New York Opening: SouthWest NY

“Ninety-five percent of them are great,” the waiter at SouthWest NY says of the one-percenters who frequent this new Tex-Mex restaurant in Battery Park City. “And some of them come in and don’t understand that it’s a restaurant, that the food can’t just come out in ten minutes.” If that’s your expectation, I guess Chipotle works?

That said, lunch at SouthWest NY, by far their busiest meal of the day, is as efficient as it is pleasant. For anyone working in a nearby office, the two giant skylights in the dining room offer a nice break from fluorescent bulbs. The mojitos, if it’s one of those lunches, aren’t so heavy as to knock you out for the afternoon. And it’s not a chain, but the feel is corporate enough to keep the workaday mindset on a loose leash (“Merchants Hospitality,” the parent company’s name, is printed at the bottom of the kid’s menu cum coloring book). A boss and his underlings were seated at the table next to me. He was extolling the virtues of Homeland. They hadn’t heard of it.

Battery Park City has seen an influx of trendy restaurants since Goldman Sachs opened their 200 West Street headquarters in 2009. Danny Meyer’s North End Grill and Blue Smoke are joined by craft cocktailer Black Hound. A Mexican restaurant may seem like a token addition to what’s becoming an Epcot for business travelers. The actual Tex-Mex theme is pleasantly subtle, though. The queso fundido, which in any Times Square hellhole would’ve come as a vat of molten Cheez Whiz, was a reasonably sized ramekin of sharp Mexican asadero, cheddar, and chorizo. The Baja crab cake came drizzled with a “jalapeño-passion fruit vinaigrette” (I’d have called it “honey”) and a refreshing chopped jicama salad. And while the whole menu’s dotted with little heart logos to indicate low calorie options, it seems like you’d have to really hunt for something to destroy your innards. Or just order six mojitos.

Executive chef Antelmo Ambrosio (he’s also at Black Hound) really knows what he’s doing when it comes to glazing the maduros, which is important, because mushy food’s no fun. If you have adult teeth, you ought to be able to use them. Fish abounds on the menu, in mahi-mahi tacos, ceviche, and a Lobster Club sandwich. The aforementioned tacos come drizzled with a citrus-cilantro “crema” (I’d have called it “green mayonnaise”). Maybe I’m just bad with condiments. It tasted fine, and the fish was perfect. We seemed to be the only ones not in a hurry, because the Homeland viewer and his Padawans, along with sixty other people, had totally cleared out by two o’clock. My friend and I, meanwhile, ordered some churros and finished coloring in our menus.

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BBQ on the Brain: 10th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party

It’s not too late to cancel your plans this weekend so you can attend the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park. Not only does this festival give you the opportunity to try some of the best roasted, braised, and fired meat in around, but it features pit masters from all across the country. If that wasn’t enough, they also have live music, film, and free cooking demos. Here’s what we are looking forward too.

Meat: Expect to wait in line, but don’t be dismayed it’s worth it. Serving up the meat Saturday and Sunday include favorites like: Las Vegas’ Mike Mills with baby back ribs, Chris Lilly from Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q with pulled-pork shoulder, Rodney Scott from Scott’s Bar-B-Q with a whole hog, Drew Robinson from Jim ‘N Nick’s with smoked sausage, and 14 other barbecue experts.

Music: On Saturday, get your country-folk on with Jon Langford, soul music from Chicago with JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, and end the day with swamp pop from Southern Culture on the Skids. Sunday brings you soul by the Revelations featuring Tres Williams, and rock music by Roadside Graves and Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys.

Free demonstrations: There are a lot of events going on, but the demos to really watch out for start with southern chefs Tyler Brown from Capitol Grille and Sean Brock from Husk and McCrady’s showing how to cook over embers. Also up, they have Chris Hastings, chef and owner of the Hot & Hot Fish Club in Alabama, making BBQ grilled shrimp and chef Norman King whipping up brown sugar pork chops.

Film screenings: Both days will feature free screenings of Joe York’s two new shorts Helen’s Bar-B-Q, and homage to pit master Helen Turner, and Madison Square Pork, a mini-documentary of the festival. If you can’t wait, or want something extra special, Blue Smoke is hosting the Potlikker Film Festival that not only shows both films, but also York’s short on the Van Winkle bourbon company called, Asleep in the Wood—all complete with Smell-A-Vision.Good thing food is on hand as they will also be passing around southern nibbles by Blue Smoke’s Kenny Callaghan, Seersucker‘s Robert Newton, and Herbsaint’s Ryan Prewitt and pouring whiskey from Julian Van Winkle’s private stash.

