Excursion to TriBeCa

I’ve increasingly found myself warming to a category of restaurants and bars that I would classify as “overrated but pretty damn good.” The pizza pantheon’s Di Fara and  Franny’s immediately spring to mind, as does La Colombe, whose draft latte I enjoy, even in the winter.

The most recent addition to my category comes in the form of cafe Maman, which now boasts 2 trendy locations, in SoHo and TriBeCa. I’ve dropped into the SoHo one numerous times on my way to work or class to pick up some coffee, Maman’s rich version of an Oreo, and any number of other pastry treats. The newer TriBeCa cafe is home to a dining room where I have now experienced both brunch and drinks.

Brunch is a (slightly overly) leisurely affair, with decadent yet healthy-seeming options like green tea waffles and smoked salmon on black bread. About that leisure: Maman was still working out a couple of logistical snags at the time of my visit, but luckily for me, my server was extremely courteous and apologetic, and even comped me my brunch cocktails, including a delightful hot chocolate spiked with amaro and walnut liqueur. If you’ve got a morning or afternoon to while away in TriBeCa (brunch ranges for the incredible span of 9-3), I would definitely recommend a seat at Maman’s communal table. If you’re in a hurry, you can pick up a pastry, salad, or sandwich at the front counter, perhaps consuming it on one of the ridiculously fluffy couches that greet you upon your entry.

When I came back for drinks a few days later, the dining room was empty, which was a shame for everyone else’s tastebuds. I, on the other hand, got to sample two delightful beverages: the Santahattan, a nice strong wintry blend of pine, rye, mint, and sweet vermouth, and a frothy teacup of Papa Peanut, slightly bitter and very peanutty and creamy. My server was extremely friendly, and I hope that she will soon have more customers to while away Tuesday nights. I know I will be back to try some of the menu’s intriguing food options like stuffed squash and corn spaghetti.

Maman, 239 Centre Street, SoHo, and 211 West Broadway, TriBeCa

 

Advertisements

The piece which surpasses understanding

Happy new year, dear readers!

Unfortunately I haven’t had too much energy to eat and write lately. But I’ve still encountered some quality dining establishments. Like DUMBO’s Love & Dough, a new Neapolitan pizzeria just around the street from an old office of mine. Though I work near Chinatown now, aka the world’s lunch capital, Love & Dough made me regret my Manhattanizing ways.

It’s hard to imagine an escape from the workday grind as thorough and satisfying as my lunch at Love & Dough’s bright, airy corner location. And there’s no comparable pizza within a reasonable radius of my office, in terms of both taste and unique combinations of ingredients. The Surrpressata!!! (emphasis theirs) delivers both soppressata and surprise: hints of spice play enticingly with dollops of ricotta and a cherry or two on each slice, while a mint leaf proves an unusual though not unwelcome substitution for basil. My dining companion’s eggplant pizza was also quite tasty, and both were filling enough that, alas, we had no room for what was sure to be a delicious dessert.

Friends, next time you’re in Brooklyn’s DUMBest-named neighborhood, you know where to go.

Love & Dough, 57 Pearl Street, DUMBO

IMG_4824

 

End of Days

Seems like all the cool kids are hanging out in Bushwick and Ridgewood (and, I predict, Glendale soon enough) these days. It’s almost more than your South Brooklyn correspondent can handle. Luckily, I am an intrepid and dedicated reporter.

The Bad Old Days (whose name I must confess I don’t really care for (better than Good Old Days, I guess; glamorizing crime and grime isn’t really my thing)) is a solid new entry to the bar scene. Located just a couple blocks from Myrtle-Wyckoff’s junction of the L and M trains, it’s got a cozy living room atmosphere (with entertaining bathroom wallpaper for the urban-history-inclined of us), reasonable prices and, most importantly, damn tasty drinks.

I especially liked the Winter Vixen, with its mix of rosemary-infused gin, cranberry, and Lillet. It struck just the right note of holiday cheer while remaining light and refreshing, appropriate for our apocalyptically hot December. I also enjoyed the Manhattan Special. Its mixture of rye and maple reminded me of the day I really got into cocktails in the first place, dragging my then-pretty-new boyfriend on a mad trek across Williamsburg and Greenpoint to Dutch Kills after reading about a similar concoction in a magazine. Four years later, we are cocktail experts, while rye and maple (and a coffee ice cube!) remain as winning a combination as ever.

