Sunday, January 30, 2011

New York City - A 48 Hour Gastronomic Weekend (ABC Kitchen)

Woke up Saturday morning to find the sun illuminating that amazing Central Park view and the seventh deadly sin of gluttony calling my name (we've grown quite fond of each other lately). That little birthday treat that the Mandarin Oriental left in my hotel room was staring me down and guess who won? The inside was a sinfully soft and fluffy chocolate mousse, rich and decadent, with a dollop of lemon curd and raspberries at the bottom. If only every day started like this:

Then when the guilt set in (i.e., immediately), I took the elevator to the 36th floor and went for a swim in the heated pool. Having a pool in New York City (with a view of the Hudson!) is a total luxury that not many properties can boast and I could not help but take advantage on this 32 degree winter morning.
I finally made it out the door, even though the beauty of this Mandarin Oriental property in the winter is that you can take the elevator to the third floor, and without ever going outside, be indoors at the Shops at Columbus Circle Mall, which houses many stores, restaurants (including the famous Per Se) and a massive Whole Foods in the basement.

I took a long walk around lower 5th Avenue, Madison Square Park, the Flatiron District and Gramercy areas and eventually found myself inside the famous ABC Carpet and Home store, where I love to get inspiration from all of the fabrics, colors, rugs, lighting and home imports from around the globe. But my real motivation for entering the store was to experience the currently hotter than hot Jean Georges Vongerichten farm-to-table restaurant on the first floor called ABC Kitchen.

The theme of the restaurant is sustainability, locally and organically sourced products and recycled materials. A truly cozy dining room, you feel as if you are walking into a french country farmhouse. Light white-washed wood floors, venetian plaster walls, ceiling beams transported from an old barn, locally handmade porcelain dinnerware, tree branch installations, salvaged wood tables, and handmade bread baskets from Patagonia all add to this warm "shabby chic" atmosphere. Placemats and menus come from 100% recycled paper and coasters are squares of cardboard from shipping boxes. Literally everything used in this restaurant either had a previous life, or will have a new one.

While ABC Kitchen is receiving rave reviews for both lunch and dinner (my friend Leigh sat next to Gwenyth Paltrow here three nights ago) I went for the morning brunch served on Saturday and Sundays. I had one of their homemade sodas with lemon and thyme and we all shared the glazed donuts with jam. Equally appealing were the warm and light buttermilk pancakes with lemon curd. And the grand finale was the colossal sundae with salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

ABC Kitchen also features a long bar and some high top tables in the bar area if you wish to go for a drink (cocktails, homemade sodas or a long list of blended super juices are on offer) or just a small bite, without ordering an entire meal. The restaurant is currently booking ten days out so plan in advance of your next visit. Pin It

Friday, January 28, 2011

New York City - A 48 Hour Gastronomic Weekend

Have a hectic couple of weeks coming up at work, including seven days in my office in Germany, so I thought I would use this weekend to relax and have some fun in New York City. I'm very excited to try all of the new restaurants I have been reading about, as well as re-visiting some old favorites. I went back and forth on the title of this entry. Yes, I am spending 48 hours in New York City, but what this blog entry should really be called is, "How to Gain 6 Pounds in 2 Days." This will be a gastronomic extravaganza. Anyway, while my waistline will be taking the hit, you can follow along calorie-free.

I got off the Amtrak Acela Express from Boston at 11am and checked into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Columbus Circle and was so delighted to find that I had been upgraded to a Premiere Central Park View Room on the 46th Floor.

 Look at this amazing view of a snow covered Central Park and the New York City skyline from my room:

What I am most impressed by is the fact that the hotel remembered from our phone booking that I celebrated a birthday this month and this is the first chance I have had to get away and mark the occasion. I opened the door to my room to find this decadent mini birthday cake:

But the cake would have to wait until after my lunch at The Mark Restaurant by Jean Georges. The restaurant is housed within the Mark Hotel on 77th and Madison, and the hotel has come a long way since Johnny Depp and Kate Moss trashed their room there back in 1994. The hotel has undergone a complete overhaul and was redesigned using a funky and artsy decor by french designer Jacques Grange. Look at the amazing black and white marble floor lobby and the round ball wall art with mirrors:

At the helm of the restaurant is world-renown chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, who must have a fair amount of frequent flyer miles, as he rotates around his 27 other restaurants all over the globe. Once you pass by the cow-print chairs in the hotel bar, the entryway to the restaurant is flanked by an impressive wine cellar and gives way to a sizable bar with very comfortable high-backed bar stools and a cozy dining room:

(Second photo © The Mark Hotel)

The lunch menu features a raw bar, soups and salads, sandwiches, a few pastas, pizza, and burgers as well as some entrees, such as salmon and veal milanese. A good friend of mine suggested I try the Croque M, which normally means Croque Monsieur, but as this one had a poached egg on top, I think it actually qualifies as a Croque Madame. I can literally feel my arteries hardening as I write this, but the Croque M consisted of two slices of soft bread with ham and cheese inside, grilled hot and covered with a cheese/bechamel sauce and a poached egg on top with some mesclun greens on the side. It was truly delicious and washed down with a Pilsner Urquell.

