Saturday, December 21, 2013

New Year's Eve in NYC: Where to Book Your Table

In no particular order, here are nine varied NYC New Year’s Eve experiences -- from uptown to midtown to downtown -- that appeal to me. Some are intimate and small, others more formal, Michelin-starred, and a bit bigger. And, for variety, there are a couple of swank hipster dining and drinking venues. Make your reservations now!

Nick &Toni's Cafe: For something cozy and a bit more down-to-earth, the Manhattan outpost of the Hamptons favorite will offer festive a la carte specials in addition to the regular seasonal menu. Starting with an amuse bouche of deviled quail egg with caviar, the special menu features grilled quail with greenmarket pumpkin agrodulce, grilled veal chop with braised cavolo nero, and a New Year’s Champagne mousse tart with Valrhona pearls and blood orange. 100 West 67th Street, (212) 496-4000

Mulberry Project: This New Year's Eve, Mulberry Project is having a blowout bash with a variety of party options. Celebrate from 9pm-2am with a $65 open bar or class it up and opt for the $85 open Champagne bar. The team at Mulberry Project has also crafted a delicious prix fixe dinner menu featuring pork tenderloin, crispy calamari, fried Brussels sprouts and their special Mulberry mac and cheese for just $45. Table reservations require the purchase of the prix fixe dinner and drink package ($110-$130). Drink and dance into the wee hours, as DJ Justin Dean spins the latest hits all night long. 149 Mulberry Street, (646) 448-4536

Hecho en Dumbo: Brooklyn’s pop-up Mexican restaurant, now located in Manhattan, will feature an unlimited antojitos (“little whims”) dinner with a variety of toppings on house-made corn tortillas, sopes, and tostadas. Along with a Champagne toast at midnight, guests will enjoy mariachi bands and DJ sets from Heroes of the Galeon Trade starting at 10pm. Two price options are featured: dinner for $75 per person, or dinner inclusive of a premium open bar for $175. 354 Bowery, 212-243-7073

Juni: Chef Shaun Hergatt invites you spend New Year’s Eve at his recently opened fine-dining restaurant, Juni, with a five-course tasting menu for $165. A wine pairing option is available for an additional $75. Menu highlights include foie gras with citrus glaze and pain d’epices as well as oxtail with sunchoke and black spice. For the first seating, guests can reserve a table between 5:30-6:45pm which includes your choice of a specialty cocktail. For the second seating, between 9pm and 10pm, guests receive a Champagne toast at midnight. All diners receive a small parting gift bag. Dress code is cocktail attire or optional black tie. 12 East 31st Street, 212-995-8599

Lincoln Ristorante: Chef Johnathan Benno’s lauded Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center offers a special $95 “Buona Fine e Buon Inizio” (good order and good start) prix fixe menu for New Year’s Eve. Both white and black truffles are included in dishes such as Tajarin con Tartufo Bianco: tajarin pasta, chicken sugo, castelmagno cheese, and Alba white truffle; and Capesante e Cotechino: scallop, spiced Umbrian pork sausage, lentils, and black truffle. At the end of the night, guests will greet the New Year with a special Franciacorta toast. 142 West 65th Street, (212) 359-6500

Smorgas Chef West Village:  The restaurant’s annual New Year’s Eve dinner is a double occasion this year, as it is also Smorgas Chef’s 10th anniversary. Get ready with your party hat: you can expect a few surprises.  The first seating at 6pm includes a three-course dinner and a welcome glass of Champagne for $65. The second seating at 8:30pm includes a four-course dinner, a Champagne toast, party favors and the ball dropping screening for $110. 283 West 12th Street, (212) 243-7073

Oceana: The Michelin-starred seafood restaurant will be serving a full a la carte dinner menu as well as Executive Chef Ben Pollinger’s New Year’s Eve specials from 5-11pm. Highlights include East Coast oysters with black truffle Gla├žage; Hawaiian walu sashimi with Satsuma mandarins, Thai basil sauce, and coriander; seared turbot and poached lobster with sauce Americaine and asparagus; and seared sturgeon with caviar sauce and roast cauliflower in an herb emulsion. 120 West 49th Street, (212) 759-5941

