September Movie Reviews: Drive, Restless, Machine Gun Preacher

Drive Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s bugaboo is blunt violence, from medieval drubbings (Valhalla Rising) to institutional trauma (Bronson). His latest film, the Los Angeles–set Drive, has a lot to offer: Refn’s masterful pacing, a spooky electro score, Albert Brooks as a convincingly craven gangster. Wearing a silvery jacket embroidered with a scorpion, Ryan Gosling plays a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver (named Driver) with a blend of high-octane efficiency and psychotic rage.

Carey Mulligan’s Irene and her chocolate-eyed son are the only emotional chinks in Driver’s otherwise featureless exterior (clearly, man-as-machine is a trope). A bungled heist and several extremely tenuous coincidences later, Driver is out for revenge, and it’s here that Refn’s whirligig genre blending—Howard Hawks and John Hughes both earn nods—muddies the plot. Brains are variously smashed and splattered. Call it Brand America desensitization, but where Refn’s past attempts to show the suddenness and banality of real violence mostly succeed, Drive accelerates into comedy. —Megan Conway

Restless Not surprisingly, the latest offering from Portland film deity Gus Van Sant concerns youth and mortality. Newcomer Henry Hopper (son of the late actor Dennis) plays Enoch, an introspective young man who sees dead people. Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) is about to become one, courtesy of an untreatable brain tumor. Their mutual fascination with death brings them together at a memorial service, after which they share a first date at the local morgue. As time continues to breathe life into their young love, we watch them follow the vaporous guidance of fortune cookies and Hallmark cards, all while living every day as if it could be their last together. It’s all very romantic on paper, but there’s also something silly about the film’s maudlin trajectory. Enoch’s “best friend” Hiroshi (Ryo Kase), the ghost of a kamikaze pilot who never loses a game of Battleship, makes us feel better for laughing through the tears. —Amarelle Wenkert

The Debt Shakespeare in Love filmmaker John Madden takes a stab at the political thriller genre with his remake of Assaf Bernstein’s 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov, about a trio of Mossad agents (Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Marton Csokas) assigned in 1966 to capture or kill Vogel, a sadistic Nazi war criminal. Fast-forward to 1997, and the three former partners (now played by Helen Mirren, Ciarán Hinds, and Tom Wilkinson, respectively) are reunited when news surfaces that their initial mission was never accomplished. Through a series of flashbacks, Rachel Singer (Mirren) is forced to confront her murky past and the bitter cover-up that threatens to destroy them all. —Nadeska Alexis

Machine Gun Preacher Gerard Butler with a mullet doesn’t exactly scream Oscar, but The Bounty Hunter meets Dog the Bounty Hunter this is not. Director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) has crafted a moving drama that could find major play come awards season. Based on the true story of Sam Childers (portrayed with a pleasantly surprising mix of gravitas and restraint by Butler), a former drug dealer who becomes a champion for Sudanese orphans, Machine Gun Preacher is not only inspiring—it’s inspired. After bottoming out, Childers, at the insistence of his wife, turns to God, and it’s through the church that he discovers his higher calling as the founder of the Angels of East Africa rescue organization. Although it’s at times almost too brutal to watch, the film’s strong supporting cast (including Michelle Monaghan and Michael Shannon) makes it impossible to look away. —Hillary Weston

Circumstance In the trailer for Circumstance, we’re told that “sometimes we have to accept our reality.” But what makes Iranian-American filmmaker Maryam Keshavarz’s debut feature so riveting is that its two female leads (Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) do no such thing. Based on Keshavarz’s own experiences, Circumstance tells the story of two teenage best friends, Atafeh and Shireen, who struggle to grasp the rigid divide that separates men from women in modern-day Iran. Forced to quell their romantic love for each other, they dream of escaping to an idyllic world without prejudice. Where they end up are the underground nightclubs of Tehran. Although it’s a story of burgeoning same-sex desire not unlike My Summer of Love, Circumstance, told in Farsi with English subtitles, never feels tawdry or exploitative. —HW

Food for Wrath: 7 Gustatory Trends that Piss Us Off Royally

Animal rights activists sure get good and angry about foie gras, especially when New York restaurants introduce it their dessert menus. Which is understandable, we suppose, though what gets us fired up isn’t necessarily fatty little goose liver treats. What does piss us off? Aside from the occasional bout of food rage, here are seven trends that rankle.

