PROVIDENCE ARTS & EATS • offManhattan.com

581877826_8436ea07d8offManhattan travelWHEN WE CONSIDER what we know of Providence, many think of Ivy League and design schools, WaterFire, and a quaint New England city a stone’s throw from Boston. But a recent weekend in Rhode Island’s capital revealed more than tidy streets and a trio of rivers, inspiring a double take on a fiercely creative town we too often pass by.

ART AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE

Find a veritable feast for the eyes and ears at AS220, where painters, photographers, and musicians collide in downtown Providence. The non-profit community arts space houses galleries in which Rhode Island artists of all genres and experience levels can display their creations. Exhibits change often and are open to the public, so spend an afternoon ambling among eye-popping images or wander into a poetry slam on Free Speech Thursdays. Better yet, catch a set by an up-and-coming band before Apple snags them for an iPod commercial.

Prefer to do-it-yourself? Garner inspiration for your next project and support indie designers from every inch of the world—even Oz—at Craftland, an annual holiday fair and year-round boutique that celebrates handmade objects and those who make them. From cozy knitwear to dishware and handbags to knickknacks, you’re bound to find an objet d’art you’ll treasure long after your I ♥ RI souvenir tee disappears in the depths of a drawer.

Picture 4And what tour of the “Creative Capital” would be complete without visiting the gem of Providence’s art community? From now until January, Rhode Island School of Design’s Museum of Art will host “Inner City” by American ceramist Arnie Zimmerman, who opens a bleak window to urban life using over 100 figurines in various states of unease. Those less keen to brood, however, will appreciate the gallery’s Rothko, towering Japanese Buddha, Dior cocktail dress and Damien Hirst butterflies, to name a few. Don’t miss the fluorescent installation by Taiwanese artist Shih Chieh Huang who combines everyday objects like Tupperware with computer parts and neon lights to mesmerizing, creature-like effect.

On the third Thursday of the month between March and November, Providence hosts Gallery Night for an evening of gallery-hopping in the city. “Art buses” shuttle between museums and historic sites while guided tours, live music, and refreshments top off the festivities. And it probably won’t hurt to mention—it’s all free.

Gracie's Hudson Valley Foie GrasYOU GOTTA EAT IT TO BELIEVE IT

While Providence launches designers who turn out one-of-a-kind blown glass art and give Obama HOPE, it also yields more aspiring restaurateurs than any other US city thanks to Johnson and Wales, the largest culinary institute in the country. Among the city’s toques and chefs-to-be, a shared interest in nurturing talent and local cuisine distinguishes its dining scene from big city neighbors. Put together Providence’s Etsy-esque energy with a wood-fired pizza that we’d endure any three-hour train ride for and you get The Little City That Could.

Downtown, Johnson and Wales alum Chef Joe Hafner brings Gracie’s magical “wish it, dream it, do it” thinking to life with a seasonally influenced New American menu in a star-spangled setting. Order the Tasting Menu to invoke the chef’s creative range and treat your palate to the freshest greens straight from Gracie’s own roof garden. Indulge with the fantastically rich, pan-seared duck foie gras. You cholesterol may disagree but it’s not a bestseller for nothing.CAV

In the Jewelry District, CAV caters to guests who prefer dinner with a side of African art. Bedecked in antiques from Burma to Zaire (and enough twinkling lights to shame the Rockefeller tree), it’s like Christmas gone tribal in this eclectic restaurant run by world-traveler and proprietor Sylvia Moubayed. “It thrills me when people want to see African art,” she said, “That world is vanishing and I feel privileged to share it.” Complementing its ornate surroundings, the international menu runs the gamut from peppery calamari to thick scallops—Sylvia’s favorite dish—to duck confit in a Grand Marnier demiglace. Portions lean toward the generous side, but we’d expect nothing less from the globetrotting grandma who heads the house.