Beauty and Essex: The ultra-creative "small plates" mecca will be hosting two seatings on December 31.  The regular a la carte menu will be served for parties seated prior to 9pm, perfect for those who wish to ring in the New Year elsewhere. Guests seated beginning at 9pm will be offered a family-style meal for $140 per person and a complimentary Champagne toast at midnight.  The dress code for the evening is "festival" black tie with cocktail attire the look for woman and suit and tie required for men. Rumor has it that a DJ will help you enjoy your party favors even more here. 146 Essex Street, (212) 614-0146

Hospoda: New Year’s Eve marks a very special occasion for Hospoda, the New American beer-Inspired restaurant on the Upper East Side: it’s also Executive Chef Rene Stein’s birthday and the beginning of the restaurant’s third anniversary. To celebrate these milestones while ringing in 2014, Hospoda will display culinary artistry at its finest, offering a 14-course tasting menu that allows guests to experience each of the four seasons through sight, sound, smell and taste; beverage pairings for each course will also invoke the four seasons. Chef Stein will devote a major portion of the evening to preparing courses in front of the diners, transforming a section of the dining room into an interactive kitchen set.  Only 40 seats for the $200 prix fixe event are available. 321 East 73rd Street, 212-861-1038

Friday, December 20, 2013

Snapshots of New York City's 2013 Holiday Windows: Now through January 6 (Some End Earlier)

It’s well-known that Manhattan’s department store windows shine when it comes to creativity and glitz for Christmas. Here’s a list of what the big deals are this year. 
Barneys New York – Certainly the wildest of the windows, with a behind-the-curtains video fairyland, light shows, live models, and an interactive window-video game set, Barneys in collaboration with Jay Z have outdone themselves.  Through January 3. 660 Madison Avenue at 61st Street.

Henri Bendel – If you love illustrator Al Hirschfeld, you’ll love Henri Bendel's windows on display through January 2.  All the classic celebs are there: look for Liza Minnelli, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Carol Channing among others. 712 Fifth Ave., btw 55th and 56th sts.

Bergdorf Goodman – Save this one for last as the breakdown date is January 6.  Bergdorf’s doesn’t disappoint with its always-glam windows, this year’s showing the holidays of the year, done up in icy and fashionable renditions.  754 Fifth Ave., btw 57th and 58th sts.

Bloomingdales – Catch this one soon, as it ends on New Year’s Day. Bloomie’s windows depict shopping around the globe, with music from each country along with recognizable icons.  1000 Third Avenue at 59th Street.


Lord & Taylor – Ending even sooner and the soonest of all of the displays, on December 29, Lord & Taylor's holiday windows remain the most traditional with scenes from vintage New York City.  424 Fifth Avenue, btw 38th and 39th sts.
Lord and Taylor

Macy's – The story of a boy’s dreams on Christmas Eve, Macy's windows also feature an interactive display where you create the movement in the background and break icicles.  151 W. 34th St., at Seventh Avenue. Ends January 2.

Saks Fifth AvenueThrough January 2, enjoy the 3-D light show on the Saks Fifth Avenue building as well as the story of the SFA Yeti, a fluffy white creature that creates holiday snow for delighted New Yorkers.  611 Fifth Ave., btw 51st and 52nd sts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pack Smart with this Doctor-in-a-Bag