● All right, we know now that dining out regularly makes you fatter, and that some restaurants offer meals with three day’s worth of suggested calorie intake. And that make us mad. But what about certain other eateries compulsively documenting your muffin’s nutritional value? Don’t deprive us of our guilty pleasures. Goodbye Strabucks frappucino, so long Jamba Juice’s Very Berry. I’ll miss not knowing what’s inside you.

● It used to be that you were either a chocolate or a vanilla ice cream person (and that spoke volumes about your personality in general). Now you can be a wasabi. Or an apricot and bacon. Do you like mint-chocolate chip? Perhaps try lavender with candied ginger chunks – similar texture. We are not all our own special frozen snowflakes, and ice cream should be old-fashioned and simple, goddamn it. Let’s all go the Dairy Queen. We’ll have the tuxedo twist, please, extra American.

● We do not appreciate being wooed with silly gimmicks. We do not want crispy crickets in our margaritas.

● There will always be publicity-hungry chefs who’ll attempt to transform a simple food item into a multi-dollar mutation. Yes, we know and appreciate those ingredients whose rarity and tradition make them precious, but honestly – Beluga caviar does not work with everything. And we most certainly don’t need white truffles and gold leaf on our fries.

● It’s hard to remember exactly when cupcakes took over our palates, our parties, our lives, since it was so very long ago, but I think Sex and the City was involved. Even harder to explain is why they won’t go away. We enjoy frosting as much as the next guy, which is why we find it bizarre that people would so gleefully limit themselves to a pastry where only one side is covered in the creamy stuff – and usually by two inches too much. We’re not exactly saying it’s a conspiracy, but we’re not alone, either.

● Whole pig dinners are messy, Medieval, and surprisingly unsatisfying. And yet, barbaric meat traditions are on the rise, being served inexplicably by dapper dans sporting waxed mustaches rather than dudes in chainmail. If I’m going to be made to rips chunks of meat from a pig that still has a face, I’d better be enjoying some jousting at the same time.

● Licorice. Devil’s root. Nuff said.

Food Trend Alert: The New York Deviled Egg Uprising

Whether it was the rediscovery of mayonnaise as a condiment of interest or the scotch-scented wave of pure, artery-clogging Mad Men nostalgia that brought them back, deviled eggs have arrived – again. Once the hors d’oeuvre your grandma’s gin rummy tournament wasn’t complete without, this summer deviled eggs are popping up on menus across New York, from gastro pubs to Tiki bars to New York Times three-stared restaurants. In fact, it’s damn near impossible to avoid the fancy little treats.

They are a staple bar snack at beloved gastro pub the Spotted Pig and Gramercy Park’s Resto, and are offered in their organic form at Brooklyn’s the General Greene. More adventurous ovum enthusiasts can pair Samoan deviled eggs with flamboyant cocktails served in coconuts at the Hurricane Club, try Tabasco-spiced eggs at BLT Bar and Grill, or sample the Aspen Social’s version, served with yellow fin tuna and wasabi tobiko. For an upscale experience, Veritas restaurant’s baby spinach salad is an excuse to devour deviled eggs topped with whipped blue cheese and crisped pancetta.

Some wink at the classics, like Seersucker Bar, which is serving deviled eggs as part of their Southern snack tray alongside pimento cheese and crudités. Other establishments, like the Collective over in the Meat Packing district, demonstrate premature nostalgia for last summer’s truffle-everything trend, serving deviled eggs with truffle oil and fried capers. Friends, this is only a very partial list.

Need a bright idea for some weekend fun? How about hosting a deviled egg cook-off like they do down south. After reading The Awl’s Ultimate, Fabulous Guide to Deviled Eggs, I immediately began compiling my very own winning recipe. Not to worry: Those of you who’s egg-eating expertise exceeds your event planning abilities, the author kindly shares his comprehensive list of regulations to prevent the whole ordeal from going to Hades.

eHarmony Founder Declares Institution of Marriage Dead

Arrive fashionably late to the party, and the party may no longer be fashionable. Less than two weeks has elapsed since New York legalized same-sex marriage, but according to Dr. Neil Clark Warren, online matchmaker and founder of eHarmony, marriage is passé. In an article for the Huffington Post, Warren offers, “on second thought, don’t get married.” Warning against the dangers of an ill-calculated marriage, he writes, “It’s frighteningly easy to choose the wrong person.” Unless, presumably, you carefully answer an in-depth eHarmony questioner.

