Culturesplosion.


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A Quick Stop at Birreria!

As I have already expressed my total adoration of all things Eataly in the past, there’s not much more I can add to my impression of BIRRERIA (map!) other than it lives up to the Eataly standard.

Located on the rooftop of this great food palace, it is definitely worth a try, even if only for the ambiance. Not so much a “beer garden” as a “big lovely space where good beer and food is served,” I found the place comfortable and spacious, with excellent views and refreshing air circulation (proper air circulation is very important!). On a weekend afternoon, it is a good place to relax a bit with friends.

The elevator entrance is appropriately tucked near the beer section on the ground floor, where a hostess greeted us. Following knowledge gleaned from the internet and its masses, we asked for a table rather than just standing at the bar, which would supposedly lead to a shorter wait time. Bingo! We went up almost immediately.

Humor in the elevator.

When we got upstairs, there was a bit of minor confusion with the upstairs hostesses (how many hostesses does this place need?), who were still trying to figure out how to use their new iPad seating chart program. I thought the fancy technology was a little unnecessary, but after a short delay, we finally made it in to the “big room”.

It’s definitely a well-designed space, full of beery love. We settled in and ordered some drinks and nibbles:

Eataly India Brown Ale (brewed with maple syrup!) on the left, Dogfish Head Festina Peche (berliner weisse with peaches) on the right. Yum!

3 cheese: Ricotta Fresca, Piave, Tallegio. With honey for dipping!

Mmmm....mortadella.

There were other appetizing things on the menu, but we could only stay for a brief while. Having recently looked at the drink menu, it appears the beer selection is constantly rotating, so we look forward to returning and trying something new!

Oh, and the gelato downstairs. Gotta go back for that too.

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The Breslin + Porsena: dimly-lit tasty lamby things

Let’s clap our hands for good lamb dishes! I confess that I am picky about my “baaaa!!” meat. For me, it needs to be fresh, well-seasoned, and paired with a good drink. Thankfully, the following two restaurants totally met the criteria.

I went to THE BRESLIN BAR & DINING ROOM (map!) with fav restaurant buddy recently and we decided on the “chargrilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo & thrice cooked chips.” Seeing it on all our neighbors’ tables helped us make up our minds, and we weren’t disappointed. So tender, so tasty:

I bleated with jubilation at the first bite.

Accompanying our meal were a side of broccoli with aged cheddar (wow, it should be a crime for vegetables to be this delectable), scallops with yogurt & mint vinaigrette (ahhh, the taste of the sea…), and a prime serving of some cheesy bruschetta thing (I forget the name, argh!) that was such a treat because it didn’t taste like a brick of sawdust like 99.9% of other examples I’ve eaten:

Soft and tasty, like a delicious pillow.

We ended with the brioche donuts with spiced maple butter, chocolate sauce, and caramel sauce. We had more sauce than there were donuts to dip! I was tempted to behave in an un-ladylike manner and just lick those sauce dishes clean:

Donuts donuts donuts

I must also take a moment to sing extra praises of the drink I discovered here to accompany my meal, and then returned to the Breslin soon after to have again. Behold, the Bitches Brew (mescal, tomato juice, fresh lime juice, spices, topped with beer):

Two for one!

I’ve never had a beer cocktail before, but now I’m a fan for life. If you like Bloody Marys, beer, and well-made cocktails in general, this is the drink for you. As the picture shows, it is accompanied by a can of Tecate beer for top-up (quite a nice deal for $12 total), and the slow transition from mezcal taste to beer taste makes for an excellent experience. I seriously heart this drink. Of course, what better to pair it with than more thrice-cooked chips. Om nom nom.

I was the prettiest potato....

As a final note, this place has really fun pig-themed decor. The restaurant is connected to the Ace Hotel next door, and you have to pass through the trendy hotel lobby to get to the bathroom. Everything is very hip and happenin’ and it’s a cool people-watching sort of place. Try not to dress like a hobo, unless it’s an ironic hipster hobo.

Onto the next! My visit to PORSENA (map!) was a rare example of solo dining, and I loved every minute of it.

Hello, hello! Would you like some awwwwwesome pasta?

