And Now… Pok Pok Phat Thai

Just two weeks old, Pok Pok Phat Thai has officially replaced Pok Pok Wing, swapping the now famous Ike’s Wings for rice (or flat) noodles in the dish we were all, if secretly, missing from Andy Ricker’s New York outposts. I know this dish from my sister, Sarah, she usually for her kids every weekend (alse check the newest article of her blog – kids outdoor playhouse). Ricker explained that in Thailand, phat thai is typically a street food – hence its absence at Pok Pok NY. But he found a place for this fawned-over noodle dish in Pok Pok Wing’s old quarters, which is now dedicated to phat thai. For me, this news was a slice of heaven, delivered.

You can still get the amazing Ike’s Wings at Pok Pok NY, but the Lower East Side’s subterranean Pok Pok is now serving noodles – with ground pork, prawns, ground pork and prawns, or served vegan. For the full experience, don’t miss the drinking vinegars in flavors like tamarind, honey and apple. Housemade vinegar mixed with soda water provides a sharp, lightly carbonated, refreshment to ready and relieve your mouth for a heaping pile of noodles.

Hanging Onto Summer

Labor Day has come and gone. It is now September and summer is undeniably over. If you’re like me and you’re not ready to let go of long days, sandals and outdoor grilling; if you find yourself prematurely flipping through your summer photos and resisting putting your white pants away; and if you’re already nostalgic for salt, sand and sunshine, then you might find these summer recipes worth giving one last try, and you might like their variations, which will allow you to hang onto summer well into the winter.

Some Simple Summer Recipes
Corn Soup

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic; 1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons salt; 2 teaspoons cumin,
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced; 1/2 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded & diced (or jalapeno chiles)
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 1/2 cup water
8 ears shucked corn
1 roasted red pepper, peeled seeded and finely chopped
2 – 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

– cut corn kernels off ears of corn and set aside
– cut corn cubs in 3 pieces
– heat oil in heavy pot over moderately low heat and add garlic, stirring for a few minutes
– add onion, poblano chilies and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 4 minutes
– add cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes
– increase to moderate heat and add carrots and celery, and cook for about 5 minutes
– add 3/12 cups of stock, water and corn cobbs and bring to boil
– reduce heat and simmer, uncooked for about 15 minutes
– add all corn kernels EXCEPT 1 cup, which should be reserved for later
– allow soup to simmer, covered, until corn kernels are tender, about 15 minutes
– remove corn cobs and allow soup to cool
– when soup has cooled, puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth
– cook the 1 cup of reserved corn in a small saucepan of boiling water until tender – about 3 minutes
– drain and rins under cold water to stop from cooking further
– stir corn kernels into the soup
– add the chopped red pepper, cilantro and chipotle chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste
– can serve at room temperature or heat slightly if desired

 

Wheat Berry Salad

1 1/2 cups wheat berries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 cup scallion
3 tablespoons olive oil

– place wheat berries in a pot and submerge them in enough water to cover them by about 2 inches
– bring water to boil and let wheat berries cook until soft, for about 1 hour in uncovered pot
– drain and toss with dry ingredients, then oil and lemon juice


For more simple, summer recipes and winter substitutions.

(For pet lover, also check my friend’s blog reviewing on best outdoor cat shelter & house for garden space)

Tribeca Trails

Last night Alex — my beloved boyfriend who tirelessly humors me in my endless pursuit of new restaurants — and I ate at a lovely, little restaurant in Tribeca: Tiny’s and the Bar Upstairs. The three-story restaurant and bar is impeccably decorated: elegantly rustic without feeling contrived, the restaurant, and bar upstairs, are as charming as the people in it. Matt Abramcyk, former owner of the now-closed but forever-famous Beatrice Inn, hit the nail on the head with this landmarc Tribeca townhouse turned cute and cozy restaurant filled with antique chairs and walled by perfectly distressed, exposed brick, wood and tin.We shared burrata on toasted baguette with arugula and rhubarb mustard- the mustard was the best part. I had grilled hake, which, with a slightly battered coat and perfectly soft inside, was delicious on top of a white bean spread and arugula. Alex had the hanger steak, served on crispy, cubed potatoes. The simple menu is refreshing, and the food is tasty and not overwhelmingly heavy. The china is floral and, of course, antique. Our cocktails – I had The White Lady, made of muddled raspberry, vodka and soda water; my lovely one had a Whiskey Sour – were delightful and not too strong. Tiny’s is quiet and not overwhelming in anyway, which is actually a delightful treat in a city where sensory-overload is the norm.

