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NYC’s Coolest Treat: Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls

30 Jun

Forget snowball fighting; this summer’s all about sno-ball loving – thanks to the new West Village (7th Ave South @ Charles St) hotspot, Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls. The name’s quite a mouthful and it’s only fitting – these icy treats are a mouthful of deliciousness.  This Nawlins import is a unique treat that puts its all-too-average italian ice and snow-cone cousins to shame.

The sno-ball is essentially shaved ice packed into a Chinese takeout container and doused with the syrup of your choosing. Imperial’s owner Neesa Peterson made authenticity a priority and succeeded brilliantly – these desserts are served exactly how they’re made down in the Big Easy – and she didn’t stop there. Serving up some very strong chicory infused Toddy Iced Coffee ($3) and New Orleans’ own Zapp’s Potato Chips ($2), Peterson’s scratching the itch of homesick Nawlins natives craving a taste of home.

There are a ton of flavor combos to fill your 8, 12, or 16 oz cup ($4/$5/$7, respectively) but if you’re in the know, you’ll go for the more exotic flavors made famous down south. Orchid Cream Vanilla and Mardi Gras King Cake are 2 of my absolute faves. If you want to get a little crazy, have em drizzle a little condensed milk on top and you’re good to go.

When you’re feeling a sunstroke meltdown may be imminent this summer, head to the West Village and grab a sno-ball – they’re the perfect treat to cool you down and won’t hurt your wallet or waistline. Remember: these sno-balls are for lovers, not fighters!

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For Brunch, Park Here: Garage Restaurant

21 Jun

When my dad asked to make our Father’s Day plans in NYC, a bunch of ideas came to mind; I mean, my folks love a great time and will always partake in a lil cocktailing… I’ve had the sneaking suspicion they were a little sore I’ve never invited them to a boozy brunch.  So I knew we had to do something a bit upscale that would also satisfy the wild child streak in those crazy kids.   Throw in the fact that we’re a music loving family and the boozy Jazz Brunch at Garage Restaurant in the West Village (7th Ave South @ Grove St) was the way to go; this crowd pleasing filling-station is a spot you won’t want to just drive through.

Alternate Side(walk) Parking: Upon arrival, make some moves and decide whether it’s indoor or outdoor seating.  You can opt to eat on the sun-drenched sidewalk where the service might be a little slow but the people watching and Vitamin D absorption happen fast.  Conversely, play it cool inside the Garage and get close to the live music action, which is better for larger parties as well.  Since we were just a party of 4 and it was a gorgeous little Sunday, we did the hang thang underneath an umbrella outside where we could catch just a little bit of the music AND some rays.

Gourmet Garage:   We started with 4 MASSIVE shrimp from the raw bar ($3.95 each) then moved on to the $16.95 Prix Fixe Brunch, which includes a drink and was lovely.  The Surf & Turf Benedict (+$5) was a big table hit and the Fresh Lobster, Applewood Smoked Bacon & Avocado Sandwich (+$5) made my dad’s day mouth-wateringly memorable.  I was sold at “add $6 for an hour of AYCD brunch cocktails,” but then the Brunch Potatoes happened.  They come with most dishes or a la carte ($3) and are a must-try – think a baked potato, doused with garlicky herbs and then smashed with the skin on… seriously FAB.  Also worth mentioning is the dinner, where the appetizers are affordable and perfect for a meal that’s on the lighter side.  The Green Apple and Bleu Cheese Salad ($14.25) was great and ideal if you’re not looking to splurge on one of their pricier entrees (no one likes to leave the garage with a wallet hit-and-run).

Garage Sale: Score some serious discounts on dining by booking a reservation through Savored – pay just $10 for your rez and you’ll get HUGE 30% savings off the total bill during dinner most nights…  as if you needed another reason to get there.  So put some distance on the old pedometer, drive walk on by and park yourself at Garage for an evening of pleasant jazz and tasty eats.

