From Usher to Jellyfish: What’s New & Strange At This Year’s Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks

Fourth of July has its formula: for the day, your kitschy red and blue shorts make a comeback, a ketchup-drenched burger and baked beans make their way to your paper plate, and there’s no stifling the requisite oohs-and-aahs amid the explosive fireworks show and orchestral Macy’s music. 

But this year, NYC is igniting Independence Day with some unprecedented, surprising, and bizarre features that don’t really make much logistical sense, but are happening any way. And that’s just the way we like ’em. Take a look:

1. Usher is the show’s "curator."
For the first time ever, Macy’s is collaborating with "a major superstar" on the show’s design and 26-minute score. Since Usher is syncing the fireworks with each musical beat, you can expect every half-naked dancer’s jiggle to be on-point with the high notes of Rihanna’s "Diamonds," Kanye’s "All Of The Lights," and each Justin Bieber song.

2. The show’s theme is "It Begins With A Spark." Talk about foreshadowing. 

3. The fireworks come straight from China, Malta, Portugal, and Spain.

4. Even the Empire State Building is syncing with the fireworks, flashing with each corresponding, colorful firework in the grand finale. 

5. There will be a new winking-happy face firework and a new jellyfish firework from China. The jellyfish whistles as it explodes and bursts open with butterflies. 

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The Cronut Creed: Dominique Ansel’s Top Five Rules About The Cronut

Since launching the croissant-donut hybrid known as The Cronut on May 10th, Dominique Ansel has never been the same. Instantly, the famed French pastry chef’s namesake bakery in Soho has become the hottest New York venue between the hours of 5:30am and 8am – and it’s not even a nightclub. 

Folks from as far as Dubai and Australia are flying in to get a taste of the flaky, creamy, sweet phenomenon. This week, I sat down with the chef who – like Madonna and Cher – has now been most commonly referred to as simply "Chef," to discuss The Cronut Creed: his top five rules about baking, devouring, and loving The Cronut.

1. The Cronut Shalt Not Discriminate.

While only 300 cronuts are made a day, and only the early-birds can snag ’em, The Cronut feeds a worldly crowd that’s, according to Dominique, "half tourists, half locals, including people who have flown in from Taiwan, Japan, South America. You name it."

2. The Cronut Shalt Not Be Scalped.

Now that scalpers are flooding Craigslist with under-the-table, expensive cronut offers, food has for the first time become a Craigslist scalping commodity. "And I don’t like it," says Dominique. "It’s why we limit the number of cronuts people can get in the store to two."

3. There Is No Wrong Way To Eat A Cronut.

"You can cut it in half," the chef says. "Just bite into it, take it apart layer by layer. But everyone has their own way. Whichever way you have the most fun eating it, is the best way. My favorite is to cut it in half."

4. The Cronut Must Be Eaten Within Six Hours.

"It takes three days to make, is fresh for six hours, and eaten in 30 seconds," he says. "Eat it while you can."

5. One Shall Be Selfish With Their Cronut.

"A lot of people come in early and alone, and come just for a single cronut for themselves with their coffee. And that’s very okay."

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The Cronut

The Strange Phenomenon at the Jazz Age Lawn Party

Good news: chivalry isn’t dead. Or it wasn’t this weekend, between the hours of 11am and 5pm, when Governor’s Island became what looked like The Great Gatsby movie set, and city dwellers transformed into suspender-and-fedora-wearing, flapper dress-and-garter-clad folks. The phenomenon? The Jazz Age Lawn Party – a biannual event packed with a hot-jazz orchestra, a ballroom dance floor, St. Germain cocktails, and 1920s motorcars. But for New Yorkers, it’s summer’s Halloween, and for two days (the next one’s on Aug 17th & 18th), we’re just a bunch of classy cats.

But back to the chivalry: men were offering their hands for a dance, introducing themselves formally to the ladies. Like a character in a costume, the guys strangely assumed their ’20s-style roles. And so did the women – breezy, lighthearted, and giggling while lounging on blankets, there was an effervescence to the whole party on the sprawling green that made you forget that 1. It took you an hour and a half to get to the island in the first place 2. You spent at least $30 to attend the event and 3. They ran out of the sliced beefsteak sandwich from the Carbone’s Fancy Foods booth. 
 
And there were other "quibbles" about the event, like how a VIP ticket gave you an all-access pass to a mere ham and cheese sandwich and a boxed apple pie, and how instead of using actual currency, people had to pay money toward $3 tickets to spend on sodas, cocktails, and the ’20’s-themed gourmet food vendors (aka vegans went hungry).
 
But alas, none of this really matters when your day consists of decisions like, "where do we put our blanket?" and "the elderflower or the lemon cocktail?" and "should I instagram the piano player?" 
 