 

From Garden to Snifter: Veggies Land in Cocktails Across America

Is that a cucumber in your cocktail or are you just happy to see me? I, for one, am just happy to see the cucumber. With the emergence of ‘vegetails’ (vegetable laden cocktails) popping up on bar menus from coast to coast, the days of ordering a salad might soon go the way of the tape cassette. These days, you can find all the greens you need right in your drink, from walloping tubers to delicate slices of cucumber, and you can bet those veggies come from organic pastures.

Whilst carousing at New York’s Gilt in Midtown East recently, I found myself gleefully swilling chef/mixologist Justin Bogle’s Watermelon Coolers, made with Bulldog Gin, fresh watermelon, and basil. Like a symphony played upon the taste buds, this legume-y libation partied on my palate and went down almost too smoothly. Summer, watermelon, and basil go together like peas and carrots, which decidedly should be Bogle’s next veggie-inspired cocktail. Always an intrepid foodie (and cocktailie), I’d come back for some muddled peas mixed with vodka and a carrot garnish any day. He could call it The Forrest Gump.

Ever since, I’ve been thinking—what else is out there in the vegetails realm, and how deep does this alcoholic spin on the farm-to-table trend really go?

Owner of Williamsburg’s Huckleberry Bar, Stephanie Schneider explains that there are many reasons to use vegetables, fruits, and even meats to create cocktails. She says, “Being in the restaurant business for so many years [Schneider put in time at Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Eleven Madison Park, and Jean Georges before opening Huckleberry Bar in 2007], I saw chefs working with seasonal herbs and vegetables all the time. It’s bringing the same mindset to cocktails. If you’re serving a fennel and blood orange salad, why not make a cocktail with fennel and blood orange juice?”

Huckleberry Bar serves up a bevy of booze, from citrus-infused vodka to rosemary-infused rye to anise hyssop-infused vodka to lovage-infused rum to jalapeño-infused tequila. You name it, they infuse it. Most of their ingredients come directly from the Green Market in Union Square. “You take the fresh herb, shock it with hot water to release the oils, then pour the booze over and let it sit for two to five days,” Schneider explains. Not only does it make for great tasting drinks, but it’s also cost effective. “When you make dinner and you buy tarragon or thyme why not use the leftovers for the drinks? It eliminates waste in a small place like ours by using all parts of the vegetable and animal.” If you ever go to Huckleberry Bar for brunch try the bacon-infused bourbon. But I digress.

Aimee Olexy, co-owner of Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia, maintains a purist mindset when adding herbs and vegetables to cocktails. “One of the things that we do is try to focus on food and then the drink as a result of it,” she says. “We manipulate ingredients but still showcase the liquor. If we’re going to use a pure spirit then what can we do to take some of those inherent flavors and showcase them in a natural way?” The goal of the cocktails at Talula’s is to relax you and get you ready to eat, a precursor to a nice bottle of wine. “People that are drinking good cocktails these days are such foodies that the drinks must reflect some of the flavor profiles of our food,” Schneider adds. “Take the flavor of rum. We think about what characteristic from the farm will make a nice marriage to it. Its woody because it’s aged in oak so honey or a cucumber nuance will bring the flavor out. We want the integrity of the spirit itself to exist by finding something in the garden that will accentuate the taste.”

A house favorite at Talula’s Garden is the Gardner, a classic play on the Mojito. “The fresh mint will bring some more fragrance to this nice vanilla woodsy spirit, making it a little grassy. The use of cucumber, basil, or mint tends to open up your palette far more than juice. This drink literally makes you start to salivate and then you crave food,” Schneider says.

Chef/Mixologist Mariena Mercer of the Chandelier at Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas takes a culinary stance when it comes to her cocktails. “I explore individual roles of the four basic tastes [salty, sour, bitter, and sweet], coalescing them and bringing them into unity,” says Mercer. “The spirit needs to stand out, as does each element.” One of the newest additions to their cocktail menu is the Thai Down, made with Milagro Blanco, Domaine De Canton, strawberry puree, Thai Chili Syrup, and Thai basil leaves. “We eat a lot of Thai food so we wanted to channel the cuisine into the cocktail,” says Mercer. “The Thai basil has strawberry puree, but not in a gratuitous sweet way. It’s all about creating perfect harmony in the drink,” says Mercer

Beverage director Jonathan Baird of Hatfield’s in L.A. agrees wholeheartedly. Baird takes leaps and bounds to concoct myriad mixed creations for their discerning and thirsty clientele. “We base everything on balance,” says Baird. “That is to say, we make sure that you can taste each item that goes into the drink. It’s also about using the freshest ingredients we can get our hands on from the local Farmers’ Markets.”

