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.

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.

Harbor Line Cruising

For something new, Alex and I took a Classic Harbor Line cruise one summer afternoon. Not only was it far less corny that I had expected, but it was actually quite sophisticated and impressively educational. Starting at Pier 62 in Chelsea, we cruised down around the tip of Manhattan and then up and around the island to return on the Hudson to Pier 62 three fact-filled hours later. If you ever wanted to take a crash course in the city’s architectural history, and you like sipping drinks on a yacht while you learn, the Classic Harbor Line’s Architecture Tour is for you!
(And after the cruise, walk a few avenues over to Eataly’s roof-top beer garden, Birreria, for some house-brewed ales and delectable, Italian – of course – bar food! Just get there before the after-work scene lines-up for an hour+ wait.)
 
 

Restoring the waterfront will be the one of the city’s primary projects of our lifetime. The Harbor Line Architecture Tour delves into the reasons the waterfront was built the way it was, and discusses how the waterfront is slowly being restored to maximize its incredible potential. We are a city surrounded by waterfront, and in time, hopefully we’ll not only be able to admire but also enjoy and partake in this privilege. Seeing parts of the city I had never seen before, and with the breath of perspective of viewing them from the water, I found an enhanced appreciation for both the waterfront and the architectural glory of this great city.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Spicy Tuna Takumi Taco

I finally made it to Smorgusburg this past Sunday. With the original Brooklyn Flea three and a half blocks west of our apartment in the Winter, and three and a half blocks east in the Summer, I have never felt much need to trek up to Williamsburg for the Flea relocated there, and have never held much desire to see its food-centric offshoot, Smorgusburg, which opened last year in May, 2011. On a lazy Sunday, however, when it was a little too cloudy for the beach, Alex and I decided to venture north to the ‘Burg for a gluttonous morning at what has become the quintessential, open-air, artisanal Brooklyn food market.

The highlight from Smorgusburg was the Spicy Tuna Taco from Takumi Taco. Japanese-Mexican fusion: an epic combo in my book. And no wonder I liked it so much. Founder Mark Spitzer is the executive chef atBond Street, one of my favorite Asian-fusian restaurants in the city, home to the Wasabi Bloody Mary (with Citrus Vodka, Wasabi, Shichimi Cucumber, shaken and served in a martini glass), the Spicy Crispy Shrimp (with Yuzu Calamanci Vinaigrette and Chipotle Aioli) and the swanky ambiance that has kept my girlfriends and me coming back for years. Takumi Taco packs the same punch of flavors into fusian street food, and it works perfectly in the Spicy Tuna Taco: Sashimi grade big eye tuna with jicama, avocado, cucumber and spicy mayo in a crispy gyoza shell. It took a lot of willpower not to go back for a second. Luckily, there were plenty of other tempting items to try.

Retail Therapy at Marimekko

A little retail therapy, in moderation of course, is sometimes just the fix I need to shake a bad mood and lift my spirits. I am admittedly no stranger to this self-prescribed remedy. My latest therapy session took place in none other than the bright and cheery Marimekko flagship store on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, which opened this past October.

Anxiety-ridden after work one night, with an hour to kill before meeting a friend for dinner in the West Village, I marched myself over to Marimekko for a jolt of joy. Marimekko’s classic, bold prints and colors are utterly timeless.

The Finnish export has been brightening wardrobes, coloring homes, and cheering up patrons since 1951. Dawning everything from shower curtains to blouses, Marimekko’s vibrant pops of color and chunky graphic designs feel clean and orderly in their reliable, straightforward patterns.

A proud owner of my mother’s original 1975 Marimekko Oy Tangerine sheets, and a yellow Pieni Unikko Oven Mitten (not vintage, but very…handy?), I added to my collection that night and purchased a Large Räsymatto Bowl, which I absolutely love. This therapy session came home with me and sits in plain view in my apartment, making every day – even those that I can’t make it to the airy, high ceilinged flagship store – feel a little sunnier.

Brooklyn Edible Social Club

Ricotta & Duck Prosciutto Terrine
Peppermint, Sweet Pea

It’s been over a month since my first underground dining experience, and I keep putting off writing about it because nothing I could say could quite do the meal justice. I suppose I literally can not find the words to describe it.
But the whole experience was such a pleasure, I’m forcing myself to put something down on this page- something that won’t begin to live up, but will just have to do because I really must share it.

