Monday, October 29, 2018

See the last performances of Smokey Joe’s Café this week and enjoy a great meal Off-Broadway

It’s your last chance to catch the joyous off-Broadway revival of Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller, the all-new incarnation of the record-breaking Broadway hit. The revue, which was originally produced on Broadway in 1995 and was the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, closes Sunday, November 4. Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street.

You know the bluesy rock ‘n roll songs and ballads, and I defy you not to tap your feet as the nine-member ensemble led by director choreographer Joshua Bergasse sing more than 30 classic songs like “Stand by Me,” "I'm a Woman," “Hound Dog," "Fools Fall in Love," "On Broadway, " "Yakety Yak," "Pearl's a Singer," "Treat Me Nice," There Goes My Baby," "Love Potion #9," "Jalihouse Rock" and "Spanish Harlem."

Credit: Gary Ng

The show’s stars bring a mix of Broadway and Off-Broadway musical expertise to Smokey Joe’s Café.  Dwayne Cooper (Motown, Hairspray), Emma Degerstedt (Desperate Measures Off-Broadway), John Edwards (Jersey Boys), Dionne D. Figgins (Hot Feet, Memphis), Nicole Vanessa Ortiz (Spamilton Off-Broadway), Kyle Taylor Parker (Kinky Boots, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Jelani Remy (Disney’s The Lion King), Max Sangerman (Blue Man Group Off-Broadway), and Alysha Umphress (On The Town, American Idiot) stand out with their renditions of the classic Leiber & Stoller tunes. Music fans will also recognize the duo as the writers of songs for such legends as Elvis Presley, Ben E. King, The Coasters and The Drifters.

Smokey Joe’s Café has a playlist that keeps the audience rocking, with a wide range of tunes from joyous anthems (“Saved”) to comedic romps (“Charlie Brown”) to songs of yearning (“I Who Have Nothing”). The storytelling and community-building aspects of the songs celebrate the humor, passion, and heartbreak that infuse everyday lives. Bringing to life moments of friendship and unity, the revue is just what we need to bring our very-divided country together. The songs’ messages and emotions resonate today, perhaps with more power than ever.

Credit: Joan Marcus

Smokey Joe’s Cafe is directed and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse and features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, sound design by Peter Fitzgerald, wig design by Charles G. LaPointe, original vocal arrangements by Chapman Roberts, additional original vocal arrangements by Louis St. Louis, music direction by Matt Oestreicher and orchestrations by Sonny Paladino and Steve Margoshes. Music Supervision and new arrangements are also by Mr. Paladino. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. The show was co-conceived by Stephen Helper and Jack Viertel. It is produced by Steven Baruch, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel and Tom Viertel, who also produced the show’s original Broadway engagement.

If You’re Hungry

For dinner, my perennial favorite is the quirky and always-amusing Chez Josephine, 414 West 42nd St. The style is early bordello, adorned with photos of Josephine Baker, the original owner’s mother. Food choices are classic French, and if you arrive at the right time, you’ll also enjoy live music entertainment that fits perfectly with the somewhat bawdy-elegant space. And it’s only a minute’s walk from the theater.

Chez Josephine

Marseille, a little further off at 630 9th Avenue, is quintessential French Mediterranean with a menu filled with mussels, bouillabaisse, and plenty of bistro ambiance and attitude. It’s always packed, so booked early. If you can’t get a table, ask to be seated at the bar.

For a proverbial quick bite to either tide you over before the show or offer a quick snack after, pretty much any of the ethnic restaurants on Ninth Avenue will do the trick. Two to take note of are Sticky’s Finger Joint, offering surprising healthy chicken fingers, at 598 9th Avenue.  Or, if something Asian is your preference, nightclub-y Obao at 647 9th Avenue, serves us reasonably priced pan-Asian selections with heavy emphasis on Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Enjoy Free Cider, Hard Cider and a Cider Pairing Dinner as Part of New York City Cider Week, November 5-11

It’s that time of the year when the leaves are changing, apple picking becomes your go-to weekend activity, and cider donuts are all the rage.  In true form, New York City gives the apple event a spirited kick!

