Tag Archives: Cozy

NYC Best: Brooklyn’s Frej Should Be Your New Dining Kinfolk

The Garage Door Style Entrance to Kinfolk, Temporary House of Frej

The Garage Door Style Entrance to Kinfolk, Temporary Home of Frej

Back in 2009 I read about a 10-seat place in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Fare that was preparing extraordinary dishes, yet was fairly unknown to the masses. Intrigued, I made a reservation for 8 people hoping I could convince 7 lucky friends to dine beside me that weekend. At the time, the ticket price of $95 a head seemed like a worthwhile, though steep, 20-course dining experience with Chef Cesar preparing everything table side. When I called, someone answered my phone call on the second ring and I had my choice of weekend reservations. Fast forward three years and three Michelin stars later, and the reservation book is full months in advance with a pricetag skyrocketing to $225 per person. Sigh. Last night I had an early-Brooklyn Fare-days deja vous moment at Frej. Something special is blooming.

Tucked down an untrafficked street in Williamsburg, you’ll come across a converted industrial building with a garage door front. The multi-purpose space is design studio by day, bar by night {with B.Y.O.V – bring your own vinyl – Tuesdays on the menu}. The bar is called Kinfolk and also plays the role of generous relative, providing space to Frej, its temporary dining houseguest {although I am hopeful this kinship becomes permanent}. It’s a symbiotic relationship — Kinfolk needed to serve food to obtain a liquor license and the guys behind Frej were looking for a small space to test out their concept. Named after the nordic God of Harvest, the menu is based on local-seasonal fare prepared with a scandinavian hand.

We settled into the intimate 10-table seating area and things started off simply, but on a high note. They had me at warm, fresh baked bread with a side of salty butter. That butter was gone by the end of dinner.

Frej Bread and Butter

Frej Bread and Butter

An amuse of pureed celery root, pork jowl and chicory was a perfect introduction to the balanced local, ingredient-focused flavors of the rest of the meal.

Amuse: celery root, pork bowel, chicory

Amuse: celery root, pork jowl, chicory

Smoked brook trout, egg yolk, dill, chickweed, rye bread was both light and rich at the same time. I loved the crispy rye bits strewn about the dish and I’m a sucker for dill on any finned friend. Oh, and egg, how I love thee.

Burnt hazelnuts crispy sunchokes skin beef liver puree

Smoked brook trout, egg yolk, dill, chickweed, rye bread

Burnt hazelnuts with crispy sunchoke skins, sunchokes and a beef liver puree, was a surprising marriage of textures and flavors. I loved the richness of the puree, was delighted by the use of the delicate sunchoke skins and enjoy hazelnuts on pretty much anything, but the one-step-beyond-toasted flavor really counterbalanced the liver puree and had me wiping the plate with said lovely warm bread.

Burnt hazelnuts, sunchoke skin and beef liver puree

Burnt hazelnuts, sunchoke skin and beef liver puree

Soft poached egg, with pickled hen of woods mushrooms and crispy seaweed. Hello egg again. This was one of my favorite dishes — it was earthy, it was vinegary, it was sweet, it was creamy, it was crispy, it was perfection.

Soft poached egg, scallop, hen of the woods mushroom, cauliflower puree

Soft poached egg, scallop, hen of the woods mushroom, cauliflower puree

Skate wing, pickled onion, carrot ribbon, fennel frawns, almond powder. I’m starting to catch on — fresh local fish, bright fresh herbs, a little earthiness, a kiss of sweetness and a touch of vinegar. That umami that we all crave and leaves us wanting more…more…more!

Frej Skate wing, carrot ribbon, pickled onion, fennel frawns

Frej Skate wing, carrot ribbon, pickled onion, fennel frawns

Beef cooked in hay with rutabaga and apple cider gelée. Ok, no, this was my favorite dish. I made what could have been three bites turn into nine, just so I could enjoy the perfectly tender beef with the accompanying, cleverly sweet and tart cider gelée bites. If it wasn’t already Wednesday, I would have made a reservation for the next night on the spot.

Beef cooked in hay with rutabaga and apple cider gelee

Beef cooked in hay with rutabaga and apple cider gelee

Hibiscus pound cake, dried berries, cardamom ice cream. And dessert didn’t disappoint either — somebody please make me a hibiscus pound cake for my next birthday. Delightful.

Hibiscus pound cake with dried berries and ice cream

Hibiscus pound cake with dried berries and ice cream

The Skim: If you’re looking for a place with no pretense, but is rooted in innovation, then get thee to the Frej. These guys have mastered plate after plate of umami-satisfying local flavor combinations. Nothing is fancy pants. Everything is unique. Eye brows were raised with excitement throughout our entire meal and each dish was wiped clean and washed down with delightful Kinfolk cocktails {might I recommend the Kinfolk pink grapefruit collins}. The best part about it all? It only costs $45. The. Best. Undiscovered. Deal. In. Town. And you heard it here first, brunch will begin within the month. I may just move my permanent residence to 90 Wythe street — until then, Frej is making its way to my Favor8 list.


8.ate@eight Favor8
Seal of Approval

Map: 90 Wythe and 11st Street {Brooklyn}
Reservations: A must — info@frejnyc.com {open Mon-Wed 6-10pm}
Phone: (347) 286-6241

More Brooklyn Gems You Should Know:
Do This!: Brooklyn’s Depressingly Awesome Industry City Distillery Creates Handcrafted Vodka
NYC Best: Brooklyn’s Isa is a Trip Not to be Missed
Do This!: Foraging for Food is F’ing Fun {in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with Leda}

Vinegar Hill House is a Sweet Spot for Supper
18 Favorite Meat Dishes for Men & Barbeque Heaven @Fette Sau
Rustic Space Features Really Good Wood-Burning Oven Pizza @Roberta’s
Brooklyn Fare Fares Well, Earning 2 Michelin Stars

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Socarrat: A Seductive Spanish Cellar Worthy of Date- or Girl’s- Night

Socarrat Paella Bar

I’m craving the warmth of the holiday season. And I’m not talking about the 61 degree day we’re having on December 6th. I’ve tried turning on the TV Yule Log and listening to a little Annie Lennox Christmas Cornucopia, but what I really want is a night out at the kind of place that warms your face and your mood the moment you push aside the winter-proofing velvet curtains hung inside the door.