After lunch I popped around the corner on Madison Avenue to the authentic Italian coffee bar and restaurant Sant Ambroeus (see my previous blog entry on this place) and bought some delicious butter cookies filled with apricot jam:

In order to feel less guilty about today's caloric intake, I strolled down the runway that is Madison Avenue. My favorite "fashion" siting of the day was an older gentleman in a knee-length leopard print coat and cognac colored mink scally cap, amazing! I am also a huge fan of the windows at Bergdorf Goodman and loved their salute to next week's Chinese New Year:
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

South End, Boston - Coppa Enoteca

After a long work week accompanied by equally grueling single digit temperatures, Friday night brought me to Coppa, the cozy little buzzing enoteca on a quiet residential street in Boston's South End neighborhood. Run by well-known Boston based chef Ken Oringer, Coppa features an extensive wine and cocktail list accompanied by Italian small plates. What I love about this concept is that you can order half a dozen or so plates and have the opportunity to experience many different tastes, textures and flavors, resulting in a more diverse dining outing. 

What I ordered: Baccala (warm salt cod crostini), Arancini (traditional warm ricotta balls with fontina cheese), Cavatelli di Pollo (house made pasta with chicken sausage and slow cooked broccoli), Bistecca ai Ferri (skirt steak with cippolini onion agro dolce): all 4 items pictured in order below. 

What I drank: the featured red wine by the glass that evening was the Sella e Mosca Cannonau from Sardinia, Italy.

Other dishes I frequently order are the marinated mushrooms with herbs; fresh burrata cheese with sea salt, chestnut honey and raisins; any of the wood fired pizzas; marinated cauliflower with shallots, thyme and sea salt; brussels sprouts with pecorino, parsley and horseradish; and crispy chicken milanese with greens, lemon and artichokes.

I've just received word that Coppa is now accepting reservations, which will make dining here so much easier! Pin It

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hong Kong - Cocktails with a Killer View over Victoria Harbor

Hong Kong is now world-renown for its daily 8pm laser and light show called A Symphony of Lights where laser beams, colored lights and searchlights originating from 40 skyscrapers on both sides of Victoria Harbor dance to choreographed music. What better way to take in this amazing spectacle than by sipping a cocktail high above the city in a dark and sultry setting with killer views. Here are my three favorites:

Post dinner cocktails in Hong Kong one night brought me to the 30th floor of the One Peking Road building to Aqua Spirit, one of the most glamorous nightspots in all of Asia. Stepping off the elevator, the only thing separating me from the absolutely magnificent view of the Hong Kong city skyline and the harbor, were 21-foot plate glass windows. Not for the vertiginous, the view is so spectacular it will, unequivocally, take your breath away. The backdrop to this panorama is a seductive, dimly-lit and stylish cocktail bar on the 30th floor mezzanine which overlooks the dining room below (featuring both Italian and Japanese kitchens - food is hit or miss). The drink list has excellent house concoctions as well as all your old standbys, and there is a $20 drink minimum per person, but don't worry, you'll have no problem hitting that.
                (Photos © Aqua, Hong Kong)

Another fabulous vantage point overlooking the glittering lights of the skyline and Victoria Harbor is the M Bar on the 25th floor of the decadent Mandarin Oriental. The centerpiece of the room is what the M Bar describes as a 'lotus bud-shaped' bar that is surrounded by tall stools. Chairs are finished in smokey velvet, accented by black lacquered walls and enormous glass windows giving way, again, to unforgettable views. Try one of the house specialty cocktails, like the Hong Kong Legend, then sit back and let the night unfold in front of you.
                   (Photo © Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong)

The last cocktail destination brings us to the grande dame of hotels, the Peninsula Hong Kong (also a favorite for afternoon tea). High atop the 29th floor of the Peninsula you will find the ultra-contemporary Philippe Starck designed Felix restaurant and bar. Felix embodies everything you would suspect from Starck: clean lines, all white furniture, and the occasional whimsy; check out the photo of the bathroom below. The views over the city and harbor are spectacular, the European cuisine will not disappoint, and you just never know who might be sitting next to you.
                        (Photos © The Peninsula Hong Kong) Pin It

Monday, January 17, 2011

Amalfi Coast, Italy - Paolo Sandulli

My mother maintains that the interior of your home should be a true reflection of yourself; when a guest walks in they should immediately understand who you are and what you love. I am enamored of all things to do with the sea: cooling turquoise colors, pearlized seashells, coral branches, starfish, and my home mirrors this. Understandingly then, you can imagine my delight upon being introduced to Paolo Sandulli, an Italian artist, whose work incorporates real sea sponge into each handmade masterpiece.