Located in the old Village Mingala burmese restaurant space (which I had frequented in the past and really liked, so I was glad it got replaced by something good), Porsena has been noted for its excellent pasta, and I thought it was worth a visit. I arrived after the dinner rush and was seated right away. My waiter was attentive and cordial, and started me out with some bread and olive oil and a nice glass of colle moro red wine. I ended up choosing the “anneloni con salsiccia e rape” (ring-shaped pasta, spicy lamb sausage, mustard greens) as my entrée and it was fantastic!

More lamb at its finest.

The spicy lamb sausage packed a big punch of flavor, and the mustard greens were a nice contrast for the carbs. I rounded out the meal with a dessert of panna cotta and pistachio-chocolate bark and left feeling incredibly satisfied.

Notably, just a few days ago, I saw that New York Magazine chose the anneloni dish as the representative for Porsena in its “Pasta Porn: 101 of America’s Most Delicious Noodle Dishes” list. I am glad the NYMag peeps agreed, as this was some gooood pasta! Porsena is a candidate for many return trips, absolutely.


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M. Wells: Reason #2 to Take the 7 Train

As a current Manhattanite, I am pretty clueless outside of the home borough. I am figuring out Brooklyn at a respectable pace, with the various street names becoming more and more familiar as I trek out to eat new delicious foods. But Queens? Up until this point, my destination has only ever been Flushing to get choice dim sum or other good Chinese cuisine. That’s a long ride.

Thankfully, M. WELLS is just 2 stops from Grand Central! (map!)

A brilliant disguise! You'd never know they serve fois gras in there.

Hooray for Long Island City! There is no excuse for not taking the subway to this gem of a restaurant. It is probably a longer ride to Union Square from GCT, and the Hunters Point stop is right next to the restaurant for additional convenience. My aforementioned cluelessness led us to get off at the Vernon Blvd/Jackson Ave stop accidentally (oops!), so we had to walk through a semi-creepy and desolate block from the other direction, but all in all, it is really not difficult or scary to get to this place!

Once you’re inside, it’s like night and day. The retro diner decor makes you feel like you’re in a bygone era:

So many people! So much energy! So much food!

We had a bit of a wait since we were part of the mass wave of people following the footsteps of NYTimes’ Sam Sifton and the just-published Time Out New York review, but it wasn’t too bad and the hostess (who I think was the co-owner Sarah Obraitis, or least an amazingly good doppelgänger) was very nice, thanking us for our patience. I think we did ok without a reservation, but I highly recommend getting one since they only serve dinner on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays right now. Given the number of people coming through the door, it seemed tough for the restaurant to get everyone a seat at the exact reserved time, but those people were, of course, given priority once seats cleared up.

In the end, we got nice counter seats, and I actually recommend these over the booths/tables because you get to see the open kitchen action up-close. We chose a couple of cocktails, which I absolutely loved Loved LOVED. The menu descriptions are simple, but the taste and presentation were tops. High class yet casually fun.

There was the J.F.K. Harris (white rum, lemon juice, sugar, mint, red wine) in a coca-cola glass:

I'm a sucker for density-column type drinks. It's tasty science!

And the M. Gibson (gin, dry vermouth, brine, orange bitters):

If you like dirty martinis, this is the signature cocktail of your mothership.

I need to try the rest of the cocktail menu. They were created by Zachary Gelnaw-Rubin at nearby Dutch Kills, so there’s a good standard at work here.

Onto the food. Deciding what to eat was agonizingly difficult. Everything looked really good. We decided to go with their Queens Clam Chowder, which was served in a huge tureen (maybe too huge, a small baby can probably take a bath in this thing!). Luckily, it contained about 3 servings, perfect for two hungry people.

*SLURP*chew*chew*chew*

We didn’t get it with the optional fois gras (extra $10), which was for the best because the soup was quite rich already. I’m starting to think I’m some kind of salt whiner, but the flavorful broth was a tad bit too salty in my opinion. The stuff IN the soup, however, was a totally different story. As someone who constantly suffers the indignity of barely-there clam bits in most of the chowders I consume in restaurants, this dish was like winning the clam lottery. The clams were BIG, PLENTIFUL, and FRESH. Did I just see a whole piece of mussel in there too? Oh my god.

Then we had the escargot and bone marrow, which was absolutely decadent:

I wish we had 5 of these...

As we ate, the speakers piped in some choice tunes. I never thought I’d be eating a dish of this level while listening to Snoop, but somehow it just worked.

Not wanting to have to be carted home in wheelbarrows, we finished up by splitting a slice of coconut cream pie, which was absolutely the right choice.

