Sichuan and Bowling in Sunset Park

I’ve only been to Sunset Park twice, and both times I’ve followed the exact same itinerary – and what a worthy one it is. I can’t wait to return and continue exploring, next time, to be sure, with a different line up. Regardless of where my next visit takes me, however, I have a feeling I will always recommend my twice-tried plan to any visitor; remarkably, it’s a plan that would suit pretty much any group size and appeal to pretty much any age group.

The plan is a simple one: a two-stop trip with a nice, long walk in-between. Chinese food, followed by a walk in Sunset Park – the actual park, not the entire neighborhood- followed by bowling.

You’ll begin at Metro Cafe, a friendly, causal and delicious Sichuan restaurant on Eighth Avenue (at 50th Street), which has become known as the Chinatown of Brooklyn. The texture of the spicy Mapo Tofu will woo even a non-tofu eater, and the divine, sweet and sour Pork with Eggplant in Garlic is a perfect accompaniment. Wash it all down with a Tsingtao or two, and you’re ready to bowl.


To get to the bowling alley, take a digestive walk through Sunset Park, where the views of Manhattan are real. The elevated vantage point is such that you might feel you are on a mountain, looking down on the city from across an expansive body of water. And I do mean expansive. If you felt like the trip down to Sunset Park was leading you too far from home, this view will not soothe your separation anxiety. When you are done admiring the views and the great distance, Melody Lanes awaits.

Melody Lanes is an institution. I imagine it feels just the same as it did the day opened. Heavily patterned carpet covers the floor of the entrance, where on one side sits the sign-up desk and shoe exchange, and on the other side sits the barroom, where the infamous bartender, Peter Napolitano, resides.

Mr. Napolitano is a verifiable hoot. He sports a bow-tie, suspenders, and the fattest chops you’ve ever seen. He’s ready to launch a minimum ten-minute-long-story to anyone that nears his tap. Deservingly dubbed a “bartender-philosopher” by The New York Times in a wonderful exposé from May, 2009, Peter Napolitano is one of a kind. During my last visit to the bowling alley, my lovely boyfriend and I got to hear Peter explain how the house he grew up in backed right up to the hospital where he was born. On a paper napkin, he drew a diagram to show us how the window of the room where his mother gave birth literally faced his childhood bunk beds, and although they have since built a building in-between the the hospital and his house, Peter could show us the alley-way that would still permit a clear pathway from window to window. Peter is a spectacular storyteller and a truly congenial man. Although I still didn’t want to ask for his photograph, he’s the type of person who wouldn’t think anything of it and would gladly agree with no suspicion or reservations. If only everyone was so unassuming and trustworthy.
One side of the bowling alley are the disco-bowling lanes, flashing lights, music, disco-ball and all. These are the lanes for the recreational bowler, and where I’ve bowled both times. The opposing side is reserved for the leagues and professional bowlers: the lights are fully iluminated and the sound of ten pins falling in one fell strike is the primary noise coming from this side of the room. As a layman, it’s fun to watch the other side, although I did feel somewhat intrusive even at the full distance of five, empty lanes away from the action.

But Melody Lanes is a friendly place; everyone is there to have a good time, and it was refreshing, for me, to hang out among people of all ages and backgrounds in one, communal space. If you still have room after a Sichuan feast, have some curly fries, a beer, and a gum ball, and maybe feel like you’ve gone back in time for a brief moment. Whatever you do, don’t miss the chance to hear a tale from the legendary, Bay Ridge-born bartender.

Seersucker

I finally made it to Seersucker, the much-talked-about, Southern restaurant that opened in Carroll Gardens last June. I met two friends there late on a Wednesday night, in the middle of a downpour. After trudging through puddles and torrential rain, I couldn’t have landed in a more inviting spot. Despite its simple, clean, and almost stark interior, Seersucker feels cozy and intimate.

Maybe it’s the dim lights, or the personable staff, or the wood paneling and oversized mason jars on the back wall. Whatever it is, the minute you walk inside, you feel at ease and at home.The young, very attractive waitstaff are dressed in denim tops and bottoms, looking hip but low-key, like the restaurant itself. When you first sit down, you’re offered flat or sparkling water – both on tap. A simple amenity that sets the tone for what’s to come.

Following the wonderful trend about town these days, (or at least the town of Brooklyn), most ingredients are locally sourced from small farms and distributors, and many come from the Carroll Gardens farmer’s market right across the street. We started with an heirloom tomato salad with ricotta that completely blew us away, and the entrees were equally as astonishing. My favorite was the Potato Crusted North Carolina Trout with Zucchini, Virginia Peanuts and Sweet & Sour Tomato.