Indeed, 2011 has already been a year of divorce, and research bolsters the gloomy forecast. According to the U.S. Census, fewer than half of American households are founded on marriage, and a Pew Research Center study from 2010 found that an increasing number of Americans believe marriage is becoming obsolete.

One may wonder what drove Dr. Warren to very publicly list the many dangers of marriage, considering his vocation. Perhaps he was deeply bothered by news of the Terminator’s divorce from Maria Shriver, to which I say, don’t worry Dr. Warren – she’ll be just fine with her hefty settlement and a lucrative book deal.

Perhaps with gay endorsement, marriage will be made cool again, just like boat parties, dim sum, and AOL.

The Accidental Filmmaker: Sophia Takal on ‘Green’ & Female Jealousy

Over a glass of lemonade in a Greenpoint café, Sophia Takal, a writer, actor, and first-time director, describes her film Green, making its genesis seem at times an act of an emerging genius, at others completely accidental. A masterfully shot psychodrama of subtlety and beauty, Takal wrote Green literally overnight, shot it in two weeks, and edited it in her living room with one of the movie’s lead actors providing snacks and moral support. The dialogue, skillfully recorded in Takal’s bedroom with a microphone tied to a broom, was mostly improvised, and she attributes the movie’s hauntingly slow pace and lingering shots to her passion for Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu’s cinematographic style — also, to her desire to speed up the editing process. “Editing stinks,” she explains.

Takal still seems surprised — uncertain, even — by the circumstance that have recently brought her recognition and media attention. Portraying how the jealousy of one woman reaches heights of delusion and freight, Green follows a young intellectual Brooklyn couple as they transfer to rural Virginia for a secluded writing assignment, and how their relationship is tested by a young local woman who disrupts their new life together. It’s a topic close to the heart of 24 year-old Takal, who admits she routinely faces down the green-eyed monster.

The movie stars Takal, her fiancée, fellow filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine, and the couple’s roommate, Kate Lyn Sheil. Green had an award-winning run at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas in March, and its New York premier at BAMcinamaFEST in June. Having been officially stamped one of cinema’s brightest up and coming talents she is preparing to tour nationally and internationally with her movie, and attempting to satisfy her growing appetite for filmmaking.

Tell me about your New York premiere. It was fantastic! The theater was full and the audience really responsive. I was super nervous – normally I don’t sit through these things. It’s really awkward when people have empty comments like “that was great, congratulations!” and I say “thanks!” and they have nothing else to say. I like it when people engage in conversation and say it reminded them of an issue they were dealing with in their own life. That’s been happening with Green. People want to talk about jealousy, about the female experience; even men come up to me and say they thought their girlfriends were totally insane until they watched it.

Green deals with female jealousy, a topic that’s inspired many works of art. What was your particular angle? I wanted to look at the destructive power jealousy has on female relationships. A lot of people think of the movie as a love triangle, not realizing there is no real triangle– everything happens in the heroine’s mind. My personal experience has always been that my jealousy and competitiveness made having friendships with other women very difficult. In the movie the main character Genevieve (played by Kate Lyn Sheil) has an opportunity to become an individual, to really feel into herself rather than to be built by a man. My character is there to help her do that, and because of the totally made-up jealousy she turns against the woman who is not doing anything, and becomes more consumed with getting the approval of her boyfriend, and the tragedy is in the fact that she is unable to trust the other woman and therefore trust herself .

You admit that you created Green to explore a very personal issue. Has it been therapeutic? How selfish, to make a movie as therapy and make others watch it. I don’t think this movie changed me; I still get jealous all the time. Perhaps the jealousy is less violent.

Green created quite a buzz at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX, where it was first screened. It is such a big festival with so many good movies – I had my heart set out for it, but I didn’t think I was going to be invited. All my friends that got to participate were invited over a month in advance, and I got the call the day before they were announcing the winners. I jumped up and down, ran up and down the stairs yelling “yippee!!!”. And then I had to finish editing the movie.

