Category Archives: Cocktails

Wine With Friends

Gerard Bertrand collection

I love to nurse a great glass of wine, when out socializing at a wine bar or paired with a delicious meal at a local restaurant, but I wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not even a particularly voracious drinker. Mostly, I just know when I like something, and find it pleasing enough to drink an entire glass, and when I don’t.

Over the years, I’ve slowly become familiar with an array of winemakers and varietals, discovering some that I enjoy imbibing more than others. I tend to make my wine selections based on a few simple criteria: what I’m eating, temperature and season, country of origin, recommendations from the wine merchant or my fellow diners, and when all else fails, most artistic label.

When I’m feeling celebratory (or indecisive), I opt for the bubbly. Champagne, Prosecco, and Cava always make me a happy camper. This I know well. I typically prefer red to white wines, but sometimes a red is just too heavy, especially on a hot summer night, at which point, I’ll go for a nice rosé. I tend to like wines from California, France, Italy, Spain, Chile, and Australia, most of all. A broad range, it’s true. When I eat a certain regional cuisine, I’ll take the ‘when in Rome’ approach, and choose a wine from that same neck of the woods.

That’s about the extent of my novice wine selection thought process – when I’m flying solo. Which is why I absolutely love getting together with my dear friends, Kristen Siebecker, Certified Sommelier and epicurean event director, and Matthew Wexler, food/travel writer and seasonal chef extraordinaire, who know eons more about wine than I do. Not only are they tons of fun to drink with and hilarious conversations ultimately always ensue, but they’re both exceptionally knowledgeable about food and vino, so I actually end up learning a lot in the process.

Kristen and Matthew have a real knack for pinpointing the subtle nuances of flavors, that I’d never pick up on in a million years. I can usually identify a particular fruit, or a hint of spice that’s present, but I often struggle to put my finger on exactly what I’m tasting. Listening to them as they sip and grasp for the perfect adjective, gives my own palate a much clearer understanding. Thankfully though, they manage to talk about wine in a down-to-earth way that makes it engaging and entertaining, rather than highfalutin and stuffy. Kristen is a delightful story teller who gives each bottle a rich context. She manages to highlight some element of that particular wine and make it relatable to just about anyone. Her passion and expertise, coupled with her unpretentious style and enthusiasm for teaching, doesn’t leave you feeling like a total dunce, and makes tastings with her a most pleasurable experience. Not to mention, Matthew’s exceptional knack for pairing takes the whole culinary experience to another level entirely, coaxing flavors out of both the food and wine, which make both sing more sweetly.

So, when Matthew was recently tasked with the assignment of writing about three bottles from the Gerard Bertrand collection, it seemed like the perfect excuse for our threesome to unite around the table at Kristen’s spectacularly situated Midtown apartment once again, and conduct a taste test in the name of “research”. Matthew got to ball rolling, tossing out a few inciting questions, pen poised to paper. Kristen popped our corks and poured each glass to perfection. We settled on sushi as the cuisine du jour and each took turns in the driver’s seat, navigating the lengthy online menu in a quest for an appropriate pairing to suit the wines, as well as our cravings. They lobbed descriptive adjectives back and forth across the table, like a tennis match, and I stuck to what I do best: taking photographs!

And now, the results of our wine tasting collaboration:

2010 Cremant de Limoux
First up, the 2010 Cremant de Limoux. Kristen tasted: “light, clear, bubbly, crisp, and toasty! An excellent bang for your buck”. I spied: an emerald green bottle, spouting sparkly bubbles; a glowing champagne toast, afore a teal table setting.

Gris Blanc
Next, the Gris Blanc – Kristen tasted: “simple, nice fruit, easy to drink. Light for a rose, more of a peachy color. You could sip this at a summer picnic all day and night.” I spied: an aptly named wine for this cloudy day. The overcast back light perfectly illuminating the colors of this peachy flesh tone rose; the bottle mirroring a subtle silhouette of the Empire State Building.

Muscat
Finally, the Muscat – Kristen tasted: “a sweet wine with a robust lychee, coconut and tropical fruit nose, best served with dessert.” I spied: a royal blue label popping from golden yellow sweetness; when set on a blonde wood tray or against a cubist wine rack, moody romance ensues.

For Kristen’s full write up of this experiment, click here, and for Matthew’s post, click here. If you’re inspired to discover other memorable wines for under $20, also check out The New York Times : Food Section’s latest article.

Want to learn even more about wine in a fun, down-to-earth way? Or discover the perfect pairing of your soon to be favorite new wines and gourmet nibbles? Host an intimate gathering of friends at your abode or create a custom tasting at a local culinary hot spot! Contact Eye For Style Services and we’ll create a unique event with Kristen and Matthew, specially crafted for you and yours. Share your vision and leave all the pesky details to us. It’s never been easier to play the perfect host.

Also, be sure to stay tuned for more details about Wine With Kristen’s upcoming classes for beginners and experts alike, coming soon to Skillshare.

Cheers, mates!

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Filed under Cocktails, Culture, Events, Food, New York City, Photography, Style, Workshops

Eye For Style – Summer Services

Eye For Style Services is an exclusive personal concierge service for all your dining, entertainment, shopping, and travel needs. I love turning other savvy souls onto my favorite things, creating memorable experiences, and helping people live their best life. I’m a bonafide tastemaker with very high-standards, and lucky for you, I’ve got an arsenal of carefully curated sources and contacts, insider deals and tricks-of-the-trade, right at my fingertips and ready to tap at a moment’s notice. So, you share your vision, and I’ll make it a reality. No dream is too big or small. Imagine the possibilities…


*Special summer promotion:

Book between now and September 1, 2012, and you’ll save 10% off ALL style services. That’s any request, big or small, hourly or flat rate projects. I know you’re busy, so don’t procrastinate! Call the apple of your eye and make that date; flee the city for that long overdue coastal getaway; host an outdoor soiree before summer’s end; find that perfect look to make you feel like a million bucks! Life is short, but juicy. Savor it…
 

Service #1: Just a Suggestion

Do you need a spot-on recommendation? Where’s the perfect bar for a casual drink, or cool restaurant for a hot date? Where do you take that hard to impress client or out-of-town friend? What’s the quintessential boutique to find that perfect gift? Call me for a quickie phone consult and I’ll help you locate a guaranteed “no fail zone” to get exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t have time to take care of all the particulars? No worries. I’ll do the research, make the arrangements, and message you the deets. You just show up – and take all the credit for your impeccable taste.

From $40/hr.

Service #2: Wanderluster’s Cure

Desperately need a weekend getaway? Fantasizing about your next vacation abroad? Call me for a quick phone consult and tell me what kind of respite you’re craving. Whether it be spa, sports, or sightseeing, I’ll do my homework and provide you with a short list of available destinations, tailored specifically to your interests and budget. Don’t have time to make all the trip arrangements yourself? Fear not! I’ll customize a complete travel itinerary, from transportation to hotel, activities and eateries, for that perfect solo expedition, romantic escapade, or family adventure you’ve been dreaming of. Just pack your bags and prepare to explore new horizons. I’ll handle every tiny detail, you send me a postcard.

From $60/hr

Service #3: Omnivore’s Dilemma

Want to have a few friends over to chill? Host a fancy dinner party? Create a romantic evening in for 2? Call me for a quickie phone consult and share your culinary vision. I’ll head to Eataly, Chelsea Market, Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods, whatever you’re in the mood for, to custom-design a terrific food & drink menu for you and yours. I’ll procure the all the necessary ingredients for you to cook, or devise an easy to assemble, pre-prepared feast. Better yet, hire one of my favorite private chefs and sommeliers to cater every course in style! Let your guests in on the action, or pretend you did all the work yourself. It’s our little secret.

