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.

The Best Thing I Ate Last Week: White Anchovy Crostini from Hillside

Covering only six blocks, Vinegar Hill is one of the smallest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Nestled between the Navy Yard and Dumbo, the tiny Historic District is comprised of three, distint stretches of cobble stone streets, lined by brick, Greek Rival row houses. On Hudson Street at the corner of Water Street sits theVinegar Hill House, one of my all-time favorite restaurants in the city. Elegantly rustic, the restaurant is cozy and beautiful, and the menu, changing weekly “based on the best ingredients purveyors are carrying,” offers exquisit comfort food.

Two months ago, Vinegar Hill House opened Hillside, its sister restaurant next door. While Hillside works as a great place to wait for a table at Vinegar Hill House with a glass of wine or an appetizer, this wine bar, with its little but lovely menu, is a wonderful destination on its own. Last Thursday, Alex and I met there on a beautiful summer night, and watched the sky grow dark over the old smoke stacks and brick buildings outside the window. Over a few glasses of Muscadet, we shared a summery dinner that confirmed this little sister restaurant is already as brilliant as its elder. We started with a Peach and Ricotta Salad with baby heirloom tomatoes, followed by an Anchovy Crostini, and finally Pork Ribs with Apricot over French lentils.


The Anchovy Crostini was far and away the best thing that I ate last week.  A thick, white fillet almost melted onto a thin spread of slightly sweet butter on top of a slice of toasty bread. A garnish of roasted red pepper tied the sweet and salty flavors together. It was perfect. If you’re dubious of anchovies, the rich, meaty fillet in this dish will quell any skepticism. While the menu may change like its sister restaurant, I hope they keep the anchovy crostini on a regular rotation!

Three BK Food Trends Worth the Hype

With a new food trend popping up almost every day, it’s hard to know which ones are worth checking out, which ones are worth dropping everything for, and which ones are totally overrated. Here are three Brooklyn food trends that deserve the hype.

Pok Pok NY

When news that Portland favorite Pok Pok was opening in Brooklyn, a flurry of food-lovers could barelycontain their excitement. Chef Andy Ricker must know a thing or two about New Yorkers: he reigned in our chronically fleeting attention by opening Pok Pok Wing this March, and ramped up our curiosity by only offering Wings and Papaya Salad. When we were just about over the wait and ready to move on, Pok Pok NY’s doors opened on April 18. Instantly lines never seen in the Columbia Waterfront District were forming — two, three, four hours long — for Northern Thai Food worth every bit of the anticipation.

The food at Pok Pok is complex but tastes simple. Each spice and ingredient is listed under each dish on themenu, from Burmese curry powder to pickled garlic to Naam Phrik Num (spicy green chili dip). Somehow, despite the wonderful complexity and number of components, no dish tastes overwhelming or over-the-top, and nothing is over-seasoned, too sweet or too oily. The laid-back vibe — plastic tablecloths, cups and plates; a tent-covered interior and umbrella-shaded exterior — compliments the casual cuisine. But casual is not to be confused with ordinary, because Pok Pok NY is anything but.

Although I would have liked to order everything on the menu, I resisted and will happily return to try what I missed. The long lines aren’t so bad with an Umesho Cooler (Japanese Ume Plum wine and soda). If the Papaya Pok Pok with a side of Sticky Rice, Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (the same served at Pok Pok Wing), the Muu Kham Waan (Niman Ranch Pork Neck) and the Cha Cha “La Vong” (Vietnamese Catfish) are any indication, every single dish at Pok Pok is a masterpiece worth waiting for.

Rockaway Taco

I really didn’t want to believe the hype on Rockaway Taco. Hipsters invading Rockaway? I wasn’t interested. Last year the New York Times couldn’t get enough of it, so, in protest (read: for no good reason), I stayed away. This year, I can’t get enough. Rockaway Taco is in every way worth the subway ride (or Rockabus!) down to the beach.