On a rainy Saturday night in early June, my lovely boyfriend and I trotted down the road of impending gentrification from Fort Greene to Bed-Stuy, and landed at a stranger’s apartment, greeted by ten other strangers, a chef and a host. We had arrived at the Brooklyn Edible Social Club, a supper club I had stumbled upon during some light internet reading one fateful afternoon.


Chilled Strawberry Salmorejo

Basil, Piperita Mint, Almonds, Chevre

The Brooklyn Edible Social Club belongs to two kind, generous and fun souls – she a former DJ turned graphic designer and overseer of the supper club; he a jovial and intuitive chef, passionate about locally sourced food and the exquisite master behind the meal.
Host and chef aim to keep the dinners small, at only twelve people per night, to encourage a communal environment where everyone talks to everyone. Sitting across from two school teachers, next to two documentary film-makers, down the table from a banker and even further down from a symphony musician, my lovely boyfriend and I did, in fact, get to know everyone.


Steamed Mussels

Young Garlic, Smoked Pepper Beurre Blanc

Garlic Scape Biscuits

The table shared the different wines we had each brought, shared anecdotes about the most outrageous food we had ever eaten, and definitely shared our utter astonishment at the quality, originality and superb taste of each dish. I can’t event pick a favorite they were all so outstanding.
Before each course, our gracious and humble chef, dawning denim cut-offs, suspenders, and a bandanna around his thick, dark hair, explained what we had prepared for us. Every ingredient was seasonable and fresh – having been grown and bought locally. Every dish was unique but accessible, and indisputably incredible.

Portions were perfect, leaving time to explore and linger over the flavors, but leaving you wanting more, with room for the next course. Everything was cooked to perfection. No one left a crumb on a plate or a drop in a bowl.

Roasted Hanger Steak
Chipolata Sausage, Radishes, Sauce Verde

The menu followed a wonderful succesion, commencing with an ever-so-slightly chilled Ricotta and Duck Terrine which blew everyone away, an exciting harbinger of the extraordinary meal to follow.
The Strawberry Salmorejo, a chilled soup made of strawberries, was slightly sweet, slightly creamy, but somehow definitely a savory dish; the blend of basil, mint, almonds and chevre producing an exceptional flavor. I’ve never tasted Mussels cooked so right, and in a sauce just enough buttery, tangy and spicey, everyone spooned up every last drop.

The Hanger Steak was phenomenal – tender as could be and accompanied by pickled radishes and a green sauce that no-one could quite identify or get enough of. Finally, the flaky, crusty Rubarb Tart Tatin had just enough salt to bring out the flavor and maintain the sweet.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

Hibiscus & Prosecco Float

The bar set unreasonably high for my first supper club experience, I am afraid no other supper club will quite compare! I have decided, however, to take upon the grave responsibility of finding out, the night at the Brooklyn Edible Social Club having undoubtedly reved my curiosity engine for supper clubs, despite my sneaking suspicion that nothing could top this first trial.
It was one of the most special dining experiences I have ever had the fortune to take part in, and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. I’d put it in the “Best Meals I’ve Ever Had” book.
At the end of this too-delicious-to-be-true dinner, I asked the chef how he developed his recipes. He didn’t use recipes, he told me. He just thought about what ingredients would work well together and how, went to a few farmer’s markets to see what was available, and composed his dishes by intuition. A true artist.

As we sat and listened to records selected by whoever felt like playing a tune, sipped on coffee and chewed Mary Jane candies, the communal enthusiasm for food, new friends, and taking a chance permeated the room. Ten strangers, a chef and a host, and my lovely boyfriend – the loveliest dinner date of them all – knew they had just shared an evening no one would forget.

The Sweet Side of the Subcontinent

Dessert might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about South Asian food, but sweets are an integral part of South Asian cuisine and culture. Often overlooked, forgotten or even unknown outside of South Asia, sweets seem to have gotten lost in translation on many of the Westernized menus that we find in the United States. Where thousands of stand-alone shops sell nothing but sweets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the United States shops that offer any kind South Asian sweet, let alone ones singularly dedicated to sweets, are few and far between.

From deep-fried pancakes soaked in sugary syrup, to fudge-like squares garnished with edible, silver foil, South Asian sweets come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. With such great and delicious variety, it’s too bad these confections seem to have such a low profile outside of South Asia.

