Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Cars and Giveaway

VW convertible anyone?

No, silly, I'm not giving away a new car. But I'm partnering with SheBuysCars and giving away 2 pairs of tickets to the New York car show.

Officially known as the New York International Auto Show, this year's event runs from April 14 - 23 at the Javits Center. It's where you can ogle the latest cars, from fuel efficient plug-in hybrids to oversized pickup trucks that rarely see Manhattan streets.

Are you a convertible lover?
When our kids were little and we didn't have a car, they loved to climb into minivans and imagine life in the suburbs. Of course, we were looking at the two seater convertibles and imagining our empty nest.

There are lots of interactive game for kids - and adults - where you can learn about distracted and autonomous driving. And a ride in the Camp Jeep obstacle course is always fun.
The fuel efficient Hyundai Ionic is a different kind of sexy

Product specialists can discuss the ins and outs of the shiny new cars if you are actually looking to buy a new car, though you can't take one home with you.

Are you car shopping or do you just think car shows are fun? Tell me why you want to win a pair of tickets to the 2017 New York International Auto Show and you can win.

Winner will be chosen at random on April 12.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Return to classics: Classic Italian, New York Style

Grilled octopus and classic mozzarella and tomato appetizer

At The Leopard at des Artistes, you get a double flashback: the murals from Cafe des Artistes and the classic Italian food.

Murals at the Leopard at des Artistes
Cafe des Artistes was one of the early Upper West Side destination restaurants and had a curious location, off the lobby of an apartment building, Hotel des Artistes. This was not a hotel, but the apartments didn't have real kitchens, and the artist resident would come down in their pajamas to eat here.
The warm (and dark) bar

Back in the day before you could find decent food before or after a Lincoln Center performance, this is where we'd head. But the restaurant closed suddenly in 2009.

The murals, painted by Howard Chandler Christy, one of the building's residents, were restored when the restaurant reopened as The Leopard at des Artistes in 2011. You probably don't want to bring your kids here; the nude nymphs are not inappropriate, but they will likely elicit giggles and stares from young kids, who are really not the target audience here.

As I said, this is more of a throwback place, with the kind of hushed formality that used to being supreme at New York fine dining establishments. There are plenty of fresh flowers, thick white tablecloths, and waiters who spring over to refueled your napkin if you step away from your table.

Seafood pasta

Throwback prices, too

Luckily, the food matches the ambiance. The tasting menu is a great deal at $50 for three courses; there is also a 3 course wine pairing to accompany it for $30.

And if you dine here on Sundays, you can save money by bringing your own wine.  The bar, by the way, also has a classic, old world feel, with dark wood and martini shakers tinkling.

Meals start with an amuse bouche; usually, arancini, but since these were not vegetarian, we had airy chickpea fritters.

Our special meal - so many courses

We had a special tasting meal to cover a wide swatch of the menu
To start, we shared grilled Spanish octopus with pickled onions and buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes.

Then we had ethereal gnocchi with wild mushrooms, in a butter and sage sauce.

Mushroom gnocchi

Two down, two to go

Whole branzini
We then had a thick pasta with seafood. Or really, a seafood stew with a few strands of thick spaghetti. This is the inverse of the way many people serve pasta, allowing about half a pound a person; here, we had maybe two ounces of pasta and half a pound of seafood.

Then we had a whole branzini, filleted table side (another throwback) and sautéed broccoli rabe. The lemon half had a little mesh cover to keep the seeds out of the fish and of course, it was expertly filleted; not a tiny bone in sight. We could barely eat this (we took it home) and skipped dessert.

I would return to try the chestnut and ricotta semifreddo, the zabaione (whipped table side, another throwback) and the tiramisu.

Note: I was a guest of The Leopard at des Artistes. Opinions and a happily full belly were all my own.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Have Dog, Will Travel

Karat and my daughter in the back seat
My family used to take a lot of train trips. But then we got a dog. And while you can bring a dog up to 20 pounds on Amtrak, we got a labrador. Who, though petite for a lab, still weights 61 pounds.

So if we want to take her, we have to drive.
Karat on the floor of the car

Not that we always want to take her. Winter travel, eve to a pet friendly hotel like the Kimpton chain, is problematic because you can't bring the dog to restaurants, you can't eat outside in freezing weather and you really didn't go away to sit in your hotel room.

We have found that our dog, Karat, loves to hike, so we try to take her with us when we plan to hike. And it turns out that a lot of friends who don't have dogs enjoy hiking with a dog, so this has become a group activity.
Hiking with the dog, and friends

We've learned little things along the way, like always have at least two extra water bottles for the dog on those hikes, and bring towels to wipe her down before getting back in the car, We can take off our hiking boots, but her muddy paws can make everyone unhappy.