Winos and Music Lovers Rejoice: City Winery

17 Jun

Let me go ahead and clarify right off the bat; no, this title is in no way a reference to Amy Winehouse fans.  What I am looking to share with you is the 411 on the most low-key, relaxing music venue I’ve ever experienced in NYC: SoHo’s City Winery (Varick @ Vandam).  This place is hands down my ideal spot to grab a drink, a light bite (or delicious dinner) and relax into an evening of musical delight + witty stage banter with stripped down performances from some of the most celebrated artists in the biz.

Element 1: Drinks – City Winery’s got this on lock down.  With their own winery in house, they knock out awesome bottles and even have membership for vino-philes to come in and make their own private-label wines.  If you’re not fiending some fermented grape action – they’ve got an extensive full bar plus lots of import and domestic brews for sale.

Element 2: Eats – If you’ve got a smaller menu that’s built to be paired with delicious, small-batch wines, chances are you’ve made sure your offerings are pretty damn tasty.  I’ve consistently had solid food ranging from their crispy flatbread pizzas, to the awesomely shareable hummus plate.  Recently tried the Roasted Beet Salad ($10) which to my surprise (and eventual delight) was deconstructed and plated in a linear fashion.  The sliders ($14) were also a crowd pleaser, though as a friend pointed out, eating in the dark is not the ideal so maybe show up a bit early to eat before the lights dim and the music begins.

Element 3: Music – The massive multi-tiered dining room is a welcoming space where you can partake in delicious eats and drinks while listening to world-class musicians. Their bread and butter artists are singer songwriters who bring chillaxable tunes to the table (literally).  What’s unique about the space is how intimate it actually is – the evening will usually end up 70/30 music/stand up comedy routine, respectively.

Next time you’re looking for that rare evening when you’re at least feeling like a mature grown up, go to City Winery for an awesome hang.  Whether you’re seeing a favorite band or just checking in for a bite on the fly, it’s a great spot to make any simple evening a sophisticated affair.  And let’s be honest, sometimes giving the debauchery a rest is just necessary. You stay classy, New York.

The Master Summer List

3 Jun

Once summer comes, all bets on your usual favorite spots are off; the restos and watering holes that are warm-weather friendly become the hottest commodity there is.  However, rather than completely disregard some of the spots I’ve recommended to you all, I’ve decided to let you know which ones to hit as we continue towards the imminent summer solstice.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (and Dinner Begins!):

Matilda – (E. Ville: E 11th St btwn Aves B/C) – Whether you opt for sidewalk seating or perch in the windowsill, you’ll get the outdoor experience along with a healthy serving of bold Tusc-Mex flavors.  Go Tuesday night for Ladies night!

Mercadito Grove – (W. Ville: 7th Ave South @ Grove St) – The mix of location, upscale Mexican and a diverse list of tacos makes this place a fan favorite.  The corner location provides prime sidewalk real estate for people watching.

Philip Marie – (W. Ville: Hudson St @ W 11th St) – Though the outdoor tables are few, I think braving the wait is always worth it.  Especially when you take the unlimited bloodies + mimosas into consideration!

Poco – (E. Ville: Ave B @ 3rd St) – Since it tends to be particularly loud inside this resto, the seats outside are a best bet.  With a kickass brunch and different nightly specials like $15 bottles of wine, all you can eat mussels, and unlimited sangria, any time’s a good time to head over to Poco.

A Good Backyard is Hard to Find:

Ninth Ward – (E. Ville: 2nd Ave btwn 11th/12th Sts) – While the front sidewalk space is always a great option, the large backyard is a much better space to hang with your crew.  Grab one of their many interesting cocktail options (or a beer) and hang Nawlins style.

Pure Food & Wine – (Gramercy: Irving Pl btwn 17th/18th) – What could be better than eating a delicious and healthy vegan meal?  Eating it in a beautiful, large backyard patio, of course!  You’ll be surrounded by nature while feasting on nature’s bounty; it just works.

