May
4

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Cheers For The NYC Craft Cocktail Tour!

When I heard about an opportunity to learn about the art that is the craft cocktail while touring in one of my favorite neighborhoods and getting a glimpse of a unique slice of American history, I was all in.

Urban Adventures hosts a number of tours on the Lower East Side and Brooklyn, with topics ranging from tenements to craft beer. The cocktail tour is now open to the public, seven days a week. There are no cancellations – if only one person makes a booking, they’re getting a private tour.

To whet our palettes, our tour guides provided us with mini cupcakes from Prohibition Bakery: lemony bites called the Bee’s Knees and White Russians. Alcohol is added after the baking and to the icing, so it really does have a bit of an alcoholic kick. In fact, you get carded at the bakery before you can indulge. Sorry teenagers, your plans for buzzing on buttercream get checked at the door.

unnamed-2As we munched on our cupcakes, we learned from our tour guide, Brian, that like so many great things, cocktails actually originated in America, and that rum was the most popular spirit in colonial times. The cocktail wasn’t just invented in America; it was taken very seriously. In the mid-1800s, if you wanted a cocktail, you didn’t attempt it yourself.  Just like you wouldn’t give yourself a medical exam, Brian said, you wouldn’t try to make a cocktail at home. You went to a professional – and so did we.

Stop No. 1: the Blind Barber

Not everything in East Village is as it seems. Back when prohibition reigned, many businesses were fronts for the real attraction: speakeasies selling bootleg moonshine. Nowadays, some bars try to regain that lost mystique by creating “hidden” watering holes. Stroll into the Blind Barber for a haircut if you wish, but be sure to head to the back, which leads to a modern-day speakeasy. Rumor has it that it used to be a privately owned apartment where lavish parties were thrown with such raucous appeal that they drew the likes of Madonna in the ‘80s.

For our first cocktail of the evening, we sampled the Strawberry Fields, a refreshing concoction of muddled strawberry, honey, lemon, and vodka shaken till ice cold and topped with a sprig of parsley by our bartender, Rob.

“Don’t be scared of the parsley,” he said. “It opens up the flavor.”

unnamed unnamed-3In fact, we learned the garnish actually has a distinct role in the cocktail rather than just aesthetics: It’s meant to cleanse your palette and get you ready for the next drink. Touché, savvy bartenders.

Ever wondered about the shaken versus stirred rule? I have; who wants to commit a cocktail faux pas? Our tour guide explained as we sipped away that as a rule, drinks with dairy or juices should be shaken, and clear beverages should be stirred so they don’t become cloudy. My first thought on this was that James Bond was wrong when he famously said his martini should be shaken, not stirred.

Another hidden bar we passed on our way to stop No. 2 was PDT, or Please Don’t Tell, which can be entered through the phone booth in the neighboring eatery, Crif Dogs. You tell them about your reservation in the phone to be granted access to the small, dark space that serves quality cocktails.

Stop No. 2: William Barnacle Tavern

This place has some bona fide history. Not only was in a documented speakeasy during prohibition, but it used to be owned by a gangster.  He saved some of his earnings in case he got caught for tax evasion like Al Capone, which was a shrewd assessment on his part since the city council was fond of drinking in the illegal establishment.  When the current owner bought the business in the ‘60s, imagine his surprise to discover $2 million worth of ill-gotten gains in the basement safe!

unnamed-5These days, the tavern specializes in absinthe, which was illegal until 2007. People used to think the wormwood ingredient in it made you hallucinate, but in actuality wormwood is just a muscle relaxer. It’s still very potent and astringent though, so after lighting a sugar cube on fire for showmanship, our absinthe got diluted drop by drop from a delicate silver dispenser, resulting in a sweet, anise-flavored elixir.

unnamed-6 unnamed-7Not only can you get a drink at Barnacle’s, you can catch a show next door at the theater, head upstairs to the museum to learn more about American gangsters, and eat the French crepes made to order by Crepe Canaveral, which is helmed by a Frenchman from Brittany who will earnestly seek your opinion on all matters crepe-related.