Unintentionally, we ended up at another one of Mr. Abramyck’s Tribeca establishments after dinner. En route to a comedy show at the 92nd Street Y Tribeca – a variety show featuring the hilarious Kristin Schaal, we were searching for somewhere to have an outdoor cocktail, and spotted the one and only outdoor table at Smith and Mills: it was free and calling our name. Round two of sipping drinks among Mr. Abramyck’s beautiful, just-so decor speedily commenced. Although I’m afraid it’s a little passé at this point -Gasp!- Smith and Mills is still one of my favorite bars. I’d more-than-happily go for their dark and stormy any winter night, and their champaign cocktail and salmon tartar any summer evening.

 

Sipping our pre-comedy show cocktails, we realized our table was directly facing the booth where we sat at Locanda Verde the weekend prior. Having salivated over Locanda Verde since its opening, I was thrilled to finally take a great occasion to dine at this still-hot spot last week. Alex and I had met for a drink there a year ago, and when we returned this time, the restaurant was just as vibrant as ever.
I loved my cocktail, loved our bottle of wine, and loved our appetizers: Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Crostini with Sea Salt and Herbs, and Warm Asparagus with an Organic Egg and Pancetta and Truffled Vinaigrette. And while my lovely boyfriend’s Girandole with Homemade Duck Sausage, Chickpeas, Escarole, and Fiore Sardo was very good, my Grilled Branzino with Roasted Sunchokes, Dandelion and Salsa Rossa was less than wonderful. It almost tasted like it was microwaved, even though I know it couldn’t have been, could it?!
I thought, for a moment, that I might have been better off sticking to cocktails and appetizers, which usually proves the best route at many restaurants of Locanda Verde’s size. I think, however, that I was just a little unlucky and perhaps a little over-excited, and will next time only order Branzino if it’s a special. At last, despite my somewhat disappointing main course, the appetizers, drinks, and incredible ambiance made for a fantastically festive evening, and if I can get another reservation, I certainly would love to return.

Astoria, Oregon: Where Everything Old Is New Again

We arrived in Astoria after dark. It was just before 9 p.m., and the streets were deserted. The only sign of life was the electric blue neon sign marking our hotel, the only sound a dull buzz from the light. As soon as we checked into the Norblad Hotel & Hostel, we were directed to Fort George Brewery, the only place we were guaranteed to get a meal at this hour. Just around the corner, the brewery looked a lot like the hotel — a two-story, brick building spanning almost the entire length of the block, the street outside as desolate the Norblad’s. Inside, however, we found a whole different story.

The bar was warm and lively. Glasses clinked and groups of friends scrunched together around tables, playing board games or sharing food. Sliding into a large booth by the window, we joined the party. Men young and old sported bushy beards — the kind Brooklyn hipsters aspire to grow themselves, only these ones looked authentic and not for show. The same plaid shirts that have become a quintessential item in the hipster wardrobe looked much better here. If Portland, the so-called birthplace of the hipster, has become disingenuous, Astoria feels just the opposite. It’s not trying to be gritty, rustic and cool — it just is. As we drank house-brewed beer and ate fresh albacore tuna fish and chips, we felt far from Brooklyn, but also right at home.

A town of not quite 10,000 on the northern coast of Oregon, Astoria has been through boom and bust, and is now going through something of a cultural rebirth, again. The oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria was founded as a fur trading post and quickly became a fishing hub in the late 1800s, situated perfectly on the Columbia River, just a few miles from the Pacific, Ocean. With the advent of salmon canning, Astoria became the center of the commercial salmon industry. In the early 1900s, Bumble Bee opened canneries in Astoria, first producing salmon but then capitalizing on the albacore tuna that has since become synonymous with the company’s name. Seeing a surge of jobs with Bumblebee’s popularity, Astoria “you might say, is to canned tuna what Detroit is to the automobile,” says Freda Moon in the New York Times.