Serving refined Southern cooking and subtle but deeply felt Southern hospitality, Seersucker brings a freshly foreign flavor to Carroll Gardens. Fitting in with the neighborhood by embracing the local community, Seersucker also brings with it a new and almost ethereal vibe – one that is entirely welcome in this once wholly Italian community that is now pervasively gentrified with the familiar. Its menu changing with the seasons, Seersucker will no doubt stay as fresh as the food and ambiance it delivers.

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.

Beverage of Choice: Jasmine Tea Ricky

Jasmine Tea Infused Plymoth Gin and Fresh Lime Juice.

Courtesy of The Campbell Apartment

Out of sight in an attic corner of Grand Central Terminal,The Campbell Apartment is one of the hidden gems of this classically beautiful building. An obvious after-work destination for commuters, this twenties-themed cocktail lounge bears no comparison in both class and convenience. Red leather bar seats, stained glass windows, intricate wood moldings and a giant fireplace holding a giant safe, bring the lounge’s sumptuous interior to life and transport patrons back in time, to the era of its former occupant, 1920s tycoon John W. Campbell.

I’ve been twice, and both times had the Jasmine Tea Ricky. It’s light, refreshing, tangy and just sweet enough. The jasmine tea flavor also makes it unlike any drink I’ve ever had. I love it for happy hour, and love the easy escape to anywhere I’d need to go afterwards.

Beverage of Choice: Floradora

Floradora
Gin, Fresh Raspberry, Lime & Lemon Juice, Ginger Syrup & Club Soda“Shaken and served tall”

Courtesy of Lantern’s KeepTucked away in the back of the Iriquois Hotel on 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues is Lantern’s Keep. The Degas prints hanging on the walls of this this dark and velvety room heighten its elegant ambiance. The cocktails and perfect-sized offering of small plates fit right in. It was love at first sip for me when I tasted my cocktail of choice: the raspberry and gingery delight that couldn’t have been more perfect for the first real hot day of early summer, where dining al fresco was a must (and followed, for me, at Cacio e Pepe in the East Village).

Read about the Floradora’s history, as well as a few other fabulous and fresh – all fruit juices in the Lantern Keep’s cocktails are freshly squeezed – libations:

http://www.zagat.com/buzz/drinkable-history-lessons-at-lanterns-keep

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.

Brooklyn Kolache Co.

Summer is the season for BBQ, and this summer, Texas BBQ seems to be getting a lot of attention in New York. Hill Country Barbecue Market, which opened five years ago in June of 2007, is in the spotlight once again, after Pete Wells of the New York Times gave it two stars (and “BBQ snob” Daniel Vaughn acknowledged it had all the right pieces but fell victim to one of New York’s biggest clichés: it was rushed). There’s more to Texan cuisine, however, than BBQ, and food-forward Brooklyn is now home to New York’s most recent Texan import: the Kolache.

Brooklyn is the ultimate haven for specialty food shops. From Brooklyn Brine Co.’s pickles to the recently opened gourmet mayonnaise shop Empire Mayo, you can find pretty much any specialty food you want in Brooklyn. Up until two moths ago, however, Texans looking for a taste of home couldn’t find one important part of their morning routine: the Kolache. Czech in origin, a Kolache is a round, doughy pastry with a sweet or savory filling, and is apparently a popular breakfast on-the-go in the Lone Star State. When Texas native Autumn Stanford moved to Brooklyn, she was shocked to find that with all its specialty food shops, Brooklyn was missing these “neat-to-eat” pastries.

Stanford started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for what would become Brooklyn Kolache Co., the one and only Kolache establishment in the borough. It opened in March of 2012, on Dekalb Avenue at Bedford Avenue in BedStuy. With its big, open seating area and sizable garden out back, there’s more space and exposed brick at Brooklyn Kolache Co. than you’re likely to find anywhere closer to Manhattan. In addition to Kolaches, you can find Pigs in a Blanket and Cinnamon Rolls — who can argue with that comfort-food combo? Coffee comes from Kitten Coffee, a gourmet coffee roaster right up the street, which, incidentally, founded the firstBarista school in the New York.

I had never tried a Kolache before I visited Brooklyn Kolache Co., and like many firsts, this one was one to remember. I started with a Cherry and Cheese Kolache: the dough was fluffy and slightly chewy, and the smooth, sweet-cheese filling was the perfect anchor for the tart, cherry topping. Next I tried the Sausage, Cheese and Jalapeno Kolache, which I could see becoming an addictive hangover cure.