Not so far away from Bad Old Days, in a very different sort of atmosphere, is the tasty Amaranto (recently acclaimed by the New York Times). Though I was drawn in by the tamale mentioned by Ms. Mishan, what really won me over was the tostada, a perfect mix of textures with crab, avocado, fennel, radish, and tortilla crunch. The stuffed avocado was less beautiful to behold but just as tasty. My elote and mezcal cocktail, garnished with a corncob, was an enjoyable foray into savory drinks; while the blackberry flan we had for dessert was creamy and delicious. I look forward to more trips back up to the Brooklyn/Queens border.

The Bad Old Days, 1684 Woodbine Street, Ridgewood

Amaranto, 887 Hart Street, Bushwick

 

 

Shifting alliances

The Upper East Side is not exactly my favorite neighborhood. If you know me, you will know the extent to which that’s an understatement. But sometimes an intriguing establishment will induce me to make the trek uptown; and sometimes it’s worth it.

I recently experienced one such success when I stopped by Eli’s Night Shift, the new bar from Eli Zabar (the new Za-bar?). Unlike so many places in Manhattan, the atmosphere is inviting, with a ton of windows; and the service is friendly–my bartender immediately inquired about my reading material (These Shallow Graves, if you’re interested), and it turned out he’d just read another book with the same setting.

The list of drinks is similarly approachable, but still intriguing. The bar features beers from New York City-area brewers, including my favorite, Transmitter, and other good options like Gun Hill and Grimm. (And there was nary an Other Half in sight, at least when I visited; in my opinion, Other Half is the most wildly overrated brewery around. More about that another time, perhaps.) Prices are somewhat high (do fairly straightforward beers really merit an $8 price tag? I guess things are more expensive in NYC’s frozen northlands) though the selection is top-notch.

But I came for cocktails, and I was not disappointed. The Last Shift was an elixir of such comforts as bourbon, pumpkin, and milk; the Blue Vest, a beautiful concoction of gin and prickly pear shrub. While I don’t usually like cucumber, the garnish was resplendent, and played well with the botanical flavors of the gin.

I also don’t usually care for potato chips, but the free ones on offer at the Night Shift were so tasty that I may have to reconsider my position. The rest of the food menu looked good as well, but was obviated by the heaping basket of chips.

Luckily, once you just can’t stand being above 23rd Street anymore, you can make a quick exit: the Night Shift is just a short hop away from the 6 train and the Lexington Avenue buses, so you can easily head home, taking your grudgingly positive feelings about the Upper East Side with you.

Eli’s Night Shift, 189 East 79th Street, Upper East Side

IMG_4582.JPG

 

Motocross

As I’ve said before, I am pretty preoccupied with pizza lately. The best of the new crop of pizzas I’ve tasted is almost certainly Pizza Moto. I’d tried one of their pies when a friend ordered it from Smorgasburg, and it was pretty good, but I have to confess that cooking pizzas in the frenetic open-air crowds always struck me as a fool’s errand. Luckily, Pizza Moto has recently opened a small restaurant under everyone’s favorite eyesore, the BQE.

If you have the fortitude to cross the street to the southish side of Hamilton Avenue you’ll be glad you did.* PM immediately transports you from the underpass through its eclectic and mechanically-minded decor and friendly service. The pizza I tried, a three-cheese many-mushroom configuration, had just the right mixture of cream and crunch. My grapefruit and mezcal drink provided a refreshing counterpoint, but the best concoction to come out of a cocktail glass was surely an almond semifreddo studded with biscuits and a cherry. (I could’ve done with more than one cherry, but that’s just quibbling.) Much like the pizza, now that I think of it, my dessert was creamy and crunchy and satisfying. Though I was quite full, I could’ve happily eaten another, Thanksgiving aftereffects be damned.

Faced with Hamilton Avenue and its rushing cars, your correspondent flagged a bit. Luckily, there is a bus stop around the (admittedly industrial and bleak) corner, so I was able to avoid the crossing again. With my leftover pizza box in hand, I was surely the luckiest of the B61’s patrons tonight.

Pizza Moto, 338 Hamilton Avenue, Carroll Gardens–Red Hook border

*Or even if you don’t have the fortitude, actually. Instead of opting for the simple, and hazardous-feeling, approach from the Carroll Gardens end, I took a nice stroll through super-industrial northern Red Hook, bypassing the BQE pretty much entirely. (In fact, I took a nice stroll from downtown Manhattan, via the Manhattan Bridge. Gotta seize the nice weather when you can.)

Please beer with me

Dear kind readers,

Life has been busy lately so I’m afraid I haven’t had a chance to write up my edible travels for you. Know that I am soldiering tirelessly on your behalf to discover the city’s best new doughnuts, cocktails, and breakfast pastries; I just haven’t had a chance to string together a few non-work-related thoughts. Please bear with me. In the meantime, perhaps you will enjoy pondering this deep question from Covenhoven, home of pretty exciting beer.