Paolo Sandulli is a fabulous painter and sculptor whose studio is housed in a beautiful stone tower on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. He is an Italian artist who was born in Avellino (the hometown of my great grandparents) and studied in Naples, Rome and Paris before finally settling in the small seacoast town of Praiano. If you have ever spent time in some of the most exclusive luxury hotels in Capri, Sorrento or the Amalfi Coast, you will have surely seen some of Paolo's work.  What I am currently lusting over for my own private collection are Paolo's terra-cotta busts with sea sponge hair shown here:

                                         (All photos © Paolo Sandulli)

While Paolo has many of his pieces already available for purchase in his studio, you may also request a custom order. One of my dear friends, who is a renown interior designer in London, visited Paolo last summer and had him create a bust for her, similar to the ones above, that incorporated a replica of her favorite pair of turquoise earrings. Pin It

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Washington, DC - 14th Street Restaurants

It always amazes me how a formerly unsavory neighborhood can spring up and gentrify, seemingly, overnight. Maybe it is our need to spread out and find a space of our own, or perhaps it is the explorer in all of us who is inspired to forge ahead and discover new 'lands'. Whatever the motivation may be, the result is more oftentimes than not a new and buzzing area with unique shops and restaurants and a real sense of neighborhood; an area of town so alive that it makes us sit back and ask ourselves, "Why didn't we think of this sooner?"
One such neighborhood that has really come into its own over the last two years is 14th Street, between Logan and Thomas Circles, in Washington, D.C. I recently dined at three of the restaurants in this area over the course of a long weekend in D.C. and want to share with you the culinary fervor that has really excited this part of the city.

Birch & Barley: A glass garage door front, hardwood floors, exposed brick walls covered in candle sconces and an open kitchen set the stage for a menu of all your favorite classic American dishes, with a twist. If you are a beer lover, the upstairs will be an embarrassment of riches: 555 types of artisanal beer from over thirty countries are on hand. The Brät Burger with Beer-Braised Sauerkraut and Emmenthaler cheese will not disappoint.

What I Ordered: I went for their well-known Sunday brunch and had a plate of three homemade fried doughnuts: bittersweet chocolate, lemon-poppy glazed and toffee-bacon, along with a sausage, egg and cheese between two warm creme fraiche biscuits.

                            (Preceding four photos © Powers & Crewe Photography)

Cork Wine Bar: Every neighborhood needs a wine bar like this: casual, affordable, indoor and outdoor tables, small plates and the chance to try over 50 wines by the glass and 160 bottles from wineries all over the world. Cork also offers wine tastings and events twice a month and have a shop nearby where you can purchase many of the wines you sipped at the restaurant, as well as prepared foods, cheeses and baked goods.
What I Ordered: Romaine hearts with creamy anchovy dressing and pecorino, thinly sliced avocado sprinkled with pistachios on grilled crispy bread, roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta and brown butter, lemon and black pepper dusted calamari, sauteed black sea bass, pan-roasted organic chicken breast, french fries with garlic, parsley and homemade ketchup. What I wanted to try but didn't have room for: double chocolate torte with chopped hazelnuts.

Zentan: a smoldering sexy and dark place inside the Donovan House Hotel (Thompson Hotel Group), the inventive Asian kitchen is headed up by famous chef Susur Lee. Get your sushi and sashimi fix here too. In warmer weather, a portion of the menu is offered at the private rooftop pool bar. 
What I Ordered: Veuve Cliquot to start (but of course, it was Saturday night), Singapore slaw with 19 ingredients(don't ask me what they are), salted plum dressing and hazelnuts, crusted vegetable dumplings, caramelized black cod, Cantonese marinated skirt steak, wasabi mashed potato (don't be put off, they are green!) and Tahitian vanilla bean crème brûlée.
                             (Photo © Thompson Hotel) Pin It

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reykjavik, Iceland - A weekend tour

For some reason people have Iceland on the brain this winter. I've had two friends this week ring me up for tips on what to see and do, as they are in the process of making a booking for a long weekend. So, as promised, ladies, here is everything you need to know.