Having not been exposed to the wonderful world of South Asian sweets before I studied in India, I was relieved and excited to discover that my sweet tooth would not be neglected during my stay. I quickly fell for mithai: a broad category of milk-based sweets. Burfi, one of the most popular types of mithai, became one of my favorites. Burfi itself can come in many flavors — like kaaju burfi, made with cashews; pista burfi, made with pistachios; or badam burfi, made with almonds. Gulab jamuns — deep-fried dough made of milk-solids, soaked in sweet syrup — became a decadent vice for me, and I couldn’t escape jalebi — a circular or pretzel-shaped, deep-fried, orange treat, sold on so many street corners. Justifying my indulgent exploration into the world of South Asian sweets were the encouraging words of nearly everyone I shared a meal with. A little milk- and sugar-based dessert was good for my digestion, I was told, and would help settle the acidity of a spicy meal. I was in heaven.

Not only are sweets an important part of a complete, South Asian meal, but they are also an essential part of daily culture. Upon my arrival in India, I learned that giving and receiving sweets is a habitual way both to show hospitality and to thank someone for hosting you. Even as clueless as I was when I first arrived at my new home, I knew that I shouldn’t decline the rasgulla — a cottage-cheese-like dumpling, boiled in sugar syrup — I was offered. If you are visiting someone’s home, you should never show up empty-handed, even, as my Bangladeshi friend Shanaz Chowdhury says, if you’re a frequent visitor. While the tradition sometimes strays in the United States to bringing beer, wine or alcohol, it is still very common, Shanaz explains, to bring a mixed box of sweets when you go to someone’s house.

Exchanging sweets is also a central part of festivals like Diwali, one of the most important festivals for Hindus, and personal celebrations, like weddings, having a baby or getting a new job. If a new baby is born into your family, you buy sweets for your friends — not the other way around. Likewise, if you get hired, you share your accomplishment by offering treats, not by accepting them. My nephew was born when I was living in a small town outside the city of Jaipur, and following the advice of a friend, I bought ladoos and burfi to deliver my good news properly. I love this tradition of giving, instead of receiving, when you have good news to share.

Unfortunately, finding good sweets outside of the South Asian subcontinent proves to be quite the task. Despite the abundance of Indian restaurants and food stores in New York City, for example, you will be hard pressed to find many specialty sweet shops. In Manhattan, Spice Corner in Curry Hill offers the best and largest selection you can find. If you want to find alternatives to this Curry Hill market in the city, you’ll have to sit down at a restaurant. But even at restaurants, dessert, if offered, is often an afterthought.The Masala Wala in the Lower East Side makes an excellent gulab jamun, but this seems to be the exception, not the rule.

In New York, the sweets really worth eating, and in shops of their own, are in Jackson Heights, Queens. AtRajbhog, you can find up to 10 kinds of burfi, up to five varieties of ladoos and outstanding gulab jamuns. A block away, Maharaja Sweets offers an excellent array of almond and cashew rolls decorated with with Varakh — a thin layer of silver foil — alongside more burfi, rasgulla and jalebi.

With so many varieties, there really is a mithai for everyone. The trick may be finding them, but once you do, you’ll definitely be going back for more!

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Brunch at Buvette

The best thing I ate last week was brunch at Buvette. Jodi Williams, the masterful chef behind this charming, self-described “gastrotheque” on Grove Street and Bleeker, is also the chef of my all-time favorite: Gottino, the “Gastroteca” not far away on Greenwich Avenue. Two of the most lovely establishments in Manhattan, Buvette and Gottino are oriented towards small plates for any hour of the day. Brunch at Buvette is full of butter – and why shouldn’t it be? The food is french-inspired and the beautiful, 50-person two-room space, with a communal table in the back, feels like an elegant kitchen straight out of Provence.

We started brunch at Buvette with Anchoiade – a tartine with salted butter and anchovies; Pesto Di Noci – a walnut pesto tartine with parmesan and thyme; and a fig and honey tartine. Next I had steamed eggs with smoked salmon and creme fraiche on buttered toast, while my neighbor had Les Oeufs Americaine — sunny-side up eggs and bacon on toast. Everything was heavenly. As its website says, “I love Buvette.”