I first discovered Socarrat Paella Bar in the Fall. Brick walls adorned with antique mirrors, wood-planked ceilings dropping tulip-shaped lighting, high tables forcing the intimate lean toward your dining company — I loved it before I even placed the napkin in my lap.

Socarrat Paella

But of course it’s the measure of the menu that truly wins my heart — and Socarrat seduces successfully. Choose from any number of traditional tapas, from the steeply priced{and worthy} $22 24-month dry-aged Jamon Iberico, to the more reasonable and finger-aioli-lickin’-good, patatas bravas. The left side of the menu offers a generous list of bite-sized options that can be shared amongst friends or in a friendly game of toothpick wars with your date.

But what you really want to hold out for is one of Socarrat’s eight paella options {menu here}. Placed atop cleverly elevated and off-set paella pedestals, you can easily sample several pans despite the intimacy of the small table setting. The pricing averages $23 per person, but the paella pays back 10-fold with its heaping dish of fresh seafood, spanish-seasoned meats, colorful veg and the prized caramelization of the rice bed {know as the socarrat}.

The Skim: Even if it is summer, Socarrat Paella Bar is an option you want to keep high on your dining list when you’re looking for warmth. Excellent Spanish wines, flavor-bursting paellas, easily sharable tapas are all encased in a perfectly intimately-lit setting that is suitable for a fingers-crossed date night or an evening with your closest friends.

Map: 259 W. 19th {8th Ave} or 284 Mulberry {Houston}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone:  212.462.1000

Seconds on the Spanish Senorita!:
Barcelona Digested: Food for Foodies
recipe goodness :: peppers padron at home
recipe goodness :: celebrate with stand-out spanish sangria
recipe goodness :: barcelona favorite recreated | balsamic chick pea salad

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Vinegar Hill House is a Sweet Spot for Supper

Vinegar Hill Specialty Cocktail: blanco tequila, curacao, lime, grenadine

Vinegar Hill Specialty Cocktail: blanco tequila, curacao, lime, grenadine

 Vinegar Hill is not a Brooklyn neighborhood you hear much about — perhaps because it only stretches for about six blocks and is neighbored by the more buzz-worthy DUMBO. But if you have thus far overlooked this charming area, I suggest you take a stroll through this historical corner {and more strongly suggest you don’t wear cobblestone-unfriendly heals when you do.} The neighborhood feels a bit like you have traveled back in time with Federal style homes, quiet sleepy brick-laid streets and a few storefront gems that sit happily on a mostly residential row and look like places you could buy an antique musket from the Battle of Vinegar Hill during Irish Rebellion of 1798 {and now you know where the hood got its name.}

But my first trip to Vinegar Hill was not prompted by an historical expedition. Rather, it was to grab dinner at the equally as charming and most definitely delicious Vinegar Hill House. The copper-topped bar and copper-haired-bearded bartender was a quick conduit to a warming-first impression. The cocktail menu is simple in length, but lists an inspired concoction of choices. After a brief chat with said bearded bartender, he pleasantly described  his affinity for Despues del Ensueno {pictured above} — delightful on that humid summer eve.

The dinner menu did not disappoint either. Special app of the night: house-cured ham. It was so good I ate it too quickly to take a picture — professional mishap #1. We also sampled the farmstead cheese & salumi platter with homemade crackers and a pickled quail egg. With duck pate rounding out the selection, this clearly was not just another cheese platter and we were better for it.

Vinegar Hill Cast Iron Chicken

Vinegar Hill Cast Iron Chicken

Feeling old-world New York, I could not resist the Cast Iron Chicken. It comes straight out of the brick oven piping hot with the danger of searing your arm if you mistakenly touch the pan as you gleefully dig into the juicy, buttered bird — professional mishap #2. But it was well-worth the lasting burn mark. If you want to go for a safer eating option, try the Mezze Maniche — a shorter version of the always popular rigatoni that is stopped with a lovely pork ragu.

Vinegar Hill Mezze Maniche with Pork Ragu

Vinegar Hill Mezze Maniche with Pork Ragu

The Skim: Getting out of the city slog doesn’t have to mean you need to travel to the Hamptons. Spend the summer visiting some of New York’s less-trafficked neighborhoods to digest a little historical charm and a fantastic meal for the evening. Vinegar Hill House is only a short walk from the river, so it also lends itself to being a great place to start the night before a NYC skyline stroll along the Brooklyn waterfront or before attending a bargemusic concert under the great Brooklyn Bridge.

Map: 72 Hudson Avenue, Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn
Reservations: Taken for 4+ Sun-Mon; 6+ Sat/Sun Brunch
Phone: 718-522-1018

Other Favorite Brooklyn Haunts:
Under the Bridge, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory Treat {Post-VHH Dessert!}
18 Favorite Meat Dishes for Men & Barbeque Heaven @Fette Sau
Rustic Space Features Really Good Wood-Burning Oven Pizza @Roberta’s
Blue Bottle Coffee Brews One Brilliant Cup at a Time
A Better Brooklyn Breakfast @ Dizzy’s Finer Diner 

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Behind Bohemian

Bohemian

I debated for a long time as to whether or not I was going to write about this NYC restaurant. Not because I don’t love it, but because I love it too much – I was hesitant to let anyone else in on the secret.  But after eating here three times in only a week {a first for me, EVER}, I decided it was only appropriate to share the love – my mother taught me never to be selfish after all.

This secret little gem is a place with no sign out front. A place with a long hallway that leads to a locked and unmarked front door. A place where you have to ring the doorbell to enter. And a place where you can only get a table if you call ahead, dialing an unpublished number that can only be acquired from someone who has been there before (ahem). This is my kind of place.

Sound pretentious? That’s the beauty of this little Japanese food find – it’s anything but. The lack of marketing and exposure is intentional to maintain a quiet environment filled with passionate regulars and excited pursuers of plated perfection. Once inside, you are greeted by its small and welcoming staff who guide you to one of six tables or one of six seats at the bar. The space feels more like a living room, with comfy couches and low cushioned armchairs surrounding knee-high tables that invite you to relax while enjoying each precisely prepared bite.  With white walls and an almost unnoticeable rock garden, it’s as if the intentional zen-like décor was designed to make the artistic dishes the only eye-catching visuals.

