SAVING BEST FOR LAST in Red Hook • Brooklyn

offManhattan travelRed Hook's freshest cup of coffee at Hope & Anchor“IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE LAST MINUTE, nothing would ever get done” so the saying goes. We suspect whoever coined the phrase did it in December. After all, between entertaining out-of-towners and amassing a collection of white elephant rejects, the end-of-year is probably the last place you’d look for an eleventh-hour escape. But Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood provides exactly that – a few hours of relief from the crush of holiday crowds, making it a favorite quick getaway for local artisan crafts, affordable eats, and a head-on view of the Statue of Liberty just twenty minutes from Manhattan.

Along Van Brunt Street, Red Hook’s main thoroughfare, fig-and-nutmeg chocolate cupcakes from Baked fuel excursions down cobblestone roads while boutiques, like antique dealer Erie Basin, are plentiful with gifts your giftee won’t already have. On weekends, transportation to the historic area is free thanks to IKEA water taxis, which ferry across New York Harbor between Wall Street and Red Hook.

Pumpkin whoopie pie from BAKEDFirst things first – break in the day with pastries from Baked, a bakeshop-café brightened by orange furnishings and a woodsy aesthetic that would make any hip lumberjack feel at home.

Metal & Thread entranceThe Baked story began with two colleagues who left advertising jobs to pursue the perfect cake in 2005. Soon after, the pair’s painstakingly-created desserts captured national attention when Martha and Oprah took notice. Nowadays, neighbors wander in before noon for muffins and savory “hot pockets” (veggie version also available), while the rest swing by with laptops through the day to make the most of brownies and free wi-fi. When it comes to Baked cakes, we are hopelessly devoted to the Red Hook Red Hot cupcake, a red velvet treat made with Valrhona cocoa topped with cinnamon buttercream. We’d also recommend the signature Sweet & Salty, which combines decadent dark chocolate cake with caramel chocolate ganache. It’s not an award winner for nothing.

Walk off your sugar high and drop by Erie Basin for 19th century jewelry and antique home furnishings. We promise an object d’art from here will leave even the most discerning receiver impressed by your shopping savvy, but it’ll cost a pretty penny.

A few doors down, longtime collaborators Denise Carbonell and Derek Dominy sell their sturdy, but whimsical, wares at Metal and Thread. Working with local artisans, the shopkeepers encourage the use of salvaged materials to illustrate the relationship between invention and recycling for environmentally sound art. Denise’s quilts, for example, combine strips of second-hand fabric to form vivid one-of-a-kindMuffaletta from Hope & Anchor tapestries. And Derek, a skilled blacksmith, reuses metal, which result in the likes of iron shelving with, not only handmade appeal, but a past life too.

Grab lunch down the road at Fort Defiance, which attracts bookish locals from eight in the morning until midnight (2 a.m. on weekends). The daily-changing menu boasts New American dishes with a penchant for French, Italian, even Asian cuisines. (We’re especially keen on the return of a certain Vietnamese bánh mì.) On our last visit, we ordered the muffaletta, the celebrated Sicilian sandwich from New Orleans (pictured left), which sated our craving for cured meats and cheeses dressed in olive salad. The olive spread soaked through the focaccia-like bread, intensifying the flavor of oil and sausage with each bite. While we hear this particular muffaletta leads Louisianans down memory lane, we bet it induces food coma as well.

Revitalize the troops for the rest of the afternoon with a cup of Counter Culture Coffee prepared in Fort Defiance’s custom-made brew rail. Amiable baristas measure out whole beans and freshly ground them for each cup so this dose of caffeine is as fresh as it gets. It’s a time-consuming method, sure, but the attention paid to each cup is worth the wait. Besides, the pouring procession (pictured top left) is fun to see.

Cup in hand, stroll to Valentino Park and Pier to see the remnants of Red Hook’s once active shipping industry. Today the site is a small industrial park where families toss footballs, fly kites, and do handstands on green patches of grass in more clement weather. Even on brisk days the Steve's Key Lime Piepier attracts visitors with its head-on view of the Statue of Liberty and quiet vantage point on picturesque New York Harbor.