If you get one taco, get the fish taco. If you get two tacos, get the fish taco again. In my opinion, it’s the best. Add guacamole, obviously. And don’t miss out on the fresh pineapple juice, served with crushed ice and mint.

Dough

And since I like to end everything with something sweet, the last Brooklyn food trend that definitely lives up to its reputation is Dough: the amazing doughnut shop in Clinton Hill. Is it wrong that the first thing I consumed in 2012 was a Dulce de Leche doughnut from Dough? After which I consumed Hibiscus doughnut? I guess in addition to ending everything with something sweet, I like to start with something sweet too. And what better way to start the day, or the year, than with a doughnut, the ultimate dessert-for-breakfast?

If you can’t make it to home base in Clinton Hill — Lafayette Ave. and Franklin Ave. — don’t worry. Dough’s decadent delights are popping up all over the city, from Bittersweet coffee shop just a few blocks away in Fort Greene, to Culture Espresso in midtown, to Veggie Island in Rockaway. Wherever you find them, be sure to try a few of the exotic flavors, like Earl Grey, Blood Orange or Lemon Poppy Seed. Doughnuts will never taste the same.

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.

Stuck in the City This Summer? Spend a Night on the Canal

That’s right: the Gowanus Canal. Sure it’s a Superfund site, but all the more reason to show it some love. As a neighborhood, Gowanus is transforming. Like other Brooklyn neighborhoods, Gowanus has seen factory spaces and warehouses repurposed as lofts and condos, a new chapter beginning in 2005 when a residential boom took off against much of the community’s wishes to retain the industrial purpose and feel of their narrow neighborhood. Three years later, the Bell House, a converted 1920s warehouse turned music venue and event space, opened its doors, and today, while it’s not quite like neighboring Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill or Boerum Hill, — all indisputably gentrified at this point — Gowanus is moving further and further from its manufacturing roots.

Two recent additions to the neighborhood are accelerating Gowanus’ otherwise gradual transformation.Littleneck, a seafood joint on Third Avenue, and freshly opened Lavender Lake, a massive bar with a laid back vibe, are both a stone’s throw from the charming draw bridge that crosses the canal. The grimy water and vacant lots nearby only amplify the lure of both restaurant and bar.

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Littleneck serves clams, of course, but highlights include the Maine Lobster Roll, well-priced oysters and the tastefully nautical theme. The door handle is a dock cleat and inside fishing accessories deck the walls, but nothing risks feeling overdone. The short, straightforward menu leaves little room for error. Fries are a necessary side to the meaty lobster roll, which is served with only a touch of mayonnaise. The New England Clam Chowder is light on cream and heavy on potatoes, and a Pea Shoot Salad with golden beets makes a refreshing appetizer or side to any dish.

When dinner’s over, around the corner awaits two-week-old Lavender Lake. Between the enormous, double-decker patio and the even larger bar hall, you won’t have trouble finding a place to sit, but you may never want to leave once you settle in. An old horse stable, the space itself really impresses, and the backyard is the perfect place to kick back and forget you’re in the city for a few hours. Wooden planks render the feeling of sitting on a dock, and umbrellas shading picnic tables heighten the lake-side experience (Also check the best foldable picnic table reviews).

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If you’re lucky and can take a peek behind the wood picket fence, try to steal a glimpse at the largest garden gnome you’ll ever see. Apparently it was sitting upright, peering over the fence onto the patio when the bar first opened. But the owners thought it might detract from the ambiance, so the gnome had to lay back down, out of site. While admittedly creepy, the gnome would certainly have marked Lavender Lake’s territory. I hope they keep it around for special occasions.

Occasion or no occasion, if you’re looking to escape the city for a little while but can’t make it out of town, a great night awaits you down by the Gowanus canal.