Sunburnt Cow – (E. Ville: Ave C btwn 8th/9th Sts) – An excellent brunch deal and attractive staff/patrons are two things that can only get better with a retractable “sun roof”.  You’ll appreciate the nice breeze too; you may need some cooling down.

Fair Game:

Hester Street Fair – (LES: Hester St @ Essex) – Forget stinky halal meat and generic kettle corn stands; this street fair is the real deal.  Open every Saturday through the end of October, this gourmet fest rotates in some of the best and most celebrated foodie faves of NYC.  Bring a blanket and pop a squat on the lawn with a Luke’s Lobster Roll or Shaved Ice Shop creation for a fabulous outdoor (and out of the box) day.

And finally, for the days when you want a sunny space, without being directly IN the sun:

Flea Market Café – Their front paneled doors open to the street, transforming the space into an open air café.  The Tuesday night all you can eat moules frites special is out of this world – get there.

Macondo – If you’re lucky enough to grab a stool at the front of this place, you can bask in the sunlight while sipping your drink of choice (I recommend you go for brunch and grab a vanilla bean mimosa)!

Consider yourself schooled in my recommended spots you should hit up this summer.  Need some fashion tips to make sure your summer style is lookin so flossy?  Check out Poor Little It Girl; she’ll see to it you’re well-dressed for all your outdoor drinking + dining endeavors.  Now break out the wayfarers and tank tops (no, not you boys) and get yourselves outside!

A Restaurant with a Pedigree: The Beagle

1 Jun

NYC’s East Village is rapidly becoming one of the most gourmet hoods in the entire city; the cat’s out of the bag on that one.  So it’s no surprise that the latest top dog to enter nipping at the heels of this trend is The Beagle, the E.Ville’s latest cocktail bar slash eatery (and not the other way around, Fabio).  Taking over the former Orologio space on Avenue A (btwn 10th/11th Sts), the self-described “academic” cocktail program and excellent eats may just make The Beagle a contender for the title of Best in Show.

While The Beagle’s concept favors equal billing for cocktails and food, I tend to think that the former stole the show; the cocktail list reads like a study in the classics, with modern twists.  The London Buck ($12) is adorned with a slab of candied ginger and features a dry gin, ginger, lime juice and seltzer – deliciously crafted with surprisingly delicate flavors that go down easily with the help of your metal mixologist straw.  The complete liquor offerings are a comprehensive list that my Scotch-aficionado man-friends dubbed the Who’s Who of the Scotch world.  Though, if you’re a barley and hops fan, you’ll only find 4 beers to mention – but they are thoughtful additions to the liquid imbibement line-up.

One of the more interesting menu offerings are the pairing boards ($17), which, true to their name, team a tasting of food with a modestly sized cocktail.  Of these duos, we ordered the Burrata and Gin (the former a creamy white cheese doused with pepper, much to my delight) and the Pressed Pig Head and Rum (Pig Head = not nearly as offensive to me when served in pastry square form, also, the “pickled things” were a hit).  The happiest accident was the unplanned order of Lamb Neck and Rye which had the table foodgasming – the anchovy relish was quite a remarkable condiment. The Dates served with Prosciutto weren’t bad, but were unremarkable.  My table faves were the Fresh Baby Corn ($6) skewered and topped with a lime/mayo/cilantro concoction – perfect for sharing, such a fun dish – and The Shrimp ($10) with Vermouth, Mirepoix and Crème Fraiche, very well executed.

Though The Beagle’s menu is carnivorously driven, I managed to find several delicious veggie/pesky options.  As for reviewing the meat dishes, I got by with a little help from my friends (overall consensus: Tasty, with a capital T).  So round up your dogs dawgs, and take yourselves out for a walk – over to The Beagle, of course.