From $80/hr

Service #4: Ready to Wear

Looking for a few new pieces to perk up your closet this season? Does your wardrobe need a complete overhaul? Don’t have time to find that perfect outfit for an event? No sweat! Eye For Style offers personal wardrobe services, with a seasoned commercial stylist, specifically suited to your needs, taste, and budget. We’ll shop together at your favorite shops or I’ll bring a collection of handpicked items right to your home or office. Looking fashionable has never been so fun and easy!

From $80/hr

Service #5: Order From Chaos

For information about my home & office organizing services, please click here.

Can’t wait to get started? Kick off your quickie consult via this request form:

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Testimonials from happy clients provided upon request. Just ask!

Flat rates available, depending upon scope, for every project and budget. 

Food & wardrobe services available in New York City and Los Angeles only.

Personal concierge & travel services available in the United States.

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Artwork by: freya art and design. Check out her delightful store on etsy.com!

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Filed under Cocktails, Culture, Dreams, Events, Food, New York City, Style, Travel

Best of NYC Summer 2012

Happy Summer Solstice, everyone! This truly is the best time of the year in NYC. There are so many FUN and FREE activities happening all over the city, where do you start? Lucky for you, I’ve taken the guess work out of it, posting this carefully curated list of my own personal favorite, tried-and-true, classic summer pastimes, as well as a slew of sizzling hot new offerings, ripe for picking this summer only. Enjoy!

EAT, SHOP, EXPLORE:
East River Ferry: to/from Long Island City, Williamsburg, DUMBO, and South Street Seaport
Smorgasburg (Sat 11 – 6) & Brooklyn Flea (Sun 10 – 5), Williamsburg waterfront + ferry to Photoville
New Amsterdam Market – Sundays, 11 – 4
Dekalb Market – Daily, 8 – 8ish
Hester Nights – Thursdays, 4–9pm, thru 10/25, 851 Sixth Ave @ 30th St
Hester Street Fair, Saturdays, 10 – 6
The High Line & Chelsea Market
Eagle Street Rooftop Farm
Edible Manhattan and Urban Oyster food & drink tours/events
Taco crawl in Jackson Heights, Queens or Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Eat and shop Astoria, Queens
Field trip to Hoboken, NJ

ART:
Photoville, BK Bridge Park, 6/22 – 7/1
Keith Haring @ Brooklyn Museum (thru 7/8)
+ BK Botanic Garden: W – Sun, 11 – 6, + late summer hours Th & Sat
The Cloisters: Tues – Sun, 9:30 am – 5 pm
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations at The Met (thru Aug 19)
+ Cloud City & rooftop cocktails
Bike ride, picnic, and Interactive Sculpture Park on Governor’s Island
River to River Festival, 6/17 – 7/15

MUSIC:
FREE:
Hot Sardines – 6/20, 6pm, Bryant Park, Fountain Terrace
Nellie McKay – 7/11, 7 pm, Madison Square Park
The New York Philharmonic – 7/13, Great Lawn, Central Park
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo – 7/22, SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park
Little Dragon/Frankie Rose/Voices of Black – 8/1, 7 pm, Prospect Park Bandshell
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 8/18, 5 pm, Williamsburg Park

Norah Jones – 7/3, 6 pm, SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield, Central Park, $50
Jane’s Addiction & Die Antwoord – 8/17, 6:45pm, Williamsburg Park, $50

OUTDOORSY/NATURE:

Monet’s Gardens @ NY Botanical Gardens (with Mastercard Priceless offer)
Explore The Bronx’s City Island
Ferry to Jacob Riis/Fort Tilden and/or Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
BEACHES, BEACHES, BEACHES: Rockaway, Coney Island, Long Beach, Montauk, Fire Island, and more!
McCarren Park Pool – reopening in June 2012 after a 28 year closure and $50 million dollar renovation

AL FRESCO FILM:
6/28 – Taxi Driver, Tompkins Square Park
7/5 – Exit Through the Gift Shop, Tompkins Square Park
7/9 – Side by Side, Elevated Acre, 55 Water St, off Old Slip
7/12 – Fantastic Mr. Fox, Tompkins Square Park
7/16 – Roman Holiday, Bryant Park
7/18 – Raising Arizona, McCarren Park
7/28 – The Muppet Movie Sing-A-Long, Prospect Park Bandshell
8/21 – Do The Right Thing, Sheep Meadow, Central Park
8/23 – The Big Lebowksi, Sheep Meadow, Central Park

For even more movie listings, check out:

Watch It Outdoor Movie Guide 2012
Time Out NY Movies in the Park 2012
Nitehawk Cinema, Williamsburg
Rooftop Films

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Cocktails, Culture, Events, Film, Food, Music, New York City, Style, Travel

Best Mexican Food in Manhattan

I’m a born and raised Los Angelina, currently dwelling just a mere stone’s throw from Loisaida, and thus, take my Mexican food very seriously. I’ve come to discover over the last several years since I moved to New York City that much to my shock and dismay, an abundance of good and cheap Mexican eats does not necessarily exist in other large metropolitan melting pots, even where a significant Hispanic population has more than a substantial presence.

It’s a conundrum I find more than a little strange. Hispanic/Latino culture is obviously thriving in NYC. They comprise nearly 30% of the city’s population, according to the 2010 census. So, why the dearth of good Mexican food in a city that has close to 24,000 restaurants?

My first couple foodie forays, to what certain friends (who shall remain nameless) deemed as “the best Mexican restaurant”, left me rather broken-hearted. $14 guacamole? No handmade tortillas? No fish tacos? Can someone please make me a decent mole?!

So disillusioned was I that at one point, I simply gave up, vowing only to eat Mexican food when I traveled back home to visit. And I would, the entire time, just to get enough of a fix, to tide me over for a couple months. It had been a several times a week staple of my California diet, and I refused to let NYC sully a cuisine I treasured. I’d rather abstain rather than risk further disappointment.

Thankfully, right about that time, I was sent on a mission by Tasting Table to photograph Tehuitzingo (695 10th Ave., between 47th & 48th St.), a little joint in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen that serves amazing, authentic Mexican food out of a hole in the wall in the back of a grocery store. And by a hole in the wall, I mean, you head all the way to the back, past the glass cases of traditional ingredients (piles of cactus, cilantro, rainbows of peppers, & home made cheeses); through a narrow mirrored seating area with less than a dozen stools, lit bright neon green by the cerveza signs overhead; to a literal hole in the wall, where-in two senoritas wait to take your order in one muy pequena cocina. They’ve got some slightly unusual ingredients on the menu, like goat, tongue, and tripe, for more adventurous eaters. I opted for one pollo and one carne asada taco, which came simply topped with diced tomatoes, onion, and cilantro. A variety of bottled hot sauces adorn the counters, to add your own brand of spice. The first bite instantly transported my palate and sense memory right back home. I couldn’t stop at two and quickly ordered another, blissful in the knowledge that I’d found an answer to my comida cravings after all. Tehuizingo is a funky little gem, serving up real Mexican flavors, in a no frills setting, where one can easily walk out stuffed for less than $10. It’s a great spot for a weekday lunch with co-workers, a quick bite when you’re on the go, or a late night snack, when in Midtown.