Stop No. 3: Astor Wines and Spirits

Not everything was as sunshine and moonshine while whipping up batches of bathtub gin during the prohibition era. As we took a respite from drinking and leisurely made our way to our next stop, we learned that people did in fact die from bad batches of alcohol during that odd time in America’s history. Because there were no regulations, some alcohol was mixed with truly heinous substances, like embalming fluid. Shudder.

Luckily we live in an era where alcohol is not only safer, there’s incredible variety. At Astor Wines and Sprits, the biggest liquor store in Manhattan, you can choose from 5,500 brands. Some are commonplace, and some are quite rare. Yours truly picked up a sweet little New Zealand Pinot Noir for under $30.

unnamed-8Stop No. 4: Sweetwater Social

Next up was a modern, spacious underground bar with something for everyone: great music, shuffleboard, deep-fried pickles, and classy cocktails.

unnamed-9 unnamed-10Our last taste was a classic gimlet, expertly concocted with New York’s very own Brooklyn Gin, fresh lime juice, and sugar. It was the perfect nightcap to a well-blended evening of equal parts American and cocktail history.

And now we’d love to know…what’s YOUR signature cocktail?  Share below!

By: Sarah Henry

May
1

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2015: The Year Of No Restaurant Repeats (April Edition)

We’re live with the April edition of “no restaurant repeats!”  For our #travelthroughfood this month, I had the best bean and sweet potato tacos ever at El Presidente and made a pitstop in Paris (i.e. Benoit) for a cheese souffle, oui oui!

One thing I realized as I was rounding up this month’s photos: I eat too much damn cheese!  (Ok, is there really such a thing?)  But honestly, between the grilled cheese, cheese souffle, 4 cheese pizza, cheesy pasta, and cheesecake…well.  Let’s just say I’m going to be making a big effort in May to integrate more colors onto my plate!

My favorite dining experience this month was Nobu (yes, a bit cliche, but the best is the best for a reason, right?!)–despite fish being their main staple, just utter the word “vegetarian” and they whip you up the most divine meal, veggie miso soup and all.

The budget friendly award goes to Melt Shop, I mean, an entire restaurant dedicated to the art of creating the perfect grilled cheese sandwich, I can get down with that!

We’ll see you back at the end of May, but for more foodie adventures in the meantime, follow us on Instagram!

And share below…what’s the best dish you’ve had lately?!

April 2015

unnamed{Plaza Food Hall: Midtown// $$ // In the basement of the Plaza Hotel sits a feast for every sort of diner–from sushi, to salads, to steak–this place has it all and does it all exquisitely, too.}

unnamed-2{Nobu: Midtown // $$$ // The famed Japanese restaurant really needs no introduction, but here’s a hint my husband (the real foodie of this relationship!) taught me: always ask them what “off-menu” items they have–because they always have some for the adventurous palate, and they’re always done to perfection.  Also–dinner rezzies go fast, but if you walk in at lunch time you can usually get seated without a reservation.}

unnamed-3{BG Restaurant: Midtown // $$$ // Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of the food at this place.  Nestled on the 7th floor of Bergdorf Goodman, you know straight from the get-go that they won’t think twice about charging you $35 for a salad (a salad that is just okay in my view.)  BUT–for a special girlfriend treat, do go for their afternoon tea.  It’s no more expensive than anywhere else in the city–and make sure to ask for a table by the window so you can overlook Central Park while you sip your tea.}

unnamed-4{The Smith: Upper West Side // $$ // You guys know I love this comfort food staple–from their cheesy jalapeno grits at brunch to their avocado sammy at dinner, this place makes all the good stuff just right.}

unnamed-5{Melt Shop: Hell’s Kitchen // $ // Grilled Cheese.  Tomato Soup.  And TOTS.  I needn’t speak more.}

unnamed-6{Cafe El Presidente: Flatiron // $$ // I was having THE BIGGEST craving for veggie tacos when I stumbled by this place on an early Friday evening.  It was PACKED, but they quickly squeezed me into the bar.  The vibe is hip, drinks strong, food solid–and Mexican cuisine is one of those I don’t play around with–in my book there’s only good and bad–and this place is muy buen.}