Japanese Cucumber Cocktail

The hand-crafted cocktails and meticulously grown and prepared food is the reason I’ve gone completely nuts for this place.  The first time I went I ate at the bar, which allowed me to watch in awe as Take, the resident bartender, hand carved a perfectly round ice cube from a block of ice, and sliced paper-thin Japanese cucumber circles into my precisely measured cocktail.

Seasonal Veggie "Fondue"

We were also wowed at first sight, when our meal started with a vibrant veggie boat of captivatingly crisp crudités served on ice with the most elegantly smooth, bowl-licking anchovy cheese “fondue”.  I could have stopped there an been ecstatic, but out came our sushi flown in from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, with a clarity that let the candlelight shine through and a firmness in each pinkish bite unlike any I have had since I was actually in Tokyo. heaven.

Sushi Perfection

I could take you through every dish I ate each of the three times I paid a visit to Bohemian, but then this post would go on for days. I will say, if you can swing the premium prices for the washu-beef steak, that is definitely something you don’t want to miss. Since Bohemian is tucked behind the Japan Premium Beef market, you could consider this the specialty of the house,which you will quickly realize with each beautifully buttery bite.

The Skim: If you are seeking small and spectacular, find a way to get a seat at Bohemian. I am not above taking bribes or offers to be treated to dinner in exchange for a phone number, but I won’t post it here.

Can’t Get A Seat, Try One of These Japanese Joints:
Love, Love Shabu Shabu: Fun to Say and Eat
Sensational Summer Sushi @ Geisha
Momofuku That Pork Butt is Good!

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Outstanding Upper Ouest Side Dining

Ouest

My parents were recently in town and I took that opportunity to finally visit a great upper west side restaurant that has been on my “list” of places to try for waaaaay too long. I can’t explain why it took me 7 years to eat at Ouest — I’ve heard nothing but good things and it’s only 5 blocks away from my apartment. But there you have it, 7 years came and went and I finally walked through the doors leading to a small, intimate dark-wood bar, a short hall of cozy red leather booths and a hidden, unexpectedly spacious dining room in the back. Despite the soaring ceilings and a second level platform where more diners overlook the main room, Ouest provides a warm and sophisticated environment with oversized mirrors and almost circus tent-like chandeliers creating a red glow over the round red leather seating.

The atmosphere was not the only thing that did not disappoint. I was craving greens, so I started with an appetizer that doesn’t sound like anything spectacular, but just like the unexpected, hidden dining room, this dish was one more surprise worth noting. The Mixed Seasonal Greens with Herbed Red Wine-Parmesan Vinaigrette comes out as a beautifully stacked sculpture of curly, crunchy leaves, lightly dressed in the most wonderfully simple, but flavorful vinaigrette. Nothing fancy — no croutons or crumbled cheese to get in the way of the fresh greens and its companion dressing. Note to diners — the salad was large enough that it could easily be shared between two, even three people.

Ouest Mixed Seasonal Greens with Herbed Red Wine-Parmesan Vinaigrette

For my entree I got the Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Fennel-Mint Risotto and Autumn Mushrooms. And yes, this too tasted just as fantastic as it sounds. The perfectly cooked seared scallops sat atop a bed of creamy risotto that was slightly sweet from the roasted fennel, fresh and herby from the mint, and earthy from the bits of mushroom. I was reluctant to share a bite, but that also probably made room for dessert!

Pan Seared Scallops with Fennel-Mint Risotto and Autumn Mushrooms

This is when I can’t refrain from dessert. Every course has been so noteworthy, I don’t want the meal to end. And I convince myself that dessert cannot be missed or the entire dining experience will be hopelessly incomplete. And I was right. The Peanut Butter-Chocolate “Bombe” with Spanish Peanuts & Warm Chocolate Sauce was as tasty as it was beautiful. Nothing goes better with chocolate than peanut butter, as was confirmed in each bite. I would say the sauce could have been warmer, but I was already won over by the entire meal and was willing to let it slide.

Ouest Peanut Butter-Chocolate Bombe

The Skim: Pricing falls on the higher end, but if you’re looking for a special occasion outting or have a few dollars you’re willing to trade for a memorable meal, I would highly suggest a trip to the upper Ouest side. Everything from the warm ambiance, to precise service and a stellar menu makes for a meal worth going north of 14th street for.

Map: 2315 Broadway {@84th Street}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 212-580-8700

What Else Can I Find on the UWS?
Barney Greengrass: Long Live the Sturgeon King
Community Food & Juice: Fresh & Fantastic Fare
5 & Dime: 10 oz. at Five Napkin Burger, that is

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The Art of Brunching Well @ L’Artusi

L'Artusi Bloody Mary

It was not long ago that I was raving about my dinner at L’Artusi, the attractive, open-kitchen Italian spot tucked down one of those non-perpendicular West Village streets.  So when they asked me to come preview their newly created Brunch menu before the public unveiling this Sunday {October 17}, I couldn’t help but spread the love again. I am an encourager of exemplary eating establishments. When I have a great meal, I want you to know about it. I want you to go. Tomorrow! So pick up the phone, make a reservation {212.255.5757} and then keep reading.

Every good brunch deserves a bloody mary. And every good bloody mary deserves some “hmpf”. What I mean by that is I want spice and all sorts of goodies in my Sunday cocktail — I want veggies, I want olives, I want lots of little bits floating around giving me that liquid-salad-with-a-kick kind of feeling. Because frankly, if I’m drinking on a Sunday morning {thank you Tippling Bros.}, I need to feel like I’m getting some sort of nutritional benefit. L’Artusi’s Mary does just that — and with a cherry, err, pancetta cube on top.

Graciously our very helpful server also suggested we start with the bread basket. This isn’t just any roll and butter basket. This is a collection of seasonal, bready goodness — a cranberry muffin, cherry scone and some dark, nutty bread that I couldn’t get enough of. All served with a side of whipped, soft, creamy butter and a lovely plum jam.