Kutsher’s Tribeca

Kutsher’s Tribeca, which opened in November, is “a modern Jewish American deli.” Inspired by a classic Jewish country club in the Catskills — Kutsher’s Country Club — it landed on one of the hippest restaurant blocks in the city. On Franklin between Hudson and Greenwich, Nobu Tribeca is down the street, Tamarind Tribeca is kitty-corner, The Harrison is a block south and Locanda Verde and Smith and Mills are a block north. Despite this fierce neighborhood competition, Kutsher’s is holding its own. Its secret? It doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Fourth-generation Zach Kutscher opened the restaurant with chef Mark Spangenthal and restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow (of Asia de Cuba — a fave of mine when I first moved to the city and fancied big, over-the-top, clubby, Manhattan restaurants. Asia de Cuba has since closed, thankfully marking the end of that decadent habit I shared with my girlfriends.) The food at Kutsher’s is an upscale — but not fancy — version of the Jewish comfort food I wish I had had more of growing up. A Country Club Chopped Salad was perfect with the usual components — butter lettuce, chic peas, apples, walnuts — and some Jewish flare: challah croutons. The Cured Salmon Trio was my kind of heaven, with nova, grave lox and pastrami cured salmon served with a chive spread and pumpernickel bread.

My favorite appetizer was the Crispy Artichoke Alla Judea: fried to a crispiness that didn’t sacrifice or disguise the delicate artichoke leaves and seasoned with lemon, garlic, parsley, greens and shaved parmesan, this dish was impeccably prepared.

Meaty entrees were succulent and sizable. Red Wine Braised Flanken Style Short Ribs, which came with schmaltz mashed potatoes and glazed root vegetables, was enough for two, tender and incredible. Braised Lamb Shanks served atop lentils, roasted tomatoes, currants, parsley and Middle Eastern spices were, as my faux-cousin Casey described them, Fred Flinstone-esque in size and presentation, and as complex and wonderful as they were hefty.

Crispy Potato Latkes are a necessary accompaniment to any meal. My aunt ruined potato latkes for me because hers were so amazing that nothing could ever compare. I stay away from ordering them in restaurants, because I know I will just be disappointed. Not only did Kutshner’s latkes not disappoint, they totally wowed me and take second place in my rank of favorite dishes (first being the artichokes).

Growing up, dessert was a key element to any meal for my family. My grandfather owned a Tastee Freeze in Akron, Ohio, and my mom grew up on soft serve and milkshakes. My dad grew up loving – and to this day adores – rainbow cookies. So I really had no choice but to order the Rainbow Cookie Hot Fudge Sunday, served in a traditional, tall ice cream glass with vanilla and almond ice cream, marshmallow fluff and almond brittle. It was everything I could have ever wanted it to be and more: the perfect nostalgic treat, with a contemporary spin, to top off a perfectly nostalgic but contemporary meal.

A mixed crowd heightened the laid-back vibe at Kutshner’s. I saw a family with kids under the age of 10 and a socialite I recognized from the society pages. The restaurant’s country club roots translated well from the Catskills to Tribeca, its campy origin channeled and upgraded with a sleek, city feel. Birch, brass and geometric beams and sconces, produced an almost futuristic lodge, and, in keeping with many moves to the city, it felt like Ikea had a hand in the furnishing.

I’d like to be a regular at Kutshner’s, and I feel like that’s exactly how they wanted me to feel, in the sincerest possible way.

Walter’s

Every day it seems like some Manhattan-based restaurant opens an outpost in Williamsburg. Just recently, a restaurant from Williamsburg opened an outpost in Fort Greene. Walter’s, of Williamsburg’s Walter Foods, opened a few months ago on prime real estate, on the corner of Cumberland and Dekalb, facing the park.
A welcome addition to the neighborhood, Walter’s is open late, unlike most of Fort Greene’s dining establishments. The food lives up to high neighborhood standards. The Deviled Eggs are perfectly spicy and the Crab Cakes with Sherry and Cayenne Aioli are lightly battered for a crispy outside and moist inside. A Roasted Half Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Market Vegetables and Tarragon Gremolata is tender, juicy, and excellent.

An extensive and wondrously nostalgic cocktail list offers standbys like the Singapore Sling (Gin, Cointreau, Cherry Liqueur and Pineapple), a Sazerac and a Mint Julep. Unique, masterful takes on other old favorites include the Bramble (Gin, Lemonade and Blackberry) and the Fig Sidecar (Aged Rum, Fig Syrup, and Fresh Lemonade).

A large, oval mirror on the wall behind the bar illuminates the long, gorgeous interior, as well as the beautiful, bohemian Brooklynites clustering in lively pockets from the bar to the back booths. I’m thrilled that Walter’s is only a block away. The bottom of the menu reads: “If you love us, tell Danny. If you don’t, please tell Dylan.” Well, Danny, I love you guys.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Jewish Deli-Themed Dination Supper Club

The best meal I ate last week was the best meal I’ve eaten in 2013, and actually, in recent history. Good friend Daniel Meyer has started a supper club, for a good cause. Dination combines two great things: sharing a good meal with friends and giving to a good cause. The basic concept is simple, and the results have been extraordinary thus far. You get a group of friends together for a meal, choose a charity or cause to donate to, and as long as you raise more than the cost of the meal – be it any amount, small or large – you’ve done a good thing (or two, actually, because you’ve gotten a great meal out of it!).