Faith restored, I dared to try Mexican restaurants in NYC once again, and soon discovered several surprisingly delicious joints along the way. Here’s my carefully curated short list, just in time for your Cinco de Mayo festivities:

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Dos Toros Taqueria137 4th Avenue; 11 Carmine Street

Dos Toros is to NYC, what Poquito Mas is to LA. It’s not fast food. It’s really good, fresh food, served fast. There’s usually a long line (actually a good sign), but it moves fast as they’ve got their system down to a science. It can be tricky to find a seat, but people don’t tend to linger either. They’ve got the standard fare – tacos and burritos with your choice of chicken, carne asada, or carnitas – being the most popular. Quesadillas, tostadas, and platos con arroz y frijoles round out the rest of the menu. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to this place and always go for the carne asada burrito with guacamole. Everything is made to order just the way you like it and typically comes with a heaping portion of crispy tortilla chips. Their prices are cheap by NYC standards. The portions are quite filling and delicious. I also give them props for their sustainable business practices. They make a point of letting customers know that their chicken is locally raised with no hormones or antibiotics; their produce is locally sourced; and that they compost, recycle, and use non-toxic products.

Tacombi 267 Elizabeth Street, between Prince & Houston; in Chelsea Market, W 15th Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue

Tacombi’s tacos make me so happy I could cry. They simply explode with layers of undeniable flavor and spice. The “barbacoa” – shredded beef cooked in a red chile sauce – is a must eat, go-to favorite of mine. That’s until I bite into a “pollo verde” – shredded white meat chicken in a mild green chile sauce – and lose my mind with delight. Their fish tacos, either fried in a crispy beer batter or seared, topped with red cabbage and creamy pepper sauce, are sure fire winners, as is the shrimp taco, prepared in one devilishly spicy sauce that seriously kicks. You must get one of their fresh “agua” concoctions to wash it all down. The hibiscus tea and watermelon juice aguas are refreshing and not too sweet. I actually love mixing the two brews together. Not to worry, they sell beer by the bottle too.

Tacombi has a cute little “tacobike” cart set up at Chelsea Market, in the 15th Street Arcade, which is perfect for a quick bite at lunchtime or a mid-afternoon snack. You may have to fight the hoards for a seat at one of the indoor tables though. Better yet, since it is street food, that’s often where I’ll eat, on a nearby bench or up on The High Line, for a picnic overlooking the Hudson River.

The ambience of Tacombi’s Nolita location is loads of fun. Their sky lit, open warehouse is home to a bonafide 1970’s VW bus that’s been converted into their taco serving station. Peek through the bubble window as they warm your tortillas on the grill and assemble your taco with all the fixings. The space is filled with cream-colored metal folding tables, painted with red checker/chess boards on top. Kitschy 60’s surf films screen on the walls, and the vibe is upbeat, yet relaxed. It’s a slice of Playa del Carmen or Baja, right in the heart of Lower Manhattan.

Hecho en Dumbo354 Bowery, between E 3rd & Great Jones St

Hecho’s reputation for killer cocktails is what initially drew me. Their food solidified it as a real contender for this list. We walked in sans reservations, late one Saturday afternoon, and were able to nab those prime seats at the end of the bar, right in the front window. The bartender was very friendly and knowledgeable, helping steer us towards a Tres Vidas (smoked chile, bell pepper, lime & mezcal) and a Margarita Tamarindo (tequila blanco, fresh squeezed tamarind juice, and chile piquin rim). Both were spicy, yet refreshing, stiff, quality cocktails. Instead of sitting down for dinner, we stayed perched at the bar, for optimal people watching and several small plate antojitos – short rib steak tacos topped with diced onion and cilantro, queso fundido with fresh salsa and warm flour tortillas, and a tuna sashimi tostada – perfect choices for a leisurely afternoon or happy hour. I love that they use all locally sourced and organic ingredients, and make all the fundamental components of their dishes, fresh in-house. You can definitely taste it.

Word has it that this place gets pretty packed and noisy for dinner, but they recently started offering a 5-course chef’s table menu, which seems to me perhaps the best way to experience Chef Danny Mena’s skills. Parties of two only are seated at the back counter, peering straight into the open kitchen. The menu highlights fresh seafood and local meats, prepared in cherished, traditional Mexican style, for a reasonable prix fixe of $55. It’s available by booking online only, via their website or at Open Table. You heard it here first, amigo. De nada.

Hell’s Kitchen679 Ninth Ave, between W 46th & 47th St.

I had the rare pleasure of indulging in a 7-course chef’s tasting menu at Hell’s Kitchen recently that put all other past experiences of Mexican cuisine to shame. Chef Jorge Parilla pulled out all stops to give us a taste of his hometown of Alpoyeca, Mexico and his most cherished family recipes. We kicked off the feast crunching tri-colored crispy corn tortilla chips, served with not one, but 3 distinctive types of guacamole, which we paired with a classic margarita a casa. We were then treated to another series of ‘pequenos trios’: First, 3 golden empanadas, each with their own incredible sauce to match – roasted pork with crema fresca and salsa, duck en mole with pico de gallo, and huitlacoche truffle and mascarpone cheese with salsa verde. Then, 3 pillowy maize tostadas – tiger shrimp, ground pork, and carne asada – drizzled with salsa verde. Perfect little bites! Next, the chef utterly captured my heart with his traditional pasole – a hominy and pork stew, topped with avocado and fried leeks, cooked with such love, it warmed my belly and soul. It’s an unforgettably comforting bowl of goodness that would make any hangover run for the hills. As if that wasn’t enough, we then dove into 3 huge entrees – roasted lamb shanks with cilantro mashed potatoes, tamarind rubbed grilled sirloin with fresh vegetables in an endive-pasilla sauce, and pan seared sea bass with sweet plantain puree – all cooked to perfection.

We sipped on a Hell’s-Ma-rita, with fresh tamarind and lime juice in an ancho-salt rimmed glass, and a Watermelon Mint Lemonade, as Chef Parilla chatted with us about his inspirations. He was so humble, sharing stories about his food, an expression of passion for his land and close-knit familia. Eating this meal felt like a privilege and an honor. The food was not only one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory, but Chef Parilla’s dishes are some of the most colorfully creative, genuinely artistic plates around. I can say with total and utter confidence that Hell’s Kitchen is the best Mexican restaurant in New York City. Hands down, period, the end. Vamanos immediamente!

I’d be remiss not to mention a couple of other spots that serve up some signature cocteles that make for a mighty fine siesta:

El Camion Cantina and Tepito are terrific East Village joints for margarita happy hours. They both serve up great classic margaritas as well as some really tasty fruity margaritas, my favorite being passion fruit, pomegranate, raspberry, or hibiscus. They all go down way too easy, and for a mere $5, why not sample them all? I’d recommend the margaritas in lieu of the food at both of these places, though the meals that I had at each were good.

Yerba Buena, however, serves up some really special cocktails, not to be missed. Their Piquito Picante is probably one of my favorite cocktails in NYC. It’s an intoxicating concoction of gin, jalapeño infused cointreau, cilantro, cucumber, and lemon juice that strikes a perfect balance of spicy and cool, and smells like pure heaven. I also love The Desert Rose, made with dried rose infused gin, prickly pear puree, and lemon juice. In all seriousness, there’s no bad call on this cocktail menu. Imbibing here is a bad habit waiting to happen because you want to try every single offering. The bartender and host are also easy on the eyes and fantastically cool gentlemen to boot. I can’t speak to the food, yet, as I’ve only been for drinks at the bar, but the place is always packed, and the restaurant is a beautifully designed, intimate, warmly lit space. Yerba is easy to overlook from Avenue A, but swing open the door and you’ve stepped into one sexy space that plays that sophisticated, but not overly so, note just right. It’s a great, laid back place to bring that date you want to impress. Lucky for you, they’re offering a special Cinco de Mayo menu. ¡Disfruta la fiesta!

For more recommendations, be sure to check out my Eye For Style “Best Mexican Food in NYC” map!