As you retrace your steps to Van Brunt Street, take a detour and follow the signs to Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie where kitschy seaside knick-knacks inadequately convey the gravity of New York City’s ultimate key lime pie. Don’t let the luau décor fool you – these are serious pies made from limes the size of golf balls. Get the single-serve tart or go chocolate-dipped with the “Swingle”. It’s fine to share, but you probably won’t want to.

With bellies satisfied, meander through the Liberty Sunset Garden Center where exotic plants, like 20-foot Yucca trees, elephant ears, water lilies, and a collection of exotic cacti mingle with shrubs and trees. We’re quite positive we saw a (very green) pineapple in its early stages last time.

As we ambled back to IKEA to catch a Manhattan-bound ferry, we discovered Saipua, a florist and soap shop, tucked in what appeared to be the front half of a large garage (we later learned their workshop is located out back). The storefront – pictured below – is easy to miss given its position off the main strip, but for those who find them, Saipua captivates passersby with its small, elegant setup. It’s like a stage for pretty things, complete with fragrant bouquets, drawn curtains, and a friendly dog named Nea. Sometimes, you can’t help but save the best for last. Share These Red Hook Tips!

Saipua (147 Van Dyke Street)

December 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Brooklyn, cupcakes, offManhattan, Red Hook. 3 comments.

A NEW YORK STATE OF WINE • offManhattan.com

offManhattan travelUncorked crowdANYONE WHO’S EVER WAITED 12 MONTHS FOR A PEPPERMINT MOCHA knows our yen for some beverages are not only season specific, they are time-sensitive too. We look forward to light cocktails in spring, citrus notes in summer, and the aromas of cider to ease into autumn. Recently, we discovered a new wintertime favorite, mulled wine. Determined to recreate the hot, spice-infused drink at home, we were pleased to find ourselves swimming in bottles of red, white, and pink at City Winery last week to celebrate Empire State grapes at this year’s local wine fest, Uncork New York! Sip, Savor and Shop.

Warmed by City Winery’s rustic space, which was transformed into one cavernous tasting room for the occasion, guests floated from station to station sipping in-state vinos made from grapes grown a mere train ride away. Over 35 wineries participated, including vendors from Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, and Long Island. Speaking of which, in the new year, the Long Island Culture & Wine Winterfest will present six weekends of free jazz concerts at Long Island wineries between February and March. (With end-of-year festivities underway, we’ll definitely need to replenish our supply by then—especially with all that mulled wine we’ll be making.)

Finger Lakes wineries highlighted their “signature wine” Riesling, while Long Island purveyors, like Bouké Wines left us charmed with cHeronreative blends and candy-striped labels. We also met NYC-based winery, Brooklyn Oenology (BOE), which calls the cusp of Greenpoint and Williamsburg home. We especially liked BOE’s artist-designed labels that peel away sticker-style so imbibers can enjoy the art beyond the last drop.

Guests welcomed themselves to alcohol-free fare too, like tart cherry juice from greenmarket stalwart Red Jacket Orchards and sweet-and-savory jams courtesy of Katchkie Farms. With patrons lined elbow-to-elbow for a taste of New York, we were not surprised to find Park Slope’s Palo Santo, a Latin restaurant-wine bar, clean of anticuchos de puerco (skewered pig liver and kidney marinated in chili paste) by the time we reached their booth.

The four-hour event left attendees in high spirits, and we suspect Silver Stream Winery‘s Furry Peach Apple Cider—a medley of hot apple cider, peach port, and cinnamon sticks—had something to do with it. It’s always bittersweet to leave a good party, but an invitation to the next one often alleviates the wait. See you in Long Island.

(Uncorking Winter first appeared on offManhattan.com 12/08/09.)

December 12, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , . event, Manhattan, offManhattan, TriBeCa, Wine. Leave a comment.