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This Flamingo Stole My Heart

Elad Lassry, Chilean Flamingo, 90028, 2007. Chromogenic print, 14 × 11 in. (35.6 × 27.9 cm). Edition no. 3/5. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo 2008.194a-b © Elad Lassry

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.

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.

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.

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.

Shelsky’s Smoked Fish

Appetizing (noun) is most easily explained as food that you would eat with a bagel: from smoked salmon and whitefish to homemade salads and cream cheese. This Jewish American food group gave rise to the appetizing shop, which reflects Jewish dietary laws that prohibit selling or consuming meat and dairy products together.  Appetizing shops sell dairy and fish, and delicatessens — traditionally — sell cured and pickled meat. Early in the 20th century, Eastern European Jewish immigrants brought appetizing cuisine to New York, and today that legacy is an emblematic food of the city: a bagel with lox and cream cheese. What says New York more than that?

Ironically, the bagel-lox-and-cream-cheese legacy has actually contributed to the slow disappearance of appetizing shops, which used to be a dime a dozen in New York. The ubiquity of this classic New York combo has cast a large shadow over the other important components of appetizing — whitefish salad, pickled herring, sturgeon, and sable, to name a few — and the shops have become nearly obsolete. Russ and Daughters, a stalwart of the Lower East Side, has been “appetizing since 1914″ and is thankfully still going strong. It is one of the only remaining stores in a neighborhood that used to be home to more than 30 appetizing shops, and happens to have some of the best whitefish salad on the planet. Brooklyn, for all its specialty food shops and Jewish roots, was sorely lacking an appetizing shop north of Prospect Park untilShelsky’s Smoked Fish opened in Carroll Gardens.

Peter Shelsky opened the store because he was tired of schlepping into Manhattan for whitefish, and he is restoring some heritage to the borough in the process. For a brilliant combination of all of the best that Shelsky’s has to offer, the “Brooklyn Native” is the perfect sandwich — Gaspe Nova, smoked Whitefish Salad, pickled herring, and sour pickles are served on a bagel or bialy. I am partial to the bialy, which is every so slightly toasted so as not to sacrifice the fluffy middle. The sandwich begins with a layer of creamy whitefish salad, which, made with chopped cucumber and celery, has just the right amount of crunch. Next comes two layers of Gaspe Nova so fresh it practically melts in your mouth. Not overly smoky, this Nova goes really well with the next layer, a slightly sweet piece of pickled herring that is much meatier than the salmon, offering a unique consistency in addition to the new flavor. Finally, a few sour pickles top off the salty stack, all enveloped, of course, by the bagel or bialy. The distinct texture of each component in the “Brooklyn Native” is an integral part of this sandwich’s character.

Other Shelsky’s sandwiches, like the “Member of the Tribe” (Gaspe Nova, scallion or plain cream cheese served on a bagel) or the namesake “Peter Shelsky” (Gaspe Nova, sable, pickled herring with cream sauce and onion, scallion cream cheese served on bagel or bialy) offer similarly complex, flavor-packed options. “The Great Gatsby” (pastrami cured salmon, horseradish cream cheese, honey mustard, and red onion) or the “Dr. Goldstein Special”(duck fat-laced chopped liver and apple horseradish sauce served between two schmaltz-fried potato latkes) take tradition to a whole new level. For those new to the cuisine, Shelsky’s sandwiches are a great introduction to the world of appetizing — a world that will hopefully see a revival in the city where it really came of age. Head down to Carroll Gardens (historically not a Jewish neighborhood, as it were), for a taste of authentic appetizing, and some of the best sandwiches this side of the bridge.

Va beh’

On Dean Street in Brooklyn, between Fourth and Fifth Avenue, you can find yourself in Italy for an evening. Va beh’, a new restaurant on the south side of Dean and somewhat eclipsed by the mounting Barclays Center, is discreetly tucked away from the chaos that surrounds it on all sides. It almost feels like you’re entering a secret passageway when you step through its doors.