IMG_4320

A Separate Pizza

Blame it on Delancey. After reading Molly Wizenberg’s description of opening a pizza restaurant, I am way more enthusiastic about pizza than I used to be. Lucky for me, I have a lot to catch up on. Like Crown Heights’s Barboncino, which I’ve walked by about 500 times without ever going in.

Until tonight, when I discovered amaro-based cocktails ($2 off for happy hour) and a pretty satisfying pizza. I particularly liked the Primavera cocktail, with its nice balance of grappa, Aperol, Meletti, and grapefruit. A little bitter, a little sweet, and the perfect way to cap off a long day. The pizza was no slouch, either–fennel sausage and, especially, cremini mushrooms elevated it to a decadent level. Luckily, my bartender readily offered to wrap up the rest for lunch tomorrow. She also had a good followup cocktail recommendation, a bitter and champagne-sparkly iced tea. I told her I’d be back soon and I mean it, since I intend to try basically every other cocktail (and many other pizzas) on the menu. Care to join me, anyone?

Barboncino, 781 Franklin Avenue, Crown Heights

IMG_4059

Bridging the gap

I have a confession to make. Though I suspect food and drink are my writerly calling, I sometimes dream of being an expert on my other, less comestible, passion: transportation. I’ve researched and written about many transportation issues for grad school, but I’ve never offered up my thoughts in a public forum like this blog. But now’s as good a time as any to get started on a theme that’s dogged me for my whole life. Ever since I was a tiny (okay, tinier) kindergartener with a somewhat-lengthy commute to school, I’ve been invested in transportation, a topic close to the hearts of all New Yorkers. I hope I’ll transport you with many a story in the future, but right now I want to call your attention to one specific cause: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, glorious connector of Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Okay, now that you’ve thought about the Verrazano for a moment, consider some of NYC’s many other impressive bridges–the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg ones, for starters–and then think about how, if you’re like me, you’ve walked across them countless times. (Or at least you plan to–I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’d never walked a bridge until a college classmate suggested it not so many years ago. I like to think I’ve made up for lost time and ground in the intervening ten years or so.) But the Verrazano–so big and glorious that its engineers had to take the curvature of the Earth into account! (possibly my favorite factoid from Robert Caro’s marvelous The Power Broker about our local master builder and master monster Robert Moses)–boasts no such paths. The MTA has recently begun a pilot program for racks on buses so that two–two!–bikes can ride astride the prows of buses crossing the bridge. But other than that, if you want to cross that breathtaking span without a motor vehicle, you’d best train for the NYC marathon (or the Five Boro Bike Tour, thanks, Mark), ’cause that’s the only way you’ll manage.

So what if you, too, could walk or bike the Verrazano? What if you could satisfy your wanderlust, or visit your family, or do whatever else you’d like to do on Staten Island, without need of a car? That’s the dream put forth by Transportation Alternatives and the Harbor Ring Committee, and it’s been a dream of mine too, ever since I first got the bright idea to take the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and the bus back to Brooklyn, only to realize how frustrating–and hazardous for a pedestrian–it was. And so last Saturday I found myself volunteering for TransAlt’s rally to make a bike and pedestrian path a reality.

At the rally, Bay Ridge and Staten Island residents and elected officials, plus runners, cyclists, and curious and even initially skeptical passers-by, offered a broad base of support for crossing the Verrazano sans car. I suspect I’ll always remember one attendee saying that she’d been advocating for a pedestrian and bike path since before the bridge was even built–certainly more commitment than I could ever claim. And, perhaps even more excitingly, the rally’s organizers announced that the MTA is working on a feasibility study for the path. So keep your fingers crossed, and check out the advocates’ work, and maybe one day you can listen to me pontificate about transit and food as we walk across the dazzling height of the Verrazano.

(And maybe, while we take a stroll through scenic Bay Ridge on our way to or from the bridge, we can stop by my #1-all-time-favorite bakery Robicelli’s. Who knows, maybe you too would appreciate some warm pumpkin coffee cake and whiskey pecan pie for breakfast.)

Transportation Alternatives on the Harbor Ring

Robicelli’s, 9009 5th Avenue, Bay Ridge (stay tuned for more, including pictures of marvelous pies, cupcakes, and puddings)

IMG_3939

Footloose and fancy-free

Sometimes you get it into your head, for no very good reason, that there’s a bar or restaurant you’d like to try. And sometimes you’re lucky, ’cause you wind up at Fancy Nancy, and they’ve just changed their menu, and it’s resplendent with the fall flavors you’ve dreamed of all year.