Sweet & SALTIE • offManhattan.com

Scuttlebutt sandwich editedSALTIE CO-OWNER Caroline Fidanza wrapped a coat around her and spanned the café from counter to door in four quick steps. She was sneaking out to catch a glimpse of a neighbor’s recent discovery: newborn feral kittens. “We’ll rotate taking looks,” she assured her friend and co-owner, Elizabeth Schula, who was cutting a wide sheet of just-baked focaccia into large sandwich-sized squares.

Inside Saltie, an exposed brick wall warms the bold blue and white motif, making the eight-stool café feel more like your best friend’s beachside sandwich shop than Williamsburg’s latest edible attraction. The three owners, including third partner Rebecca Collerton, are longtime friends and former colleagues at South Side mainstay, Diner.

But the relationship is much simpler than that. Though Williamsburg enjoys a boon of reverse “bridge-and-tunnel” visitors for its buzzy night and dining scene (note brew destination Spuyten Duyvil and BBQ favorite Fette Sau within spitting distance), those who live and toil there don’t see themselves as business partners as much as members of the same community. So for the three girlfriends starting a business in a small space, specialty sandwiches just “made sense.”

The maritime theme is sincere without gimmick. On what inspired the nautically named offerings like the Scuttlebutt sandwich—comprised of colorful veggies, eggs, feta, and a dollop of aioli on house-made focaccia—Caroline says, “At one point, we were all reading Moby Dick, and we’ve always had an interest in the sea and the history of the water around us. Even though we don’t feel like we’re surrounded by water, we are.”

It’s like you brought the sea to the shop, I noted to Caroline, as Elizabeth put forth an ice cream sandwich. It was the salty caramel kind, which tasted like creamy vanilla with a slight hint of butterscotch between two chocolate cookies reminiscent of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers—dark, firm, and not too sweet.

Saltie’s sandwich and pastry menu will change with the seasons, as will the ice cream sandwich flavors, which the owners plan to offer year-round. Perfect for those who are bound to seek some summery reminders in the coming months.

SALTIE 378 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718.387.4777, saltieny.com | Featured at offManhattan.com

October 12, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . Brooklyn, offManhattan, Williamsburg. 2 comments.

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)

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

DESTINATION DC • offManhattan.com

Homes on Q Street near Dupont CircleoffManhattan travelIT’S TOUGH TO CHOOSE when you’re spoiled for choice, which may explain why Washingtonians would rather list their favorites than pick just one. With an itinerary thick with recommendations, we bolted to the capital city to eat, sleep, and discover its myriad distractions for ourselves.

We wandered from Pennsylvania to Connecticut Avenue and memorial to National Zoo, pausing for chewy chocolate oat cookies sprinkled with sea salt at Teaism before dinnertime at America’s first certified organic restaurant. With Restaurant Week and an unbeatable hotel promotion underway (save 30% on three-night stays), we found exactly where to spend and some excellent ways to save for your next DC getaway.

REST FOR THE WEARY

SAVE: Home is where the heart is and you’ll wish your mail arrived here: DC GuestHouse indulges visitors with the conveniences and comforts of a pied-à-terre just off Logan Circle. In 2003, four friends filled a mansion with a kaleidoscope of color, art, and rare relics one’s more apt to find on the cover of National Geographic than in the living room of your B&B. The exterior is decidedly more subdued, which makes passing through the double doors feel vaguely like entering Narnia.

SPEND: Overlooking Thomas Circle, the year-young Donovan House makes up for a midway DC GuestHouse living roomlocation with sleek, sharply appointed rooms and a rooftop swimming pool. Plus—star chef Susur Lee (NYC’s Shang) just introduced an Asian bar-restaurant called Zentan on the premises so guests can have their sushi poolside.

Further northwest, Dupont Hotel (formerly Jurys Washington Hotel) balances its bustling location with a chic, understated interior. In the rooms, ivory leather headboards offset slate gray walls and frosted glass partitions mark where the bedroom ends and the bathroom begins. While the translucent divide opens up a smaller space for the solo traveler, it means semi-privacy for two at best.