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Filed under Cocktails, Culture, Food, Maps, New York City, Photography

Eye For Style’s Escape to Brooklyn

As soon as it appeared in my inbox, I knew this adventure would be right up my alley. The folks at Urban Oyster Tours had kindly invited me for lunch and a 3-hour tour of Brooklyn, to explore where its culinary and agricultural worlds collide. Frankly, they had me at hello with talk of ‘experiencing the entire farm-to-table journey of my food’ and seduced with promises of taking me straight to the heart of Brooklyn’s most unique food destinations, to sample and speak with the creative entrepreneurs behind them. Twist my arm? Not likely.

To my surprise, not only was the tour destined to be chock full of local artisanal eats, but we had multiple guides for the day – Bob Lewis (local historian, founder of NYC Greenmarkets, and Special Assistant at NY State Agriculture & Markets), David Naczycz and Cindy VandenBosch (founders of Urban Oyster), and Caylin Sanders (founder of local travel web portal, EscapeMaker.com). Each were a veritable wealth of information about Brooklyn’s myriad riches – its food and architecture; neighborhoods, people, and cultural traditions; agriculture and urban planning initiatives – past and present.

We met up at Skylight One Hanson, one jaw-dropping landmark of art deco magnificence, perhaps better known as the former Williamsburg Savings Bank, and current winter home of the Brooklyn Flea, which now serves as a prime events location for hire year round. As we jitneyed to our first destination via “The Good Bus”, we got the scoop on what Urban Oyster is all about:

“The name comes from the legend that New York Harbor once contained half the world’s oysters. Over time though, most of the beds died off due to pollution and over-consumption”, David explained. “Like oysters, the neighborhoods of New York are treasured resources that require nurturing in order to survive and flourish. We seek to reveal the hidden pearls of this great city – the neighborhoods, people, and businesses that are uniquely New York. We aim to connect people to these special places through their stories and history, in an effort to support and value local production, consumption, cultural diversity, historic preservation, and sustainability for the benefit of generations to come.”

Given my unbridled obsession with NYC local food & drink culture, coupled with my family’s business of historic preservation, such excursions are tailor-made for culinary architecture geeks like me. I ventured repeatedly to Smorgasburg and New Amsterdam Market last summer, both weekend outdoor markets where you can snap up local artisanal goods, fresh produce & ingredients, and literally sample everything under the sun, as you chat directly with the people who make the things you’re eating, in picturesque locales along either side of the East River.

And Urban Oyster Tours are another opportunity to do the exact same thing. They take you straight to the cooks’ kitchen and give you a comprehensive history lesson ‘mise en place’. They offer a variety of expertly crafted outings – “Eat Like a Local” through Boerum Hill; “Mom & Pop Shops” in Cobble Hill; “Food Carts” of Lower Manhattan; “Immigrant Foodways” in Williamsburg; and their most popular “Brewed in Brooklyn” and “Craft Beer Crawl” which combine a lesson in local beer making techniques with the best part – tasting! Sip your IPA, on the site it was made, while you chat up the brewer? That’s refreshingly rare.

You can get on board with regularly scheduled tours or arrange a private tour of your own. Either or, it’s an entertaining way to show your out-of-town guests how the natives do it, and for locals, it’s a delicious opportunity to broaden one’s horizons and learn more about the vast expanse of your own backyard. It’s so easy to become a creature of habit in your own city and re-visit the same old haunts time after time, but these tours can provide a fresh perspective to the same old stomping grounds, pointing out places you might otherwise miss.

If you’ve lived in the NYC during the last 5 years and have even a mild interest in food culture, chances are you’ve participated in the endless debate as to which borough is the true epicenter of culinary arts – Manhattan or Brooklyn? Manhattan certainly makes a compelling case for itself, as farm-to-table restaurants from celebrity chefs like Dan Barber, Dan Kluger, David Bouley, and Mike Price steadily increase in popularity and rooftop farm initiatives gain steam. Brooklyn is a venerable mecca for foodies in its own right though, and many would simply argue it’s the borough that represents the best of NYC food culture, period.

It’s certainly where the small batch, artisanal, locally made, grown, and sourced movement has sunk its deepest roots at present. While Manhattan is the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, Brooklyn is at the epicenter of another social revolution – locavorism – and is pro-actively re-positioning itself as THE food and agro-tourism destination you must visit. Great strides are being made in just about every neighborhood enclave to return to their roots of food cultivation and production. There’s been a virtual explosion of urban gardening and community revitalization projects, such as The Brooklyn Grange, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, and Added Value, all of whom are committed to getting people re-invested in their communities and the joys of volunteerism. We’re witnessing a revival of the love affair between foodies and farmers, and the people who make speciality foods are being recognized for their important contributions to the social fabric of the city’s culture again. We’re finding ways to revamp cultural traditions of the past, with a fresh twist that suits our modern lifestyles.

The first stop on our BK Foodways tour was Moore Street Market, one of the few remaining public markets designed during the LaGuardia era as a sanitary alternative to the pushcart vending culture prevalent during the early turn of the century. Our guides provided us with a comprehensive history of the market, complete with historic photographs and fascinating anecdotes, painting a picture of then and now, as well as briefing us on the upcoming urban planning improvements, including a landscaped outdoor public plaza on Humboldt Street, scheduled for completion in Summer 2013. We walked around the market’s interior, meeting several of the long time vendors who treated us to homemade horchata, corn pupusas, and a special tea remedy, made from ingredients native to her family’s homeland in Pueblo, Mexico.

Then, it was off to Roberta’s Pizza for lunch. Housed in an unassuming cinder block structure, with zero curb appeal in an industrial section of East Williamburg, we entered to discover an enormous wood-burning oven as the centerpiece of their open kitchen, which we later learned literally took the slow boat from Italy to Brooklyn. The place is super rustic, with long picnic tables and benches; a small wood bar with a bevy of local beers and a clever cocktail menu scrawled on the chalkboard overhead; and an enclosed outdoor patio heated by a wood-burning furnace, that stares directly into the Heritage Radio Network station which broadcasts 24/7. The crowd is very, well, Brooklyn – local locals, each with their own signature mustache or coiffed beard, complimenting their casual vintage wear and quirky-rimmed glasses. I watched the process as they hand fired our pizzas to bubbly perfection, then topped with veg grown in their roof top garden (or at the nearby BK Grange) and meats sourced at the local butcher shop. We sat down to the communal table, first devouring the fresh margherita, then several more mouthwatering kale and homemade Berkshire sausage pies. A heaven you’d never know existed…

Then, we traveled to over to Brooklyn Winery, a beautiful space in the heart of Williamsburg, utilizing re-purposed wood, recycled furniture, found objects and memorabilia to create one warm, inviting place to imbibe away the hours and socialize with other connoisseurs. We were privileged to receive a glimpse behind the scenes, touring the space where they age their varietals in barrels stacked ceiling high. Their one-and-only winemaker, Conor McCormack, happened to be on site bottling and corking a few cases of a new Cab Sav, so we got to watch and then taste it, as we chatted with him in the intimate event space upstairs. The duo owners, Brian Leventhal and John Stires, who left unfulfilling, but lucrative positions in finance to follow their passion for wine and create a space that they themselves would want to hang out in with their friends, also mingled with us. We asked all kinds of questions, and they answered every single one, from where they got the furniture, to the grapes; how they design their labels and acquired such a desirable location; to the types of events they have on offer and their vision for the future. Ridiculously centrally located near Bedford Avenue on N 8th Street, with a spectacularly unique wine menu and lots of comfortably designed nooks to chill in, this is the place you want to spend a mellow Friday night, come for a workshop or a tasting, or host an intimate shindig of your own.