What you find inside is a true, bustling Italian restaurant, where wine and sparkling water run from taps on the wall; the menu is scrawled in romantic, black script on a marble wall, the volume’s on high and a slightly chaotic frenzy fills the room with a communal sense of excitement and frivolity.

The wait and bar staff are Italian, adding to the sense of authenticity. The food leaves you wondering whether or not you have, in fact, somehow been transported to a little kitchen in Milan. A rarity in any restaurant no matter the locale or cuisine, the dishes are not too salty, which makes them actually taste homemade. A smoked trout crostini is meaty but light, melting in your mouth with the accompanying lightly grilled and olive-oil-brushed hunks of fresh country loaf. The pastas are divine, as to be expected. As are the meatballs. Nothing is too fancy, and it’s all made with the highest quality ingredients — exactly how Italian food is meant to be.

Owners Michele and Qiana Di Bar and Andrew Alari wanted to recreate the casual, everyday dining experience they had growing up in Milan, and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished. With only a few tables (you can see it at here – www.kidfriendlyhome.com/best-cheap-vanity-table-reviews/), be prepared to wait a little while; But you’ll be offered a glass of the best wine they have open and a dish of olives while you wait. The lines will only get longer as word gets out, so run, don’t walk, to Va Beh’ where it really is all good.

Beverage of Choice: The Barton Hollow

It’s been a long while since I’ve sought out a perfect cocktail. For the last few months, it’s been a lot of red wine for me, in the comfort of my own home, on my wonderfully dependable couch. Last Friday, however, saw the confluence of a perfect storm, and I hit the East Village to find something daring but delicious, unique but classy to take the edge off. I found my match at The Wayland, a new bar on Ninth Street and Avenue C. It was called the Barton Hollow.

The Barton Hollow
Pimeton-infused honey, Vodka and Lemon.

Courtesy of The Wayland
Massive ice cubes and a hefty basil leaf consume most of the small glass, leaving little room for the drink itself. The strength of the lemony concoction, however, more than makes up for its volume, and the ice cubes compel one to sip, making this little drink last.

The Wayland is hip and old-timey, striking that perfect 19th century note that’s been all the rage in recent years (and that Portlandia captured so well in “Dream of the 1890s”). Skip the cheese and charcuterie plate and order the brussel sprouts instead, and if you’re into live music, check out the fitting mix of bluegrass and rock – banjos, bass and all – that hits the bar Sunday through Wednesday. Most importantly, slip slowly and enjoy!

The Dutch: part two

Supper at The Dutch is still a party. While it may no longer be the newest hotspot, (Ok, it’s definitely not- it’s been open since April of 2011, which, in NYC Restaurant Years, means it’s something like a teenager), The Dutch still delivers on great food and a fun vibe in some gorgeously sleek interiors. You will still feel that bustling energy when you step foot in the place, and you will still find yourself looking over your shoulder to check out who might be at the next vanity table.

A lot of people hated that Sam Sifton named The Dutch the number one restaurant in New York in 2011. And that Adam Platt named it in his Ten Best New Restaurants of 2011. And that it won Eater’s Restaurant of the Year in New York. I’m a lover, not a hater, and would argue that while a slew of other hot newcomers are just as worthy as The Dutch, I’m sure it earned its throne for a while when it first opened in early 2011. Like all once-hyped restaurants, The Dutch may have lost some of its sparkle by now. But the restaurant shouldn’t be banished from court just because the fervor died down.