Still, the Dupont’s prime address and close proximity to the Metro make it a no-brainer for those who favor expediency. And with local favorite Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe opposite the hotel’s back entrance, free live music (Wednesday-Saturday nights) and satisfying al fresco brunching is only steps away.

ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY SEA

SAVE: Like New York City, the capital is a compulsively walkable metropolis. You’ll find it’s even more so with DC By Foot, a free, twice daily walking tour known for its knowledgeable guides and engaging intro to the city. Tours last about 1.5 hours and moves at a comfortable pace. Tipping your guide is recommended and, not Jazz in the Sculpture Garden (Summer Friday Nights)to mention, brings good karma.

For your transportation needs, speed across town on the Metro, DC’s squeaky-clean train and bus system that runs from city center to most attractions.

SPEND: While DC’s cherry blossoms leave tourists in awe each springtime, autumn’s vivid foliage is equally unmissable—especially from water. This fall, chase ducks and coast by the Jefferson Memorial in a Tidal Basin paddle boat. Ten dollars buys an hour away from shore and calf muscles if you peddle hard enough.

MUSEUMS FOR THE MASSES

SAVE: While New York museums offer an endless rotation of “Must See” exhibits, admission costs deter frequent visits. In DC, however, entrance is free into most museums so one can hop from Dorothy’s sparkly red shoes to dinosaur bones without ticket buyer’s remorse. Don’t miss the Smithsonian collections, especially the perennially packed National Air and Space Museum where wide-eyed school kids join the young at heart to gape at spy planes, space stations, and the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer—the world’s first successful airplane.

Soak up that end-of-summer sun with free outdoor concerts hosted by the National Gallery of Art. On Fridays til September 11th, the gallery hosts Jazz in the Sculpture Garden where locals and out-of-towners gather to start the weekend with a glass of sangria next to Louise Bourgeois’ massive bronze arachnid. Come fall, unwind indoors in the west garden court with classical music performances every Sunday evening.

SPEND: Watch news break at the Newseum where seven levels of cutting edge displays look back on five centuries of famous headlines and free speech. The awesome 90-foot-high atrium will take your breath away as will the gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos. Don’t miss the Berlin Wall exhibit or the chance to play Anderson Cooper in the interactive newsroom.

IMG_0317BON APPETIT

SAVE: They won’t believe you’ve been to DC until you’ve had Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-Smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl. The signature chili dog boasts a half pork-half beef smoked sausage on a warm steamed bun topped with mustard, onions, and spicy homemade chili sauce. It’s served in crinkly aluminum foil just thick enough to contain the hot mess, well worth the $5.25.

Want more eatable deals? DC’s Ethiopian community and their culinary groupies prefer eating with their hands over utensils, and convene over spicy stews and spongy injera bread. Along the U Street Corridor, choose between Etete ($9-$16) and Dukem ($6-$20) who reign among the affordable, authentic eateries.

SPEND: Dig into the exquisite all-you-can-eat buffet at the Garden Café for an immersing experience at the National Gallery of Art that puts every pricey museum lunch you’ve ever had to shame. Created by DC-based star chef José Andrés’, the spread of Spanish platters showcases highlights from his restaurants (chilled gazpacho, unbelievably silky flan…) and dishes adapted from a 17th century cookbook, like chicken and bacon empanadas with caramelized onion, raisins, and lemon. Literally combining food with art, the inspired lunch selection coincides with a pair of exhibits featuring royal portraits and still life paintings from Spain. Reservations are recommended for Andrés’ menu, which will run until November 1st. For $19.25, we’d go every week.

North of Dupont Circle, Nora serves loyal clientele who return time after time for her gorgeously executed dinners and organic New American cooking. The handsome carriage house setting ably marks the occasion whether it’s the birthday dinner on your left or the anniversary celebration on the right. With an ever-evolving menu driven by natural, seasonal ingredients, there’s always something new to try—though you’ll still be thinking of the savory artichoke and tomato tart (pictured above) you had last time.