You won the Chicken and Egg award for emergent female directors at SxSW. Do you think that creating a movie that deals with such a uniquely female experience helped you snag first prize? I imagine they look for a movie that reflects a female perspective. It’s an interesting award. They were making a big deal about having 10 female directors participating in the festival this year –there were only four last year- but that is still only 10 out of more than a 100 participants. By the way Jodie Foster was one of the directors, so that’s probably the only time in my life I can say that I beat Jodie foster. [Note: Takal and Foster were not up for the same award]

Did you always aspire to become a filmmaker? I’ve wanted to act from as far back as I can remember. I got my education in a school where I was required to study all aspects of theater as well as the performance. When I realized that element of filmmaking interested me more than the making of theater, I decided to focus on film studies. I collaborated with my fiancée, whom I met in college, in the making of the feature, “Gabi on the Roof in July”. Watching him direct gave me confidence to jump in to directing my own feature.

What’s next? I’m writing a comedy. It’s about an overly-politically correct young New Yorker who travels to Africa to find herself. But first we are doing one of Lawrence’s projects. We rotate, so he gets to direct our next film together.

Green – a film by Sophia Takal – Trailer from Sophia Takal on Vimeo.

The 11 Best Beer Gardens in New York this Summer

This summer, beer gardens are back with a vengeance. All across the boroughs, these pastoral drinking establishments are opening at a pace akin only to the Fro-Yo whirlwind of the aughts. Indeed, the German tradition of elbow-bumping, alfresco communal beer imbibing is being adopted whole-heartedly by slightly sweatier, more frugal New Yorkers. The many new contestants in the race to quench our summertime thirst — from Mario Batali’s rooftop haven to Harlem’s very first suds hall — are calling into question what defines a beer garden in the first place (say, the presence of a garden). Even with pretzels and lederhosen falling by the wayside — we can think of, er, wurst things — we embrace the trend with a bro-ish man hug. And since we’re pretty sure we know what we love to drink, and where we want to drink it, we here present a list of our 11 favorite summer watering holes.

Mission Dolores: Park slope Trapped between two buildings, Mission Dolores is a welcoming courtyard with industrial charms, shielded from the elements by a greenhouse glass ceiling. On tap here you’ll find a nice selection of artisanal and hard-to-find American brews joined by few unique European blends. And that’s about it — in a good way. Opened just last year, the bar has quickly become a local favorite, and when full on a Sunday afternoon – which it always is — Mission Dolores seems to magically expand to encompass all would-be drinkers. The random arrangement of reclaimed wood tables proves extremely flexible in hosting groups of all kinds and sizes. Mission Dolores has a jukebox, a fireplace, and a Lord of the Rings pinball machine — not to mention a sufficiently grizzly dive-bar bathroom and absolutely none of those “gastro pub” nibbles you’ll find in the city. Amazingly, the lack of a food menu seems to have created a tolerance toward a BYOS policy (Bring Your Own Snack). Locals come bearing take-out bags. ● Beer selection: Carefully curated list of mostly domestic brews. ● Sweat index: Airflow not quite sufficient to support heavy mingling. ● Size does matter: Flexible layout helps accommodate even large parties. ● Not on Wurst alone: Fully liquid menu. ● Garden variety: Not a patch of green in sight, but a beautiful courtyard makes up for it. ● Special features: BYOS!

La Birreria: Flatiron It’s an inevitability that Mario Batali’s La Birreria, Eataly’s recently opened rooftop beer garden, will become a popular addition to New York City tourist guides. All we ask is for one summer to enjoy it first — just one summer to sip on the wonderful unfiltered, unpasteurized, naturally carbonated cask Ales they poor here fresh from the rooftop brewery, to nibble on some crudo at sunset while gazing, eye-level, at the Flatiron building and the clocked tower of the Credit Suisse building, to be reminded that this hot, sticky mess of a city isn’t so bad, after all… ● Beer selection: The signature cask beers top a wide, unique selection, including bottled beers from American and European artisanal breweries. ● Sweat index: Consider being stuck between office buildings at lunchtime. ● Size does matter: Large format beer bottles are great for friends who like to share. ● Not on Wurst alone: An elaborate menu of Italian descent goes beyond sausage to feature full dinner options, including salads, cured meets, and cheese. ● Garden variety: Located on an airy rooftop, the only green you’ll see is on a plate. ● Special features: Serving original creations from an on-site rooftop brewery. Reservations available for groups of 6-12 starting July 1st.