Whatever the filling, the dough itself is the main event. Slightly sweet, it compliments both a sweet and savory middle, and the ratio of dough to filling — heavy on the dough, light on the filling — leaves no confusion as to who’s boss.

The cafe is bright and casual, with funky art covering the walls and mellow music playing at a perfect volume for getting some work done or for enjoying a peaceful breakfast. Light pours in from french doors that open to the lovely back yard, where more tables can be found for lingering over these decadent Texan treats. Follow their website’s suggestion: “Stop by and try one!” Somewhere between a bagel and a doughnut, a Kolache is a cross between two New York staples, and this Texan treasure is working perfectly in Brooklyn.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Caramel Sticky Bun from Roberta’s

The best thing I ate last week was a burnt caramel sticky bun from Roberta’s Bread. Every Saturday and Sunday, Fort Greene residents are blessed with a special delivery from the one and only Roberta’s to the one and only Greene Grape.

Around 8:30 a.m., neighbors start furtively dashing into the Greene Grape, where an almost nervous crowd starts to hover around the counter in anticipation. These sticky, buttery, chewy, salty caramel buns are one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets; neighbors are addicted, and now so am I. “They’re like crack,” I’ve been told on two, separate occasions by cashiers at the Greene Grape.

And they know best – they see the same Fort Greene residents weekend morning after weekend morning, coming in to get their fix. We all have our vices. Add to my list these to-die-for sticky buns.

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!

Cockle-Doodle-Don’t


I didn’t love the Red Rooster. It was good, but I was a little disappointed. I went with my parents, wonderful dinner partners with a knack for getting reservations, (and who, incidentally, like to pick up the bill!).

We got the Fried Yard Bird, the Mac & Greens, and the Blackened Catfish and Black Eyed Peas. We started with Gravlax on toast, which was my favorite, creatively mixing flavors and culinary styles. We finished with Coffee and Doughnuts. Everything was really well cooked and pretty delicious, but I’m afraid there was some seasoning which threw me off- something which I’m sure others appreciate but for which my palate isn’t properly fined tuned. The place also felt a bit factory-like, a habitual problem for restaurants of that size and popularity. I didn’t love it like I wanted to.

I love the concept and was sure I was going to love the food, especially because Aquavit, – Red Rooster chef Marcus Samuelsson’s wonderful Scandinavian restaurant – is one of my favorite restaurants in the city, andAugust, owned by Mr. Samuelsson, is another fave! Still, I really loved the ambiance and the menu – lexicon, design and offerings – and the staff was extraordinarily friendly. I would really love to return for the Jazz Brunch because, I think, like it’s namesake, the Red Rooster may be at its best in the morning.

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!

Sunday Brunch at Whitehall

Brunch is for your best friends. This past Sunday morning I got to do brunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends, in the city for a weekend visit. We went to Whitehall, the self-proclaimed “Modern British”Café/Bar and Restaurant on Greenwich Avenue in the Village. After gabbing over coffee and tea for about as long as we could before we really started to annoy the forgiving waitress from who we begged “one more minute” for a little too long, we ordered eggs.

I had Two Poached Eggs topped with Avocado, Olive Oil, Chile Flakes and Baby Rocket over a thick, toasty slice of Country Bread, and my BFF had the Old English Fry Up with Scrambled Eggs, Slow Roasted Tomatos, Buttered Button Mushrooms, and Baked Beans. Both dishes were fantastic; we each loved our meal so much that neither one of us offered up the customary taste to the other. I will definitely revisit this lovely restaurant for another British Brunch, and I’m really looking forward to trying Grub and Grog for dinner. Maybe it’s all the Downton Abbey I’ve been watching lately, but I am really feeling the British menus popping up all over the city these days.

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.

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 Dutch: part one

Sam Sifton voted The Dutch his number one restaurant in 2011 in The New York Times this past week. I had the pleasure of eating there for brunch on the last day of 2011 with one of my closest friends and best companions for dining out in the city. (She’s leaving us soon for another great food town – L.A – so we’ve been getting the important stops in before she departs, and before I’ll have to visit her for more culinary excursions on the west coast). Beating the brunch crowd by about half an hour, we got a table right away and were able to enjoy the great people-watching out of the big windows of this corner restaurant on Sullivan and Prince.