New York City Cider Week returns for the eighth time from November 5 through 11, showcasing New York State’s booming hard cider industry, which late last year saw the opening of Brooklyn Cider House NYC's first cidery bar and restaurant under one roof.

Cider Week kicks off even before the actual week on Friday November 2 at The Bad Seed Brooklyn Taproom. Highlights of this year’s festival, spanning neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, include The Lower East Cider Fest, a one-night-only takeover of the Essex Street Market, the city’s most historic public market and perfect setting to show off cider's ability to elevate every culinary experience, on Thursday November 8.  Another high-profile event is Adventures in Heritage Cider: Unexpected Tastings with Cider in Love, focusing on the craftsmanship and quality of ciders made primarily from heirloom, wild, or cider-specific bittersweet and bittersharp apples, on Tuesday, November 6.

This year, Brooklyn Cider House has partnered with Cider Week to host two official closing events on November 11. If you haven’t tried their raw cider, half sour cider, dry cider or kinda dry cider, this is a chance to enjoy them all, and admission is free.

The day begins with the Bushwick Cider Festival and Market 11 am – 4 pm.  Brooklyn Cider House's 12,000-square-foot venue will transform into a cider and food market where you'll enjoy free cider tastings from a dozen different producers. there will also be delicious snacks to feast on from local food purveyors with craft cider available for purchase directly from many of the best producers in the state. Additionally, you can tour Brooklyn Cider House's cidery and barrel room and sample (if you dare) some raw cider from 80-year-old chestnut barrels.  Try one of their mixable cider drinks, too, like the Ciderosa, a libation of fresh squeezed orange juice with bone dry cider.

The true finale to New York City Cider Week happens at  6pm on November 11, when Brooklyn Cider House hosts Meet the Makers – a five-course cider pairing dinner featuring an exciting array of hard ciders including Eve's Cidery, Descendant Cider, Blackduck, Treasury Cider and Brooklyn Cider House, served to you by the producers themselves along with Executive Chef and Cider Maker Peter Yi. Tickets are $125 and can be bought in advance online. Seating is limited.

Participating cider makers throughout the week include Participating cider makers include: Angry Orchard (Walden), Bad Seed Cider (Highlands), Big Apple Hard Cider (New York City,) Black Diamond Cider (Trumansburg), Brooklyn Cider House (New Paltz), Descendant Cider (New York City), Diner Brew Co. (Mount Vernon), Doc's Draft Hard Cider (Warwick), East Hollow Cider (Petersburgh), Embark Craft Cider (Williamson), Eve’s Cidery (Van Etten), Graft Cider (Newburgh), Hardscrabble Cider (North Salem), Hudson Valley Farmhouse Cider (Staatsburg) Kings Highway Fine Cider (Millerton), Kite & String Cider (Interlaken,) Metal House Cider (Esopus), Naked Flock (Warwick,) New York Cider Company (Ithaca), Nine Pin Cider (Albany), Orchard Hill Cider Mill (New Hampton), Original Sin Cider (New York City), Pennings Farm Cidery (Warwick), Rootstock Ciderworks (Williamson), Scrumpy Ewe Cider (Charlotteville), Slyboro Cider (Granville,) South Hill Cider (Ithaca), Steampunk Cider (Medina,) Treasury Cider (Hopewell Junction), Wayside Cider (Delhi), and Wölffer Estate Vineyard (Sagaponack).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Traveling in China without Knowing Chinese: First Stops, Beijing and Wenzhou

I tried my hardest to learn Mandarin. I spent two semesters at the China Institute in Manhattan, attempting to master the Chinese characters, learning the triad of tones, and trying to figure out ways to memorize strange-sounding words that had no cognates in the English language.

All this was in preparation for my trip to Mainland China. I had been to Hong Kong a few years before and loved it, but I wanted to delve into the cultural background of the mainland whose citizens were now exploring the world themselves.

