A September 2003 trip
to New York by Mr. Wonka
Quote: Sticking around town during your vacation time is usually considered pretty damn lame--unless you happen to live in the Capitol of the World, New York City.
Right now, I couldn’t have it any other way. For all the bullshit that every single person that dwells here deals with on a daily basis, it’s balanced out by an invigorating sense of life that fills these city streets. It’s inescapable. When it rains, it rains on everybody. When the sun shines, everybody’s day is a little easier. There may be something like 10 million people around here, but the sense of community is a lot stronger than you’d think.
If you want to check out The Statue of Liberty, hop on the ferry to Staten Island. You’ll go right by it. My point is there is a lot more to see in New York City other than what’s publicized. Walk around different neighborhoods and stumble upon something wild–I’m still up for that anytime. And for chrissakes, please don’t feel obligated to check out the WTC site–it really isn’t meant to be a tourist attraction.
Pick up a copy of The Village Voice or Time Out New York to find out what’s going on around the city while you’re here. There’s ALWAYS a book reading, an art show, a wine tasting tour, a walking tour through Greenwich Village, a live concert. . .whatever. There will never be a shortage of options for a day or night out.
But do yourself a favor and try to walk as much as possible. Your legs might feel like tubes of Jell-O at the end of the day, but you’re gonna miss out if you just hop on a tour bus around the city. Keep your camera handy too when walking around (but not hanging around your neck!). You never know what you’ll find around the corner.
You can also grab a cab to get from point A to point B, but it can get pricey if you’re not with a group. Don’t forget, too, that cabs won’t take more than four people per car.
Bus? Eh. . .
We walked in and were seated at a table in the middle of the medium-sized dining area. Um. . .they had no problem moving us over to one of the booths on the left wall, a much more prime spot. Bright pastels, fake flowers, pink tablecloths–it was like Todd Oldham and Jessica McClintock were commissioned to collaborate on their dream vision of a Mexican restaurant. The baby cacti on each table was a nice touch, and the crystal chandelier that hangs in the dining room is, well, that’s a chandelier all right.
After conducting a thorough examination of the menu composed by chef Joaquin Campos, I settled on the Chile Relleno–two cornmeal coated poblana chili stuffed with three cheeses over roasted tomato salsa, black bean sauce, and crema fresca for $9.95, while Cat went with a side of grilled vegetables. We also ordered the Ensalda de Jicama Y Naranja–mango, watercress, avocado, toasted pepitas, manchego cheese, pineapple, and lemon-lime cilantro dressing for $5.95.
Our main dishes arrived, but no appetizer. They forgot to make it. A Brazilian Chelsea boy came over and emphatically apologized, but we just laughed it off because he was overdoing it and we were getting toasty from our excellent margaritas. Nevertheless. . .swing and a miss, strike one.
The stuffed peppers totally hit the spot. Not too greasy despite three cheeses, and the cornmeal crust was perfect, and. . .um, what is that? I was cutting a piece off with my fork when I hit something hard. A human finger!! Just kidding. . .no. . .it was only a chicken bone. Not your average chicken wing bone, this thing was substantial, like a thighbone. Ok, I’m vegetarian, but I wasn’t like screaming and puking or anything like that. Cat and I were pretty incredulous though, and called over the head waiter, who took the plate away. He offered to have it remade, but I declined. Caught looking, strike two.
A few minutes later a new dish appears. Um, again, thanks but no thanks–foul ball. Instead we opt for another round of margaritas–hey, you can’t screw up a margarita, right? No–unless they first forget to place the order for 10 minutes, and then bring them without salt as requested. They were tasty though.
Strike three, you’re out. The future could still be promising for this rookie though–they did end up comping my meal and a few margaritas, so better luck next time, aye rookie?
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 9, 2003
Salsa Y Salsa
206 7th Avenue
New York, New York 10011
Don’t worry–despite this testimonial that runs across the front of their menu, Counter is not a crunchy, natty white boy dreads establishment specializing in organic grilled cheeses or granola soup. In fact, there’s nothing hippy-dippy about it. Instead, this sleek vegetarian restaurant-cum-wine bar stands as one of the most upscale dining spots of its kind in Manhattan. And as you snack on dishes such as cashew-kalamata pate and wasabi crepes, you’ll feel that much healthier as you laugh at all the suckers pouring into McDonald’s across the street for an injection of Big Macs and fish sticks.
Dark green table tops, pure white walls, and downtempo beats come together like Voltron to form the body of Counter’s soothing decor, while the Guggenheim-esque bar design acts as the head, completing the vision. Still, you won’t find an ounce of pretentiousness on these grounds. Our smiling, helpful waitress guided us through the menu and made some wine recommendations. We decided to each go with wine samplers–I went for organic, biodynamic, and sustainable Sauvignon Blanc wines from France, New Zealand, and California ($9), while my friend ordered Syrah, Shiraz, and Syrah from Sonoma, Australia, and Italy ($10). We both enjoyed the biodynamic wines the best.
For starters we shared Mushrooms New Orleans, served with an excellent cocktail sauce. Our waitress recommended Counter’s more popular dishes, Blue Plate Special, Asian Salad, and Wild Rice Risotto Cakes. Cat took her word for it and went with the Asian Salad ($11.95), while I settled onThai Curried Chick Peas Stew ($10.95), served with Chinese long beans and clove scented jasmine rice.
Both dishes were whisked to our table relatively fast. The food was thoughtfully arranged on each plate–each element of Cat’s salad (tempeh, broccoli, carrots, etc) was kept in its own section, which she thought made it easier to eat. My chick peas platter was succulent like honey fresh out of the hive.