I was lucky enough to attend Saturday’s Jewish-Deli-themed dinner, and words can’t do the evening justice. We raised $300 for the Food Bank of New York City, and walked home — bacon peanut brittle in hand — buzzed on great food, loud laughs, Dr. Brown’s Dark & Stormy’s and giving to a worthy cause. See below for the menu and see here for some photos of the exquisite food.

Daniel, the brainchild behind this outrageous menu and the awesome dination, is a self-taught, brilliant chef. Yes, the bagels were homemade. Yes, so was the smoked bluefish pate. Yes, the gravlax melted in my mouth with the creme fraiche dressing, and were elevated to new heights with a crunch of pumpernickel crouton and the crisp watercress. Yes, the chicken-liver crostini was perfect for dipping in the matzo dumpling soup, which was better than my mother’s (sorry, mom). Yes, the pastrami short ribs were smoked with wood chips and coals out back on Daniel’s grill and yes, the caraway mashed potatoes were pure genius, offering that jewish rye flavor that fits so right with pastrami and (yes, homemade) pickles. For a lover of cinnamon raison bagels who is constantly coming to their defense, the cinnamon raisin bread pudding with (YES!) cream cheese ice cream blew me away. Adjectives or descriptions won’t do any good here. Sign up for a dination dinner and see what I mean. I know this is just the first of many for me!

Anise at All Hours: Anise Biscotti

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trials with anise- how my taste for that licorice flavor has developed over the years and how I’ve been experimenting with this distinct flavor in my baking and cooking. Biscotti is a hallmark in anise’s repertoire, and since I like nothing better than dunking a biscotti into my coffee or tea (or wine), I decided to try my hand at this traditional, Italian cookie.

I used a recipe from the king of American Italian cooking – Mario Batali – and it was much easier than I had anticipated. The key to making this biscotti is baking the dough twice: once for 20 minutes in a log shape, and then, after letting it cool for about 40 and slicing the dough into cookies, baking it again for another 20. The word “biscotti” actually comes from the Latin word “biscotus,” which means “twice-cooked/baked.”

The cookies should last about two weeks in an airtight container, but, if you’re like me and find pretty much any occasion the right one for a little biscotti dunk (as a quick breakfast, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or as a nightcap) these cookies may not last so long.

For Mario Batali’s biscotti recipe, see here.

Can’t Wait for Thanksgiving? You Don’t Have to!

New Yorkers may be known for a lot of things. Patience isn’t one of them. We like our lines short, our take-out fast and our coffee on the go. If you’re wondering who’s standing in an hour-long line for a cupcake, it isn’t a New Yorker.

2012-11-15-091202_HenryPublic087.jpeg
Henry Public’s Turkey Leg Sandwich.
Photo Credit: Dan Hallman
 

Some things, however, are worth waiting for, and on this short list, Thanksgiving will always make the cut. New Yorker or not, we all look forward to that joyous day when we gather our loved ones and stuff ourselves with turkey and gravy. Maybe we’ll watch a parade or some football, or maybe we’ll completely unplug for the day. Whatever we do, the feast is always the main event. It’s a day, and a feast, worth waiting for… Unless you absolutely can’t.

If you simply can’t wait for the last Thursday in November, or if you love this day of gluttony so much that you need a sneak preview — an amuse-bouche, if you’d like — then fear not. There is bounty of restaurants serving Thanksgiving fare all year round in this wonderfully impatient, 24/7 city. Thanksgiving at a restaurant. How New York. Yes, flocks of New Yorkers will be eating their annual feast in a restaurant this year, like they have in years past. If you’re looking for day-of Thanksgiving dinners, restaurants from Williamsburg’s new Reynard to the classic Katz’s Delicatessen will be serving grand feasts this year.

But if you need a quick, Thanksgiving fix before the big day, you can find what you’re craving if you know where to look. Here are some of my favorites for Thanksgiving a la carte:

Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch, one of last year’s hottest restaurants, serves a buttery corn bread to every dinner table. If it’s mashed potatoes you love, the ever-expanding Meatball Shop serves a decadent side of creamy, mashed potatoes that’s not to be missed. If you’re looking for something a little different, Westvilleserves a great plate of pesto mashed potatoes. I’m still searching for good stuffing — the king of Thanksgiving, in my book. Homemade stuffing is really hard to contend with. Any recommendations on restaurants serving great stuffing?