Spuyten Duyvil: Williamsburg Judging from the heavy metal grate guarding the outside of this perennial Williamsburg favorite, you couldn’t possibly guess at the leafy depths inside. But trust us when we say you’d be wise to arrive here early on a Saturday afternoon, when the bright sunlight at the far end of this dark and narrow bar beckons you out into a beer guzzler’s paradise. A spacious backyard is waiting to be discovered here, where actual trees grow free, and the tall brick walls of the surrounding buildings assist in creating a shelter from the smothering heat. Sprinkled with a variety of garden furniture and plenty of foliage to shade day-drinkers from the glaring sun, this place works as a wonderfully lazy afternoon hangout, turning at sundown into a pleasurably secluded nighttime watering hole. ● Beer selection: Thoughtful mix of Belgian, German, and American brews served by knowledgeable bartenders. ● Sweat index: Plants and a cold beer in hand will ease the heat. ● Size does matter: The garden is large and welcoming to parties of all creeds and sizes. ● Not on Wurst alone: Delicious Cheese and Cured meats, as well as some of the most mouth-searing spicy pickles you’ve ever had. ● Garden variety: A secret garden! ● Special features: Seriously, you should see this garden.

The Lot on Tap: Chelsea Kudos to the Lot for successfully encompassing three of summer’s most prominent trends, the holy trinity of beer garden, food truck, and pop-up. Opened earlier this month in an abandoned parking lot beneath the northern end of the Highline, the Lot on Tap shares a space with another temporary summer installation: the candy-colored blow-up wonderland dubbed the Rainbow City. Although this could potentially mean a slew of sweaty, red-faced toddlers disturbing your delicate beer buzz, the Lot remains an attractive summer prospect. Couched in the shade of the elevated park, it enjoys a surprisingly cooling breeze off the Hudson. A pleasant selection of mostly local beers is offered on tap here, including the signature Highline brew made at the Brooklyn brewery. Also on tap here: chilled summer wines. ● Beer selection: Short and concise and mostly locally sourced. ● Sweat index: Bask in the shade of industrial steal and cool river breezes. ● Size does matters: This lot is big. Bring the gang! ● Not on Wurst alone: A fleet of food trucks will keep bellies happy and minds (relatively) clear. ● Garden variety: Points off for being located in parking lot; points on for the wonderfully green Highline just a few steps up. ● Special features: Who knows? After a few cold ones the Rainbow City might start to look like a pretty good idea. image The Garden at Studio Square

Spritzenhaus: Greenpoint This place is massive, a 6000-square-foot space with a curved bar of anacondean dimensions and a long line of garage-door windows opening to the street, letting the indoor seating overflow out onto the sidewalk. Opened earlier this spring, this hulking hall is guarding the northwest corner of Brooklyn’s McCarran Park, which makes the prospect of scoring a table outside that much more exciting. Inside, the iron beams, red brick, and rough wooden tables, dimly lit by the fire glaring from a massive wood-burning oven (the source of a sauerkraut brined pork loin), seem like the perfect setting for a game of Dungeons & Dragons. A beer list as ambitious as the venue’s size completes the picture. Spritzenhaus is set to attract beer lovers from near and far, but we can’t wait to enjoy it next winter, when the modernized Medieval décor and central fire place are sure to warm us up. ● Beer selection: Points earned for the sheer length of the beer list. ● Sweat index: You’d think keeping a place this big cool is mission impossible. Think again. ● Size does matter: The Texas of bars. And despite filling up quickly, it’s a safe bet for large groups. ● Not on Wurst alone: Brick oven pizza making friends with sausage and soft pretzels. ● Garden variety: Sidewalk seating and views of McCarran park. ● Special features: Bizarro Middle Earth theme, if that’s your bag.