I had heard that New York City and San Francisco had better Chinese food than what I would find in China itself. And I was curious to test that out as well. With Anthony Bourdain in mind, I set out on my voyage of experiences and eats.

My first stop was Beijing, a city so choked with people and cars that driving restrictions are imposed based on your license plate numbers (i.e., even numbers can only drive in the city on certain days, etc.) and country of origin.

Unfortunately, my impression of the city was consistent with the news and air quality blasts that preceded the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics (remember the iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium shrouded in smog?). It also made me skeptical about why a decision had been made to hold the Olympics there a second time for the 2022 Winter games. The sky was a permanent shade of gray-white, marred by extreme pollution and inclement weather. And road travel was abysmal.

I refused to wear a mask as many do, however, and forged my way sometimes a bit breathlessly (and with a lot of patience) to take in the historic sites that are equally overwhelming. 

Culturally, Beijing is a rich city worth suffering the pollution and traffic. (Contact lens wearers, take note, this city can turn your lenses to pieces of saran wrap in minutes).  Tai Chi and dance groups in the parks reminded me of Chinatown in Manhattan with a population density that was equally daunting. 

Heading to the Forbidden City, I meandered along walkways filled with people of all ages swaying, queuing, lingering and touring, all creating a loud buzz of enjoyment. You should plan to spend an entire day walking among the wooden buildings of the Forbidden City, admiring the lions that guard outside, and marveling at the yellow tiled roofs and the sheer enormity of the site. If you can avoid touring during the rainy season, you’ll be privy to the gardens as well, a welcome resting spot after walking the city. Leave time to explore the iconic Temple of Heaven, a marvel of Chinese architectural balance, and arrange for a guide to take you to the Summer Palace, another complex of amazing buildings, corridors and lakes.

It rained heavily as I entered Tian’an Men Square, and the multi-colored raincoats and umbrellas added to the fun and energy. School groups mixed with tourists from around the world, all doing their best to stay dry and capture the perfect Insta snap. Considered to be the world’s largest public square, Tian’an Men Square is surrounded by more grand sites than I had time to see – The Great Hall of the People, the Qian Men Gate and the Forbidden City, my destination, among them. In the square, the children were especially intrigued by us, wanting to take photos of the funny-looking Americans who were constantly asking to take pictures of them as well. 

The food was vibrant, too, with lacquered yellow-gold Peking duck – the real deal here offered on lazy Susan’s at more casual family-style restaurants, or on elegant plates at my favorite dining choice, the original DaDong in Beijing. At DaDong, the roast duck is carved tableside by a master chef and presented with a variety of accompaniments, creating a regal feast. I can understand why President and Michelle Obama selected this restaurant to dine at – the elegance, gracious service, and delicious Shandong cuisine made for the most memorable meal I had in the city.

I also experimented with fiery Yunnanese Cuisine at Lost Heaven where I was warned about a different kind of culinary fireworks, the possibility of singeing my tongue. The restaurant is located in a beautiful yard near Tian’an Men Square and is named for Lost Horizon, James Hilton’s story of the timeless, mystical valley of Shangri-La.  Cuisine goes beyond Yunnan here to encompass dishes from Burma (Myanmar) and Tibet, three areas set along the legendary Ancient Tea Horse Trail. Even the cocktails here were spicy – I recommend the Tai Zeed, an elixir of coconut and chilies with a sweet finish.

In the old part of the city, the Hutong (alley) and Shichahai (Ten Temple Lake) area, rickshaws took me under a small protective canopy to a tea house where I learned about black, green and white tea and became a fan of delicate Pu-erh. (Note: tea is very costly here, although very fresh). Nearby in some of the street stands I tried bright-red candied haw berries, a sugary snack sold on a stick like a candy apple but reminiscent of cranberries.

I also meandered among the single-story houses characteristic of the hutongs, where extended families often live in one courtyard compound. A visit to a family with a chance to purchase a calligraphy scroll added to the area's authenticity. My planned trip to the walking street of Quianmen, where old Beijing shops and newer international brands like H&M and Sephora come together -- turned into a quick viewing only, as the weather was too inclement to experience it. The same was true for Silk Street, where I had hoped to shop before dinner.