Dog friendly has different meanings

We took Karat with us on a week-long trip looking for colleges for our youngest daughter. One bed and breakfast we stayed at in Vermont claimed to be dog-friendly, but you couldn't leave the dog in the room without being there. Once Karat has run around for an hour or two, she is content to sleep by herself, but we couldn't eat breakfast at this quaint B & B, where the summer air temperature hovered around freezing, since Karat couldn't stay in the room and we were too cold to eat on the porch.
Worried she'll be left behind

On the other hand we stayed at an inexpensive Best Western in Albany where we took Karat for a run, then left her in the room while we went out to dinner.  No one batted an eye.

Kimpton Hotels: the ultimate in dog friendly

Kimpton offers dog treats in the lobby, a dog bed and dog bowls if you've forgotten your own, and an extremely canine friendly environment.  We stayed at a Kimpton in Portland, OR, that had a 'house dog' for those who didn't bring their own pets; since we didn't fly Karat across the country, we made friends with the resident lab.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Free in New York: Baby Show Giveaway

No, this is not a show about babies. It's a show for families with babies, or expectant parents.

On May 20 and 21 the 2017 New York Baby Show returns to Pier 94.  The extravaganza, the largest show for new and expectant parents in the country, is in its 7th year.

The 2017 New York Baby Show, for expectant and new families, is a family-friendly jamboree of top brands, great speakers and seminars, big giveaways, and lots of learning, support, bonding, and fun as you make your way into parenthood. 

The show is at PIER 94, 711 12th Avenue (52nd & West Side Highway). 

And the show isn't just for moms; the keynote speaker is Jamie Grayson, The BabyGuy. Get more details on speakers and exhibitors here.

I am giving away tickets for you and your family to experience the show. See below for details. Normal ticket price is $30 per family (for 2 adults and up to 4 children), and $20 per individual. 

The first 10 people to sign up here get free tickets; after that, use this link to get 50% off tickets.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Brunching with the Best: French Crust Cafe, Cincinnati

Scrambled eggs on a croissant

Brunch is often dismissed as the bastard step-child of a restaurant, with the lower-level cooks & wait staff slinging over-priced eggs.

But at the French Crust Cafe and Bistro in Cincinnati, Ohio, the owner, Jean-Robert, greeted everyone and made it clear: brunch matters here.
Eggs Benedict from French Crust Cafe

Great cup of espresso
French Crust Cafe is across the street from Findlay Market, Ohio's oldest public market, so it has a high standard. This is evident just in the coffee choices: there is fantastic espresso, individual pots of French press, or delicious regular coffee.

Car and Streetcar

We had wanted to ride the new Cincinnati Bell Connector, a streetcar, to the restaurant, but the 3.6 mile loop goes nowhere near the very suburban area where we stayed. So we parked in Findlay Market's lot, sampled our way around the place, rode the streetcar and looped back to the other side of the market, where the French Crust Cafe stands.

In front of French Crust Cafe
The big, comfortable Jeep Trailhawk we were driving easily fit my in-laws and my daughter; my aging in-laws insist on still driving, but we were able to convince them not to since we only had to pay to park one car ($2 for the whole afternoon -kind of unbeatable). And the streetcar costs just $1 for a two hour pass; it's $2 for all day. Fares are on the honor system; we never had to show our passes. But don't try to ride without one; there are spot checks and you are fined if you don't have a pass.

My jaded New York daughter didn't know what a streetcar was; to her, a "street car" is a junker that you can park on the streets of New York City and not worry about. The electric Cincinnati Bell Connector goes from Over the Rhine to the waterfront, and you can hop on and off.

Happy vegetarian

Eggs Benedict are usually off limits to me, but the FCC version had spinach instead of Canadian bacon. Score! The perfectly poached eggs were served over homemade brioche. Lovely.

Even the scrambled eggs were far above a basic scramble. These had goat cheese and asparagus, and they were ladled over a flaky, delicious croissant. There was even an unexpected side dish of fresh fruit.

Prices are surprisingly gentle: $8.50 for the scrambled eggs, $9 for the eggs Benedict.

Jean-Robert has three other restaurants in Cincinnati. I look forward to the chance to try them. If I can drive a Pacifica minivan, we can fit my husband's aunt and uncle in, too.