For turkey, look no further than Henry Public, the charming, antique-filled bar and restaurant where you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the 19th century. Henry Public’s turkey leg sandwich is legendary among Brooklynites. Braised in milk, the meat is so tender it’s almost shocking, and this sandwich is definitely worthy of all the hype.

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts will be dawning many a Thanksgiving table, and these days they’re practically everywhere you look. Some of the best can be found at Alta, served crispy with fuji apples, crème fraiche and pistachios. For a totally unique version, Prospect Height’s Chuko serves spicy, crunchy Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and peanuts.

Some of the best pumpkin pie hails from Hill Country Chicken, which has its very own pie menu. Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Park Slope, selling whole pies or by the slice, also makes a mean pumpkin pie — as well as other Fall pies like salted caramel apple.

And if you want it all in one, Momofuko Milk Bar‘s Thanksgiving croissant couldn’t get much better.

2012-11-15-fourandtwenty.jpg
Hill Country Chicken’s Pumpkin Pie
Photo Credit: Hill Country Chicken
 

The best part is, when the day finally comes and goes, and you’ve plowed through the last of your leftovers, these Thanksgiving staples will still be around, for the best of Thanksgiving, all year round.

Echo

One afternoon this spring, I happened upon Jaume Plensa‘s “Echo,” a forty-four foot high sculpture of a girl’s head, coming straight out of the ground in Madison Square Park.

Glowing white in the middle of the green park, surrounded by towering buildings, the head shone like the moon. The incredible “Echo” graced Madison Square Park all summer, but has since been taken down, so I wanted to share it here for those who may have missed it.

I’m not sure whether it was the shock of seeing it there for the first time, or the indistinguishable race of the girl depicted, or the serenity of her expression, but the sculpture seemed futuristic and almost other-worldly to me. Every time I walked by, it continued to stun me with its beauty.

Reading more about the piece didn’t detract from its magic. I’m a complete novice when it comes to art, but I do love it, and this sculpture moved me. I don’t know where “Echo” will go, but she will certainly ring loud in my memory.

Zucchini Bread

The first thing I learned to bake was zucchini bread. My mother has been making it since I can remember, and growing up, my sister and I would try to help when we could (mostly to lick the bowl, but sometimes to do some mixing too). The first time I made it on my own I was very careful to follow the recipe exactly, leveling each measuring cup and not straying a pinch from the instructions. It was probably the last time I was so precise!

Today, I have trouble following recipes closely, mostly because I like to improvise. My zucchini bread has definitely fallen suit, having seen some great – and not so great – variation over the years. I’ve finally landed a variation of the original that I like best. See below for the original Spiegel recipe with my simple, optional modifications for this semi-sweet, all-purpose bread that makes a great breakfast, side or dessert.

A few key ingredients in this bread make it what it is. The zucchini, of course, is the defining ingredient. Shredded, it brings moisture and a binding property to the flour, sugar and eggs. The less expected crushed pineapple is the magic ingredient, however, packing the already moist bread with bursts of sweet, juicy, chunks of fruit. I like to use some of the pineapple juice in place of some sugar and oil, and I compensate for the lost heft of those two ingredients by adding some non-fat plain yogurt. I also like to use two thirds whole wheat flour and one third white flour, for added texture. However this zucchini bread is made, the combination of zucchini, crushed pineapple, and spices – nutmeg and cinnamon to be specific –  is the heart of this comforting, summer recipe.

I’ve impressed a lot of friends over the years with my zucchini bread, and have even made friends over it, having tricked all of them into believing that I’m a half-way decent baker. This bread is almost fail-safe, however, and with the years of practice I’ve had baking it, I should hope it tastes as good as it does!

For the recipe and what to cook next

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto

The best thing I ate last week was really a corn soup I ate over a long weekend at home, but a longer blog post about this weekend of home-cooked, summer meals is on the way, so this post goes to something equally as delicious that I ate last week: Warm Pizza Dough With House Made Ricotta and Pesto from Fort Greene’s new restaurant, Lulu and Po.