Where to stay:
Radisson Blu SAS 1919: One of my top choices, this Radisson shows and feels like a boutique hotel. I love that the building is historical (dates back to 1919, of course) and used to be the headquarters of the first Icelandic shipping line. Modern silver sculptures in the lobby and the original marble staircase add a great punch of juxtaposition, linking the old and the new. Wonderful bar and restaurant for both a good meal and a pre-dinner drink in a trendy, lounge-vibe atmosphere.
Hotel Borg: Originally the first luxury hotel in Iceland, new renovations have established this as the Art Deco hotel in town. Ask for a room on the 5th floor or in the back, the front of the hotel is too loud on weekends with revelers in the square it sits on. Love their trendy restaurant, Silfur, more on that below.
101 Hotel: Another very trendy design hotel set in a good location. Don't share a room with anyone you don't know intimately, bathrooms have no doors and double deluxe rooms have tubs that sit in the middle of the floor. Their cocktail bar is the place to see and be seen.
Hotel Klopp: For a more budget conscious option, this hotel is in a great location off the main shopping street in Reykjavik. I've stayed here once on business and rooms are very basic and clean, albeit small, but feature nice wooden floors and modern black slate bathrooms.

Where to eat:
Seafood Cellar: Also known in Icelandic as Sjavarkjallarinn, this is my #1 restaurant pick in Reykjavik. Located in the oldest cellar in Reykjavik, this is an asian influenced Icelandic fusion restaurant and the food presentation is amazing. If you have the time and the money, go for the chef's exotic tasting menu and get ready for sensory overload. This place is on par with some of the most sophisticated eateries in the world. Here is a picture of our sorbet, presented in bamboo baskets with smoldering dry ice:
Lobster House: Don't let the name throw you off, it's call Humarhusid in Icelandic, this is one of the more famous restaurants in Reykjavik. Located in a charming old house on the main street, this is a romantic and cozy spot. Lobster is the specialty but they also have lots of other fish and meat.
Silfur: As mentioned above, this restaurant is in the trendy art-deco Hotel Borg. The dining room looks out onto the pretty Austurvöllur Square, has trendy all white tables and chairs and serves Icelandic seafood, game and meat. Very sexy setting.
1919: Many of you may remember this restaurant when it was called Salt, now it is named 1919, still situated in the Radisson Blu 1919 hotel. Arctic char, smoked puffin and Icelandic mountain lamb are among the highlights on the menu. Also nice is their trendy cocktail lounge for drinks.

More Casual Dining Options:
Vegamot: Casual and affordable bistro-cafe-bar mix, with diverse menu offerings, like mexican, italian, indian, hamburgers, sandwiches and a big American style Sunday brunch, there is something to please everyone here. Laidback but bustling by day, Vegamot turns into one of the hottest night spots by night where you can party until 5am the next morning.
Cafe Solon: Ultra cool bistro offering various international dishes as well as a healthy menu for lighter options. Try the quiche for sure. On weekend nights this place changes entirely into a hot and heaving nightclub.
Thorvaldsen: Another more casual, but still very hip dining option. There are plenty of bar food options if you want a nibble with your Viking Beer (native Icelandic brew) or for a full meal, salads, soups and main courses as well. I had drinks here late one evening, this is another place that after 10pm becomes a beautiful people hangout.
Nightlife in Reykjavik consists of a sort of pub crawl on weekends, and when you party until 5am, it makes for a long night, so no one stays at one bar for too long. In addition to those places I mentioned above under "Casual Dining Options" that become nightspots, make sure to hit the following pit stops on your nightly gallivant through town: Hotel 101 bar (listed above) B5 (housed in a former bank), Boston (Laugavegur 28b) though don't be put off by the "whore house meets hunting lodge" decor, and Cafe Oliver, a restaurant that pushes all the tables aside after dinner and creates space for a make-shift dance floor. I danced all night here and had an absolute blast with the locals (and a few international bankers).

Things to do:
Blue Lagoon: It sounds silly and touristic, but you absolutely have to do this! I went in November in the middle of a snow squall and the run outside in the elements from the locker room to the lagoon in my bathing suit was, to say the least, a shock, but all part of the experience. 