Can you handle my coconuttiness??

Ahhhhh! It looks so simple and benign, but once you dig in, it just hooks you. Not too sweet, not too gloppy puddingy, a crust that doesn’t overwhelm the cream, and just the right amount of whipped creme.

Stomach: What are you doing taking photos? Pie in mouth now!

We left feeling quite satisfied, but before walking out the door, what did I do?

I made a reservation for next week.


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The Way Station: A TARDIS Lands In Brooklyn

Last Friday, I went to Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. My primary objective: to visit THE WAY STATION, a new bar that had finally opened.

Why the excitement? Because this bar has a TARDIS inside!

For all the Doctor Who fans out there, this needs no explanation. For everyone else, read the wiki link and just know that a TARDIS is really really really cool. As a result of my strong need to see this icon of geekery (and in a place that serves drinks!), I resolved to make my way to The Way Station post haste, with DH in tow.

Fast forward many hours later, after walking in the cold, late into the night, among ridiculously long stretches of quiet and creepy sidewalk near abandoned lots, getting lost in a panic with the smartphone batteries almost dying, worrying about getting mugged of said smartphone while looking at Google maps, and getting barked at by a guard dog behind a fence (“bark bark bark! I’m a dog! I’m a dog! Stranger! Stranger! Are you coming to steal the tires from this auto shop? Go away! bark bark bark! I’m a dog!”)…we finally made it.

The glow of that police box never looked more beautiful.

If only it made the whirring sound too.

I immediately parked myself on the comfy red leather banquette and sort of just stared at it. Meanwhile, the DH got a cocktail to soothe my jangled nerves (“The Train Wreck” – Tanqueray gin, muddled cucumber, ruby red grapefruit juice – $9). Not bad, maybe a little heavy on the grapefruit though.

A hastily-captured image. Why, look at that delightful hand model.

As the TARDIS actually concealed the bar’s restroom, a small line started to form in front of it, which I thought was kind of funny (what is this, auditions for a new companion?). I finally made my way in there too, and yes, was highly amused by the fact that it was bigger on the inside. There is a true fan at work here.

I took a picture of the interior, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you (ok, fine, a no-brainer spoiler: there’s a sink and toilet inside). You’ll just have to pay a visit yourself.

There’s not much I can say about the bar’s supposed steampunk theme (which wasn’t very noticeable to me in the decor or patrons; still all very nice, regardless), but in the end, isn’t the world is a better place for having a bar with a TARDIS in it? I’m sure the Doctor wouldn’t mind having a drink here. Give it a try, and watch out for that guard dog on the way.


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Ippudo + Mayahuel = Awesome

On a recent Friday, a strong desire for excellent ramen came over me. It was time for some IPPUDO (map!). Sure, the clock said 10:30 p.m. (long week, barely anything to eat that day, super-sad), but I figured “oh, by 11, there should be no wait at all, who would be so silly as to eat dinner that late?”…not realizing the obvious. When the DH and I arrived, of course, the place was PACKED. 20 minute wait, what? Oh yea, it’s NYC, duh.

Of course, we waited. Ippudo has been an old favorite for a long time, so we knew that the best ramen in the city was worth a 20-minute sit. But oh, was it a hungry sit. We took advantage of the time to choose our ramen off the menu, and once our table was ready, barely before all the staff could finish exclaiming their customary “Irasshaimase!”, we had emphatically stated our orders to the waiter. In our garbled eagerness, we must have sounded more like “RAMEN NOW PLEASE. NOM NOM?” Either way, a short while later, our wishes were granted:

Akamaru Modern, DH's ramen

Kogashi Miso Ramen, my ramen. Mmmm, carbon goodness.

Ippudo changes up its ramen from time to time, so this was my first experience with the kogashi miso ramen. I thought it was great. The charred miso broth had a unique flavor that was delicious, and the ramen noodles were firm with just the right amount of chewy. I also ordered the kae-dama, which is an additional serving of plain noodles, so that my remaining broth would get another go-around. It was perfect.

I must note that one of the favorite things I like about Ippudo’s ramen is that I never feel like I have to drink a gallon of water afterward. The flavor is natural and not overly salty, a mark of true greatness.

Our check came with a complimentary cup of hoji-cha roasted green tea, which was the best way to finish up the meal. Ippudo stays open on Fridays and Saturdays until 12:30 a.m., which makes it a great spot for a late dinner. Its popularity at all hours is well-deserved.

