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

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.

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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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!

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.

Beverage of Choice: London Buck

The London Buck

Dry Gin, Ginger, Fresh Lime Juice, and Chilled SeltzerCourtesy of The Beagle

Learning the ABCs has never tasted so good. A most wonderful new addition to Avenue A is the Beagle – a beautiful Cocktail bar and restaurant that opened in May of this year. A few weeks ago, I met two friends there for a drink, and it took everything I had to keep it to just one. The London Buck is a fabulous summer refreshment, and served with a metal straw (that you can purchase for $3 according to the menu), felt just right.

So now one repetition for memory’s sake:

On Avenue A, it’s the Beagle for Cocktails.

Next time I’ll add a D for dinner.

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.

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.

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.