As I pack for my next out-of-the-country trip, I find myself spending considerable time trying to anticipate every medical item I would need should I be stuck on a desert island with no access to doctors, food, or a phone. I just discovered something that can help make your travels easier, and you can keep it stocked year-round with all your possible first-aid needs.  For the low price of $14.99 (for the women’s version) or $11.99 (for men), you can get a set of zippered bags, with appropriate labels to help you organize and find everything you need. Each bag also includes a list of what's most important to pack for "women's needs," "teeth, throat, ears, eyes, nose," "bites, stings, rashes," and "tummy troubles." Restock each one as necessary, and throw them in your suitcase. Think of this Doc-in-a-Bag as a stuff sack for medications.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour: Brooklyn's Finest Lights Display

Christmas Lights and Cannoli tour
I wanted to share one of my favorite holiday happenings around New York -- this one's actually in Brooklyn. You have to check out Tony Muia's Christmas Lights and Cannoli tour, a 3 1/2 hour experience that takes you to Dyker Heights, the Italian-American section of Brooklyn, affectionately known as
Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour
“Dyker Lights” every December. Here you’ll see over-the-top Christmas decorations that even a department store holiday-window “dresser” couldn’t imagine. Think 15-foot-tall animated Santa’s, animatronic figures, life-sized Nativity Scenes and millions of lights. And the cannoli part? You can’t go to Brooklyn without a stop at an authentic neighborhood pastry shop for dessert and hot chocolate. You’ll even be entertained on the bus with a multimedia presentation of vintage Christmas variety specials with Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and more.  Three or four busses leave nightly through December 31 (excluding December 24 and 25) from Union Square.  For more information,

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Miami Weekend with Art Basel

Were you wondering what to get your hard-to-buy-for family members and friends for the holidays? You'll have lots of choices of innovative, sometimes shocking, and distinctive pieces from the international offerings at the 2013 edition of Art Basel, now happening in Miami through December 8. It's not too late to grab a flight and spend the weekend perusing and shopping at one of the most exciting art shows in the world.

Art Basel 2013
You can plan your breaks on beautiful Miami Beach on a beach towel or at a table at Big Pink on Collins Avenue and watch the stream of visitors, enjoy dining experiences that range from stone crabs at Joe's to innovative, South American and Asian influenced creations by Chef Todd Erickson at Haven, or Andrew Carmellini's Miami Beach outpost of his successful NYC restaurant, The Dutch. Or go strictly local and head to Calle Ocho for a Cuban sandwich that puts the ones in Havana to shame.

Architecture and design fans will love walking along South Beach in the Art Deco capital of the country -- start at the Art Deco Welcome Center at 10th Street and Ocean Drive and take the Miami Design Preservation League's Art Deco Walking Tour, it's well worth it.

While rooms are harder to score during this time, consider staying over on Brickell Key at the gorgeous Mandarin Oriental. With its wonderful service, spectacular views across the water, indulgent spa, oasis beach club, and lovely Azul restaurant, it'll give you some serenity time away from South Beach and the crowds at Art Basel.

For more information about Art Basel,

Here are some of the more unusual art pieces that you'll see.

Art Basel 2013

Art Basel 2013

Art Basel 2013
Art Basel 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

More Music Travel: the Real Deal When it Comes to Harlem Jazz

After 12 days of blues and rock, following the Mississippi Blues Trail from Clarksdale to Indianola to Greenwood, it was refreshing to hear live jazz this weekend at the Naumkeag Pavilion in Central Park as part of their first annual Colors and Jazz festival. Superstar Arturo O'Farrill led the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in a program of warm-your-soul-and-spirit salsa that made for a steamy afternoon despite the chilly temperatures.  In honor of Veteran's Day this week, Travel and Food Notes welcomes guest blogger Judy Nayer who was invited to write up her jazz experience at a New York City soul food and music gem that is the bastion of NYC vets and one of my personal favorites.

The American Legion Post 398 on 248 West 132nd Street was organized in 1922 by Colonel Charles Young with a mission to honor and serve veterans and their families and their community. With 200 hundred members today, it still actively attends to its mission of service. “The Post,” as it's known, is run by its members as perhaps the most authentic jazz/blues bar left in Harlem, with live jazz on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday and a DJ on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday.