In Penn Quarter, wine bar-restaurant Proof thrills oenophiles and social drinkers alike with a bible-length list and friendly staffers who share stories about Condoleeza Rice’s last visit. While the wines impress, accompanying bites live up to the beverages’ good rep. Cheese and charcuterie are naturally popular but try Chef Karoum’s creative pâtés, like the chicken soup pâté, or the spicy tuna tartare sandwiched between crispy nori for a taste of DC you can’t readily get at home. Given the eatery’s mass appeal, it’s no surprise that the latest cast of The Biggest Loser visited to film an episode. With its many temptations, Proof is probably not for the faint of will. But, hey, you’re on vacation. Even in a city that seems all business all the time, it’s a nice change coming from one that never sleeps.

August 26, 2009. offManhattan, Travel, Washington DC. Leave a comment.

BOSTON EATS & SLEEPS • offManhattan.com

Green Turtle view of Boston HarboroffManhattan travel

“IT’S LIKE GRANDMA’S HOUSE. On pontoons,” Jason said, sinking into a wicker chair at Green Turtle, a floating bed and breakfast in Boston Harbor. Last weekend, I visited my old college town to find there’s plenty to do beyond scrambling after fly balls at Fenway and succumbing to sales on Newbury Street. With fervor to rival that of our own New York City, Boston prepares for summer with outdoor markets, movies by moonlight, harbor ferry rides for the price of iced coffee and sheets of pappardelle wrapped in Bolognese from a star chef in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Fort Point. We sampled the latest additions along with some stalwarts to make the most of summer weekends in Beantown.

WHERE TO SLEEP

I arrived at The Inn @ St. Botolph late Thursday evening where I entered my personalized access code in the front door keypad to let myself in. By eliminating concierge service and the check-in process, St. Botolph offers the luxury of a boutique hotel without the cost of hiring all-day staff. Each suite is outfitted with chic cinnamon-and-black furnishings, a steel four-poster bed, and a full kitchenette. Laundry and fitness rooms complete the feel of a posh Midtown flat. (The Inn @ St. Botolph, 99 St., Botolph St, 617.236.8099, rooms from $209)

Boston South End. West Newton St.The next day, I moved to South End’s beloved Encore Bed and Breakfast where innkeeper-architect Reinhold Mahler reflected on his childhood in the German countryside where his father ran an inn. “It was before the age of Internet so we were entirely weather-dependent. Sometimes [in bad weather], it would be completely empty!” he said, swearing he’d never follow in his old man’s footsteps. But sometimes a reprise of the past is hard to turn down as he learned in 2000, when he and his partner David Miller bought the top floors of their 19th century townhouse.

Combining their architecture and set design expertise (David directs Boston’s Zeitgeist Stage Company), the pair created four charming guest rooms bathed in natural light. The lavender Edward Albee room is especially popular with honeymooners who enjoy a private balcony and a panoramic view of the Boston skyline. (Encore, 116 West Newton St., 617.247.3425, rooms from $140-$240)

On Saturday, I took a ferry to the Green Turtle floating B&B in Charlestown. To get there, I happily paid $1.70 for the scenic ten minute cruise from Long Wharf to historic Charlestown Navy Yard, passing Bunker Hill and “Old Ironsides” on the way.

Upon reaching Pier 8, innkeeper Karen Maciejewski greeted me with the gusto of a relative you haven’t seen in years because she’s been living on a sailboat—with the tan Sportello smallto show for it. With her husband Jon Dolence, Karen opened the two-bedroom houseboat last June. Drawing from decades of working in the service industry, the two look after every detail from hailing your water taxi to tending the flower boxes and arranging the breakfast baskets each morning.