L'Artusi Bread Basket

My favorite of the two mains we ordered was the Eggs Florentine. We already know my obsession with eggs,and that I assert high expectations for any egg dish that I order at a restaurant. And this exceeded them ten-fold. Served on crispy polenta {clever Italian substitute to the ‘ole english muffin} with lovely, bright green spinach and a perfectly poached egg that oozed creamy, golden goodness, the florentine was then lovingly topped with a tomato-hollandaise, again adding a unique flavor profile and twist to the classic preparation.

L'Artusi Eggs Florentine

We were also treated to an unexpected dish that has my vote for best contender on the menu. The Polenta Amatriciana is probably best shared between two people because of its richness. A bowl of polenta {that I’m sure has no shortage of butter in it} is topped with the same amatriciana sauce that graces their bucatini on the dinner menu. This stuff is amazing — a combination of tomato, pancetta and red chilis, it is smoky and slightly spicy. What else would you want on top of a bowl of creamy polenta? An egg? Yes, I thought so — a perfect poach floats on top of this bed of delight, just waiting to be broken open so all the eggy yumminess can swim around with all the other flavors. And to really round this out, the entire dish is finished with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

L'Artusi Polenta Amatriciana

How about the sides? You can’t go wrong with the pancetta bacon or the super crispy rosemary potatoes. I agree with the person verbally singing the praises of that pancetta bacon and if you need a little crispy, salty potato to soak up your Saturday night, well then you’ve found them!

“This the the best bacon I’ve ever eaten in my life” — overheard @ L’Artusi

The Skim: And that, my friends, was a brunch worth sharing. I expect L’Artusi’s sunday brunch will be just as popular as their dinner is, but even if you can’t manage to get a reservation, you are always welcome to walk in and eat on the really comfy stools at the bar or start with one of their creative morning cocktails or fresh juices while you wait.

Map228 west 10th {btw Hudson & Bleecker}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 212-255-5757


8.ate@eight Favor8
Seal of Approval

I ♥ Eggs Too:
The Art of Eating {and Drinking} Well @ L’Artusi
A Better Brooklyn Breakfast @ Dizzy’s Finer Diner
Community Food & Juice: Fresh & Fantastic Fare
Weekend Brunch: Eat Eggs @ Edward’s
Greenmarket: Put Smarter, Cheaper & More Scrumptious Food on Your Table

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Aria Sings a Harmonious West Village Wine Bar

Chef-owner Roberto Passon {of Bocca di Bacco} opened his own venture Aria in the past few months, featuring small plates {cicchetti} and small glasses {ombre} of Italian food and fruits of the vine. Like most wine bars, it’s small, dimly lit, with exposed brick and a chalkboard menu — and lacks a full kitchen. But just because they’ve constructed a quaint atmosphere, doesn’t mean they haven’t figured out how to send out lip smacking food that you’re reluctant to share.

Aria Grilled Lamb Chops

We started with the burrata {just say the word and I’ll order it}, but followed that with the best plate of the evening — two grilled lamp chops in a balsamic vinegar sauce. They were just the right amount of salty with each sweet, juicy, herby bite. I found myself wanting more than the one I was alloted {my half of the plate} but our over-excited bartender-waiter insisted we order the gorgonzola stuffed dates. This is the type of thing that you know is probably not good for the waistline, but you enjoy every bite — dates, stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto before being cooked to a crisp outer layer. It’s a rich morsel of chewy goodness. Four was too many though, so these we did happily share with our new bar stool friends perched to our left.

Aria Gorgonzola Stuffed Dates

The Skim: You don’t have to go for the food to enjoy Aria though. With a generous amount of bar space given the size of the bar {seats wrap around to the bar tending side}, it’s easy to order a few ombres of wine or house cocktails, quickly make friends with the bartender {who is all too eager to pour you a shot of Italian liquor} and have a harmonic evening. It makes for a great date destination, place to grab some vino with friends or perhaps make some new ones.

Map: 117 Perry {Btw Greenwich & Hudson}
Reservations: Not Taken
Phone: 212.242.4233

Fill Me Up:
Bocca di Bacco: I say PotaTO, You say PoTATo
Wintry Wine & Whiskey Warm-Up @ Vintry

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Reliably Good American Bar and Bites @ Rye House

RYEHOUSE: 11 West 17th Street

Sometimes you just want a good reliable NYC bar and restaurant — a place you can grab lunch mid-week, a cold beer after work with friends or a handcrafted cocktail on a saturday night with intriguing ingredients such as orange blossom water, egg white and small production rye. It’s hard to find all those things in one destination, but Rye House has succeeded in creating a reliable bar and restaurant menu with reverence for traditional American spirits and cuisine.

I met my friend for lunch on a cold rainy day and shook off the chill with a soup and sandwich combo. It pleasantly reminded me of something I may have been able to order if I sauntered in off the cobblestone street of New York City circa 1850. The Spring Onion Potato Soup with a sourdough crouton and provolone was served in a sturdy handled bowl and was just the hearty starter I needed.

RyeHouse Spring Onion Soup

The “Pittsburgh” sandwich was the perfect pairing to go with the simple flavors of the onion soup and had its own warming qualities with a unique combo of grilled andouille sausage, provolone, house slaw, fries all stacked together and served on a wooden plank. The spice of the sausage was nicely mellowed out by the crisp slaw, and while the fries weren’t exactly necessary on the sandwich, they added a different sort of salty, crispy bite that made this a lunch to remember {lunch menu HERE}.

RyeHouse Pittsburgh

The Skim: With a long welcoming bar placed near the front and high tables along the wall, the casual atmosphere of Rye House invites you to stop in for whatever you’re in the mood for — a good craft draft, a creative cocktail or memorable, but simple American cuisine. Rye House also holds weekly beer tastings featuring a changing selection of craft brews, so this may just be the perfect place to discover some of the names appearing at NY Craft Beer week.