Outside the Box, Inside an NYC Beer Garden: Bierhaus

20 May

Great as Manhattan is, the space constraints are rough, which makes finding an awesome beer garden quite difficult.  Your options are limited; while I’m not above brown-paper-bagging in the park, unfortunately, public intoxication is frowned upon illegal.   Venturing to outer boroughs might yield great spots, but it’s a real commitment, plus with the weather we’ve been having lately, who knows when outdoor venues will be a safe bet?!  My solution?  Think outside the box and head to Bierhaus (3rd Ave @ 45th St), an unconventional Midtown spot with all-weather-friendly appeal and beer garden feel.

Recently, a friend and I were looking for a late afternoon hang in Midtown East. We both like to try new places, especially where there are good odds of meeting new people; Bierhaus was a great call.  It’s crowded with a mix of after-work types and casual peeps passing through (not to mention the odd group of folks wearing authentic German getups, no joke).   Communal picnic tables are perfect for chatting it up with neighbors and add to the friendly vibe.  With a sunroof ceiling there’s also the added benefit of bright natural light (a major preventative in acting on beer-goggle impulses – not that I would EVER do that…)

All the beers served are Hofbräu, so if you’re looking for something that tastes like a Blue Moon, Stella, etc, just ask a bartender or St. Pauly Girl your waitress and they’ll hook you up.  Staying with the theme, you can expect German music both over the PA system and live, feat. the Polka Brothers.  The soft dough pretzel is pretty awesome; get a large ($9) and try both mustards – the spicy is sinus-clearing!  While there’s no replacing an authentic, outdoor beer garden, sometimes it’s just not feasible – so why miss out on the experience?  Bierhaus is a legit alternative that’s so convenient you can roll up with your bros and lederHOSen.

Dine Simply – Soju and Sushi: Mono + Mono

5 May

Try to picture ME (a non-meat eater) going to a Korean Fried Chicken joint.  Weird, right.  BUT, I’m always determined to find my way around a menu, so I decided to make Mono + Mono my challenge.  At first glance, you’ll clearly notice the decor has an inexplicably cool appeal, but what I didn’t expect are the simple + amazing Soju Cocktails (think vodka but sweeter) and Sushi Rolls.  Trust me: you’ll be beyond ecstatic that you took my advice by heading to this East Village spot (4th St btwn 1st/2nd Aves).

Full disclosure: the first time I went to Mono + Mono, the service was just wrong.  I talked to the manager who confessed they were short staffed and the normal chef was out that night.  He asked that I give them another try, so months later, I returned.  After all, dark mood lighting, a grand piano doubling as a communal table and a DJ perched a good 1.5 stories above the dining room, spinning awesome jazz standards equals a second chance, as far as I’m concerned.  The AMAZING Soju Cocktail Sampler ($11) didn’t hurt my decision to come back either…

As an overall document, Mono + Mono’s menu can be a bit perplexing.  Grilled Edamame ($5.95) presented inside a hollowed corn husk?  Weird, but also really freaking tasty.  Also odd-yet-wonderful are the Grilled Tofu Sliders ($10.95), perfect for sharing too.  Surprisingly, the Crouching Tiger Shrimp ($14.95), grilled w/white truffle oil, saffron and fennel bulb sauce were a bit small + chewy and didn’t really do it for me.  The best part of the meal, by leaps and bounds, was the sushi rolls.  We went with the Ninja, Spider, and Crunch California Rolls ($11.95-$12.95) which were all SUPERBLY executed.  The rolls each have 11-13 perfectly bite-sized pieces, the flavors are so fresh and they’re made with sushi rice that seems less dense than any roll I’ve ever had.

I may not have had the featured Korean Fried Chicken but I’m sure I’ll go back, and will eventually get the scoop on it.  What my experience with Mono + Mono DID teach me is that if at first a restaurant doesn’t succeed, and the signature dish is something you won’t eat, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an epic fail.  OK, in most cases it does – BUT, in the case of M+M, I learned: judge not [too quickly], lest ye will miss out on some pretty amazing Soju and Sushi.

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