene makes the West Village a buffet of restaurants.

Do Hwa caught my eye while walking along Carmine Street after having dinner at a nearby restaurant. I was intrigued by the happy hour special on blackboard outside so I decided to take a peek. The place is dim, loud and caters mostly to the hip and trendy West Village crowd. Unlike restaurants in K-Town, there were very few Korean diners which lead me to question the authenticity of the cuisine. But other than the hot dog, pizza and the bagel, is there any niche food that’s a 100 percent authentic in NYC? Please let me know.





If one is into spicy food this the place to dine. One such spicy dish is the Dak Teegim crispy boneless fried chicken drizzled with jalapeno pepper sauce. Seasoned to perfection, it is juicy and soft while the jalapeno pepper sauce provided the right kick of spiciness. Starter dishes like the Dubu Junpan – seared organic tofu, scallion vinaigrette, and the Mak Gooksu cold buckwheat noodles topped with sesame kimchi, are pretty solid appetizers. The Dubu Jun seared tofu has a great soft texture and the Mak Gooksu has a sweetness that worked well with the kimchi. You are given 2 options with entrees – either with a grill, where guests can cook it on their own – served as a Ssam dish accompanied with chilli and miso sauces and other condiments like kimchi and vegetables; and the other option is already cooked by the kitchen. On one of my visits I went for the grill and had the Dak Gui chicken barbecue (thin breast slices) in sesame marinade; and the Seywoo Gui grill, peel and large shrimp with chili dipping sauces. The shrimps were fresh and so was the chicken. I also had the cooked in the kitchen Dak Gui which was very good with a very “far eastern” taste of mild sauces. Entrées are accompanied by condiments of cooked and pickled vegetables in small plates that can be a meal on its own.

The specialty drinks at Do Hwa is as good as the food. Such drinks were the Ginger Cinnamon Tea with Bourbon, where the bourbon dominated the taste while the flavor of the ginger tea complemented in the background; and the Jalapeno Margarita with pineapple and agave – which is spicy with the jalepeno and salt fusion and yet sweet with the agave and pineapple – a perfect combination.





The simple but chic décor along with its trendy staff of women gives the restaurant a hip setting. The dining room is dominated by black and white hollow block walls, concrete floors throughout and black wooden tables (some with a grill) partnered with black wooden chairs. While a white wall in the middle with Korean designs that plug the squarish cut out of the wall serves as a separator between the dining room and the bar area. At the bar guest can enjoy creative libations on the black wooden bar table where the paint is slowly chipping away showing the natural color of the wood. The happy hour menu is written on the wall and various movies are continuously showing in the bar area’s wall.

Before I began exploring the gastronomic beauty that this city has to offer I was a closed minded diner and would always think that if an ethnic restaurant is not in its own neighborhood, the food must not be good. Now, for me there are two types of foods, one that tastes good and one that tastes bad. Although Do Hwa may not serve the most authentic Korean cuisine and caters more to non-Korean diners, the food is still good and the atmosphere is enjoyable. Do Hwa is sure to offer a home cooked meal served family style that will leave you satisfied and more.


Starbucks may still be a dominant force in NYC, but there are numerous coffee shops in the city that have the advantage of being less crowded, more relaxed and full of atmosphere. The West Village is full of such places. Grounded, located on Jane Street is one such spot. It might be a bit complicated to find with all of the West Village’s crisscrossing streets, but once you find it you will be back again and again claiming it as your hidden gem.

This wonderful spot has all the makings of a home away from home; great ambiance, rustic décor, fixtures that appear to be flea market or antique store finds, several dark metal very worn chairs, mismatched tables of various styles and shapes, outdoor wooden benches straight from someone’s garden and a weathered wooden counter top by the wall. Numerous live potted plants hang or lay all over giving the space an indoor garden feel. In addition, there is also a bookcase filled with donated books, multiple antique-looking ceiling fans that actually work and exposed brick yellow washed walls that display artwork from local and aspiring artists. At the front of the shop menus are written on a chalk board that hangs behind the counter. Right next to the counter is their open makeshift kitchen.



Grounded serves organic coffee, tea, hot chocolate and smoothies (in the summer.) They also serve bagels, croissants, assorted pastry and made to order salads and sandwiches. Organic coffee beans are available by the pound as well as organic tea. I am not a connoisseur of coffee, but I do enjoy their latte – neither bitter nor too sweet with perfectly steamed milk.



I’ve written many of Rays Picks NYC’s postings while sipping coffee here. I don’t come here for the coffee or for the food (even though the food is good,) but I come for the cozy feel and the vibrant atmosphere. The friendly, young, hip and unpretentious West Village crowd is very comforting and engaging. The noise is at a minimal and the eclectic music playlist plays at a perfect volume making it a great place to work and to meet up for nice conversation. The staff is great, the service is amazing, and no one bothers you no matter how long you’ve been sitting in the shop. Oh, did I mention that is has free WiFi?

As I mentioned, I’m not really a coffee a drinker but I do enjoy sipping coffee while having a nice conversation in a relaxing setting, or sipping while working on my computer or reading. Grounded is my ideal place for those activities and I’m sure it will become yours as well. Just make sure you check out the location on Google Maps or Foursquare in advance or you just might miss it.

28 Jane St
(between Greenwich Ave & 4th St)
New York, NY 10014
212 647 0943
Official Website