By the end of the weekend, it is time for pizza. Sure, we’ve all had the oven-fresh slice beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, but if there was ever a pie to unite crust connoisseurs and picky eaters, it’s the grilled Pizza Bianca out of Bacaro‘s kitchen. Both thin and crisp, the golden-brown crust is topped with melted goat’s milk cheese, fresh rosemary, and caramelized onions to make a mouth-watering medley of flavors that left my table stunned. I immediately plotted my return. And that was just the appetizer.

Billing itself as a restaurant, enoteca, and salumeria all in one, the sun-filled Italian proffers cured meats, cheese, and wine beyond its premium pies. Still, diners ought to save room for Bacaro’s popular Crispy Chicken plate and Pasta Con i Funghi, a buttery tagliatelle crowned by Parmigiano and a poached, truffle-scented egg. It’s a dish you’ll swear was the highlight of the weekend. Until dessert comes out, that is.

(AS220 image by AS220 / Inner City image by RISD Museum of Art)

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September 28, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . museum, offManhattan, Rhode Island, Travel. 1 comment.

20 Second S’mores on YOUTUBE

IN THE SECOND EPISODE of Stupidly Simple Snacks, I demonstrate how to make a favorite outdoor treat INDOORS. I was floored by the feedback on the first banana shake episode. Thank you so much for your excitement and for coming back! Let me know what you think of the latest clip. Snack suggestions and constructive criticism are heartily welcomed, unless it’s “You look really Asian…” (Thanks, Nicole!) in which case there’s not much I can do.

UPDATE: The lovely Athena Chang suggests using dark chocolate instead of Hershey’s. Haven’t tested the recommendation yet but it sounds kinda brilliant.

WHAT YOU NEED: microwave | graham crackers | chocolate bar | marshmallows | about 30 seconds for prep & “cooking”

MUSIC: Smile Version Revisited (Mark Ronson Remix) by Lily Allen

September 28, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Dessert, Stupidly Simple Snacks, videos. 7 comments.

XIE XIE : Julie & Julia Allison

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XIE XIE 645a 9th Avenue, New York, 212 265 2975

THERE’S SOMETHING MAGICAL about the internet – you can diagnose your own neuroses, self-publish, order pizza, and see where you’re going before you even get there. Sometimes, I feel nearly telepathic thanks to twitter. And Match isn’t just for the socially awkward and utterly undateable anymore.

Take Julie Powell and her fabulous food-focused Long Island City life. You must know the former blogger by now so I won’t detail how she landed her book deal (or share my distress about being the last restaurant writer to see Julie & Julia.*)

Instead, I’ll tell you about my new crush on “media personality” and lifestyle blogger Julia Allison. Truth is, I envy her more than I like her as she can incite the masses over the most inconsequential topic – herself – in heels and cute outfits. While she provokes more backlash than praise, her infamy lets her charge an astronomical sum for her two cents – which is remarkable for someone not known for much aside from her unyielding narcissism and two-year stint as the dating columnist at Time Out.

But even detractors applaud her efforts: the girl knows how to work the web, has inspired a bevy of over-sharing Mini Mes, and even struck Sony gold. Another case in point, I just typed 100 words on a lady I’ve never met and there are food photos to explain!

IMG_1815It probably goes without saying: Julia’s expertise is not in restaurants. Still, if she says she’s dining at 44 1/2 twice a week, I figure it must be worth a visit. So, to sate my curiosity, I dragged Jason to Hell’s Kitchen on an agreeable autumn day to brunch.

In an anticlimactic turn of events, we got to 44 1/2 too late. Brunch service ends at two and we did not arrive til after. My yen for eggs Benedict? Denied.

Hungry but not defeated, Jason and I meandered back to Ninth Avenue. Between 45th and 46th, we were stopped by a timid teen wearing glittery eye shadow halfheartedly pushing flyers in front of Xie Xie, which translates to ‘thank you’ in Mandarin. I pulled Jason in with me before my empty stomach could eat itself and was relieved to finally sit down with the Vietnamese BBQ beef sandwich ($9) stacked high with meat, basil, mayo and carrots on a kaiser roll. He had the sweet glazed pork buns ($8.50) which reminded me of the buns at Momofuku and Ippudo but flatter, denser. Less delicious.

