Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cooper Hewitt: Set in Style

Jerome and I had the opportunity to attend the opening reception to the Cooper-Hewitt Van Cleef & Aprels jewelry exhibit which opened February 18.  Museum receptions offer members a sneak peak at the opening exhibit, while offering a themed evening to remember - a token of its appreciation for its members. 

The Van Cleef & Aprels exhibit, which is on display through June 5, showcases more than 300 timeless jewelry pieces that were worn by the likes of Grace Kelly and Liz Taylor.  The exhibit explores the historical significance of the firm's contribution to design in the 20th century - which is vast to say the least.  With that many individual pieces laid out in dome glass cases, I expected to see a pattern or repetition in the work.  Luckily I was wrong.  The design and craftsmanship behind each necklace, brooch, ring, compact, purse, and ring was stunning.  Of course the dime sized jewels, including blood red rubies and flawless diamonds, certainly made an impression it really was the settings, detail and unique personality of each piece that made an impact. My favorite piece was a heavy, emerald necklace that would make a stunning centerpiece on my neck.

But, enough about the exhibit. On to the party.

Many of Van Cleef & Aprels' pieces utilized nature as inspiration, particularly butterflies.  The event production team carried that theme into the reception space, creating an outdoor wonderland of trees, swirling butterflies and  fake grass.  The event space, which was a long white tent erected in patio space behind the museum, was lite in dark blues and blacks.  The ceiling of the tent featured a projection of dark, ominous sky.  All together it set the scene for the city's best people watching.  A DJ bumped beats from pop to jazz artists while New Yorker's between the ages of 90-20 swaggered into the room.  Women were primarily dressed to showcase their style, from an all-white 3-piece long skirt suit trimmed in white fur at the collar and sleeve cuffs to a tight black halter dress, 5 inch platform heels and a shaved head.  The sights outside in the reception tent were almost as eye-catching as the jewelry inside the museum. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Harlem Photo of the Day

The Ephesus Seventh-Day Adventist Church stands tall, proud and beautifully on the corner of 124 Street and Lenox Blvd.  It's just one of the many beautiful churches I walk by en route to the gym in the morning and inspired my photo of the day today.  One day, I may even go inside....

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Heart Day

Jerome and I don't technically "celebrate" Valentines Day but we do use it as an excuse to try out new foods. I've just never been into a holiday that celebrates love with pinks and reds.  Why not celebrate all kinds of love, everyday, in technicolor? 

So what do we do on national heart day?  We both love to cook, albeit in very different ways, so of course we cook a Hearts Day meal for ourselves and enjoy it together.  It's not a night all that different than a Sunday night or a random weeknight when we're both of early, but it is a lot of fun.  Last year we tried our hand at Indian food, the year before it was Filipino food, then there was pizza making and the one that started it all off....sushi.  This year we decided to try out some of our favorite Greek recipes.

Spanakopita in the front and Moussaka
in the rear....our perfect Greek meal
The menu included an appetizer of spanakopita, or feta and spinach pie, which utilized all of the spices in my pantry and most of the goodies in my cheese drawer but somehow came out tasting light and airy with just a touch of spice.  It must have been all that phyllo dough and butter.....alas, the recipe was phenomenal and made me look like a star (recipe from Cook's Illustrated here).  I can't say enough good things about Cook's Illustrated.  Their magazine content is straighforward, their product tests are honest and their recipies are all based on brining out the best flavors, without any of the commen flaws, in each dish.  I don't know any other recipie webstie or magazine that accomplishes these feats time and time again.  So, let's add this to my list of obsessions.

Our main course, also from a Cook's Illustrated recipe, was moussaka which is a thick Greek style lasagna layed with roasted eggplant, lamb sauce and topped with a bechamel sauce.  As it cooks the lamb sauce, which has a tomato base with sauteed onions and red wine combines with the smokiness of the roasted eggplant and the richness of the bechamel sauce.  It's Divine.

For desert, Jerome made baklava which also uses countless layers of phyllo dough and butter, but incorporates an almond nut mixture and is covered in a heavy syrup just before serving.  It gave me the biggest sugar rush I've had in weeks but it was absolutely phenomenal.  Big surprise....we used a Cook's Illustrated recipie for this one too.