American Legion Post 398, Harlem
You'll “hear” your way to the brownstone with the music.  Head downstairs, ignore the sign that says “Only Members and their Guests Allowed,” and enter this special place. There is no cover charge, but you must sign the guest book.
I went on Sunday, the best night for live jazz, to hear the amazing sounds of the Harlem Groove Band, including a tenor sax that will blow your mind and my favorite electric guitarist anywhere. Surprising guests may be top musicians from Europe or local singers, all great – and loud, of course.

It’s cash only, and the drinks are cheap, and strong – airline mini bottles, neat, or beer or mini wine bottles – are the way to go. It’s also a soul food joint. $10 gets you a meal cooked up in the kitchen in the back. The night that I went was the “fish fry” – a big piece of whiting, a couple of sides of greens, and mac and cheese. Enough to fill you up and then some.

Casual Soul Food and Hot Jazz at American Legion Post
If you’re a stranger you are soon welcomed. I was well taken care of by the host, Commander Eddie Randy Dupree, the spirit of the place. He’s the sparkly-eyed gentleman doing moves on the dance floor and yelling “Yeah Baby” every few minutes. I was also warmly greeted by the two veterans who were volunteering that night.

What I love most is the feeling of community in these tight quarters, the fact that the old timers of the neighborhood and the veterans mingle with the young hipsters who have made the trek from Brooklyn to hear the jam. Everyone’s there for the same reason, to have a good time, together. Everyone’s included. And that’s music for the heart and soul.

Karen the bartender appreciated the five dollar tip I gave her – I wanted to compensate for drinking only club soda and cranberry juice – and served me up with chips and spicy pretzels. Two of the guys from the band came over to shake my hand between sets. A veteran gave me an American flag in honor of the holiday, and I promised not to let it touch the ground.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Along the Mississippi Blues Trail: Lucious Spiller at Red's in Clarksdale

On day two of our immersion into the birthplace of American blues, we tried out two venues in Clarksdale, Mississippi, noted for their musicians. One was a more touristy, larger venue, well-known in the press because of its owner Morgan Freeman -- Ground Zero -- which serves a full menu, offers a full bar, and mixes up blues with rock 'n roll.  On our particular visit, we caught a brief intro blues set, which was a good beginning, but the place never really got rocking.  In fact, the rock 'n roll portion of the evening took over, lasting until after 2am. (Be sure you check their schedule if you're hoping to hear some blues).  Ground Zero, 252 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale, MS

Ground Zero, Clarksdale, MS
While that was fun, we were on a mission to find some real blues. We finished our dinner of fried green tomatoes and hot tamales, tried a couple of local Mississippi brews, and decided to search out a more authentic Clarksdale experience.  Red's was our next stop, a no-frills living room/salon set-up with a no-frills bar as well.  Seats set in a circle around guitarist and singer Lucious Spiller and his three-piece band brought us up close and personal to this Little Rock, Arkansas performer who appeared to be channeling the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, and Robert Johnson. In-between sets, Lucious introduced himself, told us how much he wanted to play in New York City, and thanked us for visiting.  It was a mystical experience. As the evening progressed, the musicality and the songs fell apart a bit, perhaps due to the length of the day, perhaps due to a reaction to the intensity of the music being sung, or perhaps due to something else. But it really didn't matter. The setting couldn't have been more real: we were surrounded with local folks, all of whom had an affinity for the blues.

We weren't allowed to video in the club, so I was only able to capture a very dark still of the evening's experiences.  Red's Lounge, 375 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale, MS

Lucious Spiller at Red's Lounge, Clarksdale, MS
The clip below shows Lucious playing at the King Biscuit Festival in Helena, Arkansas and gives you a good representation of his music.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Regional Favorites Delivered to Your Door: Happy Thanksgiving!