unnamed-7{Il Buco Vineria: East Village // $$ // The rustic vibe and wine wins all the points for this downtown Italian joint–and you’ll probably adore the food if you’re a meat eater–but veggies, beware.  Your pickings are slim, and if you’re anything like me you’ll hold a bit of a grudge against the place for charging you a stupid amount of money for noodles in a butter/garlic sauce.}

unnamed-8{The Little Beet Table: NoMad // $$ // When my sister, the celiac, came to visit last weekend, I researched “best gluten-free restaurants in NYC” and this place popped up, right at the top.  It’s 100% gluten-free, but the dishes all tasted really good–also a good place to go if you’re trying to eat healthy, I’d imagine.}

unnamed-11{Benoit: Midtown // $$ // Featuring authentic Parisian bistro fare, I was so pleasantly surprised by this French gem, nestled on an unexpected street in Midtown.  The front bar area is perfect for grabbing some apps and a glass of wine, if you’re not up for a whole sit down dinner.}

March 2015

unnamed-26{Bar Pleiades: Upper East Side // $$$ // Nestled in the Surrey Hotel, this spot can do no wrong in my book.  Top notch service, artfully displayed meals that are as tasty as they are pretty, it makes for a wonderful date spot…and who knows? It may even inspire you to elope on the rooftop as we did in the summer of 2013!}

unnamed-25{Urbo Grind: Times Square // $ // I swear, this place is a hidden gem on what is probably the busiest street in all of America. We were looking for a quick spot to grab coffee before a show, and stumbled on in–shockingly, there was no wait, and we pretty much had the cafe to ourselves!}

unnamed-23{Sigmund’s Pretzels: East Village // $ // After reading Sarah’s zest for these pretzels at the Choice Eats Food Festival, I knew I had to check it out. I ordered an egg sammie on a pretzel bun, which was phenomenal, and the hubs went for the burger on a pretzel bun. Little secret: we liked this place so much (and the price point!) that we broke our little “no repeat” rule and came back again.}

unnamed-16{Prohibition Bakery: Lower East Side // $ // Okay, while this definitely won’t be taking the place of my favorite cupcake bakeries, I needed to include it because a boozy bakery is something you should for sure try…once.  The tiny bite sized cupcakes are packed with alcohol infusions that create such intense flavors your tastebuds will do little cartwheels in your mouth–beer and pretzel was my favorite.}

unnamed-18{Benihana: Midtown // $$ // Is now a good time to admit that hibachi is one of my foodie guilty pleasures?  Okay then.  If you have a weakness for rice with garlic butter fried and smothered with ginger dipping sauces, all made with fire and fanfare in front of you, this is your spot.}

unnamed-27{Joseph Leonard: West Village // $$$ // Intimate, small, cozy, and food cooked to perfection. Just trust me on this–go–and send my compliments to Chef Pablo. The ONLY downfall is they don’t take rezzies–so go at an off time or be prepared to squish into the bar and wait.}

unnamed-19{Treat House: Upper West Side // $ // A five year old’s dream–and mine too, apparently. This place specializes in one thing, rice crispy treats, and boy have they perfected them.  The sugar cookie treat (with the little duck on it) was my favorite.}

unnamed-17{Saffron Garden: Sunnyside // $ // When Indian is done right, it can be one of my favorite cuisines. I loved how everything on the menu was clearly labeled as veggie or vegan friendly, and the aromatic spices in the food really created a lovely experience for all the senses.}

February 2015

unnamed-1{Le Pain Quotidien: Various Locations // $ // While not quite as popular as Starbucks, you can pretty much find an LPQ in any neighborhood.  The food is healthy and fresh, and I think it’s adorable (and very French) how they serve their coffee out of bowls.}

unnamed-2{Jean-Georges: Columbus Circle // $$$$ // Without a doubt, one of the top 3 dining experiences I’ve ever had in NYC.  The vegetarian tasting menu was out of this world (I finished EVERYTHING), truly deserves a post of its own. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, skip the gift and come here instead–an experience you and your tastebuds will not soon forget.}

unnamed-3{Chez Napoleon: Hell’s Kitchen // $$ // This has long been my favorite “hidden gem” French comfort food restaurant–owned by the most delightful French family, you can expect warm service and the most delicious house-made vinaigrette that you’ve ever tasted–slather it over everything!}