I did see blue sky once. And it was exactly where it should have been… at the Great Wall of China. Standing alone along the steps in the Badaling Section, scanning  endless expanses of walkways, I was awestruck imagining the breadth of the protective wall as well as the labor and genius involved in its creation. As crowded as the monuments of Beijing had been, the Great Wall afforded me a surprising chance to reflect by myself and enjoy some real solitude. I had found a true wonder of the world, and of my visit to Beijing.

My little Mandarin knowledge didn’t help me much, however in Beijing. Fortunately, though, the city  was filled with enough signs written in both English and Mandarin so I could mostly find my way. That didn’t work, however, when it came to reading the Mandarin-only bus schedules when I was trapped in the rain during one of the frequent downpours. (Apparently, the subway is a bit easier to use with more pervasive English signage). I was grateful for two things that helped me get by: a native guide who spoke English, and the Google Translator app. And I strongly recommend staying at a hotel that has an English-speaking desk staff. Sadly, my hotel in Beijing was lacking in that very-necessary tourist amenity.

The Google app helped me tremendously on my second stop in China, Wenzhou. A sprawling town south of Beijing along the China Sea with industries centered on eyeglasses and shoes, Wenzhou has a lively pedestrian shopping area known as Five Horses (Wuma Street) where familiarization with Mandarin or the local dialect of Wenzhounese comes in handy. With a map and my app at the ready, the English-speaking concierge at my hotel set me off in the direction of the center of town (via taxi), where jade, jewels, home gadgets, and, especially shoes, are high-quality and ridiculously inexpensive.

As I hadn’t had the opportunity to shop in Beijing, it was the shoes in Wenzhou that caught my eye. I somehow managed with my pigeon Mandarin and my iPhone to buy two pairs of ultra-comfy, stylish shoes in my correct size for the equivalent of $50. And all without any English signs or English conversation to help me out. A miracle. Happily, I had a pre-arranged ride waiting to return me to my hotel, sitting by a familiar landmark, Starbucks.

To view Wenzhou from the water, a quick ferry ride to Jianxin Islet can seem like a visit to a different country. Quiet and relatively serene, the islet is the site of the East Pagoda and the West Pagoda, both offering fascinating artifacts from the Tang and North Song dynasties. Wenzhou is a convenient jumping-off point to visit some of the ancient towns and temples in the nearby countryside as well. The Taishun covered bridges are especially beautiful, and Lishui Street with its old houses built around a canal and Furong Village give a glimpse into neighborhoods that are hundreds of years old. Add to this pagodas, temples, hiking trails across rivers in the Dalus Mountain area, and boat rides steered by men wearing traditional straw hats, and you have a multi-faceted view of the area.

I would strongly suggest staying at the beautiful Shangri-La hotel in Wenzhou as your base. Not only does it offer the welcoming O Cafe restaurant with a delicious smorgasbord of everything Asian from Peking duck to handmade noodles and sushi, but the Chinese culture was also infused throughout the hotel’s luxurious décor and programs including in an early-morning Tai Chi session with outfits provided. My room had a 180 degree view of the city, which was sadly marred by the same white sky that I had seen in Beijing. But when I could see out, in glimpses, I could note the vast expanses of industry, urban change, and remnants of Wenzhou past over the water.

In the end, I suppose knowing how to say hello (Ni hao), thank you (xie xie), please (qing) and very good (hen hao) helped me get around this fascinating country. It allowed me to make small connections with the people I met, along with a smile which often says more than any words can. But I definitely recommend hiring a guide.

Friday, September 7, 2018

5 Places to Enjoy Outdoor Dining in New York City

They’re promising that the temperature will drop in the next day or two. So? It’s time to score a seat at some of the best outdoor dining options in New York City. These seats are notoriously the hardest to book, so don’t delay. We can still enjoy dining al fresco at least until early November.