All the recipes were very easy and could be made in stages, so we made most of the sauces on Sunday night.  The phyllo dough layering process took about an half an hour and uses more butter than I'm usually comfortable consuming in a night but it was worth the taste and flavor.  And, we have enough leftovers to feed an army of miniature baseball players (a.k.a. little league).  So, I'll be enjoying our meal all week long.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Best Restaurants and Food Retailers in NYC's Union Square

Aerial Shot of NYC's Union Square

Union Square NYC has proved to be a difficult neighborhood for me over the years.  For starters, 6+ years ago when I migrated to NYC I couldn't hear "Union Square" without conjuring up visuals of San Francisco's Union Square and all it represented for my city and my childhood.  SF's Union Square is beautiful, iconic, historic, showcased as the center of the city, and well touristed.  And, over the last 5-6 years, the restored SF Union Square has inspired a face lift for the entire shopping and dining district in downtown.  Obviously, I love it.

NYC's Union Square carries its own great tales but all of them were initially lost on me when I saw it.  The square itself is more of a maze of dog runs, statures and fenced in grass areas than a park - but it does provide some much needed outdoor space in the area.  It also provides a venue, outside of it's maze of long, low fences for stalls and vendors which is also great for an area surrounded by primarily brand name stores.  Most famously, the Union Square Greenmarket which hosts 140 farmers, fishermen, and bakers each week calls this square home.  The best produce I've had in NYC has come from farmers at this market and it holds a very special place in my heart.  If you've never visited the market, which is best early in the morning and particularly good on Saturday and Wednesday mornings before all the top chefs in the area pick through the goods for their restaurant menus that night.

The Union Squre Greenmarket

Now I've grown to love NYC's Union Square for what IT represents and have spent many a warm evening sprawled out on it's steps watching the skateboarders and BMXers pull tricks on the plaza.
And, I utilize the area for a wider variety of things than I used SF's Union Square for.   It's conveniently located between Harlem and Williamsburg (where several of my friends live), and within spitting distance of most of my friends workplaces.  And, during the warmer months you can walk to the East Village, Lower East Side, West Village, SOHO, and Flatiron neighborhoods from here. 

But, the one thing I think the area lacks is winter meeting spots.  Finding a good bar close to the train that isn't overcrowded with students, sterile and uptight, a "scene" bar, or charging $15 for drinks is a tough task.  Also finding restaurants that fit this criteria has proven tough, but not impossible.  Which is why I'm excited to share a couple of my recent finds in the area that will help me on my quest to expand my resources in the area.  If you have a favorite spot in the hood, be it a bar, restaurant, or shop in the area I'd love to hear about it.  In the meantime:

Num Pang Sandwich shop (21 E. 12th Street) - I discovered this little gem through Blackboard Eats.  The entryway is easy to miss, right next to a parking garage and across the street from a large, sleek burger shop.  But, the search is well worth it.  You enter on the ground floor which offers a 4' counter, standing space for 5 and a spiral staircase.  Once you review the menu, or obtain a recommendation from the amazing staff you can take yourself up  the spiral staircase, one person at a time, to find a seat.  The upstairs loft space offers counter seating for about 10 people and 4 child sized stools next to the windowsill for smaller people.  I visited with my friend Bonnie who is quite comfortable in small seats, so we selected the mini seats by the window.
Upstiars Seating at Num Pang

The sandwich menu offers several top-notch choices, all priced between $7 and $9.  Since it's labeled as a Cambodian sandwich shop, Bonnie and I decided to try out two of the classic sandwiches including the pulled duroc pork with spiced hone sauce and grilled skirt steak with crushed coriander and peppercorn, alongside a plate of white pickles and a bottle of root beer.  Vegetarian options such as roasted cauliflower and yam sandwiches also looked alluring but didn't get out vote this time.  I'll surely be back to try them out.  The skirt steak sandwich offered fresh, beautifully seasoned and marinated cuts of rare steak.  The juices from the steak married together with the peppercorn sauce, carrots, cilantro and cucumbers.  It was the best steak I've had this year.  And, tied for first place in the taste test competition for the evening was the pork sandwich which featured succulent (yes, I actually used the word succulent in my review) pork mixed with a veggies, sauce and spices piled high of a crispy roll - also with chili mayo sauce, carrots, cucumbers and cilantro.  We couldn't decide which one we liked better but we instantly choose this as our new favorite spot in the area.  I even picked up a sandwich for Jerome on my way out since I couldn't imagine explaining how good it was without him tasting it.