Green Turtle comes with all the amenities one expects from a traditional, land-based B&B with the addition of a soft sea breeze, the pleasure of lounging on the pier, and life vests under the bed. That said, you don’t need Dramamine. Few boats pass in the evening so any waves are merely gentle lulls. (Green Turtle, Shipyard Quarters Marina, 13th St., Charlestown, 617.337.0202, rooms $245 May 1–Nov 30, $195 Dec 1–April 30)

WHERE TO EAT

While Boston touts lodging options from land to sea, it also indulges preferences of the culinary kind. In Fort Point, acclaimed Boston chef Barbara Lynch opened Sportello to cater to savvy diners in the rapidly developing neighborhood. The trattoria boasts a sleek space dominated by counter seating and a menu that spotlights fresh, housemade pastas. Stop by the bakery for sticky monkey bread and Peruvian coffee or head downstairs to Drink where we hear the cocktails could compete with the best in our own metropolis. (Sportello, 348 Congress St., 617.737.1234 / Encore Sondheim room smallDrink, 617.695.1806)

Make the most of your Charlie Card and take the T to Central Square. Once there, a ten-minute walk brings you to Oleana. With a flair for layering flavors and spices, chef-owner Ana Sortun turns traditional Arabic-Mediterranean cooking on its head by making the likes of ordinary lamb steak an adventure with Turkish spices and serving it with fava bean moussaka. Arrive early for your reservation and ask for a table in the back patio beside the blue globe alliums. (Oleana, 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617.661.0505)

Further along the Red Line, Ten Tables proprietor Krista Kranyak welcomes Harvard Square neighbors to the second branch of her popular Euro-influenced New American restaurant. The four course $45 Chef’s Tasting Menu is a steal considering the quality of the often local, organic ingredients. On the night of my visit, a crowd-pleasing handmade ricotta cavatelli stole the show. To top off my meal, I sampled the signature Thai basil ice cream on rich chocolate terrine—a sweet that divided my party, to say the least. While herbaceous ice cream piques my palate, my dinner companions turned to the creamy panna cotta. To each his own, I thought, as I exited the subterranean dining room past hungry diners piling up by the door. (Ten Tables, 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, 617.576.5444)

While we aimed to explore the less eaten path, sometimes the call of cannoli, Boston cream pie, and Flour Bakery Cupcakes in South End smallbuttery lobster rolls can’t be ignored. For a perfectly toasted brioche roll brimming with lobster meat, locals suggest Neptune Oyster, where $25 buys the goods and a heaping plate of fries. Go during lunch to avoid the inevitable dinner wait. For a cold rendition, try the lobster roll at Chef Lynch’s B&G Oysters in the South End. (Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem St., 617.742.3474 / B&G Oysters, 550 Tremont St., 617.423.0550)

The cannoli competition continues between North End neighbors Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, which pleases those who pit one ricotta cheese-filled pastry against the other in epic taste battles. Before committing to either one, I asked a waitress at Neptune Oyster for her pick. She prefers Modern, she said, because “They fill the cannoli as you order” to ensure the fried wafer shell maintains its crispness. (Mike’s Pastry, 300 Hanover St., 617.742.3050 / Modern Pastry, 257 Hanover St., 617.523.3783)

For a sweet cannoli-free finale, waddle over to Flour where mouthwatering sandwiches, oversized cupcakes, and moist apple spice cake maintain the good rep of the namesake ingredient. Otherwise, go native with a slice of the custard-filled Boston cream pie, ‘cause you certainly can’t get that in New York. (Flour, 12 Farnsworth St., 617.338.4333 and 1595 Washington St., 617.267.4300)

August 24, 2009. Boston, offManhattan, Travel. Leave a comment.

UMI NOM • offManhattan.com

Pancit Canton smallback to front smallUMI NOM | 433 DeKalb Ave, 718 789 8806 | offManhattan.comMa-Banh’s Beef Jerky small

MANHATTAN CHEF King Phojanakong has opened Umi Nom in Clinton Hill as the sequel to Kuma Inn, his wildly popular, pint-sized Asian tapas destination in the Lower East Side. Drawing on the the chef’s Thai and Filipino heritage, the Brooklyn follow-up features a fresh set of small plates along with noodle and fried rice dishes to showcase Southeast Asian cooking that’s more polished than its “street food” stereotype.