Akrotiri (29-20 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY, (718) 726-2447,
Escape the chaos of Manhattan and take the N or W train to Astoria’s hottest Greek restaurant, Akrotiri. The 45-seat outdoor area in front of the Queens restaurant is the perfect place for serious people-watching while enjoying dishes by Chef Nicholas Poulmentis, a Greek native who studied at Le Cordon Bleu. I suggest his modern take on traditional Greek taramosalata, which he infuses here with herring roe, truffles and squid ink; or the popular goggizes, goat cheese pasta in aji amarillo beurre blanc topped with Brazilian lobster and Mangalitsa bacon. Take in the warm temperatures while sipping on a glass of Greek wine from their extensive list of organic and natural wines.

The Cannibal (113 East 29th Street, NYC, (212) 685-5585,
For those scorching “Indian summer” days when it’s just too hot to sit outside, spend your time in The Cannibal’s enclosed beer garden instead. The space is decorated with communal-style tables and backyard greenery so you’ll feel like you’re sitting outdoors even though you’re staying cool inside. Dine in the hidden backyard and indulge in meat-centric dishes like The Royalton Burger with dry-aged Wagyu beef, beef heart, malted bacon jam, smoked tomato, Vermont cheddar and frisee. Don’t worry, though, the name belies the restaurant’s farm and veggie orientation as well.

DaDong (3 Bryant Park, NYC, (212) 355-9600,
Relax under DaDong’s second-floor wooden pergolas and take in the views of the Bryant Park and Theater District while drinking and dining on the Garden Terrace. The expansive 150-seat terrace features an outdoor bar, dining and lounge space, serving as a veritable oasis in midtown Manhattan. You can cool down with a frosé cocktail and chilled oysters on the half shell from the Raw Bar. A tranquil reflecting pool is at the center of the terrace, surrounded by potted plants and water sculptures by Chinese artist Zheng Lu. If you’re looking for a quieter evening, head to the Chef’s Tasting Floor on the third level, where you can dine al fresco in DaDong’s intimate balcony while enjoying a special multi-course Chinese feast with distinctive wine and tea pairings.

Merakia (5 West 21st Street, NYC, 212 380-1950,
Newly re-opened, Flatiron’s Greek Steakhouse, Merakia is a destination for superb wining, dining and people watching. The doors that line the front of the restaurant open out into the street so you can enjoy an indoor-outdoor dining experience. Be sure to try Merakia’s signature keftedes and spit-roasted lamb. If you’re not familiar with Greek wines, this is the place to experiment – the wine list is expansive.

Zen Taco (522 Columbus Avenue, NYC, (212) 787-3473,
It’s always summer where Latin meets Asian fare at Zen Taco. Sit outdoors and pretend you’re on the Riviera Maya while you sample fusion dishes including signature tacos, noodles and bowls. Popsicle-inspired Poptail cocktails keep the summer momentum going like the Strawberry Fressada, a strawberry lemonade Popsicle in a glass of tequila and strawberry liqueur. Or have a Peach Sangria, a sangria popsicle in a glass of peach liqueur.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Foodie Event of the Season Happens This Saturday: James Beard Foundation's Chefs & Champagne

Get ready for this weekend’s much-anticipated foodie event, the James Beard Foundation’s annual Chefs & Champagne tasting. The delicious event is held in support of the James Beard Foundation’s programs which celebrate, nurture and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage. 

On Saturday July 28, 36 chefs – many of them James Beard Award winners -- from restaurants in New York, Florida, Missouri, California, Oregon, Colorado, and Washington DC will dish up their best under the beautiful tent at Wölffer Estate Vineyard. The 2018 Guest of Honor is Padma Lakshmi, host of Bravo’s James Beard Award-winning Top Chef. 

The menu features craveworthy, seasonal dishes like Stephen Bogardsus’s corn soup with truffles (The North Fork Table & Inn, Southold); Georgette Farkas’s tarte pissaladière (Rotisserie Georgette, New York); Mina Newman’s Nikkei ceviche with sockeye salmon (Sen Sakana, New York City); and Nick Stefanelli’s burrata with beluga caviar (Masseria, Washington, DC) that show why summer is the best culinary season. All is to be washed down by constantly flowing Champagne Boizel, Tito’s vodka and a variety of Wölffer Estate wines.