The process is all very well organized, you pay an entrance fee and receive a towel and a locker with key, and there are shower facilities for when you finish your bath in the lagoon. A few tips: do not get your hair wet, you will never, ever, get a comb through it again, and if possible, bring an old bathing suit you don't mind throwing away after your swim. You can put your wet swimsuit in a plastic bag, but believe me, the rotten egg smell (sulfur) will contaminate all your clothes in your suitcase on the way home. I went swimming here on my way to the airport for a flight back to Boston and it relaxed me for the entire flight home.
Strokkur Geyser: if you have transportation and can get out of the city center, it is a fun trip to see the Strokkur Geyser. It is literally hot steaming water from underground that shoots up straight in the air. The geyser erupts about every 5 minutes and it is very interesting to watch the progression.
One last thing I would suggest is a visit to this wonderful bakery on the main street in Reykjavik: Sandholt Bakery. I spent an entire Sunday morning in here with a big hot chocolate and some sweets. The bakery dates back to 1920 and is therefore steeped in tradition. They make some of the most beautiful pastries, chocolates, jellies, breads and other baked goods. They also have a large glass window where you can see into the kitchen and watch these delicacies being made. Pick out some of your favorite chocolates and bring them back to friends as mementos from your trip.

                                (Above photo © Sandholt Bakery)

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Monday, January 10, 2011

New York City - Madison Avenue Nibbles

With the opening of 17 new boutiques in the last six months, such as Lanvin, Derek Lam and CH Carolina Herrera, Madison Avenue has reconfirmed it's position as New York City's de rigueur  shopping destination. And everyone knows that after an intensive shopping workout, there is always need for a little nibble. Having worked on 67th and Madison for almost two years, I have literally sniffed out every single 3pm workday snack attack location (sweet and savory) in a one mile radius. Here are my favorites:

Lady M: Blink and you miss this tiny little tea house, and therein fact lies its charm (we're talking 600 sq. ft). A beautiful architecturally designed 24 ft. refrigerated quartz and glass pastry display with delicious cakes such as Gateau aux Marrons, Flourless Chocolate Cake and Green Tea Mousse Cake, to name a few, await you upon entrance and then gives way to about 8 small tables.

But trust me, the piece de resistance at Lady M, and the reason I keep going back time after sinful time (thank you to whomever was at the forefront of bringing elastic waistband leggings into current fashion) is the Lady M Mille Crêpes. The Mille Crêpes is Lady M's own take on the traditional Mille Feuille: 20 ultra thin handmade crepes, each one layered with sweet custard cream, so light and delicious it literally melts in your mouth.

                                                   (all photos © Lady M)

If you don't anticipate being in New York City any time soon, fret not, Lady M delivers their cakes all across the U.S. And for those of you without a sweet tooth (I'm sorry but I just can't relate to you) try Lady M's ham and cheese sandwich on crusty baguette or goat cheese salad.

Via Quadronno: A neighborhood favorite, saunter in and feign complete disinterest when your favorite celebrity is standing at the bar taking a shot of espresso. The flying boar, Via Quadronno's logo, will lead you to some of the best cappuccino and espresso in the city. They are also well known for their panini and cured meats and serve salads, sandwiches and hot dishes at both lunch and dinner.

The cozy atmosphere plays host to my favorite breakfast treat: brioche filled with apricot jam. Via Q is the only place outside of Italy that I have found brioche this authentic, but arrive early, as they do sell out, and sadly, the word has finally spread about this great place, it's crowded at peak hours. Italian biscuits and lots of treats, like tiramisu, fruit tarts and gelato round out the sweet offerings. So don your biggest pair of paparazzi flashbulb-proof black sunglasses, swagger up to the bar, order a cappuccino and take part in your own little walk-on role in La Dolce Vita.
         (all photos © Via Quadronno)

Sant Ambroeus: I spent every morning at the bar at their outpost in the Hamptons on my vacation this past August, and even had a dinner of Spaghetti alla Bolognese outside on the sidewalk one night. Watch the UES (that's Upper East Side) ladies who lunch at this Madison Avenue location. Feels like you are stepping into an authentic Italian cafe (in fact, the original Sant Ambroeus is in Milan). Sant Ambroeus features gelato (my favorite is hazelnut), biscuits (take some to go in pretty pink wrapping), cakes (Sant'Abroeus Chocolate Mousse is delish), cappucino and espresso as well as a full service restaurant for salads, sandwiches, pastas, risotto, meat and fish. Pricey but worth it for the ambience.

Mitchel London Foods: During the work week, I used to buy lunches of mixed vegetables, half a sandwich or quiche and sumptuous chocolate chip cookie and carry it out to go sit in Central Park for an hour. This is a great gourmet take-away spot for breakfast treats, out of this world baked goods (including some of the best cupcakes in the city, Magnolia who?), sandwiches and hot meals. Inviting your in-laws over and can't be bothered to cook? Mitchel London will cater an entire home cooked meal for a dinner party, holiday, weekend picnic, you name it.

                                                                 (Photo © Mitchel London Foods) Pin It