Finally, it was over to Brooklyn Farmacy in Carroll Gardens, a lovingly restored, 1920’s era soda fountain. Brought back to life by brother and sister team, Peter Freeman and Gia Giasullo, for a Discovery Channel reality TV renovation series, it’s a quintessential old gem that makes you think you’ve stepped back in time. Children came in with their parents to have a scoop of ice cream at the counter after school, grandparents read books to grandkids off the shelves of their library, and a group played board games on the big table in the back room. We were treated to traditional chocolate and vanilla egg creams, as the owners shared priceless stories about the history of the space, the condition they found it in, and how they went to great lengths to make it their own while attempting to remain true to the neighborhood. This joint manages to strike the perfect balance between family-friendly cute and edgy Brooklyn “Jerk”. You can buy more than 2 dozen locally made products from different BK artisans, proudly displayed in the Farmacy’s original wooden built ins. Lucky for you out-of-towners, these delicacies can be purchased online at With Love, From Brooklyn and NY Mouth.

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As the tour came to a close, I had a very heartwarming feeling that history has not been lost, but in fact, there are many people committed to preserving the stories and places that make these diverse neighborhoods truly one-of-a-kind. The culinary traditions of the past are alive and well for the current generations to appreciate, if you put yourself in capable hands and know where to look. As the afternoon sun began to dip behind the trees, I sat outside on the Farmacy’s bench chatting with a few old men from the ‘hood about how life used to be and how things haved changed. I commiserated, with an understanding nod and an appreciation for their perspective, but also with joy in my heart that pearls like these still exist for me and hopefully, my children to experience. It may not be like it used to, but perhaps there’s still hope, that eventually we can make city living even better for the future.

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Want to learn more about Urban Oyster Tours straight from the founders?
Sample goodies from these very same artisans yourself?
Get ideas for local culinary tours and travel destinations?

Head to: Escapemaker.com’s Local Food & Travel Expo
Saturday, April 14 from 12 – 5 pm
@ Skylight One Hanson

And be sure to check out all these places and more on my “Best of Culinary Brooklyn” Eye For Style map!

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Shop, Eat, Drink in Spring!

Spring has officially sprung and the weather is already unseasonably warm, so locals and tourists alike are itching to soak up all the outdoor activities on tap throughout the city. There are several festivals kicking off the season this very weekend and dozens more opening just a few short weeks from now. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a handy dandy list for the best places to crawl, eat, nosh, and repeat ad infinitum, that are guaranteed to put a spring in your step…

Shop, Drop, & Drink

Saturday April 7, 2012

Williamburg, Brooklyn

Nearly 50 businesses will offer special sales and discounts to celebrate the arrival of spring with an all-day mobile shopping event. Contemporary stores like Bird, Life:Curated, Jumelle, In God We Trust, and beloved vintage boutiques like Horizon’s Vintage, Malin Landaeus, and Antoinette will ALL offer single-day sales and special offerings all the live long day.

Event-goers can unlock immediate discounts – like a free tote from Catbird or a mini-sundae from Momofuku Milk Bar - by simply by using the free Domino Smart Guide app, taking a picture of the item they’re interested in, and posting it to their Facebook wall. The app’s map is the perfect way to hone in on exactly where all the participants are located and what kind of perks they’re offering for the event.

Mobile art truck sensation Art Attack will also be roaming through Williamsburg selling inexpensive pieces by local artists. Crawlers can track the truck by following @RabbitArtAttack on Twitter.

If you’re unfamiliar with the ‘Burg, or just want to broaden your horizons and plug in to what’s new in the ‘hood, this is a great way to spend a leisurely Saturday, checking out and supporting the wide array of small businesses throughout in the area in one fell swoop.

 

Smorgasburg

Opening Day: April 7, 2012

Every Saturday, 11am – 6pm, thru 
November 2012

East River Waterfront, b/w North 6 + 7 Sts, Williamburg, Brooklyn

Brooklyn’s favorite all-food market, returns for the 2012 season, promising a veritable food bonanza with a healthy mix of delicious Flea veterans and talented newcomers. Go grab that nosh you’ve been dreaming about since November and discover some new favorites before the other cool kids do.

If you want a refresher course on what to expect, check out Eye For Style’s “best of the fest” recommendations here.

Dekalb Market

Spring Weekender Opening

April 7 + 8, 2012 from 10 am  – 6 pm

138 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Dekalb Market is launching as a multi-purpose cultural destination featuring a new outdoor event space with a full season of free, curated music, art, food, film and eclectic experiences in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.

Housed in a collection of salvaged shipping containers, the market aims to unite Brooklyn’s creative entrepreneurs in a community setting that include an incubator farm, events and performance venue, and a collection of eateries and work-sell spaces.

Dekalb Market 2012 will include: Dance parties, free open-air markets, unique foodie events, bike in and rooftop movie nights, lobster boils, interior design shows, roller derbies and an ongoing series of special live music performances. All of this alongside the new permanent Dekalb Market Beer & Wine Garden, featuring local craft beer, wine and sangria, the ideal spot to hang out with friends, relax in the sun and take a break from shopping, set against the gritty-cool urban backdrop of downtown Brooklyn.

Open seven days a week, locals and visitors can now spend a leisurely morning, afternoon or evening while enjoying over 60+ local food vendors and on site retail shops.

THE SPRING WEEKENDER opening days extravaganza will be host to myriad activities including: a curated flower and garden market; cooking, farming, gardening, and crafting classes & workshops for adults and children; a market wide Easter egg hunt; DJ sets and live music from local bands; locally brewed beer & wine garden; and more!
 

COMING SOON:

 
Hester Street Fair

Hester @ Essex Street, Lower East Side

Opening Day: Saturday, April 28

Every Saturday, 12 – 6 pm thru October 2012

 

New Amsterdam Market

South Street between Beekman Street and Peck Slip


Opening Day: Sunday, April 29

Every Sunday, 11am – 4pm thru December 2012

 
 
 
 
 
Frieze Art Fair New York

Randall’s Island

May 4 – 7, 2012

12 – 7 pm

Frieze New York presents the most forward-thinking galleries from around the globe, bringing an international focus to the dynamic contemporary art scene in New York.

Frieze Projects will showcase work by over 1,000 of the world’s leading artists, and Frieze Talks will host a program of debates, panel discussions, and keynote lectures, housed in a bespoke temporary structure designed by New York-based SO-IL architects and located in the unique setting of Randall’s Island Park, overlooking the East River.

Frieze New York 2012 will also offer a choice of eating and drinking options, from Frankie’s Spuntino, Sant Ambroeus, The Fat Radish, Roberta’s, The Standard Biergarten, and Intelligentsia Coffee.

 
 

Madison Square Eats Spring 2012

Daily, May 4 – June 1

Worth Square, just west of MSP @ 24th & 5th Ave.

For Eye For Style’s recommendations on how to spend a leisurely day relishing the bounty of MSE3, Eataly, AND Madison Square Park, click here immediately.

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Introducing: Eye For Style Services

Welcome to Eye For Style Services, a personal concierge service for all your dining, entertainment, shopping, and travel needs! I love turning other savvy souls onto my favorite things, creating memorable moments, and helping people live their best life. I’m a bonafide tastemaker with very high-standards, and lucky for you, I’ve got an arsenal of carefully curated sources and contacts, insider deals and tricks-of-the-trade, right at my fingertips and ready to tap at a moment’s notice. So, you share your vision, and I’ll make it a reality. No dream is too big or small. Imagine the possibilities…

Service #1: Just a Suggestion

Do you need a spot-on recommendation? Where’s the perfect bar for a casual drink, or cool restaurant for a hot date? Where do you take that hard to impress client or out-of-town friend? What’s the quintessential boutique to find that perfect gift? Call me for a quickie phone consult and I’ll help you locate a guaranteed “no fail zone” to get exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t have time to take care of all the particulars? No worries. I’ll do the research, make the arrangements, and message you the deets. You just show up – and take all the credit for your impeccable taste.