I’m the first to admit that I’m intrigued by fancy cocktails with mysterious ingredients, sometimes to my detriment. (Just try one of the dead simple, extremely fantastic mixed drinks at Fort Defiance, which I want to write about soon, and you’ll see where straightforwardness can get you. And it’s much farther than most fancy drinks can.) As time’s gone by, I’ve become familiar with most bartenders’ tricks, but even I was mystified by “SF mix,” in Fancy Nancy’s Lost in SF cocktail. So I ordered the drink without asking for details–a first, apparently–and was rewarded: SF mix is a delicious combination of Fernet (which I am pleased to say I recognized), Chartreuse, and rum. Yes, please!

Impressively, my second drink, Gator Bate, was even better. I’m a sucker for concord grape concoctions (and straight-up concord grapes fresh from the farm share, yum) and I’ll always order a drink that features them, but I’m almost invariably disappointed. Not this time–Gator Bate managed an intense concord grape taste without sacrificing its other tastes, yuzu and fennel. My bartender said it was her favorite of the current cocktails, and I can see why.

Though the drinks were the star of the show here, I’d be remiss not to mention my butternut risotto, which, costing no more than a cocktail, provided a reasonably filling and very tasty counterpoint to my libations. Almonds imparted crunch to an otherwise smooth and comforting dish, while greens provided a welcome hint of saltiness.

For dessert, my (wise) bartender suggested an horchata-based drink (which I–sadly–wound up declining) or a gin, cranberry, and egg-white one. Much like concord grapes, egg white cocktails are my kryptonite, so I opted for the Sloppy Seconds (or I guess thirds at this point), a nice fizz to finish the evening, though it lacked the striking balance of the Gator Bate. Next time, I’ll have to try the horchata-ey Havana Nights for sure.

All in all, my food and drink were delicious, the service was super-friendly, and I look forward to trying all of the other almost as tempting cocktails on offer. (Maybe especially the on-tap concoction–boozy, herbal, fruity, dark–that my bartender offered me in a tiny glass for a nightcap.) The crisp evening, and my walk back to the train–you guys, I can kinda walk normally these days!–didn’t hurt either. Fancy, indeed.

Fancy Nancy, 1038 Bedford Ave, Bedford-Stuyvesant

image2-2          image1-3

The Mast-ers and Pina Colada

I am the biggest supporter of public transportation you could possibly meet. (Not the tallest one, quite, but anyway.) However, even I sometimes dread the sardine crush of rush hour, particularly on the L train to Williamsburg. And so I might get the bright idea of taking the J train and walking a bit instead, or even of just … walking to Williamsburg entirely. Hey, why not. Yeah, let’s do this.

After passing an hour, fifteen or so CitiBikers, and approximately every Orthodox Jewish teenager ever, I touched down in the ‘burg. After a quick stop by Grand Ferry Park (NYC’s best semi-secret outdoor space? I think it’s a contender), I thought, hey, it’s been a while since I went to Mast Brothers. Though I don’t really love the brothers’ chocolate–a little too citrusy for my taste–I do generally enjoy their baked goods. So, upon catching sight of the lone stack of cookies on offer, I said, I think I’d like a cookie. I think you would! the woman behind the counter replied. And right she was–the cookie was warm (this, despite the fact that it was around 6:45 in the evening, surely not the time that most bakers are churning out batches), and somehow the citrus note in the chocolate played perfectly with the cookie’s batter and the sprinkled sea salt topping to make a dessert that wasn’t too rich or too weak, but just right.

And eventually I made it to my ultimate destination, Australian bar and restaurant Northern Territory. Located on the nebulous border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the bar was spacious and somewhat sparsely populated. Despite that advantage, I found the service pretty slow (though friendly). The drinks delivered, though. A peanut-butter and jelly old fashioned may not be your jam (see what I did there?) but it was mine: too often, I find that supposedly flavored old fashioneds don’t taste much different from a regular one (and cost more), but this one had a strong taste of both peanut butter and raspberry, though it wasn’t at all overpoweringly sweet. A pina colada was also pretty good–much heavier on the coconut than the pineapple, a sort of comforting fall rendition of a classic. I do wish the service had been a bit more attentive–I just want to give you my money! Please, already!–but I will keep Northern Territory in mind as a a chill and tasty meetup spot.

Unsurprisingly, riding the L back into Manhattan around 8:30 is much more palatable than taking it out at rush hour, probably especially after a couple of drinks. Long live the L train.

Mast Brothers, 111 N 3rd Street, Williamsburg

Northern Territory, 12 Franklin Street, (slightly) Greenpoint

IMG_3911          IMG_3915      IMG_3920