I came so close to trying a restaurant based not on an expert review but on personality. Fate wouldn’t allow it, however, and I experienced something new the old fashioned way – by walking into an undiscovered place without a stranger’s opinion or consent. Guess I have Julia Allison to thank, in a way.

(Learn more about Xie Xie and its new happy hour special here.)

*Since posting this entry, I saw Julie & Julia in Kips Bay. I loved it. And to think I’d never even heard of either Julia until last year…

September 25, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , . Asian, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, Theater District. 2 comments.

Amy Blogs Chow Launches on YOUTUBE

IN THE FIRST EPISODE of Amy Blogs Chow: The Video Blog Version, I reenact banana shake-making with (not so) great success. In happier news – I taught myself iMovie in a day! Now, what to make next? Please leave suggestions in the comments box below and thanks for joining me on my first filmed foray into the kitchen!

WHAT YOU NEED: bananas | milk | ground cinnamon | blender | 2 minutes

MUSIC: “File Me Away” Badly Drawn Boy | “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” Billie Holiday

September 18, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Stupidly Simple Snacks, videos. 5 comments.

Tasting Table Delivers

SOMEHOW I MANAGED back to Midtown on my own two feet after Tasting Table‘s Great Taste Debate at Hill Country last night. Good thing too, as all-you-can-eat events have a way of making me feel like I swallowed a whale. Still, it was a well-done evening with free-flowing tequila, a cupcake tower, whole roasted pig and highlights including Patrón‘s Diablo (recipe below), Hill Country’s pulled pork and PB&J cupcakes, and pork belly courtesy of Shorty’s.32. I also ate my weight in oysters thanks to the speedy shuckers of forthcoming Mermaid Oyster Bar. If the mission was to make food culture (even more) accessible to the latest generation of food enthusiasts, then Tasting Table can rest easy tonight, like I will in my food-induced coma.

PICTURES (from left): Boqueria lamb sliders, Hill Country red velvet and PB&J cupcake bites, Salumeria Rosi charcuterie, Billy’s cupcake, Jacques Torres chocolate, Mermaid Oyster Bar Skookum and Blue Point oysters.

Patrón Diablo: 1.5 oz Patron Reposado | .5 oz cassis | splash of lemon juice | ginger beer | lemon twist

Add ingredients, except ginger beer, to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled and strain onto fresh ice. Top with ginger beer.

September 15, 2009. Blogs, event, Flatiron District, Manhattan. Leave a comment.

Aureole Offers a Taste of the Future | ZAGAT SURVEY

20090609_nyc_aureole1_courtesyAUREOLE | 135 West 42nd St, New York, 212 319 1660

[IN JUNE] WE JOINED chef-owner Charlie Palmer for a sneak peek at Aureole in its sleek new digs at One Bryant Park. Designed by longtime collaborator Adam D. Tihany, the airy interior boasts ample elbow room across three spaces: a front bar area where a small-plates menu will be offered, a more subdued room in the back for prix fixe meals and a high-ceilinged private-dining room. There’s also seasonal terrace seating on the pedestrian walkway that runs through the building.

While the new space sports a flashier look than its predecessor, Palmer asserts there won’t be drastic changes to the New American menu. “We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary – we’re doing what we believe in,” he says, emphasizing that, rather than aiming for a different clientele, he’s offering the existing base more options in an accessible location. “We are positioned perfectly. You can catch a quick bite at the bar before your show or have a full meal.”

As in the original location, wine will play an integral role. Over 1,000 vintages will be available, with 3,500 bottles on display in Lucite cubicles in the wine mezzanine that extends over the bar area. The balcony is made entirely of steel and glass, even its floor – “Ladies, watch your skirts,” Palmer jokes.

20090609_nyc_aureole4_courtesy

(Aureole Offers a Taste of the Future first appeared on ZAGAT.com 6/10/09. Photos by Amy Cao.)


