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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Kick and Play: Shoes. Party. Go.

Starting in 2013, BlackBook will start talking shoes. With dinner parties, brunches, coffee dates, and friendly catch-up sessions, figuring out the right outfit can become an interminable task. And while so many publications spend their word count on what pants, blazers, tie clips, and watches you need to wear, we’re going to focus on the one thing you’ll always need: good kicks on your feet. So shake hands with our new weekly column: Kick and Play.

Whether you love your skinny chinos, tapered pants, or baggy jeans, we’ll make sure we’ve got you covered in the kicks department. And don’t worry; the full spectrum of shoes will be covered. From limited-edition sneaker releases, to wingtips, to boots that won’t make you feel like a storm trooper, BlackBook’s got your back – and feet. Once you’ve explored your shoes options, we’ll give you the top national restaurants, clubs, and bars to sport them. Kick, play, go.

THE KICKS:

Nike Air Jordan 13 Retro (pictured above)

 

Over the past two years, Nike and Reebok have become crazy for the retro trend. On the regular, the sneaker brands are re-releasing some of their infamous pairs of retro Jordan’s, Iverson’s and throwback player editions of sports legends.

January is no different, with a number of classic Jordan sneakers being released this month. On Saturday, January 12th, Nike and the Jordan Brand will re-release the Air Jordan 13 Retro in black and red, which was originally released in 1997. The shoe, inspired by a panther, was designed by famous designer Tinker Hatfield.

What was known to be a sneaker to collect or play in, now brings a bold yet sleek attitude to skinny jeans at the bar, brunch, or that afternoon weekend discovering the city – just don’t let anybody step on them.

Available on Saturday, January 12th at select retailers. $160. Follow @nikestore or your local sneaker shop on Twitter for launch information.

 

Aldo Nocks

Aldo Nocks

A fusion of a wingtip and a casual-laced shoe, the new Aldo Nocks is a great shoe for nearly any occasion. Though it is a little narrow, it looks great on khakis or jeans, dressed down with a t-shirt and hoody, or up with a tucked-in shirt. The Nocks are available in black and brown. To add a little flavor, these shoes have a surprising, electric-blue sole, giving your step a vibrant bounce. $70 at Aldo Shoes.

THE PLAY:
Perch, Los Angeles, Calif.

A fantastic rooftop bar a whimsical French-bistro feel. Great drinks and damn good dessert. Flanked with fire pits, lounge seating, and an eclectic sound of music from DJs and, on occasion, an indie band. Great for post-dinner with friends or a date.

Chile Pies & Ice Cream, San Francisco, Calif.

Green chili pies with apple filling, a ground beef pie served in a Frito bag topped with Fritos, pie shakes. This Mexican-infused bakery has no rules – just innovative sweet and savory pies, and organic ice cream for the purists. Perfect for any meal, any time, anybody.

La Esquina, New York, New York

When Mexican food is done well, it can be a life-changing experience. Enter La Esquina. Translated as “the hideaway,” this location is just that. It starts off as a three-space set-up which is perfect in its own right – a taqueria, a café, and a brasserie + bar. While you should most definitely try all three, the necessity here is to secure a reservation for the basement: an underground seating arrangement with a menu that boasts 200+ premium tequilas and cocktails and, oh yeah, unforgettable grilled street corn, blessed main courses, and an environment that you won’t want to leave.

Book a reservation a week in advance for a guaranteed good seat. Take a girl. Celebrate your birthday. And wear your new kicks.

Cold Waters Heat Up The Nation’s Oyster Bar Scene

Though the old saying, “Oysters should only be eaten in months that end in an ‘r’” was debunked by refrigeration and modern mariculture, the truth remains: oysters are the ideal fall food. “Oysters thrive in cold water,” says Adam Evans, the chef of Atlanta’s white–hot seafood restaurant The Optimist and the aptly named next–door oyster bar, The Oyster Bar at The Optimist. “So when the water starts to change, they get this rush of cold water, plump up, and get really nice.”

The Oyster Bar at The Optimist is just the latest of a slew of oyster bars opening across the country. In the trendy L.A. neighborhood of Silverlake, L&E Oyster Bar has been attracting crowds since it opened in January. They serve a menu of hot and cold seafood items, including a fantastic oyster po’boy and a grilled oyster platter alongside their always–changing raw oyster list, sourced from all over the country and Canada. “My partner and I love oysters,” explains co-owner Tyler Bell, “but we couldn’t find a great oyster bar like the kinds you find in New York, Boston, San Francisco, or Europe, so we opened our own.” The hankering for bivalves has been so strong, Bell recently doubled capacity by taking over the floor upstairs.