Lulu and Po is a tiny, new small plates spot on Cartlon Avenue just below Myrtle. The kitchen is proportional to the dining area — tiny too — but the flavors in and caliber of each plate are anything but. The Warm Pizza Dough, cut into triangles for dipping into pesto and creamy but light-as-air ricotta, was savory, crusty, and fluffy all in one. I would go back to Lulu and Po for the tender, Iron-Pressed Upstate New York Firehouse Chicken with Celery & Eggplant; the house made Fettuccini with Corn, Mushrooms & Sage; and the ambiance – a beautiful L-shaped bar and only a handful of vanity tables, lit by funky, stand-alone lightbulbs and chandeliers made up of a cluster of lightbulbs, hanging like upside-down bouquets from the ceiling. The Warm Pizza Dough, however, was the standout plate of the night. I’m wary of it becoming an addiction. Lulu and Po is a great spot for small groups – not only because of its size, but also because of its menu of small plates (see Pete Wells’ gripe with small plates and the Twitter talk that followed). I’m excited to see this family restaurant become a staple in the neighborhood.

Popbar!


I’ve been wanting to try Popbar for a while, and on Thursday night, I finally did! A make-your-own popsicle store, Popbar is ideal for New Yorkers who want it their way and on the go.

You start by choosing your popsicle flavor: gelato like coconut and gianduia, or sorbet such as blood orange or lemon mint. Next, you decide if you want your popsicle dipped in the likes of white chocolate, dark chocolate or caramel. Finally, do you want a topping on that? Crushed almonds or shaved coconut?

I chose a mixed berry sorbet pop, half-dipped in white chocolate coated in pistachios. It was simply delicious and I will definitely be trying more mix-and-match popsicles over the summer.

Mussels With White Beans and Chorizo

On Monday night I tried out a recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while: mussels with white beans and chorizo from Food and Wine magazine. I had chorizo-style spicy smoked chicken sausage on hand (which I use often in pasta – it’s got a great chorizo flavor), so I used that, and added some chicken stock when I felt the mussels needed a little more liquid.

Other than those two, basic modifications, I followed the recipe closely and took the suggestions of commenters who recommended adding a little more than the called-for pinch of crushed red pepper. The broth turned out spicy, a bit acidic – thanks to the tomatoes – and hearty – thanks to the white beans. The smokey sausage took the fresh mussels, which tasted of the sea, to new heights. Served with a crusty baguette, this was a great, summery dinner, and one that I’ll look forward to making again.

For the recipe, see here.

Francesca on Clinton

Frankies 457 is pretty close to perfection as far as restaurants go. The food tastes like it was made for you alone, and the atmosphere is elegant but cozy, inside surrounded by exposed brick and outside in their wonderful garden. I haven’t been to the west village outpost, Frankies 570, but a few nights ago I visited what used to be Frankies 17 on Clinton Street, and what is now Francesca, the new venture from the same Frankies Sputino team (who also own Cafe Pedlar in Cobble Hill and the amazing Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens).

The Frankies Sputino Italian is so exceptional that I could only have had sky-high expectations forFrancesca, which serves Basque cuisine. I liked Francesca; I didn’t love it. But it’s hard to love anything that you compare with an original that you simply adore. An enchanting nook in what has turned into one fratty neighborhood, Francesca — and much of Clinton Street — is like a little oasis. The menu, like so many new menus today, is designed for sharing. Small Pintxos, Jamones, Para Picar, Salads and Small Plates offer a myriad of ways to start your meal, and if you make it that far and still have room for more, you have another round of choices with Raciones, followed by Cheese and Dessert.

I loved the White and Green Asparagus with Ali Oli and Migas, but could have skipped the Cream Fideua with Idiazabel, which was nothing more than a glorified Craft Macaroni and Cheese (and I specify Craft, because the noodles were identical to those short, skinny cylinders. Following what seems to be the trend of this post, I’ll take the original, please). The rest of the menu was intriguing — I am hardly familiar with Basque cuisine — and the setting so inviting that I would definitely go back (even if I wished I was going back in time to when Frankies 17 occupied the space).


My one Basque experience was a surreal one, a few years ago when a friend and I had stopped in Biarritz on a road trip from Bordeaux to Madrid, and eventually to the Naussannes, a tiny village near Bergerac in the South of France by way of seaside Cadaques. Biarritz lies in a Basque region, and on our night’s stay in the town, we decided to drive to nearby Bayonne, a Basque town across the border in Spain. We weren’t quite sure what we happened upon, but the entire town was celebrating in city center — parades, music and fireworks abounded. We had no choice but to join in the fete, although we had no idea what we were celebrating!

Francesca may not have quite lived up to this surreal Basque festival — or its sister restaurants — but it’s definitely worth a trip, if for nothing else than respite from the circus the Lower East Side becomes every night.