With bellies full of meat and ramen, we strolled over a few blocks to MAYAHUEL (map!) for a drink. I had been wanting to visit this place out for a long time, so was quite excited when we arrived at the inconspicuously marked door. A polite gentleman greeted us. Quick I.D. check and we were in.

So many bottles, which one to choose?

Mayahuel is a mixology-style cocktail bar (and Mexican restaurant) specializing in tequila and mezcal drinks. It was started by the same team that created the cocktails for Death & Co.. The interior is a gorgeous space of dark woods and soft lighting that makes you feel like you’re in an Old West speakeasy-saloon for aristocrats. Check out these details:

Copper design embedded into the bar

Sit at the bar and look up through the ceiling to the second floor and its red umbrella light.

Beautiful chandelier above the staircase.

And the drinks? Oh, the drinks. There is something special here. Our selections were full of complex tastes and smells that really made an impression. Each one was a conversation piece.

Old Man Miller Swizzle

This was a combination of pineapple-infused mezcal, reposado tequila, 151 rum, lime, agave nectar, absinthe, and medly #1. The flavors totally expand in your mouth. Lots of ingredients, but they were all well-balanced.

Randy cocktail

I’m not going to inquire as to the origin of its name, but the Randy cocktail was a good choice for me. Reposada tequila, lime and ginger, with a rinse of mezcal. I loved the fact that, despite its simple appearance, the drink kept changing from sniff to sip to taste to swallow and after. The smoky mezcal really gave it an interesting kick. It was like a barbecue party in a cup!

So all in all, quite a nice evening. I really enjoyed the Ippudo and Mayahuel combination and give them both my thumbs up.


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The Mulberry Project + Rubirosa + Ferrara

I’ve never given Little Italy enough credit. Lured away by the much more familiar wares and dishes of Chinatown right next door, I confess that there was never much that attracted me to those few blocks north of Canal Street (with one small exception, more later). Until now.

A fav restaurant buddy (“frb”) and I, eager for more after last week, chose a couple of places in the more accessible locale of this Italian-restaurant neighborhood.

For drinks, we went to check out THE MULBERRY PROJECT (map!).

Just a small sampling of your options for the evening

Now remember this address: 149 Mulberry Street. That’s 149. You will need to keep this in mind because you will almost certainly be counting addresses one by one (“143…145…147?…151…wait, what?”). Keep an eye out for a sidewalk table of non-descript t-shirts and baseball caps and the restaurant Il Palazzo. There is an unmarked red door down a small flight of steps between these two landmarks. That’s Mulberry Project. Go ahead, don’t be afraid.

Two doors in and you’ll find yourself in a subterranean stone hideaway in a dark red and black palette. We were there a little early for the weekend (before 9pm), so it wasn’t too packed and the bar was inviting. Amidst the cozy and secretive surroundings, I couldn’t help but think “coooool.”

We were served by Matty Gee himself, a co-owner of this fine establishment, and he whipped up some excellent drinks for us. The Mulberry Project does a bespoke method of drink ordering. Pick an available fresh fruit/veg/spice from the daily chalkboard on the wall, choose a spirit, describe your hankering, and let him do his magic. Here’s what we got:

"Something with rye whiskey, please. Sweet is ok. Modern? Modern is good." - Rye whiskey, St. Germain, pomegranate reduction, and maybe lemon

What a nice first drink. The rye whiskey taste was prominent, but not too strong, and pomegranate gave it a nice sweet and tart kick.

"Vodka and watermelon, not too sweet." - Vodka, watermelon, Thai chilis, lemon, little bit of soda

frb’s first drink. The chili was a pleasant surprise in this one. At first, you get the yum watermelon taste, and then all of a sudden…spicy! So yea, spicy watermelon? It works.

"Rum and cherries, a little spicy." - Muddled cherries, rum, soda, cinnamon bark syrup, ginger, honey

Well, this is the kind of beverage I could settle back with a good book and just keep drinking and drinking all evening. I loved the honey, ginger and cinnamon bark syrup combo, which gave it a smooth punch, rounded out by a nice juicy flavor from the cherries.

"Ginger and rum" - Rum, ginger, lemon, St. Germain, soda

It’s a ginger party! Very refreshing and really crisp.