On the Eastern Seaboard, Serge Becker, owner of hipster havens La Esquina and Miss Lily’s, opened his Swiss spot Cafe Select in 2008, but it was just this summer that he converted the restaurant’s secluded back room (accessed through the kitchen) into Cervantes’ Oyster Shack and Bar. They serve schnitzel, Zurich veal, and Swiss bratwurst in the main dining room, but offer lobster salad, octopus salad, steamed mussels, ceviche, and raw oysters in the back. When deep winter hits, they’ll turn it into a fondue bar, but for now, it’s veal up front, oysters in the back.

In May, Evans and Atlanta chef–of–the–moment Ford Fry debuted The Optimist to crowds and rave reviews. The space features a large horseshoe bar, beachy decor, and a casual patio with a putt–putt course attached. A coastal region’s worth of oysters, lobster rolls, chowder, salads, and peel ’n’ eat shrimp fill the menu, and the cocktails, like the pink gin martini called The Truth As We Know It, are designed to pair well with oysters.

Though Baltimore is a seafood-centric town, first–time restaurateur Candace Beattie noticed there was a hole in the marketplace where raw bars were concerned. So after moving back home after a long stint in raw bar-heavy Boston, Beattie opened Thames Street Oyster House in the summer of 2011 in Baltimore’s Fell’s Point. She serves a mix of New England and Maryland standards.

But it isn’t just that oysters are conquering new territory. Even in the oyster heartland, new oyster shacks flourish. The talk of Boothbay Harbor, Maine this year is The World is Mine Oyster: a new restaurant with a rustic, camp-themed interior, a patio overlooking the bay, and a lengthy menu of Maine-raised oysters, served raw, steamed, baked, in shooters, and topped with everything from sour cream and caviar to serrano ham or blue cheese and bacon. In nearby Portland, three–month-old Eventide Oyster Co. offers 18 varieties of oysters from Maine and “from away” to its coterie of salty regulars.

Industry Insiders: Jelly Jells, Jam Session

Singer, DJ, and magician Jelly Jells doesn’t consider himself a Renaissance Man. Instead, he modestly says that his many talents are just different forms of expression. “I’m all about bringing thoughts to fruition,” he says. “but those thoughts are never limited to one genre.” Through his production company, Little Fish Big Heart, Jells (born Giovanni James) records tracks with his band, The Harlem James Gang, and produces television shows and movies.

His latest project is a music video for his single, Downtown King, which featured legendary hip-hop artist Fab 5 Freddy. “It was specifically made for New Yorkers and all their hot spots in the city,” he says. And this is a man who knows his hot spots. Between working the door at Manhattan’s white-hot Top of the Standard, manning the turntables at La Esquina, and performing with his band at exclusive parties across the city, one could easily assume that Jelly is spread too thin, but he swears he’d have it no other way.

“As long as you’re alive,” he says, “you have to seize every opportunity that comes your way.”

Photo: Therese + Joel]

Justin Timberlake & 901 Tequila Are Throwing a Free Concert in NYC

When was last time Justin Timberlake was wrong about something? The guy seems to be spending a great deal of time making the right decisions and all the right moves. He’s behind the brand 901 Tequila, and tonight at Irving Plaza he’s presenting the Memphis-based hip-hop group, FreeSol (signed to his label Tennman Records) in advance of their debut album, out in October. Since today is 9/1—you know, September first (and I’m really sorry if I’m the first to break that news) and the Tequila is 901—the festivities will begin at 9:01 P.M.

I have it on good authority that you need to get there early, because this shindig is on a first come, first served basis, and I figure the line is starting as you’re reading this now. So it’s free, it’s boozy, and it’s new music from a group endorsed by Justin Timberlake. Now, these kind of affairs and business dealings always have a man behind – or right next to – the man with all the attention. That guy is Kevin Ruder, an old friend of Mr. Timberlake. I asked Mr. Ruder to tell me all about it.

You co-own 901 Tequila with Justin Timberlake and you guys are taking over Irving Plaza to promote FreeSol. Is this like Vince and Turtle in Entourage, where Vince gets involved with that Tequila? How did you and Justin hook up for this Tequila company? Justin and I have known each other for a while. I worked at Anheuser-Busch for about 13 years and one day he called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing my own Tequila, I really love the process of making it, and I obviously love tequila, what do you think about that?’ I said, ‘Well, it’s not something you can just decide you want to do for a weekend and see what happens, if you want to do this, then it has to be 100% your money and your commitment.’ And then we went into the business together about 3 years ago. It took us about a year to find a distiller that we were comfortable with and had a product that would formulate to exactly what we were looking for. We launched in 2009 in four states, and picked up a few more states later on that year and each year has grown bigger and bigger and now we have national distribution.