True to its name, which means “To Drink,” Umi Nom will offer Asian-influenced libations like sakes, Singha beer, and even—as a nod to its new home—Brooklyn Lager.

Of the two dozen new plates (most of which hover in the $10 range), King recommends the roasted Manila clams in spicy black bean sauce, the lightly battered crispy calamari, and chili glazed wok prawns. Of the latter he says, “We leave the head on, peel the shell, and sauté it with Thai chili, fish sauces, and palm sugar in a wok, which is one thing we don’t use at Kuma Inn.”

While Umi Nom may trump its sibling with a frying pan, Manhattan regulars visiting this borough should find comfort in its similarities, like Umi Nom’s intimate interior. Prior to its current incarnation, the DeKalb Avenue storefront was an abandoned century-old Laundromat complete with a dry cleaning center, which now houses the open kitchen in the back. As the chef puts it, the property was an empty shell of rocks, rubble, and laundry machines, but it also had its charms: high ceilings, skylight, and an exposed brick wall with windows.

Though Umi Nom stays close to the original recipe, there’s no guarantee Chef King’s sophomore effort will repeat the success of his first. Still, this won’t be the first time he’s attracted gourmands to an untapped zip code. And armed with the time-tested blend of bold Southeast Asian flavors and gentle prices, there’s no arguing that Umi Nom just might be the breakthrough Pratt needs to draw culinary gentrification east.

August 24, 2009. Asian, Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, offManhattan. 1 comment.

Millions of PEACHES (Peaches for Me) • offManhattan

Pulled Pork in a Bowl of Cheesy GritsPulled Pork in a Bowl of Cheesy Grits at PEACHES | 393 Lewis Ave, Bed Stuy, 718 942 4162 | offManhattan.com

FEW FRUITS embody summer like a juice-laden peach on a sweltering city day. And so it was the pursuit of cobbler that led me to Peaches in the small pocket of gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, or Stuy Heights as locals call it. But if refined comfort fare like crab cake over spicy peach salsa isn’t enough to inspire a jaunt into Brooklyn, maybe tender pulled pork drizzled with BBQ sauce and a perfectly chilled sweet-and-savory watermelon salad will be.

Shrimp po’ boys, smoked chicken with sausage gumbo, and other Southern staples share space on the menu with baby back ribs from sister restaurant Smoke Joint, a popular BBQ spot in Fort Greene. To complement the flavorful dishes, they recommend the Brownstone Punch, which looks like sunrise in a glass thanks to layers of rum, coconut, pineapple, orange and cranberry juices topped with champagne. Also try the fruity bourbons that are infused in-house, and which play tastefully in a variety of cocktails.

In spite of downturns in dining out elsewhere, co-owner Craig Samuel says “[Peaches] has actually gotten busier since we opened a year ago.” Take a glance at the affordable tabs on the down-home classics with upscale aspirations (like creamy grits with shrimp in a mushroom and white wine sauce) and it’s obvious why diners queue up for Sunday brunch and amble in on a rainy Tuesday night to unwind at the bar, Usher’s Confessions bouncing between the bright yellow walls.

DSC09394While outer borough restaurants are usually described as either “neighborhood joint” or “dining destination,” Peaches exemplifies both with its easy vibe and approachable menu that invokes local pride with mass appeal. For sure, this Southern bistro presents a more upscale dining affair than what the area—better known for its low-income housing than the gorgeous brownstones along Stuyvesant Avenue— is used to.

But Peaches gives reason to venture outside your culinary comfort zone to scrape the inside of your bowl for the last satisfying spoonful of cheesy grits. Considering the fierce pour in your wine glass and eight hour-smoked pulled pork, you’ll wonder whether you actually have room left for peach cobbler.

August 23, 2009. Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Brunch, offManhattan. Leave a comment.