Franklin Park: Crown Heights Giving Tree-like trees create a shaded outdoors at this laid back neighborhood bar, which has been tending to locals’ drinking needs for over three years. Inside, two sturdy, white-tiled bars are like large ships spiriting you to tipsy seas. Even a newcomer to this rarely-explored part of Brooklyn will feel an instant sense of the familiar. The beers offered on tap here are a wise combination of all-time favorites (it’s one of the few beer gardens we sampled that offers Guinness) and unique, craft-y additions — it’s a good, diverse selection that will answer the drinking needs of the neighbors without reinventing the wheel. Soft lighting outside gives this beer garden an organic feel. Even the testosterone-soaked rowdiness of crowds watching the large-screened football games inside can’t burst the bubble of calm that is this garden. ● Beer selection: old favorites + Few crafty additions = good overall. ● Sweat index: Leafy shade and calm vibes will quickly dry off sweaty patrons. ● Size does matter: The outdoors sitting area is small, but rarely over-crowded. ● Not on Wurst alone: Serving the type of things you’d eat with ketchup. ● Garden variety: More of a passage-way, but with trees. ● Special features: Two bars to ease the traffic and a large screen for viewing sporting events.

The Garden at Studio Square: Astoria One look at this crowd – tan skin taut over bulging muscles, blindingly white smiles under a manes of gelled hair — and you might begin to suspect that the beers here are spiked with performance-enhancing substances. The first few minutes in this sprawling, raucous, grassy courtyard in Queens can prove downright frightening. It takes time to get used to the air, thick and dense with GTL and smoke, the latter a product of the massive grilling action going down, which provides the crowds with deliciously greasy, crackling-hot pork bits. But once you settle down with a cold Sam Adams, you might find the loud music and general hustle and bustle a satisfactory accompaniment to your weekend drinking. ● Beer selection: Sam Adams across the board. ● Sweat index: Fire and smoke! ● Size does matter: Apparently, no matter how large you and your friends are, this enormous picnic table landscape has room. ● Not on Wurst alone: A generous, meat-centric menu is a beer’s best friend. ● Garden variety: Big, bustling grassy patio. ● Special features: Tan people making noise, raising hell. Not too bad a way to spend a Sunday.

Loreley: Lower East Side / Williamsburg Shielded from the bustling corner of Meeker and Frost streets by a red brick wall, the quiet Loreley Williamsburg, the year-old sister to the popular LES establishment, looks like a guarded military post. A well kept one, however, with flowers and gravel and broad picnic tables. A concise list of German brews is accompanied by a wiener- and schnitzel-type menu. Similar offerings are available at the original Loreley, a beer-lovers’ favorite for nearly a decade and one of the pioneers of this current outdoorsy drinking craze. ● Beer selection: They take their German tradition very seriously here, with a varied, in-depth selection & old-country decor. ● Sweat index: Quite drippy in the daytime, despite the umbrellas. ● Size does matter: Large groups will be accommodated, eventually, and beer tasting and pitchers are available. ● Not on Wurst alone: A full menu explores the beauty and splendor of Teutonic cuisine. Delicious, if more palatable during the colder months. ● Garden variety: One of the few, real gardens. ● Special features: Authentic German beers ease the heat like the winds off the Baltic. image Standard Biergarten

Bier international: Harlem There’s magic in the air at this singular beer garden in Harlem, open since late last summer. The sun is just kinder up here. Peoples’ smiles are contagious. The beer hall-style communal tables and outdoor seating on the deep sidewalk are the perfect setting for a Sunday brunch or an afternoon beer tasting. Plus, it’s close enough to the northwestern corner of Central Park to work all the beer and currywurst out of your system afterward with the aid of a brisk stroll. The nine brews offered on tap hail from Belgium, Germany, France, Czech Republic, England, and the US. ● Beer selection: Good-size selection of varied origin, sans pretense. ● Sweat index: Blessedly air conditioned. ● Size does matter: Moderate but inviting. Large groups might endure a short wait before being seated. ● Not on Wurst alone: Berlin specialty currywurst, crab cake benedict, and fried chicken – only in Harlem. ● Garden variety: Nothing but sidewalk here, but on a clear day you can see the park. ● Special features: The first beer garden in Harlem. That’s a little special, isn’t it?