unnamed-4{Bouchon Bakery: Inside the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle // $ // Perfect place to catch your breath after a walk in the park or a morning of shopping–large size vanilla macaroons are my go-to order.}

unnamed-5{Tavern On The Green: Central Park West // $$$ // I always assumed this was a tourist destination so steered clear until recently (it’s where our out of town guests picked, go figure), but was really pleasantly surprised! The food was delicious, and there’s a toasty fireplace you can warm up next to! I got the soup for brunch, but the french toast was clearly the way to go.}

unnamed-6{1 Dollar Pizza: Hell’s Kitchen // $ // Dollar pizza, folks. Love it or you hate it, but I’m SUCH a lover.}

unnamed-7{Nai Tapas Bar: East Village // $$ // Feel like transporting to Spain for the evening? This hole-in-the-wall tapas joint will get you there. Along with the small plates, we were so pleased with the entertainment–live music and gorgeous flamenco dancing, and no cover charge to boot!}

unnamed-8{Dominique Ansel Bakery: Soho // $ // Meh, ok so were got here early in the morning for the cronuts (but nope, not early enough).  After waiting we figured we may as well order something, so we grabbed a few croissants and this Nutella bread.  It was okay, but just okay.  It left me a little confused as to the popularity of the place?}

unnamed-9{Circo: Midtown // $$$ // We stumbled on this circus-themed joint during restaurant week, and while I was impressed with my appetizer (cauliflower flan, now that’s fun!), the main course and dessert course were just so-so.  Because it was Restaurant Week?  Maybe.  But it wiped out any chances of becoming regulars–which I guess is good for this No Restaurant Repeat Challenge!}

unnamed-10{The Four Seasons: Midtown East // $$$$ // Ok, you know how I said before Jean-Georges was one of the three best restaurants I’ve experienced? Well, this is on that list, too!  Seriously, BEST SERVICE I’ve ever received in NYC…not to mention such playful and innovative dishes–besides that cotton candy, I was over-the-moon thrilled with their veggie lunch option (a delightful farro salad) and miniature house-made croissants, still warm from the oven.}

January 2015

unnamed-1{The Modern: Midtown // $$$ // Perfect for a classy date night.  Wear your favorite dress.}

unnamed-5{Bibble & Sip: Midtown // $ // Their  lavender latte is everything you’d ever dream it could be. Small cafe, but nice for catching up with a book or friend…tends to be my post-yoga class spot.}

unnamed-3{Prune: Lower East Side // $$$ // Great for meat lovers–the vibe is leaning towards the side of hipster for a casual, yet pricy, night out.  Probably not the best place if you have any food concerns (gluten-free, vegan), but they will produce this lovely off-menu veggie platter if you ask nicely–you must not be afraid of butter, though.  It’s on the cozy (read: small) side, so claustrophobics need not come.}

unnamed-4{The Bar Room: Upper East Side // $$ // They won me over with peacock wallpapering, and then locked it down with those extra crispy french fries–nice spot for a casual lunch or dinner.  You can also catch the game at the bar.}

unnamed-6{BluePrint: Whole Foods // $ // Well, it’s not a martini on the rocks or anything, but certainly the most efficient way to get in all your leafy greens in one swig. The taste is not nearly as terribly as one must think, promise!}

_________________________________

{please note: this article will be updated monthly throughout 2015 to reflect the best of the best of what we’re noshing + sipping on around town}

Perhaps the #1 question I get from both tourists and locals alike is, “well, where are the BEST places we should we eat?”  Such a personalized question that I truly hate answering because, truth be told, my favorite foods and restaurant vibes are probably going to wildly vary from the ones you enjoy…and I’d hate to steer you down the wrong path!

That being said, I decided to take a new approach on the blog when it comes to documenting real food at real places.  As I may have mentioned to you before, the hubs and I are trying this 2015 no-restaurant repeat year!  Easier said than done, cause we do adore our tried and trues, but we’ve also discovered quite a lot of unexpected gems that we never would have found otherwise! 

So my friends, I’ll post a single photo from each meal that we eat out throughout 2015, along with the restaurant link and part of town it’s in, with just a teeny bit of restaurant background…the rest is up to you!  Just remember, the mantra of our site is “best of new york, as used by new yorkers”, so if something is truly awful, it won’t be making the list.  Keeping it real for ya, my friends.