East Village Cheese Shop (40 3rd Ave) - My friend Stephanie took me here for the first time, which is certainly saying something since Steph seems to uncover some of the best, most interesting spots in NYC.  The street facing windows of the small shop are covered with butcher paper signs shouting out the specials of the day (or week, or year....I'm not sure how long the signs had been up).  You enter the small shop at the front of two lines, one for the register and one for the cheese counter.  Once you guide your way through the lines and take your place in the back of the cheese counter line you realize just how NY this store is.  The mix and match items on the shelves leading up the the counters feature a selection of items you'd find in your local bodega as well as several items you'd pair with your cheeses, like honey and delicate jams. 

As you approach the cheese counter you are faced with the rules of ordering your cheese.  Several cheeses can only be selected in 1 pound or 1/2 pound qualities while others are available for sample and can be purchased in slivers.  The counter, separated from the customers by a glass wall is piled high with more cheeses than you can count, from Miso Cheddar to Soy Swiss.  The prices are all very reasonable, particularly for my regular purchases like ricotta and Parmesan.  But, the ordering process is rapid fire and direct.

So, I choose some Greek Feta, grated Parmesan, and low-fat Ricotta and moved along to the counter.  The price of the 3 cheeses shocked me, coming in under $10, and I realized that it had been way to long since something shocked me with it's cheapness. 

And a few of my staples include:
  • Ippodo - The house made ramen noodles are incurable, and the decor is intriguing but the appetizers steal the show everytime.  Sit down restaurant with a fancy feel.
  • Momofuku Ssam Bar -Another David Chang creation with a refined space and some of the city's best pork.
  • Repulic - A relaxed restaurant with an Asian flare that has wonderful appetizers and healthy, relatively cheap entrees.  It can get pretty loud, but is usually worth the noise.
  • Chat 'n' Chew - Comfort food, chilled out wait staff and cake....seriously, if you're in the mood for it, it's a perfect fit.
  • Dos Toro Taqueria- The only San Francisco Mexican food that qualifies as "good" in my book.  Authentic, tasty tacos and burritos wrapped in freshly made flour and corn tortillas.  Worth the wait. 
  • Irving Plaza - A divey venue that brings some of the best punk, rock and ska bands to NYC. 
  • Trader Joe's and Whole Foods - A perfect combination for a healthy dinner and some cheap wine.

What am I missing?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What to do with 36" of Snow

Sheep Meadow
 New York City received 36 inches of snow last month. It's the most on record for any January, beating out the 30 inches we received in 1925. Not that I was around to enjoy that January, but I'd imagine it was even tougher to get around then. Now, with snow plows, subways and snow eroding salt there's no reason to stay at home and stare at the fluffy white stuff falling past your window. Of course, it's only fluffy and white for a few hours, before it turns into a black and white iced over milkshake snow piled up on the side of the roads. But, Central Park is another story. I went for a stroll through our beautiful city park following the blizzard last week and discovered a winter wonderland. Of course, I started my stroll at the Harlem Meer, my favorite spot in the Park. Here's some photos of my walk.
Adam Clayton Powell Blvd and 120 Street

Central Park near Harlem Meer



Sledding and snowball fights

The Reservoir

The Reservoir

Sking Around the Reservoir

Snowmen on The Great Lawn
The Reservoir

The Foutain and The Lake

Central Park's Lake (it's under there, I swear)

Sheep Meadow

By Far...The Stragest Snowman I've ever seen
Top Sledding Hill: Central Park West and 64 St.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sneak Peak...

A sneak peak at tomorrow's blog post from an awesome little "word cloud" website called Wordel that creates a beautiful visual from text. It's a great tool for PR and Marketing firms working with clients that need a little help understanding their work.

Wordle - Central Park Stroll

Wordle: Central Park Stroll