Note: Chrysler loaned me a Jeep for this drive. Opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Unexpected Find: Jeep's GPS Leads Us to Astro Coffee

Astro Coffee, in Corktown, Detroit

While traveling, I've become so reliant on GPS, whether in my phone or in the car, that I think I get lost even more easily.

On a recent trip, I drove from Detroit to Cincinnati in a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. The GPS was flawless; it lowered the volume on my music and podcasts to gently remind me to take an exit, and it gave me ample warning when a turn or exit was coming.

Until, suddenly, it got confused. We were staying at the Westin Book Cadillac, so I thought maybe it was a General Motors / Chrysler glitch. As in, I shouldn't be driving a Jeep to the Book Cadillac. But the hotel was not named for the car, rather, it was for the founder of Detroit.

Would Antoine Laumet de La Mothe Cadillac recognize Detroit today?

Corktown, Detroit; Slow's BBQ at the corner
Detroit has had some ups, and some major downs. Right now, it's dining scene is experiencing a mini renaissance, and while we were in town, we ate at Selden Standard, helmed by a James Beard semi finalist, and a great vegetarian restaurant, Seva.

But we were after coffee and the Jeep was not cooperating - it literally sent us in circles until we were back at the Book Cadillac. Twice. So I remembered that an another trip, I'd eaten at Slow's BBQ (there actually are vegetarian choices) and had seen another adorable coffee shop just down the street.

Taking us to Corktown

The delicious egg sandwich and heated steering wheel
For whatever reason, the Jeep's GPS was willing to guide us to Corktown, and we found ourselves at Astro Coffee, where we had a rich pour-over and spectacular egg sandwich.

Astro storefront
Since we were tight on time (thanks to the downtown circling) and Astro was crowded, we ate in the car. I was glad to have a heated steering wheel so I didn't soil my leather gloves while chowing down on the sandwich. It was on focaccia and had watermelon radishes, greens, and a goat cheese spread. Delicious.

We also grabbed a cinnamon danish because, vacation.

Astro uses local, organic produce and dairy products, and bread from Zingerman's, so you can feel good about supporting the local food scene.

Note: Chrysler loaned me the Jeep for my trip.

Monday, March 13, 2017

To Cheese or Not to Cheese: Vegan or Vegetarian?

The grocery area at Riverdel
Many vegetarians, myself included, might become vegan except for the cheese issue. Cheese is so yummy, improves almost any dish (peanut butter and cheddar. Seriously) and is a great source of protein.

Jarlsberg cheese sticks
I even got to try a new Jarlsberg cheese snack, which is a perfect on the go snack for kids, adults, even dogs. Cheese sticks are a popular 'high quality' snack at the Prospect Park off leash hours, with the added benefit that if you are suddenly peckish, you can share the cheese with your pup (note: my dog does not share).

The  individual wrapped Jarlsberg cheese sticks are also lactose free; one of my kids is lactose intolerant, which is why she seeks out good quality vegan alternatives.

Vegan cheese

Riverdel, in Brooklyn
Riverdel, in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, is a small vegan shop with a huge selection of vegan cheese, plus a well curated grocery with local vegan products, from coconut milk ice cream to nut milk yogurt and a vegan alternative to fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. 

The vegan Italian
The shop also makes sandwiches to order, and we tried three: the Italian, with "muzzarella," tomatoes, pesto and arugula, on ciabatta, M. Night Shalami, a "salami" and cheese, also on ciabatta, and a special of Pepper Jack and seating bacon on rye.

Sandwiches are $9 - $10, with an extra $1.50 for gluten-free bread. Everything we had was fresh and delicious, and I'll return for the pastries, and the Just Jack, which has jackfruit, carrot slaw and cilantro mayo.

Note: Jarlsberg sent me a sample of the cheese sticks. I was not otherwise compensated.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Foodie Tour: Driving and Hiking to Eat

Group shot: hiking in Rockland Count, a day trip from NYC

Hiking is fun but let's face it: the calories you burn are best replenished through by seeking out great food along the way. A recent hike in Rockland County led us to a few wonderful foodie destinations.

Rockland Bakery

Rockland Bakery: not for the gluten-free

This carb-heavy stop has incredibly cheap - and delicious - baked goods and you can actually go onto the bakery floor and flow your nose to the freshest baked goods. We trailed after bakery workers with bagels right off the conveyor belt, still piping hot and crying gout for coffee.
The Nissan Rogue hybrid in Piermont

Sadly, as a coffee snob, I couldn't drink the coffee, which was served in styrofoam. Note to self: ALWAYS bring a reusable cup.