The evening begins at 5pm with a VIP reception. The main event, from 6-8:30pm, is followed by an after-party for VIP guests until 10pm. All guests receive a goodie-filled swag bag and can also take part in an extravagant silent auction with the chance to win a vacation getaway, a delicious dining experience, a watch, cookware and more. Bidding is open online through July 25 and will continue as a silent auction throughout the evening of the event. Take a look here

Proceeds from the auction and the dinner will support JBF’s initiatives including the Impact Programs in areas of seafood sustainability, food waste, chef advocacy and childhood nutrition; the Women’s Leadership Programs and numerous scholarship programs. For tickets, including VIP tickets to the after-party dining extravaganza, click here. 

Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Sagg Road, Sagaponack, New York; 212-627-2308,

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Support Dance for a Good Cause at This Weekend's "Dancers For Good" Benefit with Superstar Performances and Honorees

Here’s a “good” reason to travel to the Hamptons this weekend: the 2018 dance benefit brought to you by Dancers For Good at Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York.

Thanks to producers Eric Gunhus and Michael Apuzzo, you’ll want to put on your own dancing shoes after watching Friday’s amazing line-up of dance luminaries. Starting at 7pm, a program of modern dance, contemporary dance and ballet featuring eight companies and 40 performers will take the stage in support of The Actors Fund.

The evening of dance celebrates dancers who have devoted their lives to the wonder of movement and supports an important organization in the arts community, The Actors Fund. Headed by President and CEO Joseph Benincasa, The Actors Fund provides support and services for those in the performing arts and entertainment fields.  The Actors Fund encompasses programs like The Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts, the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative and more.  All net proceeds from the evening’s event will go to The Actors Fund.

Honorees for the evening are noted dancers and actresses Chita Rivera (Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, The Visit, Nine) and Bebe Neuwirth (Chicago, Dancin’, Sweet Charity).  Performances scheduled include a special tribute by Broadway star Stephanie Pope (Chicago, Sweet Charity, Pippin) also the host for the evening, who will perform “All That Jazz” from Chicago, recognizing the roles played by Rivera (Velma) and Neuwirth (Velma, Roxie)  in the musical.  Dance companies on the program are Martha Graham Dance Company, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Rock the Ballet, Amy Marshall Dance Company, Carolyn Dorfman Dance, Eryc Taylor Dance and Pam Tanowitz Dance.  VIP level ticketholders are invited to attend the post-performance cocktail reception and mingle with the stars.

Gunhus, a former Broadway performer, created the first Dancers For Good event in 2016 along with dancer Michael Apuzzo of the Paul Taylor Dance Company as a showcase for some of the most prestigious companies and individuals in the dance world.  Why East Hampton?  “East Hampton was a natural choice with a beautiful theater like Guild Hall,” Gunhus replied. “And we felt The Hamptons was craving a unique event of this nature.  Where else out East can you see a world-class showcase of dance with celebrity hosts and guests and endless cocktails at a charity event to support a vital organization?”  It’s a beautiful setting for a beautiful evening of artistry.  Amen, Eric. I couldn’t agree more.

Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton.  Tickets are $150 and $250 (VIP) and can be purchased here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Celebrate Bastille Day and the World Cup Final in New York City This Weekend

The Fourth of July is over but we can celebrate another Independence Day with some great restaurant  and entertainment choices in Manhattan. Even better, you can celebrate this “day” for an extended period while partying or dining out a la francaise. 

Bastille Day, July 14, commemorates the fall of the French monarchy and celebrates the storming of the Bastille in Paris in 1789.  

An annual celebration is the fête populaire thrown by the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF), the largest public celebration of France’s Independence Day in New York France’s historic friendship with the United States. 

The festival, a three-block all-day affair, is popular among New Yorkers of all ages, with French cuisine, music, dance and other family-friendly attractions. 