Standard Biergarten: Meatpacking It can sometimes be hard to determine whether this is an actual bar or if it’s the biergarten-themed Epcot Center of our dreams. Opened last year outside the elegant Standard Grill, this smartly-designed outdoor hall features New York elegance courtesy of the majestic Highline, which acts as a ceiling, the perfect lighting, and the impeccably dressed beer drinkers. Inside the wide brick court, the masses mingle over large communal tables, plan direct attacks on the two busy bars to score one of three German beers offered here on tap, and shed off the worries of their hectic, high-grossing day. Behind the thick curtain of leaves protecting it from the street, it’s easy to forget the Meatpacking lurks outside. The city’s most elegant beer garden, this is a perfect spot to transition from day to night. Warning: Having to purchase drink stubs upfront may run a risk for those who, like me, have eyes bigger then their alcohol consumption capabilities. ● Beer selection: At only three choices on tap, drinks clearly aren’t the main attraction. ● Sweat index: The highline can create a tight pocket of air on hot days. ● Size does matter: Crowded! If you must find a table, come early — or go somewhere else. ● Not on Wurst alone: Soft pretzels and sausage. Take it or leave it. ● Garden variety: Some greenery exists. Court is mostly wide and bald. ● Special features: If ever there were a sexy beer garden, this is it.

Gowanus Yacht Club: Carroll Gardens This shabby beach shack seems to have landed on Carroll Gardens’ Smith Street from a Caddyshack outtake. Old picnic benches, repurposed diner tables, party lights, and a squeezable ketchup-mustard set on every table sums up the décor. A single plastic tree amply meets the New York standard for “garden.” Here, they sell dogs, beers, and take no bullshit (as evident from the elaborate list of club rules chalked on the blackboard behind the bar). But if you’re neither a sensitive soul nor a clean freak, you can enjoy the laid back, mellow atmosphere and the faint, perhaps completely imaginary smell of the ocean. ● Beer selection: It isn’t really about craft brews here, but with Kolsch, Captain Lawrence, and Duff, there’s a beer to satisfy every palette. ● Sweat index: Not much here to shield you from the sun, but at night breezes blow through this urban beach hut. ● Size does matter: Small but all-encompassing. Private events are not out of the question. ● Not on Wurst alone: Nothing but dogs and burgs. ● Garden variety: Like we said: lone plastic tree. ● Special features: Badass attitude and unexplained rugged charisma.

Hotel Griffou’s David Santos Can Taste Summer

David Santos is excited about the heat. One afternoon last week, the Executive Chef at New York’s Hotel Griffou impatiently awaited the arrival of late spring cherries, “jet black and loaded with sugar,” and later strawberries, peaches, and nectarines, which will flavor the many menus he’s planning for the restaurant’s summer season. Santos has a compulsive need to change at least a quarter of his menu every month, especially the most popular dishes, which he sees over and over again while expediting a busy dinner service. “I have menu ADD,” says the 32-year-old. “I’m always very much into a menu when I create it, but soon I start to get bored with it and can’t wait to change it.”

Less than a year ago, Santos left an executive chef position at Harlem’s The 5&Diamond to take control of the kitchen at the decadent, cleverly-designed 1920s-era Hotel Griffou. The restaurant occupies the entire basement floor of the building that was once Madame Griffou’s boarding house, with later incarnations as the infamous Penguin Club and Mary Lou’s.

Nowadays, Santos is focusing on a series of monthly tasting dinners at the restaurant, which allow him to break the bonds of the regular menu and offer his guests a less conventional dining experience. He sees these ever-changing meals as the true vessel for his creative needs. “The tasting dinners are really about me expressing myself,” he admits, “An opportunity to do what I want.”

For an upcoming dinner on June 20th, Chef Santos is planning a “signs of summer” menu with a wine-pairing theme yet to be announced. In the meantime, here he is taking a breather from a busy afternoon of butchering to answer a few questions.