The black and white cookies were properly soft and sweet and the muffins, pretzels and bread we tasted were all delicious. I don't regret a single bite.

Outside the Souk, The Outside In
We drove on to our hike, set a few hours communing with nature, then drove to Piermont, where The Outside In, an indoor souk, promised more tantalizing food.

Food, glorious food

Our first stop was The Coffee Bar, which featured coffee from Irving Farm, in Millerton, NY. I've had their coffee in NYC, but didn't know that the company is actually based in Dutchess County, even further than Rockland.

The organic, fair trade coffee was served in paper cups (yay!) with local milk.

Luckily we had a huge cargo area we we could load up on food; the Nissan Rogue hybrid has almost 40 feet of cargo space. There's even a hidden storage area where you can stash valuables and they won't be in few view. This is great if you are using the car in a city and don't want to expose your stuff.

Vegetarian black bean sliders
We bought thick Lebanese yogurt from Sohha Savory Yogurt, three kinds of cheese from The Cheese Guy (the honey goat cheese was outstanding; all the cheese is Kosher) and even more bread from Wave Hill Bread, because, well, bread. We also got infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Arlotta Food Studio. The blood organic infused olive oil makes an excellent dressing base, or dipping oil for that bread.

Sit down meal

Our group of six foraged from the souk and we shared spinach pie, falafel, vegetarian dumplings, black bean sliders and vegan tacos.

Note: Nissan loaned me the Rogue hybrid for this review. I was not otherwise compensated.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Krupa Grocery

The simple arugula salad

Krupa Grocery is that great little neighborhood spot that should exist in every little area but is so difficult to replicate. It has a well edited menu of a few log standing items, with frequently changing additions and subtractions, friendly service, a great bar (rotating local taps!) and gentle prices.

The restaurant is a place where you can pick up coffee and pastries during the day, but then have a wonderful meal at night -but also charge your phone while you're sitting there. And the small plates are perfect for sitting at the bar, when you don't have the time or appetite for a full meal (there's also a daily happy hour, but before AND after dinner).

Of course, it's all child friendly; with small plates, kids can have just enough to fill their tiny tummies.

Krupa is in Windsor Terrace, which is off most tourist and foodie radars, yet several times when we've been there, we've had Hollywood celebrities seating next to us (I'm looking at you Anna Kendrick). Yet we still had the same superb service, and waiters didn't seem to fawn over the famous faces.
The vegetarian farro salad

The risotto balls have been on the menu since the place opened a couple of years ago and you want to get an order or two (one nitpick: why three to an order? How many people eat out in groups of three?). These are crisp outside, gooey inside and nestled on a bed of tomato sauce scented with fennel.

At a recent meal, we had a simple arugula salad, showered with shaved grana padano and the burrata with fried artichokes and lemon puree. An arugula salad is a good test for a restaurant; with just a few ingredients, the proportions have to be perfect or the result is unbalanced. This one is perfection. A farro salad was another delicious small plate; now it has migrated over to the entree section, topped with tuna poke.

The gnocchi, better hot
We almost always get the roasted delicata squash, with the changing filling, but there were too many other things to try. But this is a great vegetarian entree and it was the first place I had cooked winter squash skin; it gets chewy and almost meaty.

There is often a pasta or two; we had a vegetarian ricotta gnocchi, delicate and loaded with wild mushrooms and broccoli rabe. Unfortunately, it came to the table cool, but the waiter replaced it with a piping hot version and took the item off the bill to boot.

My meat eating friends love the lamb burger, another long-standing menu item. And if you are gluten-free, there are many options.

Fried artichoke with burrata and lemon
There are always several IPAs on tap, but there is also a 'Manhattan madness' with three types of Manhattans - the civil, with cynar, is spectacular. For winter, there are also yummy hot toddies.

And go in warm weather, when the outdoor garden beckons.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Just in Time for Valentine's Day: Chocolate Tour

Jacque Torres' original DUMBO shop

Chocoholics should run, not walk, to A Slice of Brooklyn's Chocolate Tour.

In fact, you might want to run before, and after, the tour; you will consume a serious amount of serious chocolate on the tour. Since you are going around by bus, you have to walk only a few steps at each stop, and you might find yourself (gasp!) turning down chocolate by the fourth chocolate shop.

Goodies at Jacques Torres Chocolate
The tour offers a look at four very different places, starting with Jacques Torres, a French pastry maker who set his toque in DUMBO with his eponymous shop. Jacques Torres Chocolate, which has expanded over the years to include seven Manhattan locations, is justifiably famous for its hot chocolate (the spicy wicked hot chocolate is a personal fave) but don't make a rookie mistake and buy a cup while sampling the chocolates included on this tour. You will tap out before you even hit the second stop.
When the Chocolate Room expanded, they found this vintage sign already embedded!