I, for one, have had two great meals at The Dutch – brunch and supper – and would love to return for a special occasion with a big group to dine in their private room downstairs. After eating brunch at The Dutcha few weeks ago, I happily returned for dinner a few weeks later. The Fried Chicken Chicken Wings with the house Corn Bread are a great way to start Supper, and although I didn’t try it, I was enviously eyeing the Winter Salad with Country Ham, Vermont Cheddar and Pear at the next table. The Pecan Duck with Celery and Organic Dirty Rice, and the Steamed Branzino with Mussel-Lemongrass Curry and Peanuts tied as winners in my group. The Beef Ravioli with Porcini, Robiola and Black Truffle came in a close second. I’m not a huge fan of Banana Cream Pie, but this dessert was fantastic- I would definitely recommend it or whatever Fresh Pie of the Day they are serving.You can’t be king forever – especially in this city. But who says you can’t be king for day (or 2011, in The Dutch’s case), and then settle back, let someone else take the reigns for a while, and just continue being really, really good? In my mind, The Dutch is just that: still really, really good. If it hadn’t been so hyped, I bet The Dutch would still be feeling the love.

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.

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).

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…

Family Recipe


I love the story behind Family Recipe. Chef and owner Akiko Thurnauer built an ode to her father in this homey, Japanese-fusian restaurant that opened earlier this fall in the Lower East Side.

Inspired by the foreign ingredients her father used to bring home from his world travels, and from the fine dining he would treat her to, Akiko melds home-style Japanese cooking with exotic flavors and techniques. You can feel and taste the sweet, simple and sincere roots when you step foot in this unpretentious gem of a restaurant.

Two girlfriends and I went to Family Recipe on a recent Friday night, and enjoyed a Sake tasting while we waited for a table. With our meal we tried – and loved – a bottle of Poochi Pooochi, a Sparkling Junmai Sake.

My favorite dishes were a Konbu Cured Fluke with Field Caviar and Ginger Oil; a Kale salad with Pomegranate and Candied Pistachio (Vegan); and a Mushroom salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette.
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Effortlessly blending styles, the restaurant itself is both quaint and sophisticated, and the food is homey but refined. Many of the dishes are vegan or vegetarian, but nothing lacks flavor – a feat I love in the rare restaurant that can pull it off.

Family Recipe is a lovely, little restaurant with a refreshingly sweet back-story, and the food to match.

Roberta’s

I tend to dismiss most things Williamsburg and Bushwick because of the Disneyifying Hipsterdom that has completely taken over. I’m partial to any part of Brooklyn that isn’t ‘right off the L train.’

But when I finally got out to Roberta’s, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pretension and hipster-tude, and was completely wowed by the food and ambiance. Roberta’s really does deserve the hype.

I’m obsessed with Margherita Pizzas – they’re always the best, wherever you go – and Roberta’s Marghertia definitely won a spot on my top ten list. Their special calzone, made with Pesto, Roasted Red Peppers, Ricotta, Prosciutto, and magic, was fantastic that night and equally good the next day. Finally, their Prime Flat Iron Steak with Grilled Potatoes and Charred Lettuce was devine, cooked to juicy perfection.

I think I might finally be getting over my deep-rooted distrust of hipster Bushwick. And I will have to owe it, of course, to Roberta’s. I can’t wait to visit again.

Meal on-the-go: GranDaisy Flatbread

If you find yourself needing to eat on the go (as I do far more often that I would like), and you find yourself in Tribeca (or Soho or the Upper West side- see below for exact locations), the flatbreads at GranDaisy Bakery are great.

My go-to is the Pizza Zucchini, which is served on a thin-crust flatbread with gruyere cheese. Their Pizza Cauliflower, also made with gruyere cheese, and Pizza Pomodoro, which, with nothing but tomato sauce, is as perfectly simple as it gets, are also favorites. For something different, I go for the Pizza Sciacchiata, whose sweet Champagne Grapes and Anise compliment the salty crust really nicely.
One makes a great snack, and two a fine lunch. For eating on the go, GranDaisy Bakery is one of the best bets I’ve found for something relatively light, not too unhealthy, and always supremely delicious.

Tribeca: 250 West Broadway, between Beach and North Moore
Soho: 73 Sullivan Street, between Spring and Broom
Upper West Side: 176 West 72nd Street, at Amsterdam