Map: 11 West 17th Street {Btw 5th & 6th Ave.}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 212.255.7260

Pour Some More Por Favor:
Highlands Highlights: Scottish Plaids, Pub Fare and Hand Crafted Cocktails
Not so Standard Biergarten
Mission Dolores {Accomplished}: Great New Brooklyn Beer Garden
Wilfie & Nell: Not Your Grandpa’s Watering Hole

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Bistro Don Giovanni: Napa-Sourced & Italian-Inspired

With my brother’s wedding on the weekend horizon, I didn’t have much time for Napa food and wine excursions, but we were able to schedule a small family dinner at an excellent Napa restaurant to start the week out right. Napa-sourced and Italian-inspired, Bistro Don Giovanni brings the best of food and wine to a warm Valley eatery. Whether dining al fresco or fireside, the mediterranean menu features rustic fare blending the best local ingredients with traditional homemade Italian dishes. Complementing the fresh food, an extensive wine list offers selections from the best of Napa, Italy and even two estate grown wines from the owners’ family home that are great value for money options.

The antipasti menu was so appealing we ordered one of almost everything for the table and opted to share a few entrees. The Fritto Misto was one of the highlights, adding rock shrimp, fennel, onions and green beans to the typical crispy calamari dish. When you order this make sure to get a piece of the fennel {my favorite bite} which was a surprisingly nice combination of sweet and salty. Then again, isn’t everything good fried?

Bistro Don Giovanni Fritto Misto

Another unexpected delight was the Bruschetta with Monterey Sardines, chick peas with a tomato chili vinaigrette — it is salty, crunchy and slightly sweet with a strong mediterranean flavor from the smashed chick peas and a fresh, peppery bite from the arugula. It far exceeds expectations of a typical tomato based bruschetta.

Bistro Don Giovanni Monterey Sardine Bruschetta

And it’s not very often a pizza is that spectacular that it’s worth writing about, but the simple Margherita supported the freshly crushed tomato sauce and sparse melted mozzarella cheese with a thin crust that was crispy on the bottom and chewy on the inside — just how a stellar slice should be.

Bistro Don Giovanni Pizza Margherita

Bistro Don Giovanni Orecchiette

Three of the entrees that we shared were traditional Italian dishes, but each had a unique twist that made them memorable. The Orecchiette was served with sausage, rapini {aka broccoli rabe}, chilies, tomato and reggiano. It was the spice of the chilies that gave this dish the extra heat that complemented the other simple and fresh ingredients. The Chicken Parmigiana was served over zucchini “spaghetti,” thin strands of zucchini that offered a lighter alternative to a bed of pasta, all topped off with a local heirloom tomato sauce. The table favorite {which got eaten before I could snap a picture} was the Polpette d’Agnello, lamb and ricotta meatballs served with a side of shell beans and artichokes. Now thatsa meatball!

Bistro Don Giovanni Chichen Parmigiana

The Skim: If you’re looking for an exceptional meal to soak up a day of wine tasting, be sure to make a stop at Bistro Don Giovanni. Right in the heart of Napa on St. Helena Hwy, it’s an easy stop on the way out of town, and if you’ve tapped out the wallet on previous wine purchases you can take advantage of one of their 29 wines for $29.

Map: {4110 Howard Lane, Napa, CA}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 707.224.3300

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Summer Lovin’ Me Some Oysters @Mermaid Oyster Bar

Mermaid Oyster Bar Selection

The ancient Romans prized oysters for being aphrodisiacs. The 18th-century lover Casanova, in particular, is said to have eaten fifty oysters for breakfast every morning to make him virile. Is there any truth to these mollusks making mermaids sing? Oysters do contain a high amount of zinc, a lack of which has been linked to male impotency, but there is no scientific evidence that these pearl-producing friends can produce much more than a tasty meal and perhaps a little sex-appeal as these slippery little suckers get slurped out of their shell.

Mermaid Oyster Bar

August 5th is National Oyster Day, so what better day to suck down some summer seafood and see where the evening takes you. One of my favorite tiny seafood shops is Mermaid Oyster Bar {sister restaurant to The Mermaid Inn}. This quaint little joint has a clean white-walled New England feel to it, with an open air front, high bar stools and booth seating that lines the fish-framed wainscoted walls. It’s great for a casual evening out to enjoy some really fresh and spectacular shuckin’.

With a menu featuring 13 different types of Oysters native to both the East and West coast, you can choose from a variety of sizes with a range of sweet and briny characteristics. My favorite {no joke} was called the Naked Cowboy. This Long Island Oyster was sweet and smooth and actually one of the most inexpensive options on the menu {hooray for local fishermen}.

There are plenty of other delicious options on the menu if oysters don’t appeal to you. The Shimp Po’ Boy is spicy and generously sized and the Lobster Roll is a classic served on a sweet brioche bun that won’t disappoint. And if you’re looking for a side, don’t forget the Old Bay Seasoned Fries, which are the  perfect crispy, salty and spicy accompaniment to a cold beer and tray of oysters.

The Skim: As if the tray of lovin’ oysters isn’t enough of an enticement for a good night out, at the end of the meal you’ll also get a special little treat — an espresso cup portion of chocolate mousse and a fortune telling fish. Perhaps he can reveal the future of a shuckin’ good time???

Map: {79 MacDougal Street & Bleecker}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 212-260-0100

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Highlands Highlights: Scottish Plaids, Pub Fare and Hand Crafted Cocktails

Highlands Bar NYC

A brief glance at the Highlands menu might have you scratching your head wondering what it all means and WHY anyone would sample Scottish food. Pork Faggot, Haggis, Neeps, Tatties, Cullen Skink…either I’ve had one too many Scotch cocktails and the words have gotten all mixed up or I need one of those fine plaid-clad bartenders to provide a wee bit of foreign translation assistance. But be not afraid, if you are envisioning a plate of unappetizing, unrecognizable food, you are in for a real treat when you order from the menu that was created to showcase modern Scotland. The atmosphere itself will clue you in that this contemporary gastropub is both authentic, but cutting edge at the same time.

Scottish Art?

Highlands is split into two quaint rooms. A dining area equipped with brick walls, close-set tables and a strange painting featuring a young boy with wolves hung over a faux fireplace. And the bar {where you can also order food}, with plaid-clad bartenders and backlit blond wood shelves showcasing some of the finer imports from Scotland:  Scotch, Malts, Gins and Ales. If you plan to eat at the bar, I suggest you get there early, because the bar draws a large crowd eager to imbibe unique hand crafted Scottish cocktails such as the Lucky White Heather {Famous Grouse Scotch, Rosemary Star Anise, Lemon and Egg White} or the Blood and Sand {Glenrothes Special Reserve, Cherry Herring, Orange Juice, Lemon and Bitters}. It’s a great place to expand beyond your usual vodka soda or Amstel light order, while exploring the young and vibrant patrons.