Baird reveals how it’s done, “For our Cucumber Mint Gimlet we peel and slice the cucumber thin and blend it with an immersion blender instead of steeping the cucumber coins in vodka. This gives the drink more of a cucumber flavor and adds a nice green hue to it.”

Now that fresh herbs and vegetables can be obtained through bar hopping, I may never have to masticate them in salad form again. The veggies in these drinks must counteract the calories from the alcohol (they simply must!). And besides, why expend energy chewing when you can sip your greens and simultaneously get a buzz?

Weekend Freebie: The Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic on Governors Island

Real estate prices are always high in New York, but competition for space is even more apparent when you find yourself fighting for land on the lawns of our lovely parks during the summer. If getting hit in the head with someone’s poorly thrown Frisbee while picnicking in Central Park makes you cringe, head to Governors Island, where the 3rd Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic takes place this Sunday, June 27th. The glamorous daytime throw-back event is just a complimentary ferry ride away, which beats the train ride out to the coast, and boasts better views (both geographic and of the human variety). Last year, Madonna showed up, along with Prince Harry and LL Cool J. On top of the old la-ti-da of polo, the event strives to make the classic sport more accessible, which means there’ll be a few welcome changes for the attendees.

This year Prince Harry will compete against Nacho Figueras, the world-renowned polo player and the face of Ralph Lauren Polo, with all proceeds going to American Friends of Sentebale, a charity supporting at-risk children in Lesotho, Africa, founded by Prince Harry and Lesotho’s Prince Seeiso.

Sounds fancy, but the newly implemented public seating section adjacent to the polo field is completely free, and makes the event something that everyone can experience. The polo grounds feature catering by Union Square Hospitality Group’s Blue Smoke, Citi Field’s own El Verano Taquería, and loads of Veuve Clicquot.

image Unfortunately tickets to the picnic area sold out last week, but the public side is as good a place as any to show off your 1870/modern polo getup. There’s always the option to purchase a table (at $25,000), but the public side will be fully stocked with the aforementioned food and Veuve Clicquot, so you wont have to take out a loan this weekend The best way to get there is the complimentary ferry, which departs from the Battery Maritime Building located just east of the Staten Island Ferry in lower Manhattan and from the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn. Just say no to Coney Island.

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Super Bowl Catering: Bringing New York’s Best Bites Home

The Super Bowl is an event not just because of the football, but because of the food. It’s an excuse to get plastered and snack on unfashionably delicious bar food on a Sunday afternoon, football fan or not. The wonderful thing about this is that restaurants often “go deep” and present their offerings in a catering-friendly form, so you can either (A) come to the party with the best snacks or (B) host one at your own digs, and not have to worry about preparing oven-baked sheet after sheet of Pizza Rolls and Bagel Bites, or even worse, trying to get someone to deliver during the game. Of course, there’s always pizza, which you can order a few hours before the day of, but why go for the normal grub when you can hit something slightly more exotic. In other words: which restaurants are helping New Yorkers get one through the uprights, and bringing forth good grub to the game?

Momofuku Ssam Bar All those who place their bets on David Chang to deliver the goods will be pleased to know that he’s again offering the Bo Ssam — a motherlode of whole slow-roasted pork shoulder, with all the fixings: napa kimchi, ginger scallion sauce, caramelized onion, horseradish crème fraiche, bibb lettuce — along with some awesome sides–smoked chicken wings, red onion cole slaw, yukon gold potato salad, baked adzuki beans with bacon–and one of the best desserts the MomoEmpire has to offer–a dozen compost cookies–for $325 this year. Better get on it, though: today (February 4th) is the last day they’re going to be taking orders. Not exactly a hail mary, though: Momofuku’s a pretty surefire bet, year-to-year, Super Bowl or not.

BLT Burger The haute Village burger stand (whose burger received notable approval from us last year) rolls out their own special for four, eight, or 15 people (priced respectively at $60, $120, $225). They’re packing in burgers, fried snacks (onion rings, skinny fries, sweet potato fries, waffle fries, fried dill pickles), along with chicken wings and waffle bites. Even better, orders can be places and picked up the day of the game, but call ’em in early, unless you feel like missing the halftime show.