September 9, 2009. Bryant Park, Manhattan, ZAGAT SURVEY. 1 comment.

Superstition in the Kitchen | ZAGAT SURVEY

20090213_nyc_friday13th_toofarnorthIN THE SPIRIT of infamously unlucky Friday the 13th, the Buzz uncovered some curious superstitions at local restaurants.

Chef Scott Bryan of Apiary admits that superstitions are a part of his daily routine. When plating food, Bryan will only add an odd number of, say, asparagus to a dish. “Always three or five of something. Never an even number.” Above all, he does not allow whistling in the kitchen. “It’s bad luck,” he asserts. But Bryan’s not the only one putting the odd-number principle into practice. Jonathan Russell, a bartender at Savoy, observes an old bar tradition by reaching for one or three garnishes when making cocktails for customers.

And then there’s the dreaded 13. Apparently, it’s not just the number missing on elevator panels. According to Corton restaurant director Arleene Oconitrillo, “Most restaurants do not have a Table 13,” including her TriBeCa home base.

For others, superstitions have more to do with timing. At Tribeca Grill, executive sous chef Michael Sobelman refuses to shave during Restaurant Week, while over at Porchetta, chef-owner Sara Jenkins tries to set the tone for the rest of the year by ensuring New Year’s Eve operations run as smoothly as possible.

But not everyone worries about bad mojo. Savoy’s sous chef Jon Katz surrenders superstition for pragmatism. “When it comes to spilt salt,” he says, “I don’t toss it over my shoulder because with a kitchen this small, I’m gonna hit a guy in the face.”

(Superstition in the Kitchen first appeared on ZAGAT.com 2/13/09. Image by TooFarNorth).

September 9, 2009. Manhattan, ZAGAT SURVEY. Leave a comment.

Eating the Pounds Away | ZAGAT SURVEY

equinox adTHE NEW YEAR USHERS IN a slew of resolutions, with the pledge to revamp eating habits a frequent list-topper. For advice on how to watch waistlines but still enjoy eating out, we asked three fitness instructors for their strategies as well as favorite restaurants where they put them into practice.

Steve Feinberg, the founder of Speedball Fitness, warns against speed when it comes to eating. “It’s better to eat slowly so that your stomach has time to register that it’s full.” He also suggests focusing on protein and vegetables while avoiding overly processed foods. “I am always aware of what I’m eating,” he says, but stresses that being conscious of what you eat shouldn’t translate into being anxious about what you eat.

Feinberg’s favorites include NoHo’s Quartino for its light Italian plates prepared with vegetables and seafood; the “extremely tasty” vegan fare at Pure Food and Wine in Gramercy Park; Back Forty in the East Village for fresh, locally sourced ingredients and organic beers; and Whole Foods for its variety of healthy grab-and-go snacks and meals.

Kristi Molinaro, who heads Equinox gym’s 30/60/90 high-intensity interval training class, knows that it’s a challenge to eat healthfully while keeping up a demanding schedule. “I don’t want to eat before teaching class, but when you’re teaching numerous classes a day, you end up not eating much and having things like coffee instead. When you get home, you’re ravenous so you eat all the wrong stuff.” Her solution? “Think like an athlete…you have to keep your blood sugar stable, and you need to eat a small meal every three hours,” she advises.

Some of her favorite stops include Bread on Spring Street (“the best tomato soup”), the Upper West Side’s Gennaro for its manageable portion sizes, and Woo Lae Oak, a SoHo Korean barbecue spot, where you can add sauces – and extra calories – at your discretion.

Finally, even if you’re watching your weight you can still enjoy foods that aren’t typically thought of as particularly diet-friendly. Patricia Moreno, founder of intenSati, likes vegetarian fare from her favorite restaurants Josie’s and Gobo, but she’s also able to maintain her dietary focus at Mexican restaurants like Rosa Mexicano by skipping the chips, cheese and sour cream while sticking to grilled meats and protein-laden fajitas. And she wouldn’t turn down a good T-bone either. Her secret? Share the steak and sides of grilled vegetables with dining companions.