ORTINE Grows Its Own • offManhattan.com

Kalamata Olive Pizza

Kalamata Olive Pizza at ORTINE | 622 Washington Ave, Brooklyn | 718 622 0026 | offManhattan.com

I FIRST VISITED Ortine in February when it was drizzly and cold, which made the brightly lit glass storefront all the more welcoming. Small and sparingly decorated, the café opened around Christmas in Prospect Heights and soon gained a following among neighbors and freelancers who come in for its warm at-home feel, free WiFi, and bottomless cups of coffee. (more…)

August 22, 2009. Brooklyn, Brunch, Healthy, offManhattan, Prospect Heights. Leave a comment.

GREEN CANTEEN is closed (updated 8.28.09)

Front BoothsChopped Salmon & Avocado Mini Burger at GREEN CANTEEN | 106 North 6th St, Brooklyn, 718 387 5900 | offManhattan.com

IN JUNE, Wiliamsburg topped off its brimming selection of eateries with the opening of Green Canteen. The spacious, über-green restaurant is silver LEED certified thanks to its commitment to use 100% wind power for energy, a solar tank system to heat its water, and savvy design (skylights!), which makes the most of natural light. To further reduce its ecological footprint, even the communal table was fashioned out of a ceiling beam from the building itself.

But eco-friendliness aside, it’s the Mediterranean menu, starring the likes of antipasti, pizza-like flatbreads, and hummus bowls, which will determine whether curious passersby will become repeat customers. It is a restaurant, after all, so I stopped by to taste the goods and bask in the sun-filled space where chief operating officer Mike Hewitt was on hand to share his take on Green Canteen’s place on New York City’s culinary stage.

oM: Green Canteen is the latest from Brad Blum who used to head major chains like Olive Garden and Burger King. Are there similar plans to expand on this new restaurant concept?

MH: We want to be able to transfer what you see here onto the road and create more Green Canteens throughout the country. Of course, we want to be careful to walk before we run by making sure we have the model correct. But we feel that America wants to eat this way. More than the architecture, it’s all about the food. You can savor great tasting food and feel good afterward.

oM: It feels very communal.

MH: A lot of our food and seating is shareable. We’re trying to create this community where diners can hang out, enjoy their meal and meet new people, like at the communal tables.

oM: Given Green Canteen’s commitment to using fresh ingredients, does this mean the menu will be seasonal?

MH: We might have a couple of seasonal items here and there when possible. We also want to make sure we keep staples so that people know what they’re getting when they get here. If they come for a certain hummus bowl, then we don’t want to be switching things up too much on them.

oM: So what sets Green Canteen apart from other restaurants that offer healthy and organic alternatives to, say, fast food?

MH: Green Canteen’s concept has been nationally tested and it’s done really well. We don’t even use the words “health” or “organic.” It’s really all about “Eat Well. Feel Well.” Some of it might be organic; some might not. But it’s about how you feel after you eat here. It’s about offering food with low glycemic indexes, low sodium, low carbs. The food really tastes good but it doesn’t weigh you down.

Chopped Salmon and Avocado Mini BurgerTomato Mozzarella Basil FlatbreadoM: Sounds like a lifestyle.

MH: It’s a lifestyle—exactly. A lot of people seem to want to eat this way and live this way.

oM: How did you decide to start in Williamsburg?

MH: Williamsburg’s a very progressive neighborhood. We feel that we’re a progressive brand so it fits hand-in-hand. There’s a savvy clientele here. We wanted to cater to them and see what they think of it. It’s a demographic test. People know what they’re purchasing here and they’re willing to pay a little more for a top quality product that’s sourced in a better way.

oM: Does this mean you use local farmers?

MH: Yes, we use some local farmers and sustainable products. It’s also about what we do with the food once we get it. The preparation is very simple and honest. There are no fryers in the house. There are no processed foods. Just clean, honest food.

August 22, 2009. Brooklyn, Healthy, offManhattan, Williamsburg. Leave a comment.

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