The Bastille Day celebration takes place on July 15, 2018 on East 60th Street from 5th Avenue to Lexington Avenue, and is a block party extraordinaire. Starting at 11am, there will be a live screening of the World Cup Final, following by a “Summer in the South of France” tasting starting at noon, along with a French-themed market, kids’ corner and musical performances. At 1:30 and 3:30pm, you can toast to everything French with a Champagne and jazz party.  And, if you’re feeling especially lucky, enter to with trips to Paris and Martinique with a prize drawing to be held at 5pm. 

If you’re still hungry, several of the city’s French restaurants including Bar Boulud (with live music, can can dancers and a caricature artist), Claudette and Bar Tabac offer special Bastille Day menus.

Another of my favorites, Paname French Restaurant, is in easy walking distance from the FIAF fete. Paname French Restaurant’s Bastille Day Menu features a three-course prix fixe selection for only $43 per person.  The restaurant, helmed by owner/chef Bernard Ros, is mostly bistro in sensibility, but with a modern eclectic flair.  Here you’ll enjoy an appetizer, a main and dessert with such typically French dishes as escargots, potages de legumes, boudin noir, and steak bordelaise.

Additionally, on July 15 from 10am-8pm, Bar Tabac joins other establishments on Smith Street in Brooklyn for their annual Petanque Tournament and Smith Street Provence Festival. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

So You Wanna Know Something about Brooklyn? Here's Your Chance

Brooklyn is the second largest borough in New York City and holds a myriad of cultural and culinary attractions.  Here are two ways to explore it, one by bus (and a wonderful culinary exploration) and one by foot (with a focus on theater, music and history).

All photos by Julienne Schaer.

If you’re a foodie, you will love Foods of NY’s culinary tours.

It takes a while to explore (and eat your way through) Brooklyn, so a bus tour is actually a good idea if you want to cover a lot of distance in a short period of time. If Brooklyn were’nt part of New York City, it would still rank as the fourth largest city in the US, with 43 distinct neighborhoods with people from almost every country. With that comes an amazing array of traditions, history, and, of course, lots of fabulous ethnic foods.

The half-day food, history and cultural journey traverses four Brooklyn neighborhoods where you’ll learn about Brooklyn’s immigrant past and present. Areas visited include Williamsburg’s Hasidic area, Greenpoint’s Polish neighborhood where you’ll sample kielbasa and pierogies, North Williamsburg’s hipster areas with lots of street food and pizza choices, and more. In total, you’ll have six tastings of some of Brooklyn’s most representative cuisines from Middle Eastern to Italian, from hipster to traditional. Plan to come very hungry!

Pick up and drop off are in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. After getting a taste of Brooklyn, you might just want to stay there a bit longer and make your way back to Manhattan by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for its glorious views of both Brooklyn (look behind you) and Manhattan (in front of you). Or plan to book an overnight in one of Brooklyn’s new trendy hotels and explore more on your own.

Tickets are priced at $125 per person.

Local Expeditions are walks and bike tours curated and led by local residents passionate about a topic.

This walk through Brooklyn is perfect for theater lovers, music fans, and anyone curious about Brooklyn’s past. The tour meets in front of BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, and ends at the Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky’s Shakespeare Center 262 Ashland Place (at Fulton Street), Brooklyn.

Once described as a “regional attraction to rival Times Square,” downtown Brooklyn was a popular destination of shops, restaurants and theaters. It is now enjoying a revival with the Brooklyn Cultural District, Polonsky’s Shakespeare Center, and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (where you can eat and drink while you watch).

The tour is led by theater historian Cezar Del Valle and will explore downtown Brooklyn’s theatrical past, present and future. Sites visited  include those of the legendary Paramount and Fox theaters, the 14th and 15th  largest movie houses built in America.

The walk ends at the Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky’s Shakespeare Center. Opened in 2013, this was the first major house for classical drama to be built in New York City since Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater in 1965.