A Menu Must: Lamb Sausage Roll with Mint, Upland Cress and Harissa Aioli. It’s hard not to like when a mini sausage is wrapped in a flaky warm crust and served with a spicy sauce for dipping. I’d like to call it an upscale pigs-in-a-blanket, and well, who doesn’t love those!

Highlands Roast Chicken

I also had the roast chicken breast, that was both crispy and juicy and can be enjoyed whether it’s 90-degrees out or 20. And in case you’re wondering what all those other items are that I referred to, here’s a little cheat sheet. Go ahead and give it a go!

  • Pork Faggot: Kind of like a Scottish meatball, pork mixed with fresh herbs and sometimes breadcrumbs
  • Haggis: Traditional Scottish dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach. {You may need a strong stomach and sense of adventure for this one}
  • Neeps: Yellow turnip
  • Tatties: Potatoes
  • Cullen Skink: Thick soup made with haddock, potatoes and onions

The Skim: It’s friendly, it’s cozy with great drinks, great food, great bar and great atmosphere. Clearly I think it’s great. I’ll go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite NYC restaurants and bars. You can be as adventurous as you dare, but the menu serves all interests and will give you a taste of traditional Scottish fare with some modern twists. Go to eat or just drink, but either way, go.
Map: {150 west 10th St. btw Waverly & Greenwhich Ave.}
Reservations: Taken!
Phone: 212-229-2670


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The Red Cat: Comfortable Quarters & Cuisine

When you think of the color red or a cat {some people anyway} what comes to mind are feelings of warmth and comfort. Dining at The Red Cat evokes touches of both these, not only through one of the best, consistently excellent New York restaurant menus around, but also through the impeccably decorated space, where red walls, antique lanterns and dark wood always sets the mood for a memorable meal and experience.

A menu must: The Tempura Green Beans with hot mustard sauce. I order it every time as an app and always wonder how a green bean can taste SO good. As the saying goes, everything tastes better fried. Indeed! And with the salty tempura and spicy mustard, the green bean becomes the perfect vehicle for a french fry-like snack, but with a little nutrition thrown in.

Tempura Green Beans

But equally as delicious and probably also worthy of a menu must list, is the Shrimp Corn Cakes with Celery Root Salad and Red Chili Oil. It may not sound like anything overly exotic, but the flavor combination of the shrimp corn cake {a twist on the more commonly known crab cake} and the crunchy, fresh celery root with the slightly spicy red chili oil really makes you savor every bite and wish you weren’t sharing with your table guests.

Shrimp Corn Cakes with Celery Root Salad and Red Chili Oil

For my entree I had the Grilled Buttermilk Pork Chop with Cranberry Bean And Corn Succotash, with White Wine Bacon Butter. Pure mmm mmm mmm. I don’t know if it’s the buttermilk {makes me think of pancakes}, or the succotash {so fun to say} or maybe the bacon, yes the BACON! that makes this dish sit squarely in the comfort zone of your taste buds, but you CAN NOT go wrong ordering this entree. It’s simple, yet flavorFUL, and with every bite you enjoy the core ingredients.

Grilled Buttermilk Pork Chop

The Skim: If you haven’t already paid a visit to The Red Cat, well then what are you waiting for? And if this is already one of your favorite restaurants in NYC, then maybe it’s time to pay it another visit, because there are so many comfortably good, reliable items on the menu it’s only prudent to try them all. {227 Tenth Ave btw 23rd/24th Streets}


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Put a Pork Chop and Corn Salsa on Your Plate @ Home:
Whole-Grain Mustard & Rosemary Pork Chops
Creole Roasted Fresh Corn-Tomato Salsa

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La Esquina Still Has the Taco Market Cornered

La Esquina Michelada

La Esquina, which means The Corner, is nestled exactly as such at the SE point of Petrosino Square where Lafayette meets Kenmare. And while it’s known for its hard-to-get-into grotto restaurant hidden beyond the “employees only” door, down the stairs and through the kitchen, you can also order their delicious Mexican food at the 24-hour taco stand or at the sidewalk cafe. It’s been awhile since I was last there, so I was pleasantly surprised to find when I ate there this week that the difficult reservation policy is still warranted.

Mexican Food, Taco, Tacos

Lump Crabmeat Tostada

It was a hot summer evening so the waiter convinced me that the Michelada would be refreshing cocktail choice. The classic Mexican beer cocktail is mixed with a housemaid chipotle puree, fresh lime and served with a salted rim. It was slightly reminiscent of a bloody mary, but not as thick or filling and was indeed refreshing. Since there was a group of us we ordered a number of things from the small plates menu to share and there were definitely a few standout favorites that were not just tacos. The Cangrejo Tostada, which featured lump crabmeat, mango and chipotle mayo on a silver dollar-sized crispy tortilla was uniquely light and sweet for typical mexican food. The Quesadilla de Huitlachoche sandwiched mexican “truffle,” roasted corn, mushrooms and queso oaxaca between two warm tortillas and was deliciously earthy and full of flavor. But above all, and proving why La Esquina successfully sells tacos three ways out of the same building, the Bistec Taquitos were a home run with grilled steak, charred onions and salsa roja generously filling a small 4-inch tortilla. We loved the tacos so much, we ordered four different kinds and a second round.

The Skim: Sure, you can find a good taco at a lot of places, but can you have your choice of where you want to eat it at the same venue? Walk-up taco stand, sit-down cafe or swanky, behind-a-bouncer brasserie are all options and with a line out the door at the taco stand it’s no wonder why people are clamoring to get into this place. Regardless of where you grab your taco seat though, you will get the same great flavors and come away a happy customer.  114 Kenmare St. (bet. Cleveland Pl. & Lafayette St.)