From $40/hr.

Service #2: Wanderluster’s Cure

Desperately need a weekend getaway? Fantasizing about your next vacation abroad? Call me for a quick phone consult and tell me what kind of respite you’re craving. Whether it be spa, sports, or sightseeing, I’ll do my homework and provide you with a short list of available destinations, tailored specifically to your interests and budget. Don’t have time to make all the trip arrangements yourself? Fear not! I’ll customize a complete travel itinerary, from transportation to hotel, activities and eateries, for that perfect solo expedition, romantic escapade, or family adventure you’ve been dreaming of. Just pack your bags and prepare to explore new horizons. I’ll handle every tiny detail, you send me a postcard.

From $60/hr

Service #3: Omnivore’s Dilemma

Want to have a few friends over to chill? Host a fancy dinner party? Create a romantic evening in for 2? Call me for a quickie phone consult and share your culinary vision. I’ll head to Eataly, Chelsea Market, Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods, whatever you’re in the mood for, to custom-design a terrific food & drink menu for you and yours. I’ll procure the all the necessary ingredients for you to cook, or devise an easy to assemble, pre-prepared feast. Better yet, hire one of my favorite private chefs and sommeliers to cater every course in style! Let your guests in on the action, or pretend you did all the work yourself. It’s our little secret.

From $80/hr

Service #4: Ready to Wear

Looking for a few new pieces to perk up your closet this season? Does your wardrobe need a complete overhaul? Don’t have time to find that perfect outfit for an event? No sweat! Eye For Style offers personal wardrobe services, with a seasoned commercial stylist, specifically suited to your needs, taste, and budget. We’ll shop together at your favorite shops or I’ll bring a collection of handpicked items right to your home or office. Looking fashionable has never been so fun and easy!

From $80/hr

Service #5: Order From Chaos

For information about my home & office organizing services, please click here.

Can’t wait to get started? Kick off your quickie consult via this request form:

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Testimonials from happy clients provided upon request. Just ask!

Food & wardrobe services available in New York City and Los Angeles only.

Personal concierge & travel services available in the United States.

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Artwork by: freya art and design. Check out her delightful store on etsy.com!

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Eye For Style’s Favorites of 2011

Alas, it’s the end of another year, and the perfect time to look back and reflect on the people, places, and things that most captured our fancy.

I’m so honored that Photoshelter named me one of their staff’s favorite photographers for 2011 and plan to include me in their line-up of featured photographers for January 2012. In keeping with that same spirit, I thought I’d compile a list of some of my 2011 favorites to share with you. While a few of these events have come and gone, a majority of these recommendations are still going strong, and can be enjoyed well into 2012. Lucky you, it’s shaping up to be an awesome new year already!

Favorite musical find: The Hot Sardines, Yuna, Jaymay

Favorite go-to album: Adele 21; Beastie Boys Hot Sauce Committee Part 2

Favorite concerts: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros @ Escape to NY; Ray La Montagne at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park

Favorite movie: The Artist; Bill Cunningham New York

Favorite gallery show: Aaron Johnson @ Stux; Stephanie Gutheil @ Mike Weiss

Favorite museum exhibit: Alexander McQueen at The Met; Maurizio Cattelan at The Guggenheim

Favorite architectural event: Open House NY; GVSHP Spring House Tour; MAS NYC Programs

Favorite art festival: Festival of New Ideas; Bring to Light; HOWL Festival; Figment on Governor’s Island

Favorite food festival: Smorgasburg; Union Square GreenmarketMadison Square Eats

Favorite food event: Edible Manhattan’s Good Spirits at Le Poisson Rouge

Favorite food truck: Sweetery NYC; Korilla BBQ; Wafels & Dinges

Favorite brunch: Northern Spy Food Co., WestvilleTartine; Back Forty

Favorite dinners: David Burke KitchenGoat TownTakahachi; Cask

Favorite coffee: La Colombe; Blue BottleHampton Chutney‘s cardamom coffee

Favorite bakery: Jane’s Sweet BunsZucker Bakers; Veniero’s Pasticceria; Ceci-Cela Patisserie

Favorite cupcake: Chickalicious; Butter Lane

Favorite mid-afternoon snack: Dumpling Man; People’s Pops; Pomme Frites

Favorite cheap eat: South Brooklyn Pizza; Tacombi; AsiaDog

Favorite sandwich: Num Pang; Barnyard; Mamoun’s

Favorite burger: Whitman’s; Royale; Korzo Haus

Favorite ice cream: Big Gay Ice Cream; Cool Haus

Favorite cocktail spot: Masak; The Beagle; Summit Bar

Favorite wine bar: Terroir; Grape & Grain; The Immigrant; Aria

Favorite cheese shop: Saxelby Cheesemongers @ Essex Market; Bedford Cheese Shop

Favorite gift boutique: Still House; Exit 9; Alphabets; Mxyplyzyk Inc.

Favorite accessories boutique: Barbara Feinman Millinery; Shape of Lies

Favorite clothing boutique: pinkyotto; Cloak & Dagger; Honey in the Rough; Pas de Deux

Favorite home decor: Jonathan AdlerKabinet & Kammer; Lancelotti Housewares; White Trash

Favorite kitchenware depot: Broadway PanhandlerThe Meat Hook

Favorite bookstore: St. Mark’s Bookshop; Three Lives & Co.; Strand; LES Tenement Museum

Favorite stroll: Section 2 of The Highline; East River esplanades; The Ramble

Favorite yoga studio: Integral Yoga Institute; Laughing Lotus Center

Favorite day spa: Russian Turkish BathsMama Spa

Favorite new tech gadget: Roku 2; iPad 2

Favorite thing about NYC: EVERYTHING!

For more information about my very favorite places throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, be sure to check out my handy-dandy Eye For Style maps.

Need a recommendation for that perfect gift or restaurant for that special occasion? Check out my Eye For Style Services page.

In the meantime, wishing you a Happy 2012 full of urban adventures, art explorations, good eats, shopping scores, ample playtime, and so much more!

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Best of Local Holiday Shopping in NYC & Brooklyn

More than ever, I think it’s really important to support local artists, craftsman, and designers during the holiday season. Visiting independent holiday markets and pop-up shops is not only fun, it’s a sure fire way to find gifts that are are completely unique, and so much more personally tailored to your loved one’s tastes and interests. No big box retailer in the mall, selling mass-produced crap from China, can compete with that!

Some of the very best local holiday markets are happening this weekend, so I’ve compiled a handy-dandy list of my favorite events to make your shopping a little less stressful, and a little more festive. Fingers crossed, you’ll get all those purchases out of the way in one fell swoop, so you can move on to the most enjoyable activities – cooking and spending time with the people you adore!

 

The Brooklyn Flea

Skylight One Hanson @ Ashland Pl., Ft. Greene

12/16, 2 – 9; 12/17 + 18, 10 – 5; 12/21 + 22, 2 – 9

If you can’t tick everything off your list at this one location, you’re officially a glutton for Christmas shopping punishment. If you like feeding all your birds with one seed, and getting the madness over with in one easy rip, head to The Flea immediately. This event is really the best of both worlds, merging the food purveyors from Saturday’s Smorgasburg, with the clothing, craft, and vintage treasure vendors of Sunday’s BK Flea. Thankfully, they are all co-mingling under one spectacular roof for the winter, at the architectural gem that is Skylight One Hanson, formerly the Williamsburg Savings Bank. It’s worth a visit just to see the gorgeous landmark’s interior, but with 100+ vendors lining the former teller windows on the ground floor, secret rooms on the upstairs mezzanine, and the original bank vault on the lower level brimming with an impressive food court and seating area, this is as good as local holiday shopping experiences are likely to get.