Is tequila the new vodka? I hear this sort of banter all the time these days. This is not the same tequila I was drinking ten years ago, getting a headache the next day. The new Tequilas are distilled and restaurants like La Esquina, have 150-plus options on the menu. Obviously I’m a little jaded but I think it’s better than vodka. Tequila is now being compared to wine because of how long the process takes. Agave has to grow for eight years before it can be harvested and made into tequila. It’s not like vodka where you can grab any kind of starch and make it, especially with 100% agave tequila, which is important. It’s not what you and I were used to when we were younger—slugging back shots and making a face, there are more sipping varieties, and some that are great for mixing with juices. Instead of just a margarita, there are now so many different cocktails and options for tequila, whether it be in a mixed drink or on the rocks. And you’re seeing 100% agave tequila drive the category and open people’s eyes to what tequila really is.

Who do you expect to show up at the FreeSol concert tonight? Justin Timberlake fans? Since we’re sponsoring it, it’s a 21-plus show, and that helps tremendously. We don’t have to worry about anyone too young being somewhere that we don’t want them to be. I think it will mimic both FreeSol’s style and our own style, which is geared toward a young, edgy crowd who are looking for something a little different. They’re a tremendous band, they’re young and we’ve been sponsoring them from the get go because we really like what we’re about. I think it will be that 22-35 year old crowd that likes music that’s a bit different, like urban pop with a lot of horns. It’s just a great hi-tempo show. You’re renting a venue for an entire night, giving free away admission and free liquor.

As the CEO of a liquor company, what’s the value at the end of the tunnel? The one thing we have is September 1st. That’s 901, so that has to be our day. It has to be our day this year, next year, and in 20 years. Our goal is to throw a great party, not just ‘hey this is our tequila come check it out’ or ‘hey, this is Free Sol, come check it out’ or ‘hey, come get a picture of Justin on your camera phone.’ This is ‘hey, come have a good time experience, not just on the Tequila side, but on having a good time side.’ There are lot of things we can gauge from that. If I have 1,000 people leave that night saying, ‘these guys are fun, these guys are my kind of people,’ in the future when they think of Tequila, they’ll say ‘901 is a good product, I had a good time that night, I want to mimic that again.’ And the folks that aren’t in New York are going to read about it, see pictures and say ‘hey, these guys aren’t stuffy, they’re not so ultra premium that you can only buy it for $150 a bottle. Yes, it’s priced a little more than Cuervo, but these guys are pretty normal and down to earth.’

The Hurricane that wasn’t for so many here in the Big Apple, was actually a big deal for a great deal of people. As I write this on Thursday morning my prayers and good wishes go out to my boy Seamus Regan. It seems his sister Sheelagh and a wedding party of 40 people got themselves cut off from civilization in the town of Pittsfield, Vermont. It seems Vermont and other regions north of us got hit real bad. All of the roads are washed out and the National Guard are trying to rescue them. They have no electricity and food for only about 5 days and I’m hoping the Jameson and Powers holds out. Seamus is one of New York’s fastest and most sought out bartenders and owns Salon 13 in the East Village. He has a home up there near Killington where he spends the winter months snowboarding and such with Brian Mitchel of Park Slope’s Brookvin and George Ruotolo owner of Whiskey Town and Whiskey Brooklyn as well as Chris Buckley owner Hanson Dry, Brooklyn. They may be out by the time you read this, as there was a 2-hour window this morning that rescue workers were trying to solidify.

I often take the L train home late at night. It leaves me inches from my Williamsburg home. A common sight is the boxes of Artichoke Pizza hungry hipsters are holding on their laps with great anticipation. Now, with the newly minted frozen Artichoke pies there may no longer be a reason for them to venture into Manhattan ever again. With a branch opening in Williamsburg as well, it may mean the absolute end of Manhattan nightlife as we’ve known it.

Industry Insiders: Dave Rocco, No Reservations

As manager of New York’s La Esquina, Dave Rocco has learned to focus on every detail, from the music to the lighting. Yet he always takes time to appreciate just how amazing the five-year-old Nolita restaurant and lounge can be.

“Even though I work here, I still drop in on my nights off,” he says. Rocco came to nightlife from the music industry, where he started out as a producer for Z100 when he was just 14. He eventually became an on-air personality, but woke up one day and decided his real interest lay in food and hospitality.