If I had to describe the drinks overall in one word, I would say it’s FRESH. Seriously, it is freezing cold and snowing in the dead of winter outside, a time when all I want to do is hide in the corner by a space heater, but drinking these cocktails made me feel like I really should be hanging out in Bali or some other comparable location with a lot of natural life and energy, preferably by a waterfall or beach. It’s nice when a well-made drink can let you dream for just a little while.

I like that The Mulberry Project is a place for adventurous people, willing to put their trust in a skilled professional to make something different and unique. Thanks, Matty. We had a really fun time, and will definitely be back (hopefully to try the food too!).

—-
And of course, dinner! The choice of the evening was frb’s excellent suggestion of RUBIROSA (map!), just a few blocks away, also on Mulberry Street.

You want delicious Italian food. ENTER.

The decor is just what you want from a nice little Italian place. Soft lighting, wood plank tables, and charming antique-style details. But onto the food, the FOOD. We started with some great rice balls (arancini), and I wish I had a picture for you, but as soon as they hit the table, it was “fork-mouth-stomach-smile” gone. It all happened really quickly. Trust me, though, they were good.

Next, the pappardelle with sausage ragu and pecorino…

I can't say no to fresh pasta.

And the Fresca pizza (fresh mozz, marinara sauce, basil)…

Let's all do the pizza dance now.

Ok, so that pizza was pretty dang awesome. I loved the thin crispy crust and the sweet tomato sauce. Plus, the mozzarella wasn’t rubbery, and it actually tasted like mozzarella! Yea, we sort of stuffed our faces. It was great.

We didn’t order dessert because we were so full, but that didn’t stop me from making a quick trip later to LA BELLA FERRARA (map!), also on Mulberry Street, for some rainbow cookies and cannolis to take home. As I alluded to earlier, for years, there has been only one reason for me to go into Little Italy, and that was to buy rainbow cookies and cannolis at Ferraras. Sure, it’s touristy, and I think I found out about the place ages ago when I was probably still a tourist myself, but it’s familiar and comforting and I’ll keep coming back as long as the pastries are good.

I have yet to find another bakery that makes them this moist and delicious...

You know what you want to leave, and what you want to take...

So I guess now I have a couple of good new reasons to return to the area. Not bad, Little Italy, you definitely have some winners here.


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Ballin’ at Vandaag

With a couple of favorite fellow foodies in tow, we made our way recently to VANDAAG (map!) in the East Village and lived it up a little. A beacon for all those seeking some good Northern European fare, with a “focus on Denmark and Holland”, this restaurant serves up some amazing dishes.

First, I loved the space itself. So open, so airy, so Scandinavian.

The drink menu was definitely created with a lot of love and creativity. In addition to blowing my mind by having Carlsberg beer on tap, they also served up something called “DANSK VIKING BLOD”.

Yea, that looks about right.

I chose the CB3 Sour (Flemish sour ale with rye whiskey, lemon, orange, and housemade grenadine), and it did not disappoint. It even came with a piece of beet for garnish! Yum!

We ordered our food to be served family style, so they gave us an assortment of beautiful plates which were changed with each course! What service!

Plates changed 3 times, only 1 plate design was ever repeated. Someone has a quite a large collection!

Our meal started off with an amuse-bouche (omg, a casual East Village restaurant serving an amuse-bouche ?? awesome!!) of smoked duck with blood orange gelée:

We then proceeded to dig into quite a good feast. Props to their Pickled Sausage, Dutch “ham” burger, and Winter Vegetable Hutspot. Our top choices though, were the Beef Shortribs…

The most tender piece of meat we have ever had the honor to consume.

…the Hete Bliksem (“hot lightning”: crisp fingerling potatoes, bacon, apple, and stroop syrup)…

Thanks for the recommendation, Sam Sifton.

…and the “OMG”-inducing wonder with a terrific name to match, the BITTERBALLEN (slow-braised oxtail croquet with mustard relish)…

Isn't that just BEAUTIFUL? One bite and it's love.

And of course, dessert. We chose the delicious Stroopwafel, which looks like the way it sounds, and couldn’t resist more ball-shaped food in the form of the SMOUTBALLEN:

I remember tasting hazelnut, and smiling A LOT...

I will be singing praises of Vandaag for quite some time. Good food, good drinks, good decor, good service. Give it a try and I know you’ll eat something new, different, and delicious.