Tickets are $30 per person.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Soaking up the Cowboy Vibe in Sheridan, Wyoming

I’m anything but a cowgirl. I live in the city, I take motorized public transportation wherever I go, and I don’t often chow down on steak and fries.  But I relished my visit to Sheridan, Wyoming (named one of the country’s “Best Small Towns") where I got a taste of small-town America, done cowboy-style.

Here’s my guide to how to immerse yourself in this truly American experience.

Walk the Streets of the Town

At every turn in this historic town, there are sculptures signifying important aspects of the Wild West, from eagles and moose, to fishermen and Native Americans. These are part of the city’s public arts initiative to creatively add art to the town while also explaining the markers that create its history. You’ll learn about the history, as well, about legends like Buffalo Bill and the iconic places they frequented.

Speaking of Buffalo Bill, pop into the Sheridan Inn which opened in 1892, where Bill and his buddies downed more than a few. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was intimately involved in the creation of the inn, and the 22 rooms each commemorate an aspect of his life. You can also drink at the original bar that Buffalo Bill frequented on his many “Wild West Show” trips to Sheridan. 

Shop ‘til You Drop

Yes, that’s a cliché, but here the shopping is different.  You can enter a world of ropes and saddles, where buckle art and lasso creation lends an important eye to the whys and wherefores of these sale items.  Schedule a tour at King’s Saddlery and the Don King Museum, too, to learn more about Western history and ropes.  If you like home goods, the small shops here offer a plethora of choices to decorate your country house or make your apartment homier. For souvenirs and clothing, check out the Crazy Woman Trading Co.  

Soak up the History at the City’s Museums and More

Just outside the city limits in Big Horn, the Brinton Art Museum displays 19th, 20th and 21st century Western and American Indian art in a gorgeous eco-friendly building with views of the Bighorn Mountains. Of note are the Native American galleries where costumes and headdresses are displayed in magnificent cases showing their full-feathered glory. The Brinton Ranch House, just a short walk away and also on the grounds, is an authentic period home from the 1892, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Of note to me were the bathrooms, reminiscent of many of the pre-war bathrooms in New York City.

Enjoy a Cowboy Feast 

Brews, beef, and bounty are the calling card here. New-fangled brewery Black Tooth Brewing brings the city into the 2000s with artisanal beers like Black Eagle Baltic Porter and Little Goose Lager. Step around the corner for a Western saloon experience at the 100-year-old Mint Bar and for traditional cowboy meals at restaurants like Frackelton’s and Open Range Bar and Grill where generous portions of chicken-fried steak, ribeyes and ruby red trout headline the menus.  If you’re an urban cowboy, you might also like the wine bar with its measured pours (you insert a purchased “Library Card” into one of the myriad dispensers) at The Tasting Library at the end of the strip heading towards the mountains.

Commune with Nature and Locals

Within the city limits, you can join in where the buffalo roam by the grounds of the Kendrick Elk and Buffalo Park. Antelope and deer are spottable too.

Or drive a short ways up Bighorn Mountain to Spear-O-Wigwam, a place for retreats and relaxation with cabin-style living, roaming moose, and the simple joys of reading, hiking and watching the sun rise over the lake. Ask to stay in the cabin where 29-year-old Ernest Hemingway spent his days musing and creating.  Just be sure to keep your windows shut – I had an unwelcome encounter with a swarm of flies that were attracted to the warmth of the stove inside the cabin!  If you call ahead, you should be able to arrange horseback riding and rowing on the lake.

And one of my favorite things of all?

Around the corner from my hotel, Holiday Inn- Sheridan Convention Center, was a giant Wal-Mart.  For me, this was nirvana, particularly at midnight, when customers and employees could get to know each other, while also enjoying the breadth of items sold at this fixture of Western (and non-urban) Americana.

A Traveler’s Trip:  The plane on Key Lime air from Denver to Sheridan is very small and luggage weight and contents are carefully monitored.  Pack lightly and don’t bring a lot of electronics with you unless you’re willing to have everything in your bag scrutinized. You can also fly into Billings, Montana and rent a car to drive two hours to Sheridan.