And while an average day can be hectic, delivering impeccable service is its own reward. “When I go out to dinner, I enjoy feeling like someone knows who I am, and hears me if I need something,” he says. “La Esquina really cares about that.”

Industry Insiders: Jonathan Rojewski, Tequila Entrepreneur

Great business ideas are often a matter of timing. For Jonathan Rojewski, the time was 2006, when the Mexican government amended its rigid tequila standard to include a category for flavor-infused spirits. With his business partner, David Campbell, Rojewski began working on Tanteo, the first line of infused tequilas, taking advantage of the rise of premium tequila as well as the growing artisinal cocktail culture. Rojewski and Campbell launched Tanteo in 2009 with three distinct flavors, which quickly become popular in such stylish restaurants and bars as New York’s La Esquina. We asked Rojewski about the genesis of Tanteo, its modern production process, and his never-ending quest for the finest agave in Mexico.

How did you come up with the idea of Tanteo? Were you always a fan of tequila? I had always been a tequila drinker and loved that it was a bit misunderstood and mysterious. In 2006 the governing body of Tequila in Mexico amended the tequila standard by adding two additional categories, flavor-infused tequila and extra añejo. This change in the law provided an opportunity to do something new and different that could take advantage of the growing craft cocktail culture.

Where did the name Tanteo come from? The name came out of a brainstorming brunch held one Sunday afternoon at a Mexican restaurant in the East Village. The table was covered in white craft paper, and everyone received Spanish/English dictionaries and lots of different colored Sharpies. I provided the parameters for the name: it should to start with a strong consonant, be easy to pronounce, sound festive, and be visually appealing. After several hours (and lots of margaritas) we had our name.

How long did it take to develop the various flavors of Tanteo, and how did you decide on Jalapeño, Tropical, and Cocoa? Tanteo took two years to develop. The flavors are inspired by Mexican cuisine. The Jalapeño was first, and was the inspiration for the company. Tropical is inspired by the Mexican fruit cart vendors with freshly cut fruit topped with diced chilies, salt, and a squeeze of lime. And Cocoa is inspired by the traditional Mexican mole sauce.

What is your facility like in Mexico? Where does the agave come from, and where do you source the other ingredients? The distillery is modern and clean. All of the equipment that we use in our production has been custom-designed and purpose built. The agave comes from a family-owned farm 10 minutes from the distillery. All the agave used in the production of Tanteo is individually selected and tested to ensure the highest quality and sugar content. The infusion ingredients are hand selected by me and come from small local/regional farms. I spend about four to six months a year in Mexico.

When was Tanteo introduced, and how have people reacted to it so far? The first bottles were sold in NYC in January 2009. The brand took home many awards for design and for the liquid in its first year, including very positive reviews from various spirits writers. The brand is still small but there are no shortcuts in this business. A long-lasting brand takes years to build.

What’s an average day like for you? I wear many hats, and the job continues to evolve as the company grows. At present, the first half of my day is dedicated to running the business and the second half is dedicated to sales, out visiting with accounts – both prospective and existing.

What do you enjoy about your job, and what are some of the challenges? I like the variability of being an entrepreneur. One must be capable of handling several things all at the same time and keep the whole organization together and growing. The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis is time and there not being enough of it. You are always thinking, Did I accomplish as much as I could have today?

What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to do what you do? Do your homework before starting a business. Know everything there is to know about the industry, its players, competitors, etc. Then put your head down, get cracking and don’t look back.

What do you do to unwind when you’re not working? I like to run. It’s the one thing I can do no matter where my crazy travel schedule takes me. I’m particularly fond of trail running. When I’m running I can actually turn my brain off for a while.

[Photo: Guido Marin]

Celebrating My Lady’s Birthday at La Esquina, Kenmare & APL

It was the love of my life, Amanda Noa’s, birthday last night and due to circumstances beyond my control we were unable to consider dining until almost 11pm. But late night fare in this town is getting swankier, if not better, so I did have some choices. I wasn’t going to get away with our usual afterhours spots Veselka or Kellogg’s Diner. It came down to the recently opened Marble Lane at the Dream Hotel or La Esquina. She opted out on the steak-centric Marble and we scooted off to La Esquina.

A couple months ago Noah asked me to suggest a name for his new steak house, and I suggested one based on a tattoo on my lady’s back. In honor of our relationship, she has a couple of tats that sum things up. One is a set of teeth with a string tied to them because dealing with me is like pulling teeth. Another is a rib-eye with a pretty bow on top, which is supposed to be “miss steak” or mistake. My gal won’t settle for just a spat – she permanently marks herself with her misgivings about me. Anyway, I suggested the gal-friendly name Miss Steak for Noah’s new spot. Apparently cooler heads prevailed… Marble Lane seems better. I’ll be out late tonight and will pop in. La Esquina remains my favorite haunt. Everything about the place is cool, cool, cool and the food is constantly terrific. We had a blast. For people in the club world, having a relationship is often problematic. We’re surrounded by distractions, many of our own devices. I’m lucky to have someone who puts up with me.