Each year just before Thanksgiving, I write about places that ship food to your door (a great way to feed the family after turkey boredom sets in). Last year, I wrote about both domestic and international options. This time, I'm focusing on my regional US favorites from my recent trips around the country, and I've invited guest blogger and fellow foodie Allana Mortell to help me ferret out the best of the best. You can read more of her writing on

If you’ve been to New Orleans, you're sure to have eaten a muffuletta. The sandwich monstrosity, which can feed up to four people, is a round loaf of Italian, focaccia-like bread filled to the brim with salami, ham, mortadella, and sliced provolone and finished with a garlicky olive salad. Central Grocery, a small deli-style shop has been home to the esteemed muffuletta since the early 1900s. Tourists and locals alike wait in line for this sandwich, but with one quick phone call you can have these sandwiches (or the delicious olive salad spread) delivered directly to you wherever you are. Central Grocery, 923 Decatur Street, New Orleans,  (504) 523-1620

Dungeness crabmeat is a delicacy you might be familiar with if you've traveled to the West Coast where it's harvested in the icy waters between Alaska and Northern California. One popular Seattle fish company will ship the best Dungeness straight from the docks to you overnight. Choose from mini crab cakes, whole crab or just a bit of crabmeat. Seattle Fish Company (866) 938 – 7576

If fresh Maine lobster is more your thing, online ordering will bring you lobster meat, lobster tails, lobster rolls, clams, chowder, and even live lobsters. Shipped directly from Portland, Maine, and delivered overnight, you could have a lobster dinner tomorrow Maine Lobster Now, (207) 329-3968 

Chicagoans swear by their deep-dish pizza, and in the Windy City you can’t talk about deep-dish pies without talking about Lou Malnati's.The buttery crust holds layers of creamy mozzarella cheese, tart tomato sauce and homemade Italian sausage and if you’ve never tried deep-dish, Lou’s is the place to start. With Tastes of Chicago, you can get Chicago favorites like Lou’s pizza and Portillo’s hot dogs straight to your kitchen. Tastes of Chicago, 1-800-Lou-To-Go

Philadelphia has its own claim to fame: the onion-laced cheesesteak.  While there has always been intense debate about who sells the best steaks in the city, the famous Campo’s Deli has been dishing out 50 years' worth of sandwiches and they ship.Take your pick of one-, two-, or four-hoagie meals, customized sandwiches, cheesesteaks and more. And of course, get a side of the soft pretzels. Campo's Deli, (215) 923-1000

Finally, create the BBQ feast of your dreams when you order from Jack Stack BBQ in Kansas City. With four restaurants throughout Kansas, Jack Stack is an institution for the finest in smoky and sweet meat. Pick from ribs, burnt ends, brisket or sandwiches.  Or create your own perfect sampler. Jack Stack.(877) 419-7427

Happy eating!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

9/11 Memory -- 12 Years Later with 9 Years of Construction

Definitely worth watching  -- in tribute to 9.11

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Let It Be: A Fun Evening of Pretend Beatles on Broadway (and around the world, soon)

And while I'm on the topic of non-theatrical Broadway experiences (see previous post), here's another show that's good for an evening of rock 'n roll. But you'll need to hurry if you live in NYC, this show is ending on September 1 in preparation for an international tour.

If dance isn’t something you’d like to watch but you’d prefer to do, then “Let It Be” might be more suited to your taste than "Forever Tango." Suspend belief for two and a half hours and you can almost imagine that the Beatles are really on stage at the St. James Theater, as the four performers (and one guest director) take the audience through a musical chronicle of the Beatles’ famous hits.  Some of the songs are better performed than others, and you might have a debate amongst yourselves as to which Beatles impersonator is actually the truest, but no matter, you’ll have a fun time twisting and shouting all the way to the finale.  Come early to watch the 1960s television commercials and answer the Beatles trivia questions shown on the monitors.  Throughout the theatrical concert, actual video footage from the Beatles' travels to New York is interspersed with other shots of the time. St. James Theater, 246 West 44th Street. Tickets:, 212-239-6200.