You aspire, like many other New York chefs, to create a seasonal menu. Is it more than a trend? Growing up, my family was very seasonal. When my parents emigrated here from Portugal, they brought with them a part of their lives and culinary traditions. We had a garden with rabbits and pigeons, and we ate what grew there. In the summer we pickled vegetables from the garden. My Mother was a very picky produce shopper and would never buy peaches and nectarines in the winter. The mentality of farm-to-table was installed in me since. That is why the idea of a ‘signature dish’ always seems odd to me because ingredients change. I’m glad to see that restaurants are serving more seasonal things. Food is better when you buy it exactly when it tastes good, and not have it shipped from miles away. I’m also concerned with the whole issue of the carbon footprint on the environment. I drive a Prius

It is hot out today. What are you looking forward to cooking this summer? Summer is my favorite season. Spring is fun because you get tired of braising meats all winter and you finally see something green instead of all those roots, but there’s still not much available in the markets. Summer into fall is really the best time to be a chef, since it’s most versatile. You have sweet corn from Jersey, Peaches and nectarines – its like shooting fish in a barrel.

You mentioned your Portuguese heritage. What are some staples of your childhood kitchen? The one thing we always had in the house was piri piri oil. It went on everything, giving food real character. Grilling is a very prominent cooking technique in Portugal, and my dad was always grilling outside, even in the winter. My mother is one of the best cooks I know. She could make just about anything. She made meatloaf like it was nobody’s business.

The Portuguese mark is evident on the menu, but so are influences from the Middle East and Asia. Where are these flavors coming from? When I create a menu, it is as much about the places I’ve been as it is about where I want to go. I love Middle Eastern food. My favorite place to eat in New York is the Hallal cart on 53rd and 6th avenue, which I visit at least once a week. The idea for the tuna dish (with Middle Eastern kebe spice, jasmine rice, and cucumber yogurt) came from watching an episode of Andrew Zimmerman’s Bizarre Foods filmed in Egypt. Every year brings with it new trends in food that seem to take over menus all over town. What’s your take on this year’s hot culinary trends? I think that food trends are brought up by a need or interest. Take a hamburger, for example. They are great, but do they need to be on everybody’s menu? I wish they didn’t have to be. But given the state of the economy, I think they are still a necessity. I accept it but try not to follow too much, and do what I think is right. But listen, there are many people out there right now making ton of money selling lobster rolls…

You worked in some of New York’s most prominent restaurants. Who are the chefs that most inspired you? Thomas Keller [with whom he worked at Per Se] taught me about everything that is beautiful about food. He taught me how meticulous and exacting food can be – the way he sourced the best ingredients, the many influences he drew on to create his food. It was always based on perfect technique. David Bouley, with whom I worked for over a year, is probably one of the most talented chefs I ever met. He taught me cooking under pressure. Working at Bouley was emotionally and physically intense. We worked 100-hour weeks and someone was always quitting. In that chaotic kitchen, I learned how to be good and how to survive. He was always there, always watching. At Bouley you had 250 people dining and you were beat, and the worst thing you can do is make a mistake. I was always a very composed person, but after I finished at Bouley it seemed that there was nothing that could be thrown at me that would rattle me. To last a year at Bouley was a feat that only about 4-5% do. I was there for a year and 2 months. So as much as I learned form Per se and the beauty there, I learned from Bouley and its craziness.

And your own kitchen – is it managed like Bouley’s or Keller’s? I like to sit right in the middle. I embrace a little bit of awkwardness and difficulty in the kitchen because it’s important for a cook to learn to deal with it. But I always want my food to be beautiful, to be sound in technique, and to taste great. I love the craziness and I live the order.

How often do you get to dine out in the city? Just about never. Accidentally, last night I dined at Brushstroke [David Bouley’s newest restaurant]. It was the first time I’ve gone out to eat in about a year. Taking up a kitchen in a new restaurant, you work so much just to make it work. There is a pressure of getting your name out there and proving yourself, so I find it necessary to be here all the time. But with summer coming up I’m hoping to find the time to dine out more. I want to check out The Dutch, eat at Daniel for the first time, and go to Le Bernardin again.

You are trying to establish yourself in a city chuck-full of celebrity chefs. Have you ever considered taking the reality TV path? I was asked to go on the Food Network’s Chopped a few times, but I rather stay away. I actually believe that my experience working at the kitchen at Bouley would have made me a good competitor, but I am so involved right now with my work that I’m not into becoming a celebrity chef. I see myself as very out going, easy to talk to, camera ready. But it is not my focus. My focus is making people happy. I think that is how you make a name for yourself. So you may not see me on Chopped any time soon, but you might catch me on Food Network’s Best thing I Ever Ate. Chef Ann Thornton nominated my venison tartar.