No, all that matters on this sunny day is that you "beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
 
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The Taco Of The Town: NYC’s Five Best Tacos

Here in New York, we take tacos seriously – especially during summertime. There’s something about rolling that soft tortilla up, drizzling lemon over the white shrimp and seared talapia, covering it in guacamole, and dipping it in a fresh coat of rice and beans.  But no – not all tacos are created equal. We live in a world where tacos are sometimes soggy, made with stale tortilla shells, and filled with unidentifiable pieces of meat. This is unacceptable. And thankfully, New York’s five best taco places agree. Dig in, compadre.

The Plantain & Chorizo Taco from Los Feliz: the  sweet and savory mother of all tacos, stuffed with green plantains, Spanish chorizo, black beans, portobello mushrooms, garlic cause, crispy panela cheese, and truffle oil. 

The Brisket Taco from Brooklyn Taco Co: award-winning, and a gift of braised brisket, pineapple salsa,  chilorio sauce, cheese, crème, and red hot sauce for your mouth.

The Fish Taco from Barrio Chino: three fresh tilapia soft tacos, simmered in citrus and marinated in avocado salsa, pickled onions, and culinary genius.

The Potato & Chorizo Taco from La Esquina: packed with cactus, chunks of potatoes, dotted with chorizo sausage, and sopped in their salsa verde. 

The Corn & Poblano Pepper Taco from Tacombi: carnivores’ shocking favorite, stuffed with roasted poblano peppers, sweet corn off the cob, a salty Mexican sour cream, and creamy and grated Cojita cheese. 

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Frog Legs, Pigeon, & $1 Oysters: Maison Premiere’s Chef Lisa Giffen Leads The Way

On the south end of Bedford Ave., a line is forming. Every weekday at 3:30pm, crowds are making their quiet shuffle to the Grand St. corner, where they await their aphrodisiac fix at a price that can’t be cheaper: $1 oysters from Maison Premiere.

"There’s a line outside right now," says Lisa Giffen, Maison’s executive chef. "We begin each week with towers of oysters, and it’s shocking how quickly it’s all eaten."

At Maison, seafood is the star of the show – and at the happy hour alone – from 4pm to 7pm every weekday – 20 kinds of oysters are for the slurping at a price that’s less than a box of paper clips. The oysters are so highly regarded (and respected), they require their own car ride when they’re picked up from the airport five times a week. 

But bivalves aren’t the only ones attracting attention at the old-world New Orleans and hotel lobby-inspired spot. Ever since Lisa joined the team a year ago, she’s transformed Maison – which has its own brass absinthe fountain –  from a seafood and absinthe den, to a full-on restaurant with a large-plate menu, packed with pigeon, frog legs, black cod, and rabbit.

"We found that people really wanted to eat here after they drank at the bar, so we made sure to meet that demand," Lisa says. "Our Tasting Menu is our biggest hit."

The Tasting Menu – a five-course, $95 meal – begins with a tower of raw oysters, and ends with a sprawling, dessert finale of spiced rhubarb shortcake bites, cheesecake, rum baba, and madelines.

"Fifty percent of the people who get the Tasting Menu come back for it a second time," Lisa says. "I swear, it’s the dessert array."

But of greater surprise is Lisa’s own path to leading the kitchen of Maison. Her first job after college was doing sales for Sharpie markers.

"I started moonlighting in kitchens on the side and did a program at ICE," she says. "Finally, I realized I spent more time cooking than I did doing the work I was paid to do, so I made the move. But learning to manage a team of people – from the porter who washes the dishes that the food goes on, to the guy who peels onions all day long – have followed me since."

And while Lisa wrangles the kitchen staff downstairs, the waiters and bartenders tend to the guests upstairs who, on occasion, get engaged, celebrate anniversaries, and break-up at the bar and in the outside garden.

But at a place serving mostly oysters, expect mostly romance.

"Oysters are an aphrodiasc," says Lisa. "But alcohol is, too."

Lisa Giffen

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Tonight: Unleash Your Inner Feasting Beast At Isola Trattoria’s New “Family Meal”

Did you grow up with that Sunday family feast? Are you Italian? Did you sit through weekly screaming matches about the significance of ricotta cheese and marble entryways? Starting tonight and every Tuesday at Isola Trattoria in the Mondrian Soho hotel, you’ll be able to revisit these magical family moments in their chandelier-filled space with their new "Family Meal:" a weekly table-full of $12 rigatoni bolognese and Margherita, truffle artichoke-topped pizza, $30 carafes of wine from the village of Puglia in Italy, and $15 pitchers of Peroni. 

Bring your family, don’t bring your family. Whichever is the case, get ready to unleash your inner feasting beast at the 9pm start time. 

But do keep the screaming matches down – people are sleeping upstairs. 