For dessert we splurged on the Jasmine Green Tea Ice Cream ($6.95), a soy-based ice cream that hides within a phyllo shell with green tea mango sauce. Um, do I even need to get into how good this was?
Counter also serves a weekend brunch from 11am to 4pm in the $10 range, and offers a kids menu as well (though I don’t know how excited they’ll be about Soba noodles or a French lentil loaf).
Our bill came out to $60 between us, and it was well worth every penny. Sure, the value meals across the street are only going to run you about $5, but think of this meal as an investment in health–after all, the medical bills are gonna pile up some day if you choose to super-size instead of go organic.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 12, 2003
105 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Restaurant | "Nar "
And so ‘twas around 8pm on a weeknight that we found our way to this non-descript little joint on the corner of Metropolitan and Berry, about two blocks east of Bedford Avenue. At first glance, it seemed a tad minute–aside from the narrow bar, there were only a few tall tables lined up against the left wall. However, upon searching for the bathroom my curious date found the additional seating around the end of the bar, and we sat down in a spacious, circular booth in this little sidecar area. The only thing missing was the fireplace crackling in the corner–with candlelit tables, subdued lighting, and random works of art adorning the walls, you couldn’t ask for a warmer, more romantic date spot than Nar.
After snacking on the complimentary olive paste and oil served with bread, we decided on three dishes off the "colds" menu, and two off the "hots". All of the individual dishes range in price of $4 to $8. We also ordered up a round of drinks–our choices were the Bebek and Papatya, but all of them look equally tasty.
Our table soon became flooded with a cavalcade of gourmet, Mediterranean-influenced dishes. I was especially diggin’ on the Ceviz Ezme, red pepper paste and crushed walnut puree with olive oil, and Sigara Boregi, pan fried filo-dough rolls with feta cheese and parsley. You have over 25 tapas and meze to choose from–beef, seafood, and vegetarian–so just pick a few based on what color your mood ring is today.
An important note: Nar does not accept credit or debit cards for whatever reason. I didn’t realize this until it was time to pay, so I had to run out to the nearest ATM machine, located in a party store (Midwest for convenience store) on Bedford. So make sure you bring the greenbacks, especially if you’re trying to impress a date, which of course I never seem to have a problem doing. You know you look smoother sliding down a few 20s than a plastic card anyway.
Nar Bar & Restaurant
152 Metropolitan Avenue
New York, New York 11211
Though an hour wait on the weekends can be the norm, we landed a table right away on a weeknight. The staff is surprisingly dressed in unassuming plain, grey t-shirts emblazoned with Schiller’s, and our server promptly stopped by with a basket of bread and butter. For whatever reason, that girl loved us. Well, ok, maybe it was our cunning sense of humor, impeccable fashion taste, and natural good looks that did it.
Either way, we ordered a full carafe of wine to start. Their selection of wines is fantastic–you can choose from three categories: cheap, good, and decent, ranging in price from $12 - $17 per carafe. I never knew five dollars could make such a big difference when it comes to wine.
The old black and white subway tiles on the floor seemed perfect for Schiller’s, as were the randomly numbered empty bottles lining the walls near the ceiling. A slightly cheesy blend of world rock gave us something to laugh about (like we needed help), and a cigarette bar looms near the serving bar, ominously whispering to you, "c’mon, you know you want one after you eat." There’s also a margarita and donut (yes, donut!) machine.
We went with a tapas like appetizer, choosing three of Schiller’s small plates for $11–roasted peppers, marinated olives, and spicy chick peas. These were all lovely to snack on over our second carafe of wine (which our waitress kept pouring for us). Being a vegetarian who doesn’t eat seafood, there wasn’t an abundance of entrees to choose from, but still, the Penne and Tomato with mozzarella and basil ($11) was fine by me. My famished and slightly drunk counterpart picked Grilled Salmon ($14).
Everything was lovely. The pasta wasn’t heavy, and the salmon seemed to disappear in one minute flat. With a third (or was it fourth?) carafe on the way, we capped the meal off with crème brûlée ($6)–the sugar on top was flawlessly torched, as if Schiller's enlisted a master welder just for this sweet touch.
To top it all off, our bill was comped a carafe or two, so of course a good part of that all ready allotted money went straight to the tip. Schiller’s Liquor Bar is well on its way to following in its sibling’s successful footsteps.
Schiller's Liquor Bar
131 Rivington Street (Lower East Side)
New York City, New York 10002
With its low lighting, attractive clientele, and decor that for some reason brings to mind FBI Agent Dale Cooper''s surrealistic dreams in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Bembe looks like the kind of place featured in Paper Magazine''s bars section (and it probably has been). But surprisingly enough, the drinks are not priced to the budget of trustfund kids. Most range in price from $5 - $7, including their outstanding house punch. Don''t even think about leaving without trying one (or two or three). I''ve also had a few flavored margaritas that put most others to shame--go with either the strawberry or mango. Of course you can always order up a beer, but for some reason a bottle of Bud Light just seems out of place here.
There''s no posing going on at Bembe. The young, mixed crowd is just here to soak up the environs, groove like Buscape at Bene''s going away party in City of God, and, well, get loaded. Though the DJ booth is on the somewhat narrow main floor, downstairs is where everybody gets down. Even if you''re not up for dancing in tight quarters, you can feel the exuberance of those who are. You can almost cut the amorous heat in the air with a knife. There are a few chairs and movable stools set up across the side, which helps allow conversations to continue even if the music is pumping louder than Doc Brown''s juiced up amp.
Bembe is a smashing post-dinner spot to hit up if you''re on a date, out with your honey, or just with some friends. Check out my entry on the nearby Nar, a tapas bar that''s especially fitting for the night if checking out Bembe later on.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 14, 2003
81 South 6th Street
New York, New York 11211
Brooklyn, New York