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Two Thumbs {Bouley} Up{stairs}

A Peek Inside the Bouley Kitchen

Walk around the corner from Bouley Upstairs {the casual Bouley offshoot} and you can get a peek inside the meticulous, energetic kitchen of Bouley through the street-side-open-for-viewing windows. Redefining “open kitchen” these windows provide a glimpse to any passerby at the well-trained kitchen staff at work. Enticing and smart marketing! But you don’t have to go high class or high cost to enjoy the highly reputable food coming out of David Bouley’s kitchen. At Bouley Upstairs, the menu changes frequently to focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from family farms and finished with the Bouley flare for harmony and intensity to fully express the ingredients gracing your plate. The space is intimate and casual, with open air dining in the front and moderate pricing, so it’s easy to sit back, relax and focus on enjoying your meal.

Fresh Calamari Salad Cooked a la Plancha

The menu offers a wide selection of options that will suite any mood from sushi, to fresh fish or even a hearty burger. We started with the fresh calamari salad cooked a la plancha, meaning it’s cooked on a metal plate, creating a wonderful brown sear on all sides with a firm, yet tender bite. Our waitress was full of strong recommendations, so I took her word on the entree and ordered the seared black bass with a cider-bacon vinaigrette, served over sauteed bok choy with cubes of bacon. I suppose you could call this a modern surf and turf — a crisped skin, white mild fish lovingly paired with the earthy, salty bacon and slightly sweet cider glaze. All in all a match made in heaven.

Black Bass with Cider-Bacon Drizzle

The Skim: Bouley’s name speaks for itself and at Bouley Upstairs he is speaking to a crowd who wants to enjoy his masterful creations without breaking the bank. {130 West Broadway and Duane}

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Sensational Summer Sushi @ Geisha

Geisha

You may think sushi is sushi — on just about every menu you’ll comfortably find the traditional california, spicy tuna or shrimp tempura roll. So what makes the sushi at Geisha so sensational? Firstly, the fish. Geisha uses premium quality fiddies, so the flavor of the fish alone speaks for itself. But combine that with highly innovative sushi Chef Pham who uses a combination of traditional and new sushi techniques, and you get rolls such as the White Tuna Crunch Roll — a mix of diced white tuna with a spicy sauce , asparagus, scallion and potato crunch {sort of like a matchstick fry}. He then wraps these ingredients in Hawaiian white tuna and avocado. Yum! Or try something from the non-sushi menu which was constructed as a collaboration between Executive Chef Michael Vernon and four-star chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin. The ‘Eggs Benedict’ with soft-poached quail egg, smoked tuna, urchin-truffle hollandaise, fresh black truffle sounds pretty darn good.

The Skim: I’d be happy with a good plate of sushi alone, but when you can settle into plush banquets, with cool backlight Japanese art dimly lighting the room and a garage-door sized open window on the second floor of the restaurant, Geisha makes sipping on saketini’s and savoring sushi on a lovely summer’s night, that much more enjoyable. {33 East 61 Street, btw Madison & Park}

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8.ate@eight #1: Silencing of the Spring Lambs was Lambtastic!

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What can I say, the inaugural 8.ate@eight supper club was lambtastic! Perfect weather (mid-70s) and perfect company set the scene for a great evening of fresh, hand-prepared food, deliciously paired wine and good conversation shared amongst new and old friends. Here’s the scoop >>>

Naerim, my friend and French Culinary Institute-trained pastry chef, showed up around 11am to start throwing around some cake flour and gettin’ down to business preparing her superbly delicious Panna Cotta Tartlets with Balsamic Strawberries. Meanwhile, the prosecco was chillin’ and I was chopping, grinding and whizzing away to to get all the elements together for each course of the meal, organized to complement our post-dinner flick, Silence of the Lambs.

The Menu:

Starter
Minted Fava Bean & Spring Pea Puree with Fresh Italian Ricotta on Garlic Rubbed Toasts
w/ Fresh Squeezed Blood Orange Mimosas

Salad
Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Pancetta Vinaigrette, Michigan Dried Cherries & Candied Pecans
w/ 2008 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais

Entrée
Pistachio encrusted Spring Lamb with Cumin Yogurt & Pickled Red Onion
w/ 2001 Cataregia Gran Reserva

Dessert
Panna Cotta Tartlets w/ Balsamic Strawberries

Movie
Silence of the Lambs

Everyone grabbed a Fresh Blood Orange Mimosa, introduced themselves and settled in for some good food and drinks.

Fresh Blood Oranges Being Squeezed for Blood Orange Mimosas

Fava Bean and Pea Puree

Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Pancetta Vinaigrette, Dried Michigan Cherries and Candied Pecans

While the salad was being served, we were off in the kitchen orchestrating all the elements of the entrée. The lamb (and Jessica’s sea bass) was encrusted with a spice blend of thyme, chilli pepper, cumin, lemon zest and pistachios, pan-seared and finished in the oven. Each was topped with freshly pickled red onions and a cumin yogurt sauce. The white asparagus was steamed and topped with a melted smashed mint, lemon butter sauce. Pans were flying and the kitchen mercury was rising as we had all the burners fired at once, but with the help of Naerim, we got everything cooked and plated before anyone pulled a Hannibal Lector.

Pistachio Spring Lamb w/ Cumin Yogurt & Pickled Red Onion; White Asparagus w/ Smashed Mint & Lemon Butter

After the plates were cleared, we rolled the movie, opened more wine and Naerim got to work finishing dessert.

Naerim Plating Dessert

Panna Cotta Tartlets w/ Balsamic Strawberries

Hannibal Lector showed up for a bite too.

Hannibal Lector Shows Up After Dinner

Click here to see the full album.

Thanks:

I want to thank Naerim for preparing such a beautiful and delicious dessert and for all the help in getting the 8.ate@eight-ers fed. Thanks to Kristin for snapping some candids while I was off in the kitchen and for doing dishes late night {tisk tisk!!} And I of course want to thank everyone who grabbed a seat at the table — it was lovely to have you all!

Our next dinner will be announced shortly {very shortly} so if you aren’t on the list, email me at 8ateateight@gmail.com. See you at the table!