Tulum, Mexico

Tulum is about an hour south of Cancun, and feels a world away. Far from the mega-resorts and spring break madness, Tulum is a tiny town where beach-goers stay in electricity-free, boutique eco-hotels and can practice Yoga, visit Mayan ruins, and explore a nature preserve when they’re not basking in the sun on the pristine Tulum Playa. The budget-minded traveler can stay in Tulum Pueblo, which is filled with a ton of great restaurants and shops, and is only a short ride to the beach.

We stayed in town for the first six nights, and on the beach for the last. Our first hotel was Posada Yum Kin- a tree house-like hotel in the far corner of town. We were only there one night, but the bright room, vine-covered balcony, continental breakfast and friendly manager made it a great first stop. Next we stayed at The Secret Garden, a charming hotel whose rooms surround a jungle of a garden, also in town. Affordable, clean, and in the heart of Tulum Pueblo, The Secret Garden was a lucky find and a great place to stay.

Most days started with a quick breakfast at The Secret Garden- coffee and bananas courtesy of the hotel, and instant oatmeal that we bought at Chedraui, the Wallmartesque everything store that was new in town and our one-stop-shop for essentials: water, sunblock and lunch supplies. We wasted no time in getting to the beach bright and early. Tulum Playa stretches for miles, an idyllic expanse of soft, white sand and warm, turquoise water. On the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum sits on the Caribbean Sea, which means the water is absolutely heavenly.

A few mornings we had breakfast in town, and my favorite place was Natural Cafe. There are a few sidewalk tables, but the open entrance and bright colored walls make even the inside tables feel alfresco. Eggs are served alongside potatoes with fresh herbs, turkey bacon and toast. Fruit and vegetable juices come in any combination, like orange, carrot, celery, papaya and melon. My favorite was Yogurt with Fresh Fruit and Granola, served in a large, glass goblet.

Tulum is also home to the only Mayan ruins found on the seaside. We spent an afternoon exploring the walled-in stone fortresses, temples, and homes.

A thirty minute drive West brings you to Coba, where the tallest Mayan pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula can be found. Coba was a Mayan city where more than 50,000 people lived during the peak of the Mayan civilization, and the ruins contain several large pyramids, temples, and steles- large, stone slabs with carvings of gods. Coba made another great afternoon trip.

In addition to the beach and the Mayan ruins, Tulum – and the surrounding area – is also home to a series of Cenotes: underwater caves where snorkelers or scuba divers can explore the mysterious deep. We rented snorkel gear for a day and checked out Dos Ojos, two magical cenotes where we snorkeled in fresh water around tiny fish and huge stalactites. Before we snorkeled at Dos Ojos, we visited Akumal, a tiny town between Tulum and Playa del Carmen where you can see Sea Turtles. We saw five, amazing sea turtles- three at one time. Happening upon them each time was like discovering buried treasure. We would watch them nibble at sea grass and come up for two sips of air every so often. It was a definite highlight of the trip.

Whether it was a full beach day or a half day at the beach and a half day of snorkeling or visiting the ruins, every night began with a sunset cerveza or tropical cocktail. (My favorite was a Watermelon Daiquiri from La Vita Bella, and the most deadly was Mateo’s Coco Loco – Vodka, Tequila and Rum with fresh coconut milk).

Purple Rice & Stir-Fry

Everyone knows January is Holiday-Hangover month, where New Years resolutions to eat healthy abound. Everyone also knows that good intentions to improve one’s diet don’t always make it past the first month of the new year (or the first few hours, in my case. My blog posts from last January say it all: healthy chickpea recipes; followed by an indulgent, guacamole-filled trip to Tulum, Mexico; swooning over my favorite cupcake from Billy’s Bakery; all capped off by a Sunday afternoon baking Momofuko Milk Bar’sCompost Cookie.) Needless to say, it’s easy to slip back into old habits and let resolutions to eat healthier wait until next year.

It’s not all hopeless, however. One strategy that helps me follow my intention to eat healthier is making healthy food – cooking and eating it – interesting. If I can get excited about trying something new, be it challenging or easy, then eating healthily doesn’t feel quite like a punishment.