I’ll be updating the page monthly, both for your food porn pleasure and also for some inspiration of where to catch your next date night without being overwhelmed by so many options.  And as always, if there’s a place you’re curious about, leave it in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer your question!

Apr
29

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Intermission: An American In Paris

Outside-the-Trocadéro-EiffelUnfortunately, my fragile finances foresee no immediate future footprints for this particular American in Paris. C’est la vie.

So I did the next best thing and caught the elegant musical version of An American in Paris at the aptly named Palace last night.  Such a regal display of artistry in every way possible on stage–it’s practically an embarrassment of riches.

Like the colorful, flavorful arrangement of Laduree macaroons, this show is so exceedingly dazzling in performance and production values–I didn’t know where to look!  It’s a glorious experience, both visual and aural–so much is happening here.

Let me immediately get the least interesting component out of the way.  The slim story–a cliched love “rectangle” in this case–is merely an excuse to present this exquisite production.  There’s no intriguing, unique plot here, nor should there be, as the point in this high energy production is precisely the endless possibilities and dazzling joy of music and dance “en pointe.”  It is the performances and the gorgeous telling which enraptures the audience.  We open with the joy in 1945 Paris surrounding the liberation from the Nazis and meet the archetypal American GI who elects to stay in Paris and paint.  No surprise here, Jerry (Robert Fairchild) immediately sights and falls for the requisite stunning Parisian ballet dancer, Lise (Leanne Cope.)  Round up the remainder of the usual, albeit broke, suspects–the ex patriot composer, the struggling writer, the rich American heiress–well, you know exactly where this story is going even if you have never viewed the iconic film version (which you should) starring the fabulous Gene Kelly and ethereal Leslie Caron.

A-dance-in-Montmartre Place-de-la-ConcordeLike the beautifully crafted city of Paris itself, every dance step, every hat, glove and dress, every costume, every musical measure, every inch of the sets have been carefully chosen and choreographed to create an aesthetic on stage rarely seen–a stunning blend of elements composing a feast for our senses.  C’est magnifique.

The songs and glorious George Gershwin orchestral score with lyrics by Ira Gershwin is, of course, perfection.  When I discussed Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for UsedYorkCity several years back, I stated that music of this caliber will never come around again.  I maintain that the genius of Gershwin will never be surpassed, unless someone–somehow–somewhere–invents another 12 tone scale.  Yet what blew me away with this version of An American in Paris are the magnificent orchestrations and arrangements for this musical aspect of this 2.5 hour feast.  Kudos to Rob Fisher, who has intelligently adapted, arranged and supervised the score.  C’est magnifique!  And well done you–i.e. Brad Haak, the show’s musical director, for an orchestra up to the challenging task of presenting acutely chromatic, interpretive, rhythmically driven music, and I gladly add that the vocals are worthy of Gershwin’s gems.

However it is truly the dazzling direction and inventive freedom in the choreograph of England’s Christopher Wheeldon that wraps the audience in delight–no small feat for this show’s dancing feet!  When word crossed the Atlantic that the stage version of American in Paris would leave the banks of the Seine for Broadway, I was anticipating a French revolution (if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!)  But when I read that the balletic Wheeldon was at the helm, I assuredly and gladly folded my tricolor.  This is indeed a welcome Norman conquest.

The-roof-of-the-Théâtre-du-Châtelet-overlooking-the-Eiffel-TowerYet like a box of delicious Peyard chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get–I went to a ballet, and a rousing, good old fashioned Broadway tap number broke out!  Of course you await the 2nd Act with knowing anticipation for Wheeldon’s take on the famous American in Paris ballet piece–a delight on its own, a tres jolie tribute to the City of Lights and all its artistic and romantic promise.  And it is precisely here where you fall for (if you haven’t already) our American in Paris, the multi-talented Robert Fairchild.  He defies gravity alongside the fabulous dancer, Leanne Cope, but it is the full company forming such a harmonious whole that has you cheering “Vive la France!”