Best plan of attack? Start your shopping day here with a little coffee, breakfast noshing, and browsing. Do a full lap around to check out all that’s on offer, before heading back to your favorite vendors for those all too perfect gifts for you-know-exactly-who. Once you’ve had your fill, make your way over for the evening festivities at:

 

The Brooklyn Night Bazaar

149 Kent Ave, between N 5th & N 6th, Williamsburg

12/15 – 12/17, 5 pm – 1 am

This triple threat, grub-shop-party event pops up in a huge warehouse space this weekend only. The 3-day event, designed specially by JDS Architects, is guaranteed to be one happening spot, bursting at the seams with shopping, food, music, film, and art installations. Many of the food vendors are familiar faces from Smorgasburg, but seeing as Brooklyn has no shortage of culinary talent, dozens of other esteemed BK food scene luminaries will also be on hand to sweeten the pot, along side several local wineries and breweries. 60+ artist merchants will be peddling their crafty wares, as a handful of musical acts take to the stage, including DJ James Murphy (DFA/LCD Soundsystem) and The Hold Steady. Admission to TBNB is free, food is modestly priced, while tickets for the live performances can be purchased separately for $10 – $22. For a complete line-up of participating talent, and to purchase tickets, visit: http://bkbazaar.com

 

While you’re shop-crawling around Williamsburg, drop by Artists & Fleas Designer and Vintage Market (70 N 7th Street, every Sat & Sun, 10 am – 7 pm) to visit some of my very favorite artist merchants in the NYC area, housed all in one convenient indoor location, year-round since 2003. Affordable and cool gifts abound here: jewelry galore, chunky knit accessories, funky vintage & modern threads, one-of-a-kind handmade journals, decorative art, and much more.

If making the trip out to Brooklyn just isn’t your thing, you’re in luck because they’re bringing 30+ of their most stylish vendors to the heart of Manhattan for:

The Artists & Fleas Holiday Pop-Up Shop @ Chelsea Market

10th Avenue @ 15th Street

12/15 – 12/31, 10:30 am – 7:30 pm

Located in a never before seen, 4000 sq. ft. industrial space in Chelsea Market, this pop-up is a perfect destination for all your holiday shopping needs. You’ll undoubtedly find a cornucopia of handmade goodies by A&F’s cream of the crop. The full-time tenants of Chelsea Market, formerly the Nabisco Biscuit Co. Headquarters, have tons on offer as well – Morroccan home decor, kitchenware, gourmet food products, books, and more. Take a load off and stop for: a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso; a creamy cold treat from Arte Del Gelato or Ronnybrook Farms; a wicked hot chocolate a la Jacques Torres; baked goods from Amy’s Bread or Eleni’s. Choose from: Thai or Italian; California cuisine or NY farm-to-table; sushi from the seafood market or charcuterie from Dickson’s Farmstand; or a soup/salad combo from Hale & Hearty. The options are endless. The building is conveniently nestled directly beneath The High Line, along the picturesque Hudson River waterfront, and at the crossroads of the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and West Village shopping districts, making it a must stroll destination area.

So, after you’ve enjoyed the Artists & Fleas pop-up, had a bite in Chelsea Market, taken a jaunt along The High Line and through the fashionable MPD, make your way east a few blocks to round out your shopping adventures with a visit to:

 

The Union Square Holiday Market

14th Street between Broadway and University Place

11/24 – 12/24; M-F: 11-8; Sat: 10-9; Sun: 10-6

This has been my go-to holiday shopping destination for the last several years running, despite the fact that it can be a claustrophobic zoo, packed with wide-eyed tourists all day long. Nevertheless, I do enjoy meandering through the maze of red & white, candy cane striped tents, browsing and sampling, and intermittenly stopping for a hot chocolate or apple cider to warm up. I confess that this year, the market feels as if it’s lost a bit of its magic. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been to it several times before, and there aren’t as many new vendors participating. Cool pop-ups have been increasingly the rage throughout 2011, so organizers really have to up-the-ante to keep things interesting, especially for resident shoppers. A lot of this year’s fine artists in particular look rather identical to each other, though I do dig the NYC cityscape themed art that seems to adorn every canvas, leather clutch, tote bag, t-shirt, greeting card, or surface that one can manage to print a digital image on.

I do have a few absolute favorite vendors that I consider to be real stand outs, who lure me back again and again to buy items that have become a part of my personal holiday traditions.

My favorite gift vendors are: COPA Soaps’ intoxicating essential oil infused, heaven-scented bars of skin softening, shea-buttery magic that smell good enough to eat; Nirvanna Designs’ warm and stylish line of crochet/knit hats, gloves, and outerwear, made with high quality wools and lined with super soft fleece; DeLong Ceramics’ decorative tiles and hanging ornaments featuring the iconic landmarks of NYC/BK; Edie Art’s whimsical, colorful paintings depicting the magic of child’s play against the backdrop of NY cityscapes; Shaya’s stunning line of simple, geometric, handmade jewelry that artfully mixes elements of sterling silver, gold, and copper.

My favorite food vendors are: Brooklyn Salsa Co.’s line-up of palate-pleasing, kick ass salsas, consciously prepared utilizing a rather unique combination of sophisicated flavor profiles, with local sustainable ingredients, each cleverly named to represent 1 of the 5 boroughs; Spices and Tease’s beautiful rainbow of exotic, ethnic spices and nose tantalizing herb/flower/tea blends; No Chewing Allowed’s exquisite, melt on your tongue, premium French truffles and steamy hot chocolate.

If you’re still craving more shopping after all that, I should probably take your credit card away from you (or ask you to be my sugar daddy). That said, should you be interested in visiting other local holiday markets, in more neighborhoods throughout the city, I suggest you check out Destination Guides’ equally comprehensive list.

May you find the perfect gift for everyone on your list and have a blast doing so. Wishing you and yours a most happy holiday season and a grand New Year of the Dragon 2012!

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The Best of Smorgasburg 2011

This Saturday, November 19, is the last day to experience Smorgasburg under open skies along the picturesque Williamsburg waterfront before the fest, named Top Artisanal Food Market in America by Bon Appétit, moves indoors to its equally stunning winter location at Skylight One Hanson. This season’s finale market, expected to draw the best of the best artisanal vendors of the year, is the perfect opportunity to place your orders for Thanksgiving, and pick up some less well known specialty products direct from local Brooklyn purveyors that are guaranteed to impress your guests and tantalize their taste buds. Don’t miss it!

You Are Here

I must confess, Smorgasburg quickly became my favorite (not so) guilty pleasure this past summer. I went back for more a total of 4 times, and never ate the same thing twice. The rotating roster of different vendors makes it a unique experience every weekend, and a terrific way to sample a variety of notable, up-and-coming BK eateries, all in one convenient spot.

Once I’ve had my fill, I love to take the East River Ferry back home. You can hop on board right next to the market. It’s a wonderful way to cap off a Saturday afternoon, with a bit of fresh air on the water, and gorgeous sunset views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts. For a mere $4, it’s a must!

So, if you’ve still not ventured over to the market yet and want to make a bee line for the best eats on hand this weekend, be sure to check out my personal picks for “The Best of Smorgasburg”:

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Best vendor: Sunday Gravy

Sunday Gravy won my heart from the get-go with their out-of-this-world, slow braised, tomato meat sauce. Using a combination of both pork and beef, this thick-as-thieves homemade gravy is divine served in a hollowed out sandwich roll, or poured liberally over pasta. I fell head over heels though, after my first bite of their roasted vegetable sandwich. Fresh tomatoes, zucchini, and squash are marinated in balsamic vinegar, heaped on rustic bread, slathered with tangy goat cheese, and topped with micro greens. I loved every morsel! Steven Smith and family are simply the nicest vendors in the market. They proudly hand out samples and are more than happy to lovingly chat about their saucy gravy. My hands down favorite at Smorg!