In my resolve to keep things interesting this year, I recently tried purple sticky rice as a substitute for the brown rice I typically use when making a vegetable stir-fry (one of my favorite, post-work dinners when I get home late). A new, wonderful friend in my life gave some to me to try, and I’m so grateful to her for introducing me to something new. Purple rice, originally grown in Thailand, is sticky and sweet and often used in desserts (no wonder I like it). Its chewy texture and vibrant color revitalized what was becoming a predictable dinner for me. I added the purple rice to sauteed shallot and garlic, and cooked it on low heat for about one minute before adding the water and letting the rice simmer for about 30 minutes.

I served the rice with a red pepper, snow pea and onion stir-fry, and a tofu and brocoli stir-fry, garnished with cilantro and shaved carrots. Now I’m excited to try purple rice in a lunch salad, and stay on track by keeping things interesting.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Steve’s Swingle

The best thing I ate last week was at Atlantic Antic this past Sunday. After shuffling down Atlantic Avenue – closed to motor traffic, overrun with foot traffic on the 38th Annual Atlantic Antic festival, a day of celebrating Brooklyn’s finest on a ten block stretch of Atlantic Avenue – I spotted the stall I had been waiting for: Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. Steve’s Authentic makes outrageously good key lime pies from their waterfront bakery in Redhook. Seeing it closer to home on Sunday was almost too good to be true. Having passed by food stalls the likes of Mile End, Rucola and Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, I almost felt like Steve’s stall at the end of the line was something of a mirage.

I had only ever tried the regular pies (which converted me from being an occasional fan of key lime to a die-hard one), but ever since I heard about the Swingle, I’ve been dreaming of trying one. The Swingle is a frozen, chocolate-covered mini key lime pie on a stick. If you’re wondering, it’s unquestionably as incredible as it sounds. Atlantic Antic, the street fair of all NYC street fairs, is a wonderful event, bringing local businesses and neighbors together for a fantastic day of music, food, crafts and community. Yesterday, it brought me together with the Swingle, my new favorite dessert and definitely the best thing I ate last week.

A Negroni at Benoit

One of my best friends started drinking Negronis last year, and since I trust her blindly (she’s my best friend, afterall) and know she has great taste, I followed her lead and gave the classic cocktail, which was new to me, a try. Traditionally, a Negroni is one part gin, one part sweet vermouth, and one Campari, with an orange peel garnish. Hailing from 1920s Florence, it’s a bitter drink, perfect before dinner or all night long. Why not?

The best Negroni I’ve had lately came not from an Italian restaurant, but from a classic French bistro:Benoit, Alain Ducasse’s classic, midtown offshoot of the 100-year-old original in Paris. Strong, bitter and refreshing, this cocktail was just right. I don’t know what made it so good — was it an extra splash of Campari or another liqueur? While sipping on this delightful beverage, I decided not to ask the bartender what made it so special. One, he had a very Parisian, no-nonsense attitude and didn’t really look like he was ready to strike up a conversation (which I respect), but two, some things are better left a mystery.

Pulqueria

I know it’s over-priced, over-hyped and over-crowded, but I still love Apotheke. I used to live around the corner, and there’s just something about calling both a bar like Apotheke and Joe’s Shanghai your neighborhood joints, that quiets the rumble of uptowners flocking the place and makes it really feel like your own. When I found out that brother-sister team Christopher and Heather Tierney, the siblings behind Apotheke, were opening a Mexican joint next door, I couldn’t wait to try it.


We all know what they say about good Mexican food in New York City (that there isn’t any!), so I didn’t expect to be wowed by the new Pulqueria, but I couldn’t resist seeing what the new spot was all about. A pulqueria is a mexican bar that serves Pulque, a traditional, milk-colored, alcoholic beverage. In the drink’s heydey, at the start of the twentieth century, many pulquerias were members-only clubs. A fitting name for the new speakeasy on the block.


The food exceeded my minimal expectations (Mexican in New York is one thing, but Mexican in Chinatown?), and the ambiance met my high ones. The super hip dance music of Et Music Pour Touscasted a party-like vibe, while a decorative patchwork of a stylized, Mexican interior brought an air of sophistication. El
egantly presented small plates – my favorite were the tacos de chorizo and the tacos de verduras – were packed with flavor. The highlight was a whole, roasted, market fish, wrapped in banana leaf, accompanied by a simple side of black beans and rice.

The real allure of
Apotheke and Pulqueria for me, however, is not the food and drink, but the location. The corner that the speakeasies call home is known as the “Bloody Angle,” named for a number of gang shootings that occurred early in the twentieth century. Legend has it that a network of underground tunnels used to connect the buildings, offering getaways for gang members on the run or hideaway opium dens. My sights are now set on finding the secret passage way that connects Apotheke and Pulqueria.