(Eating the Pounds Away first appeared on ZAGAT.com 1/13/09. Photo by Equinox.)

September 9, 2009. Healthy, ZAGAT SURVEY. Leave a comment.

BILLY’S BAKERY : All I Ever Wanted

Billy's Bakery cupcake in Madison Square ParkMe: Happy to hear the beach was everything you wanted it to be! Did you swim?

Jackie: Indeed I did and saved some clams from death!

IT’S BEEN AN AGREEABLE Labor Day weekend and it was in these 80 degree days that I got to thinking about happiness while watching a homeless guy dip his shirt in the fountain at Madison Square Park.

Saturday began with a laundry drop-off and bagel pickup – two things that reek of Domesticity, which I generally avoid, like conversation with suburbanites, make-your-own-salad bars and the Upper East Side. But I’m running out of underwear and Jason was hungry so we pursued the cleaners and Ess-a-Bagel before meeting my cousin Lily downtown.

Later, Nicole crashed our party of three with cupcakes from Billy’s Bakery. Together we looked on with our mouths full as the topless man laundered in the distance.

Sensing the irony of the situation I decided “I’m happy as a clam” out loud, prompting Jason to counter that clams probably aren’t very happy at all. There we sat on a sun-drenched bench in the middle of Manhattan contemplating the emotional state of bivalves. Then I thought, “There’s too much frosting on this cake.” So I let the excess icing melt to the ground and moved aside for a sharp-eyed pigeon who flitted over to feast on my crumbs. After all, one man’s loss…

September 7, 2009. cupcakes, Dessert, Madison Square Park, Manhattan. 1 comment.

ELEVEN MADISON PARK : dinner with a side of rent

Hawaiian Prawns Appetizerinterior

The Macaroon Stands AloneEleven Madison ParkAS A FREELANCE RESTAURANT WRITER I’m often asked one of two questions: “How do you stay so tiny?” and “Does restaurant writing pay the bills?”

While my compact size gives me a competitive edge on the 6 train during rush hour, it also means I’m smaller than the average woman (which renders the clothes-buying process a task I generally avoid). More important than bone structure, however, is my zeal for spinning and yoga. I exercise as if I’m preparing for a photo shoot with Megan Fox or about to meet an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. Irrational, perhaps, but awfully motivating.

I get squeamish when it comes to money-related questions. Still, I answer truthfully (usually), which backfires more often than you’d think. Generally, strangers assume I’m hoarding an expense account and are pretty disappointed when I say I don’t. Some see me as a walking meal ticket while others think I’m their way into the Wine & Food Festival or at least dessert on the house. After all, why do it if not for free food?

The trick is: I don’t pay rent, which lets me squander a negligible income on…not rent. Bananas, mostly. There are perks to restaurant and travel writing, sure, but you can’t live on comped meals and free hotel rooms alone. The secret of many young rent-paying New York writers are rent-paying parents. And those who don’t have that luxury find other ways, like a “real job”, to keep overhead low.

In the past, I paved my way into different homes with rainbows, unicorns and sunshine. Charm doesn’t always work but, while it does, I substantiate the intangible by treating my rent-paying boyfriend to dinner.

I invited Jason to Eleven Madison Park last night. Dinner was French and unpretentious – as the French often are when they’re not making you feel inferior for not being French. Bruni gave it four stars and, as his review and my photos show, it was a seamless, tastefully done two-hour experience from the pão de queijo (cheesy buns) to the table-side duck-cutting demo (for those who order the duck entree) and, finally, the after-dessert dessert: macaroons. I love macaroons.

I’d never been more pleased to pick up the tab. Yes, it was expensive for the times in which we live, but not for the place in which I stay. Besides, I’m about to paint his walls bright orange for my upcoming non-cooking web series. Get excited.

September 3, 2009. French, Madison Square Park, Manhattan, reservation required. 3 comments.