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Sara Bareilles Is Writing A Musical Based On Indie Film ‘Waitress’

She’s "not gonna write you a love song," but she’ll definitely write you a musical. Sara Bareilles, the singer/songwriter who’s sold over four million singles in the U.S. alone, is bringing her sincere, driving, and sob-inducing songs to the new musical adaptation of the tender indie movie Waitress

The 2007 shocker-hit starring Keri Russell is about a pregnant, unhappily-married waitress who starts whipping up tasty, inventive pies to escape her own life. When she meets the charming doctor who moves to town, the pies slowly become inspired by the events that follow…

Aboard the Waitress musical team are Pippin‘s producers and director, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paula Vogel, who’s writing the script. 

Need a Waitress refresher or simply craving pie? Watch the film’s trailer.

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Does Reiki Work? Discover NYC’s Alternative Way To De-Stress

"Anxiety, anger, heartbreak," says reiki master Gianantonio Corna. "These are the top reasons New Yorkers come to me." 

As New York’s leading reiki master at his Reiki Vitae studio, Gianantonio taps into what he calls "the universal wifi" – that vital energy around us – transferring this energy to his 100+ clients with the slight touch of his hands. The technique: reiki,  a 90-year-old Japanese practice known to cure such physical ailments as headaches, back pain, and digestive problems with its supposed ability to detoxify the body and mind. 

"Imagine your desktop screen, full of all these folders you don’t look at anymore," Gianantonio says. "Through reiki, the energy scans your body and mind: clearing it, cleansing it, and releasing it from its usual patterns."

Known for his 5-star reviews and ebullient spirit, Gianantonio – who began his practice 13 years ago in his hometown of Italy – has watched reiki transform his NY clients in three sessions, and even as immediate as their first. Since seeing him, many of his clients have stopped taking Advil and other painkillers, and Gianantonio himself hasn’t taken any medication in over 10 years.

The practice is simple: through meditation, the reiki master channels energy through him, transferring it via the light placement of his hands on various stress points of the client’s body, and the client experiencing the results.

And results are what we’re after: actual physical healing, and that sense of peace and lightning of spirit that usually accompanies a far-too-expensive vacation away or a spa massage at its best

So when I walked into the Vitae studio to meet with Gianantonio, I entered with high expectations – and high skepticism too. Where does this energy come from? Can it even be transferred? How can my ailments be lessened by simply energy and not high doses of medication?

Within minutes, I found myself on the massage bed, being asked to "bring my attention to to the tip of the nose," all while sinking into the music of waves and seagulls overhead. 

And then slowly, after placing his hands lightly on the tip of my head, I felt a warm prickling sensation, like currents, across my body. Like someone had attached a charger to my back (very Matrix) and simply plugged me in.

The feeling stopped and started – mostly depending on my concentration: if I was focusing on my body, or my lunch order of either spicy tuna or miso soup. After the 60-minute session, I sat up and looked at Giantanonio in a nearly-cataonic state: completely blissed out in my world of seashells and sailboats and electric.

And that’s when the best part came: post-session, the reiki master sits down with you and tells you what he felt – what kind of energy he sensed upon your body (mine was "wind"), and the fairly-specific circumstances that could have caused the ailments, and how you can set out to cure them. 

I walked out with a customized list of foods to avoid or devour, and the simple instructions to spend time with good friends more  and stay active outside. Simple, right? It sounds even simpler and jollier in Gianantonio’s Italian accent.

And believe it or not – I really did feel a difference. After a good week of living this way, I actually went back and did another session, and since then the turnaround in my attitude and ailments keeps getting better – to the point where I’ve nearly forgotten what hurt at all.

Sure, sure, it could have been the effects of all the consecutive happy hours and taco dinners with my work buddies – or simply pure, clean energy at work. You decide.

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Danish Pancake Bites? At NYC’s New Sugar and Plumm Back Room

Pancake bites. Portable pancakes. However you want to frame it, mini Danish pancakes filled with apple caramel, berry jam, and ham & gruyere are now in NYC with today’s opening of Sugar and Plumm’s new Back Room

The Back Room neighbors the main recently-opened Sugar and Plumm shop in the West Village – and both shops are filled with Plumm’s signature whimsy, towering brownie sundaes & waffle-and-bacon sundaes, and dollops of whipped cream. And also deliciousness.

Which brings us back to the pancakes: known in Denmark as "ebelskivers" and at Plumm as Danish pancake "pops," the morsels practically ooze with fresh savories & sweets, like chocolate nutella and spinach & mushroom combos. 

And unlike the usual flat, mega frisbee-sized Danish pancake (photo here), they’re manageable, like more substantial donuts. Get a little baggy of them still-hot, and you can just pop-em in your mouth and stroll down Bleeker St.

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