We stopped by Kenmare to say hey to Paul and Nur and found Nur in the back with some other birthday boy. Megan escorted us to see my man and we enjoyed small and big talk before scooting off to APL to wish co-owner Joey Verdone a happy birthday as well. As I hopped, skipped, and jumped to the nearby restaurant, I tried to figure out what date it was 9 months ago. My fingers told me October. After APL we headed to St. Jerome’s, a good place to end a night. It was a going away party for Hotel Chantelle barkeep/manager Dave Coleman, who’s off to Panama to find fame and fortune. He says he’ll be back in no time but I’ve got a $2 bet he’ll be a little late. A coke and a Bud in this legendary LES dive bar came in at the cheap Williamsburg price of $6. We listened to rock staples and laughed and had fun. No attitude here, just good music, a friendly atmosphere and inexpensive solid drinks. Sometimes the business is as easy as that.

Tonight I will DJ rock ‘n roll hootchie coo as Gunbar launches its Wednesday night party. The affair is hosted by BlackBook, thus me getting the gig. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Saturday I will go to another birthday bash at the newly opened Mother’s Ruin, next to Bread. Dana Dynamite, my favorite PR and marketing flack, will show us how she got her name. I’m sure client Sailor Jerry Rum will lend a hand. I had a few sips of that cheap beer so I’m a little out of it today – I’ll cut things short. As regular readers know, I only have a drink two or three times a year…whenever I have sex. So I guess the second half of 2011 will be…exciting

The Mondrian Soho Was a Scream Last Night

Last night, I wangled and cajoled my way past the velvet barriers and into the Scream 4 premiere afterparty at Mr H. It was to be a star-studded affair, with even the divine Charlie Sheen a promised guest. The funny thing is, if you tell people that a rare bird like Charlie is going to show up, the party never gets past looking for that particular celebrity, even when it’s clear he’s not coming. I wasn’t really supposed to be there anyway, and there were plenty of the beautiful, famous, and fabulous to gawk at, so no complaints.

I was, however, prepared to say hey to Sir Charles. I even had a knock-knock joke composed just for him. Oh well, next time. I had to be content to rub elbows with those that came, including Mickey Rourke, 50 Cent, Courtney Love, Eve, Terry Richardson, Gabourey Sidibe, David Arquette, Russell Simmons, and many more. I even met a mob wife! I was chatting up old friend Tika Sumpter, who is a newbie on Gossip Girl, when Harvey Weinstein came over and politely told her that he loves her on the show. Tika was flabbergasted, and said to him, “You watch me on my show?!” Mr. Weinstein explained how his wife did this and that, and yes, he thought she was great. It was really sweet. Tika and I exchanged numbers and vowed to always stay close. Also on hand was my pal, the always beautiful Vanessa Felito, who, as impossible as it may sound, looked more beautiful than ever. After a dozen OMGs and some serious catch-up hugs, we told tales of what we did back when and what we are doing now. Amanda loved her, and Vanessa made sure Amanda was treating me right.

Mr. H was sweet and getting sweeter every week. Before we went back to our little world, Amanda and I sat in the lobby on the robins-egg-blue patent pleather seating and watched the scene. I had heard of internal debate about moving this and moving that and making it more like a traditional hotel lobby. I think the Mondrian is breaking ground, and should just stay as perfect as I found it last night. The crowd passing through was gorgeous. The place was designed and built for them. There is nothing conventional about the space, and that’s just a wonderful thing. As the party guests filtered out, some arm candy asked her celebrity, “What is this place?” and he replied, “A hotel.” How was she to know? We were in Oz or Barbie’s playhouse, or on a movie set. We were sitting in anything but the lobby of some boutique hotel. The Mondrian embraces that spirit, taking the concept of being “elsewhere” to another level. It’s a breath of fresh air in a design world polluted with the same old same old. It is my favorite place.

After, it was off to La Esquina for tacos and shelter from the monsoon. Is it me or is the weather ridiculous? It’s like we’re living in Nova Scotia. La Esquina was jumping. It’s a machine, an energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going, and never slows down. The food was fabulous. We chatted with friends at the taco stand, while others, including those who had given up waiting for Charlie at the party, stopped by and gave that cute, squinty eyed “Busted” smile.