Fancy French chocolate, in Brooklyn

We had champagne truffles and heart shaped chocolate truffles, along with dark and milk chocolate covered peanuts here. If you have a nut aversion, the shop is happy to offer a substitute, but if you have a peanut allergy, this is probably not the tour for you.
Heart healthy gifts from the Chocolate Room

On the day I took the tour, New York had just gotten over nine inches of snow, and several people didn't show up. Our friendly and funny tour guide, Paula, offered us plastic bags to take the extra samples home.

Paula also offered tidbits of information, like the mnemonic to remember the order of the East River crossings, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg: "BMW, like the car." She pointed out Jim Carrey's $19 million Brooklyn home, Hillary Clinton's former campaign headquarters, played clips of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and urged everyone to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge: "it's free!" 

Again, pace yourself! Don't eat the extras - bring them home to share, or keep for another day.
The raw ingredient at Raaka

We next went to Cobble Hill, where The Chocolate Room has a cafe that makes a spectacular chocolate cake and an incredibly rich hot chocolate. We got a shot of the hot chocolate, made with milk; it's so thick, you could practically eat it with a spoon. We also got a mini cupcake that was a miniaturized version of that chocolate cake.
Valentino Pier in Red Hook

Dessert cafe - The Chocolate Room

The Chocolate Room is actually based in Park Slope, where I live, but I never knew the story behind the successful business. The husband and wife team, a rock drummer and modern dancer, used to go on "dessert dates" when they couldn't afford to eat dinner at a restaurant, and they wanted to open a place specializing in desserts. There's also wine and beer; the black chocolate stout from local Brooklyn Brewery pairs quite well.
Raaka's motto

But we didn't drink on this family friendly tour (there were no children the day I took the tour, and the crowd included a mix of foreign and domestic tourists and locals who love chocolate). Bottles of water were offered on the bus, and since the tours start at 11am, and end after 3pm, you might want to bring along a healthy, sugar-free snack to eat on the bus. The bus driver stays with the bus, so you can leave bags at your seat.

On a break

We took a short walk down a long pier at Valentino Pier, in Red Hook. This land is one of the closest to the Statue of Liberty, but the walk is really a break to let the earlier chocolate metabolize before we moved on to our next stop, Raaka.

Raw beans

Raaka bars, straight off the production line
Raaka, which means raw in Finnish, specializes in raw, or un-roasted, chocolate bars. Organic beans are ethically sourced from fair trade farmers and the bars are vegan, soy and GMO free, Kosher, and flavored with usual ingredients like smoked chai spices, maple and ghost pepper (even the labels are printed with soy-free ink). An 82% cacao bar has beans that were aged in bourbon casks.

We had to wear hairnets at the Raaka factory, since production is ongoing. We could sample - and buy - any of the collection, along with limited series bars like one scented with Douglas fir. There is a "milk" chocolate made with coconut milk; don't think of bringing up white chocolate, which Paula dismissed as 'not really chocolate' here.
Raaka nibs for sampling, and bars for sale

But old time, and new: LiLac Chocolates

Li-Lac and its hip Industry City neighbors
Tempting treat at Li-Lac

Li-Lac bridges the old and the new; it is both Manhattan's oldest chocolate house, having been in business since 1929, and one of Brooklyn's newest; it recently opened a huge production facility in Industry City, the Uber-hip foodie destination in Sunset Park.

At Li-Lac you can watch the kosher chocolate being made through huge windows. The shop, with an intoxicating aroma, specializes in dark chocolate almond bark (we got to sample some) and specialty molds; wen your kid signs his NFL contract, this is where you go to have a football made of chocolate. It also has chocolate hearts, chocolate bunnies, chocolate covered graham crackers and an exquisite riff on a Reese's peanut butter cup, with dark chocolate of course.

Chocolate at home

Hot chocolate, made with Sugarpova
Sugarpova, form tennis star Maria Sharapova, has a line of gourmet chocolate bars, with a 70% cacao dark chocolate bar and a 50% cacao dark chocolate coconut bar that is subtly infused with coconut. The chocolate bars are kosher, non GMO.

I made a vegan hot chocolate by melting four squares of the coconut chocolate into three tablespoons of Natural Bliss coconut milk. The rich, thick hot chocolate was perfect on a winter day.

Note: I was a guest of A Slice of Brooklyn. I was not compensated for this review.