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Salt-Baked Branzino With Caramelized Lemon

Il Buco is one of, if not my absolute, favorite restaurants in the city. When Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria opened last year, I couldn’t wait to try it. Wait I did, however, until finally last week I was able to go, to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I didn’t take any photos. An article about cameras in restaurants was fresh on my mind, and to be entirely honest, I fall into the camp that hates taking photos and seeing photos taken in restaurants. It’s obviously a continuous conflict for me, seeing as I happen to blog about food…

Anyway, I didn’t break out my camera at Il Buco Alimentari, and so I have no photos of this incredible Branzino. But I couldn’t resist sharing it and noting it on my “Best Thing I Ate” list because it hasn’t really left my mind. The salumi della cassa (housemade salumi) from Flying Pigs Farm and the Ricotta are runners-up, but the salty, sumptuous Branzino was out of this world. Underneath a signature, custom-made chandelier – Il Buco was originally artist Warren Muller’s studio and the restaurant is decorated with his amazing, funky chandeliers – I was in total heaven. I love Branzino – a Mediterranean seabass – and this one tops every one I’ve ever had.

Meredith Marks Jewelery

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of going to Meredith Marks’ trunk show at the Gramercy Hotel.  Meredith Marks is Chicago-based jewelry designer whose line combines practicality with exoticism for a wearable but glamorous look.  A former model who also happens to hold a JD and MBA from Northwestern and certificates from the Gemological Institute of America, Meredith’s own beauty and smarts come through in her work.

I am no expert when it comes to jewelry — except that I adore it like any girl does — but Meredith seems to have created a very special line: one that has struck a  perfect balance of exoticism and simplicity.  From dangly earrings to bangles, from studs to cuffs, every piece is somehow both bold and delicate. The simplicity of her designs makes even the most ornate jewels into everyday pieces.  

Much of her collection is inspired by Indian jewelry, which is typically quite opulent — the more, the bigger, the better. Meredith’s pieces, however, are stripped versions of these often over-the-top, magnificent ornaments, making them accessible for daily wear. Her signature earrings sparkle femininity, and have caught the eye of a growing list of celebrities, including Courtney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Chelsea Handler. I was instantly drawn to the Indian-inspired design channeled through a clean and basic composition. Try as I might to pick out my favorites, I was constantly finding new ones that took first place.

Meredith’s jewelry is as inspiring as she is: a mother of two, she built the business from scratch in just a few years and her pieces are now popping up in boutiques from LA to Chicago. I have my eyes set on these smoky earrings for now, but as soon as I keep scanning the collection, I know I’ll find something else that steals my heart.

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.

Rucola

Rucola is my favorite new restaurant. On a quiet, residential corner in tree-lined Boreum Hill, Rucolo seems like it’s always been a part of the neighborhood. Decorative but homey, it’s the restaurant version of all the wonderful, federal-style town houses down the block. A few precious tables sit outside the ornamental, cast-iron facade of the restaurant – a facade spotted with picture-perfect, tin flower pots. Inside, a long, communal table, surrounded by smaller tables on three sides and a bustling bar on the other, foster a convivial vibe. The friendly staff make you feel at home under the rustic, wood-paneled ceiling and milk-bottle chandeliers.

I’ve been twice now for dinner, and can’t wait to go back for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner again. Both times I’ve gone for dinner, I’ve started at the bar. And both times, I couldn’t resist my summer liqueur of choice: Aperol. The first night, I ordered the Basil Bite, which was an elegant and tasty mix Gin, Aperol, Cynar, Orange Bitters, and Basil. The second night, I ordered the Tirulian Schpritz, made of Gin, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, Lemon, Grapefruit. While the Basil Bite may have won my heart, I loved both Aperol-flavored cocktails alike.

For dinner, I’ve had the Caponata – Eggplant, Currant, Caper, and Olga’s mint – which was flavorful and wonderful on crispy, French bread. Twice, because it’s so delicious, I’ve had the Crudo – Bronzino, Toasted Pistachio, Pickled Rhubarb, Herbs, and Ligurian Olive Oil, sliced thin and drizzled with spicy oil. It was explosively flavorful but light enough for me to enjoy the buttery, cheese sprinkled corn at my side.