Recipe Goodness:

Pistachio-Encrusted Spring Lamb w/ Pickled Red Onions & Cumin Yogurt Sauce

Serves 4

Chops:
12 lamb chops, ~ 1 1/2 inches thick
2 TBS fresh thyme
1 TBS ground chilli pepper
1 TBS ground cumin
2 TBS fresh lemon zest
Salt & Pepper
1 Cup shelled pistachio nuts

Pickled Red Onion:
1 red onion
1 lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

Sauce:
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt & pepper to taste

Thinly slice the red onion and put into a container that will seal. Pour the juice of one lemon over the onion, add a dash of salt and a crank or two of black pepper. Set the container in the fridge for at least 2 hours. The lemon juice will pickle the onion and soften the flavor for a nice addition to your chops.

In another bowl add the 1/2 tsp of cumin, salt and pepper to the yogurt and stir thoroughly. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mix all the dry spices and lemon zest in a bowl. In a zip lock, smash the shelled pistachios to smaller bits that will stick easily to your lamb. Pour the nuts into a separate bowl. Lightly drizzle a little olive oil over the lamb chops and gently press each side of the chops first in the spice bowl and then in the pistachio bowl, making sure both sides are generously covered in pistachios.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large oven safe pan on the stove {no need to add olive oil as the fat from the lamb will be enough to cook the chops}. Add all the of chops to the pan and push firmly down to create a good sear. Cook for 2 minutes, flip and put the pan into the oven for 4 minutes. {Note: If you don’t have an oven safe pan, you can preheat a cookie sheet in the oven and transfer the chops to the sheet to finish}.

To serve, top the lamb chops with a few rings of the pickled red onion and a drizzle of the cumin yogurt. Enjoy!

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The Great Burger Debate: It’s All About the Bun @ Zaitzeff

Zaitzeff Sirloin Burger on a Portuguese Muffin

When you start talking burgers with someone, you are inevitably going to enter into the debate about the best burger you’ve ever had. You might even pull out the top 3 list. But it’s not everyday you enter this great debate and then are told that one of those on the list is right across the street from where that very conversation takes place. So at 11pm last night I felt I could not pass up the opportunity to check out Zaitzeff, a previously unknown to me burger joint on the Lower East Side. The ambiance is simple —  with lamps providing a soft light, paintings on the wall and candlesticks on the table, Zaitzeff sort of feels like you’re eating in someone’s home. The menu mirrors the simplicity of the surroundings and is the key to why this burger is in fact so delicious. You can choose between American style Kobe or Grass-Fed Sirloin freshly ground onsite, which is served with lettuce, tomato, sauteed onions and the real key to this delight, a Portuguese muffin. If you are feeling like you really want to jazz it up, there are a selection of cheeses, bacon, avocado and even a fried egg that you can add for an additional charge. I have to agree, this was one delicious burger, and thankfully because it’s made from such lean beef it didn’t have me leaving wishing I had made that choice earlier in the evening.

The Skim: It’s all about the bun. Generally an afterthought to what goes in between, the slightly sweet Portuguese Muffin compliments the sweet sauteed onions and premium grass-fed sirloin or Kobe to create a simple, yet delicious burger. You won’t have grease running down your elbows, but you will likely be licking your lips after a visit to Zaitzeff. {18 Ave. B, bet. 2nd & 3rd Street}

More on The Great Burger Debate:
recipe goodness :: bison, a better burger worth biting into
5 & Dime: 10 oz. at Five Napkin Burger, that is

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August in April

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You may think I’m talking about all the 70-degree weather we’ve been in having, but in fact I’m referring to dinner at August, a small refuge that satisfies both appetite and ambiance. Both the heated outdoor atrium and the narrow candlelit front room — showcasing a wood-fired oven and reminiscent of an underground wine cellar — provide ideal settings for a memorable meal.

We shared two starters, the first was a Striped Bass Tartar laden with fresh herbs, pistachios and a citrus vinaigrette, which had the perfect contrast of fresh and earthy flavors with a surprising, but subtle chili pepper kick. The second, was what they called an Asparagus Mimosa — I like it already! Farm fresh asparagus tossed in a light dijon sauce and topped with radish shavings, served with an unexpected poached egg custard dusted with bottarga. Mustard is my favorite secret ingredient, so this punchy, peppery, creamy, salty combination is high on my list. For my entree, I went with our waiter’s recommendation and something I would not normally order — Roasted Duck. Served with a ginger cavatelli, rhubarb, and spring onions, I again was overwhelmed by the unique earthy flavors with a pleasantly surprising zest in each bite. As much as I truly enjoyed my dish, I admittedly had a bit of food envy when I tried a bite of the homemade gnocchi served with merguez sausage, spring peas and stinging nettles. Nettle what? Do not be afraid, nettles are a plant with toxic, stinging hairs, which are perfectly edible once cooked. I hope.

If all that complex flavor talk scares you {and it shouldn’t}, then check out their casual ‘Pies & Peronis’ Sunday night dinners — featuring a selection of Old World Style pizzas from the wood burning oven, served with a bucket of Peronis for $25. Sounds like a perfect diversion from the fast approaching Monday morning blues.

The Skim: Beyond the A+ atmosphere, the menu contributes some very unique, but simple, fresh flavor combinations that makes August worth coming back to…in May, June, July or any other month. {359 Bleeker Street btw Charles & West 10th}


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barmarche: Some Clever Crudites

Crispy Bass Taquitos with Apple Cider Slaw

I like when a restaurant departs from the expected bread basket and welcomes you with an atypical hunger diversion. barmarche, a cozy little candlelit cove on the corner of Spring and Elizabeth, does just that with their homemade hummus, carrot and celery sticks placed generously on your table with a bottle of NY’s finest before you even have a chance to glance at the menu. Pleasantly, I was not full before my meal arrived, so could thoroughly enjoy the delightfully fresh Lime Bass Taquitos with Apple Cider Slaw. Two thumbs up for the fish tacos. Other dishes worth trying: Truffle Shrimp Risotto, Bresoala & Arugula Salad and I’m told they do a mean burger.

The Skim: If you’re looking for a great date place or night out with a small group of friends, barmarche has a good vibe for a relaxed, intimate meal — velvet curtains, antiques gracing the walls, generous candlelight and a menu with latin flare. Eating with your hands can’t be bad on a date, right? {14 Spring Street @ Elizabeth}

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