Kefi Upper West Siders going slightly more highbrow than the average fried fatfest can hit up star chef Michael Psilakis’ casual Greek digs for something a little more exotic than the typical Super Bowl spread. 6-8 people can get Psilakis’ homemade pita “chips” with tzatziki dip, hummus, Greek salad and Kefi’s meatballs — which are, by far and away, the restaurant’s standout dish — along with spinach mac and cheese, some Spetsofai pasta (rigatoni, sausage and peppers), and your choice of Souvlaki or Roasted Chicken, which also comes with a side of lemon potatoes. You can call in an order to the restaurant for $49.95 day of, and get it delivered in the neighborhood at no extra charge. That said, someone’s working on the Super Bowl, delivering your food, while you’re partying. Tip well, lest you get sacked by bad karma.

MacBar One of those party dishes nobody’s ever gone wrong with, ever — Mac and Cheese — can be brought to the table in a style naturally befitting New Yorkers, which is to say, a variety of flavors including truffle oil, lobster, any number of cheeses, among others. MacBar’s got 12 different flavors, and they’re putting the entire menu up for catering 16 to 20 people, priced anywhere from $40 – $70. Orders need to be placed at least by Saturday, and when you pick ’em up, make sure you get a cabbie who can keep the meter running, lest you get stuck on a Nolita corner with a massive tureen of hot, gooey noodles without a ride to move ’em.

Acme Bar & Grill and Great Jones Cafe We couldn’t make a list without giving due diligence to New Orleans fans, who have some of the best native food in the country. Good Cajun food’s hard to find in the city, but Acme does delivery via Seamless Web, and they have an entire menu of PoBoys and a kitchen that could pull oof a party of ’em. It certainly isn’t the “fanciest” of the options here, but it’ll get the trick done. For superior Cajun grub, Great Jones (as the smaller restaurant) might merit a little more advance notice and a little more convincing, but will definitely bring tasty game to the table for New York’s dedicated, displaced WHO DAT nation who can’t (and shouldn’t) be bothered to cook that day.

Finally, Bar-B-Que‘s a sport in and of itself in New York, so it deserves a few options. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que doesn’t have a specific Super Bowl catering menu, per se, but they do have some of the best meat in town, and as they’re located all the way uptown, they’re not going to be as slammed as some of the other places you might end up at. South Brooklyn should head to the Smoke Joint, arguable the best in the borough, though North Brooklyn’s meat-on-meat destination Fette Sau in Williamsburg would beg to differ. Smoke Joint will come correct on the sides, while Fette Sau comes correct with all kinds of meat, though their side selection is limited. For Manhattanites, Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke is a wee bit pricy, but solid, and Indy fans will appreciate their care for the midwest’s BBQ stylings; Wildwood‘s located a few blocks south, is cheaper, and has a bigger menu for those who want to reach outside the realm of more typical offerings, but Hill Country has the best of all worlds: good meat, great sides, reasonable prices, and most importantly, will deliver Sweet Tea in a mason jar for you. If that’s not Southern Hospitality, what is? Well, Upper East Siders can find out: the Justin Timberlake-associated Southern Hospitality does take-out, too.

New York: Top 5 Mac n’ Cheese

It used to be that a plate of gourmet mac n’ cheese was the Kraft dinner I spiked with some dill, diced tomatoes, and a can of tuna. But since moving to New York, a brave new world of haute mac n’ cheese has revealed itself to me, and not only is it often exquisite, but it’s fattening as all hell. Not counting the arrogant $55 plate of M&C at the Waverly Inn, here’s where you can find the strongest marriages of macaroni and cheese in New York.

1. Roebling Tea Room (Williamsburg) – You wouldn’t’ think so, right? But trust. Served in a skillet still sizzling, the pasta is more tortellini than macaroni. Opt for the crisp bacon strips on top, and you won’t be sorry, but your arteries will.

2. Blue Smoke (Gramercy) – This bourgeois barbeque joint sells their cheesy pasta as a no-frills side, which means you have a perfect excuse to order their Memphis baby back ribs and eat away whatever ails you.

3. Dylan Prime (Tribeca) – It’s called the lobster & white truffle mac n’ cheese. You had me at lobster.

4. Dumont (Williamsburg) – Reasonably priced, pleasurably stinky mac n’ cheese for the mature young Williamsburger. Almost everyone in this small space seems to be eating it, and have angular haircuts.

5. Eatery (Midtown) – This modern-interiored eatertorium looks like a place Carrie Bradshaw and the girls might go to blahblahblah; they call their M&C the Mac & Jack. Why? Because rhyming is fun. Topped with frizzled onions and Parmesan cheese, it’s positively oozy. Can’t you just see Samantha removing those onions, and Charlotte scooping them up with that wandering fork of hers? I can!