The Soft Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Sable, Trout Roe and half of Toasted Sesame Bagel was perfect, served salty and buttery in a bowl. The Honey Butter Biscuits were to die for. Three are served warm on a wood board, covered in an incredible, sweet Honey Butter, alongside whipped butter and a light, tangy jam. What a fantastic finale to 2011!
Lucky for me I get to try dinner at the Dutch in just a few weeks. Stay tuned for part two…

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: Sushi at Neta

It’s really a toss-up this week among a few, incredible dishes. I don’t typically eat out as as much as I did last week, but with a few friends in town and my birthday this past Saturday, Indulgence with a capital I became the word of the week. I took the opportunity of a friend in from L.A. to try Rosemary’s for a leisurely lunch. The Foccacia di Recca filled with Straccino cheese is one of the runners up for the best thing I ate last week. The sharp, melted Straccino is sandwiched between two, fluffy squares of salty foccacia for a decadently delicious starter. The chopped salad at Rosemary’s is perfect, as is the olive oil cake.

I took the opportunity of another friend in town and my encroaching birthday to grab a glass of wine and crostini at what is perhaps my favorite wine bar in the city: Gottino, where the food and ambiance are impeccable. The crostinis — from Acciughe E Burro salted anchovies and homemade butter, to Pesto Di Noci walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme, to my favorite, Carciofi E Mentuccia slow cooked artichokes, mint and pecorino – make the perfect appetizer or after-work small plate.

Photos of Neta, New York City
This photo of Neta is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Alex and I took a wonderful trip to Vermont, full of foliage, crisp air, vistas of rolling hills spotted with red barns and farm silos, and of course, a lot of food and wine. We stayed at the North Hero House for two nights, a beyond charming bed and breakfast on North Hero island on Lake Champlain. The kitchen at North Hero House sources almost all of its ingredients from local farms and purveyors, listing the sources on the menu so that you know where most, if not all, of your dish came from. The almost startlingly tender Free-Range Misty Knoll Chicken cooked two ways: slow-roasted breast and crispy leg confit, served with summer vegetable succotash and roasted chicken jus is another runner-up for the best thing I ate last week. We also spent a night in Middlebury, where we ate at the classic favorite of my college friends:American Flatbread, which was doing the farm to table thing before it was a thing. The pizza is cooked in a big, earthen oven in the middle of the restaurant and sliced into sticks as opposed to pie slices. And I couldn’t leave Middlebury without a sandwich from another old favorite: Otter Creek Bakery. It was a perfect, Fall weekend, mixed with new sights (Mount Mansfield, the North East Kingdom, the Champlain islands) and nostalgia (long drives, slow walks, and my college town).

But the meal that takes the birthday cake for this week comes from Neta, a new, upscale sushi restaurant in Greenwich Village. Where do I begin? Elegant, sophisticated, fresh. The words don’t do the food or the restaurant itself justice. Alex and I tried King Mushrooms with spicy pomme frites and serrano peppers; sushi so fresh it not only lives up to but essentially epitomizes the restaurant’s name (Neta means “the fresh ingredients of sushi”); and a few “omakase” or “chef’s choice,” including lobster and fluke wrapped in cucumber. Delicate touches to each dish elevate but never upstage the freshness and quality of the ingredients. From small plates to sushi, our whole meal at Neta was the best thing I ate last week.

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.

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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.

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.

Chuko

No one knows how to dress these days. Is it hot out or cold today? Should I wear jeans and a t-shirt, no jacket? Flats and a sweater? Or will I be burning up and wish I’d worn a skirt? But my legs haven’t seen the light of day in months! They aren’t ready for exposure! So what does one eat when one doesn’t know what to wear? I’ve shivered on a patio trying to enjoy early summer fare and felt itchy and unseasonable sporting wool socks and spooning a slow-cooked, root vegetable stew. The other night I had a Goldilocks moment: Eating a crunchy, spicy brussels sprout salad and a steaming bowl of ramen in the stark interior of Chucko — a ramen joint in Prospect Heights which opened in August of 2011 — seemed just right.

Chefs and owners, Jamison Blankenship, David Koon and James Sato, of the meatpacking district’s Morimoto, have traded glitz for simplicity, with a straightforward menu — bites and ramen — and not one piece of decoration in their “sauna-esque storefront.” There’s no alcohol to be had, but bars aplenty surround the restaurant — perfect for grabbing a pre-dinner drink while you wait for a table.

It was a tough decision between the Kale Salad and the Brussels Sprouts, and next time I’ll get both, because while I vowed to try the kale on my next visit, there’s no way I could walk into Chuko and not order the Brussels Sprouts. Fried in fish sauce and sprinkled with roasted peanuts, this crispy dish is a firey wonder. Mix and match your ramen broth, noodles and toppings, but take the sage advice of the waiters, who are as enthusiastic about the food as you will be by the time you finish your meal. If there’s one perk to cold weather, it’s an excuse to eat ramen at Chuko. But even as the weather warms — or does whatever it’s doing these days — I expect to be dining at Chuko all year round.

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.)

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.