I’ve also loved the Market Squash Salad – English Cucumber, Ricotta Salata, and Toasted Sesame – and the ultimately fresh Strozzapreti – Green Garlic Pesto, Zucchini, and Grana Padan (a hard, Italian cheese). I’ve tasted the LI Duck, whose seasonal ingredients – Fresh Cherries and Braised Swiss Chard – made what I often think of a wintery meat, light and summery instead.

Perhaps the most special part of Rucola is This Batch, a customizable CSA of sorts that the restaurant offers. I’ve just signed up and am eager for the weekly emails that will announce the week’s produce offering. I’ll be able to choose whether or not I want to purchase it, at a single or family-size portion, all for a discounted price. Sounds pretty great to me! I’m challenging myself to cook a Rucola-worthy dish with whatever ingredients I get. It may take me a few decades to perfect food so good, but I have no doubt the restaurant – an instant, neighborhood classic – will be around long enough to see me try.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Smoked Duck Salad From Ducks Eatery

I blew right by Ducks Eatery the first time I tried to find it. I was distracted by neighboring Motorino — one of the best pizza joints in the city — and by Luzzo’s around the corner — one of my favorite pizza joints. Apparently pizza was on my mind. (But when isn’t it?) When I finally found Ducks’ door, however, and saw the sign reserved for Tuesdays, reading “We have brisket,” pizza evaporated instantaneously from my mind and I knew what my night had in store: Texas-Barbecued brisket. No question about it. The brisket, cooked with palm sugar, fish sauce, and apricots did not disappoint. It was good enough that you’d want to return only on Tuesdays. But the eclectic menu at this innovative, Vietnamese/Texan BBQ-inspired restaurant left me wanting to come back every day of the week.

My favorite dish from the night was not, in fact, the incredible brisket, which has become famous in the mere three months that the restaurant’s been open, but the even more incredible Smoked Duck Salad, served with arugula, pomegranate seeds, black sticky rice and goat cheese, all mixed together for perfect, complete bites. Like the rest of the menu, the duck salad combined a slew of textures and flavors that played surprisingly well off one another in odd but unquestionably delightful combinations. As the New York Times aptly describes, “the feeling [at Duck’s Eatery] is part bayou barbecue joint, part backpacker pipe dream, curiouser and curiouser.” I’ll happily keep tumbling down this rabbit hole if more brisket, creamy cocktails,  oyster nests and, of course, duck salad await.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Fried Chicken from Hill Country Chicken

The best thing I ate last week was fried chicken from Hill Country Chicken.  Devoted to fried chicken, hand-cut french fries and pies – oh the pies! – Hill Country Chicken pays homage to the founders’ childhood memories of eating Texas-style homemade grub: “hearty, crave-able comfort food served lovingly, casually and unpretentiously.”

In a town where trying too hard is the number one offense and a surefire way to looking uncool, manyrestaurants – and people – run the risk of overdoing the “unpretentious” thing. By trying to be too carefree or “low-brow,” they often come across as inauthentic and out-of-touch. Hill country is neither one of those things. It succeeds in its mission of serving food “casually and unpretentiously,” with cafeteria-style service and a short, straightforward menu. The restaurant’s homey decor with a hint of kitch is inviting, in that it’s quaint and cozy but also playful.

Photo Credit: Serious Eats

Like its older sister Hill Country (serving what many call the best Texas BBQ in town), Hill Country Chicken hits the nail on the head. The classic fried chicken is brined in buttermilk and herbs, and fried with the skin on.  Mama El’s recipe, also brined in buttermilk and herbs, is dipped skinless into a crunchy batter. Both styles are outstanding, and both the Hill Country Classic Fried Chicken Breast and the Mama El’s Fried Chicken Thigh are the best things I ate last week.

Billy’s Bakery: The Perfect Cupcake

I have a new favorite cupcake. I know, I know. Cupcakes are so passé. Doughnuts are the new cupcakes, and today’s doughnuts are tomorrow’s macaroons and yesterday’s whoopie pies. I know. But there is something ridiculous about the vanilla buttercream frosting at Billy’s Bakery. I have been partial to Buttercup Bake Shop on the East Side until now, but the West Side’s Billy’s has just officially won me over. Founded in 2003, Billy’s Bakery is not new news. In fact, it’s old news. But this oldie is a goodie, and the Chocolate Cupcake with Vanilla Frosting just wont first place in my New York Cupcake Rank.
(At 9pm on a Wednesday night, looks like the Almond Pistachio was completely sold out).

Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade

Today Alex and I woke up and decided to go to Coney Island. The last and only time I had been there was for a Daft Punk concert that still reigns as one of, if not the, very best nights of my life. And I was excited to see Coney Island in daylight and in the comfort of cut-offs and a tank-top, as opposed to the gold, spandex leggings I sported at the concert.

As we approached the train station, we realized that our spur-of-the-moment day trip to Coney Island was going to coincide with the Mermaid Parade – an annual art festival celebrating the beginning of sum
mer.

Every summer since I moved to New York, I’ve been tempted to follow the mermaids and sea creature-clad paraders that I spot on the train down to Coney Island to see them in action.

Today turned out to be that day! Hipster neon replaced by aquamarine and magenta, high-tops and skinny jeans by seashell bikinis and umbrella-converted jelly fish, Coney Island was still a carnival through and through.

When we got off the train among the thousands of Mermaid Paraders, we watched the beginning of the parade and paid equal attention to the lively audience.

Then we indulged in Nathan’s Famous Frankfurters, fries and beer.
(I also had a chocolate and vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles in a waffle cone, to the audible envy of every woman I passed).

Next we walked to the boardwalk and strolled onto the pier, where the people-watching was almost as good as the ocean view.

Leaning over the railing and noting the deep green of the water, all of a sudden we saw a fisherman tugging his string. “He’s got something!”

A few seconds later, to our amazement, we watched him pull a thrashing sting ray out of the water!

Needless to say, the catch caused quite the commotion on the pier, and a small crowd gathered around to watch the fisherman unhook the flopping ray.

Everyone watched in nervous excitement as the fisherman, an old hand at the job, got to work. I’ll spare you the rest of the story, but will say that Coney Island certainly offered more bizarre thrills than I had expected.

We sat out on the beach for a few hours, which, although not the most pristine in the world, was great for a beach read and for soaking in some… rays?

We didn’t ride the Cyclone, so we’ll have to return for some more adventure. For now, I’m happy I finally got to see the Mermaid Parade in all its glory, with a few added delights and surprises along the way.

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.

Beverage of Choice: Sohm & Khing

Sohm & Khing

House-Infused Ginger Mekhong, Calamansi, Aperol, Bitter Lemon Soda
Courtesy of Kin Shop

Aperol is my new favorite liqueur. This summer I’ve been loving any cocktail – made to order or of my own, novice creation – mixed with this orange-colored aperitivo. My latest favorite came from Kin Shop, Harold Dieterle’s outstanding Thai restaurant in the West Village.The creative, contemporary, family-style dishes at Kin Shop, like the Squid Ink and Hot Sesame Oil Soup and the Roasted Duck Breast with Crispy Roti, Green Papaya, Fresh Herbs and Tamarind Water are not to be missed. Neither are the cocktails. The ginger-infused Mekhong – a Thai whisky – mixed with Calamondin – an Asian citrus fruit – melded perfectly with lemon soda and with, of course, Aperol. Garnished with a piece of candied ginger, the Sohm & Khing cocktail matched the food in presentation and flavor- everything was exquisit.

(For another Aperol-flavored cocktail, try Locanda Verde’s Rosato Spritz, which I had the absolute pleasure of a drinking before dinner there. Hanger One Mandarin, Rosato Vermouth, Aperol, Passionfruit and Soda.)

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.

Saraghina

I’ve been wanting to go to Saraghina ever since I learned about it over a year ago. A beautiful, rustic pizza restaurant in Bed-Stuy, Saraghina is a destination-eatery well worth the trip. Enjoy the simple and charming interior, or better yet, the vine-covered garden out back, and by the end of the night, you’ll be hard pressed to remember you’re not in Italy.

Alex, my handsome boyfriend, and I shared a green salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette, followed by a Prosciutto & Funghi pizza. We each had a glass of Lambrusco – my
summer-time favorite for Italian, and year-round favorite for pizza. The pizza’s crust was simple and fluffy and the toppings were so fresh there was no doubt the pize had be crafted from start to finish minutes before arriving at our table.

I can’t wait to return to the garden before it gets cold, and then when the weather cools, to try out the warm ambiance inside. Could this enticing restaurant be named after Felini’s prostitute, La Saraghina, in the movie 8/12? Watch this classic after visiting the delightful oasis that is Saraghina and you’ve got a perfect date night.