Best sandwich: 18NY

I8NY really won me over with their crispy chicken, fried green tomato, salsa verde sandwich, though their watermelon, eggplant, mozzarella sammie is a sure-fire winner too. Most recently, their lamb sausage with rosemary, pickled swiss chard, and yogurt creation has captured my attention. Will Griffin and Jon Meyer epitomize the DIY, local/seasonal, Brooklyn food scene and I can’t wait to see what other sandwich and side combinations they think of next.

Best meaty treat: Mighty Quinn’s

The smell in the air wafting from Hugh Mangum’s stand makes Mighty Quinn’s such a popular attraction that I wasn’t actually able to get to the front of the line before he ran out of ribs and brisket – on 3 separate visits to Smorgasburg. That’s a very good sign, so on my last venture, I made sure to get in line early, determined to get a taste of this meaty magic. I was not disappointed. I opted for the brisket sandwich – a literal mountain of thick sliced beef, slow cooked for over 20 hours, slathered in bbq sauce. Hugh cooks the brisket off site, wraps it for transport, sealing in all the juices, and slices it right before your eyes, just seconds before it’s piled on a slightly sweet country white roll (delivered fresh to their kitchen from a secret source in Philly), and topped with pickled onions and a dash of coarse sea salt. It’s an eye-popping amount of beef, a mouth-watering taste of real southern barbeque, and completely worth waiting in the longest line at Smorg. DO IT.

An honorable mention must go to: Asia DogWhen I found out what was in a hot dog at the age of 10, I stopped eating them then and there. Until I met Asia Dog some 25 years later. Their grass-fed, nitrate-free, organic beef dogs sounded safe enough to warrant a try, and the unusual Asian toppings are a real selling point. I especially love “The Sidney” topped with mango chutney, cucumber, and peanuts, as well as “The Mel & Steve” topped with purple cabbage sesame slaw. “The Wangding”, a dog topped with bbq pork belly in plum sauce, is kind of meat overkill, but worth a taste when you’re in the mood to throw caution to the wind. Word to the wise: don’t pass up their limeade. It’s the perfect tart and bubbly beverage companion with a dog or two.

Best veggie treat: Skytown

It’s pretty simple. They use really fresh seasonal ingredients, procured at the local farmers market, and they make amazingly flavorful salads. In the sea of meat and sweets that is Smorgasburg, it’s a pleasure to mix it up with a little something green from Skytown. I can’t explain it exactly, but there’s clearly love in these salads. They just feel good to eat. Love doesn’t come cheap at Skytown, but if you’re craving some vegetables, especially a really tasty and satisfying kale salad, this is a no brainer.

Best sweet treat: Dough + Blue Bottle

These might just be the best yeast doughnuts in the land. I hate to be a traitor, Doughnut Plant, but Dough gives you a serious run for your money! I particularly like their citrus-y flavors – passion fruit topped with cacao nibs, lemon poppy seed, and my absolute favorite, blood orange. Nothing else compares. The great thing about these doughnuts is that they’re not overly sweet. The café au lait topped with almonds, and the chocolate topped with cacao nibs, are flawless. Go for the coconut or dulce de leche, if you’ve got an aching sweet tooth. While they have a super eye-catching hot pink color, the hibiscus falls a little flat for me, and the berry tastes like your average jelly doughnut. Their doughnut holes, simply dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar, make for a delightful snack, especially when paired with a cup of Blue Bottle’s chickory coffee (conveniently located at the stand to their left). Don’t let the line stop you. It moves fast and they will sell out. I always get in their line first, grab my doughnuts for tomorrow’s breakfast and take them home with me. The biggest challenge? Waiting until morning to eat them! I admit, I’ve failed on more than one occasion, but hey, they make a great dessert too.

Honorable mentions to: S’more Bakery for their incredibly ooey-gooey handmade vanilla bean marshmallow, cinnamon clover-honey graham cracker, chocolate ganache S’moregasm; The Good Batch’s array of ice cream sandwiches and whoopie pies on a stroopwafel; and the seasonal fruit popsicle masters, People’s Pops!

Best drink: Float

Float serves up the absolutely prettiest, most inventive drinks I stumbled across at Smorg. Their combination of sparkling sodas and fruit juices, fresh muddled herbs, a frothy dollop of ice cream or sorbet on top, AND a pretzel rod, make for one extremely very refreshing and attractive beverage. My favorite is probably the watermelon mint float, though the blueberry hibiscus, and bloody mary were both phenomenal.

Honorable mention to: Brooklyn Soda Works for their grapefruit, jalapeno, honey and pomegranate, pear, cinnamon sodas!

Best thing in a jar: Maiden Preserves and Granola Labs

I found it near impossible to stop sampling all the different flavors that Maiden Preserves and Granola Lab had on offer, and even more impossible to pick a favorite, so I propose a tie between the two. Maiden Preserves are the most delicious jams I’ve had in recent memory. With flavors like rhubarb, lemon vanilla bean, strawberry verbena, and orange bourbon, can you blame me for being indecisive? I love their big wallop of fruity flavor, chased with the perfect hint of herb, spice, or booze; and the gorgeous natural color you can see right through the traditional glass jar they come packaged in, wrapped simply with twine and a homemade label. Maiden Preserves make breakfast sing. Your morning will burn that much brighter and your toast will thank you.

Granola Lab’s variations also make choosing a favorite incredibly challenging. With flavor combos like coffee, chocolate, hazelnut; orange, pecan, maple; and tamarind, walnut, banana; there’s no wrong choice here. Alex Crosier makes small batches of granola that have maximum crunch and texture, bursting with layers of flavor and spice. It’s the best granola I’ve ever had, and I don’t say that lightly, as one of my all-time favorite breakfasts is granola over Greek yogurt, topped with seasonal fruit. (It’s second only to Nancy Silverton’s legendary La Brea Bakery granola, maybe.) I look forward to nibbling my way through a bag of each of her “quasi-science” flavor experiments in the months to come.

Honorable mention to: McClure’s Pickles for the prettiest jar of pickled veggies and seriously kick-ass bloody mary mix I’ve ever tasted!

Best thing in a bottleMorris Kitchen

Morris Kitchen’s ginger syrup is to die for. Upon first glance, I kind of questioned why someone would make just this one product, but I was intrigued and immediately had to try it. As soon as I did – sweet spicy taste explosion! My wheels started spinning about all the ways I’d want to use it – over ice cream, in cocktails, soda, straight from the bottle! Major cool points could be scored at a dinner party or given as a gift. You don’t find a product like this very often. You have to admire someone who specializes in just one rather unusual ingredient and Kari Morris pulls it off expertly. I look forward to sampling her new apple cider syrup and any other variety she dreams up next.

Honorable mention to: Brooklyn Bitters for their line-up of stimulating flavors, including mission fig, sriracha, meyon lemon, and rhubarb, which undoubtedly contributes a nice complexity and kick to any classic, artisanal cocktail. And do be sure to check out their website, for great drink recipes utilizing their unique little tonics.

Now, if I’ve done my job right, your appetite has officially been whet and you can’t wait to eat your heart out at Smorgasburg this weekend. Luckily, it’s only a hop, skip, and jump away on the L train or East River Ferry. So, save lots of room in that belly and go relish the best of culinary Brooklyn. Enjoy, food lovers!

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Hungry for more? Check out my food photography portfolios on eyeforstyle.net and dripbook.

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