‘S wonderful…’S marvelous…a beautiful theater experience, a perfect show for our long awaited, welcome Spring…yet a timeless show for all seasons.

By: Joanne Theodorou 

p.s. in case you missed the Tony announcement, this show was nominated for 12 awards, including best musical.  just in case you needed more convincing to go;-)

Apr
27

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$50 Gets You Dinner For 2 In Your NYC Apartment

Last week the hubs and I hired a personal chef via the site Kitchensurfing.  It works like so:

1. Pick your date.  You can even book same-day if you book before 3pm, or you can book something 7 days in advance.  The time slots available for cooking are between 6 to 9pm, Monday through Friday.

2. Pick your menu.  There are 3 options everyday–typically one meat, one fish, and one vegetarian.  

3. At your reserved time, your chef shows up at your apartment, prepped food (meaning already sliced, diced, etc. to save on time) and cooking supplies brought with them.  Within 30 minutes, they will cook and plate your meal AND clean up, being on their merry way.

All of this for $25 a person.

So–let’s talk real life.  I absolutely LOVE this concept, and our experience was nothing short of stellar–our chef was sweet and professional, our meal was scrumptious as can be, and of course–I totally dug the “no cooking, no cleanup for Jess!”

unnamed-25The minimum you can have a chef in for is 2 people, which is a $50 dinner commitment.  The portion for one was the perfect amount of food for me to eat in one sitting–the vegetarian main (a veggie risotto) and 2 sides (roasted carrots and a beet and goat cheese salad).  However, no leftovers for lunch, as I would typically have from a restaurant/take-out portioned meal at the same price point.  My husband, not a light eater, was still pretty hungry afterwards, and ended up making himself a fried egg sammy to supplement.  When you compare the amount of food you’re getting for the price point, you can definitely get a lot more bang for your buck via Seamless.  (Or maybe this was just a big wake up call that we need to work on portion control…!)

unnamed-26Verdict?  I will absolutely use Kitchensurfing again, but probably not just for us two–more likely when we’re having people over for a special dinner (because if you’re going to a nice restaurant to dinner in NYC chances are you will not leave there at any less than $25 a person–plus wine is way cheaper this way when you can buy your own).  I love the concept of dinner being prepped for you, so you can spend time with your guests–and at a dinner party I would have enough apps plus a dessert to ensure nobody leaves hungry.

Would love to hear from you–is this something you’d try, or is $50 better spent elsewhere?  Let’s talk below!

p.s. for $25 off your first meal, enter code kstfdfe5fd78b7c at checkout.

Apr
24

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New Yorker Moments: A Fun Gift Idea

IMG_8958 EDIT SAMPLEFor my dad’s 60th birthday, we wanted to give him something to commemorate his special day.  He’s notoriously tough to shop for anyway, but any gift ideas we came up with were just repeaters on things that had been done before.  I mean, how many Panama hats and cigar accessories can you give one person?!

Then, it struck me: growing up, we had always gone to Olan Mills to have our family photos taken.  (Yes, some years MUCH better than others!)  It had been ages since our last one, so I thought: why not hire a professional photographer to take family photos of us on our vacation?  We went back and forth on the idea for a few days–I mean, in the age of digital photography and selfie sticks is there really a relevant place for paying for a professional photographer?  My answer: always a resounding YES.

Quite simply, the photographer can do three things that our selfie stick can’t: 1. motivate everyone to actually be dressed and color coordinated at the same time (harder than it sounds on vacation–or anytime, really!), 2. edit, edit, edit.  Worth its weight in gold!, and 3. it sounds silly, but the photoshoot can be a really memorable, fun experience in and of itself!  In fact, I’d go as far to say that the hour we spent taking these photos was one of the best we had on vacation!

I placed an ad on Key West’s Craigslist, and while my inbox quickly flooded with responses, I couldn’t have been happier than with Francy Nunez.  (Seriously, if you’re in the southern Florida region and in need of a photographer, she’s your gal!)  She let us do our fair share of goofy poses, and also posed us for family shots that will be framed in our living room for generations to come.

IMG_9008 IMG_9009 IMG_9022 IMG_8963Have you ever hired a professional photographer to commemorate a special event?  Let’s talk below!

p.s. my 10 favorite things about Key West.