Thursday, August 31, 2017

Romantic Hideaway in Bustling Brooklyn: Benchmark Restaurant

The spicy lobster salad

Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, brims with bars, restaurants and boutiques. But a hush falls once you turn off the avenue, and here, just steps away, is a hidden gem, Benchmark Restaurant.

In summer, Benchmark truly shines, with a huge patio that reminds me of a secret garden Often, sidewalk tables are shoehorned into awkward spaces, but this outdoor space has room and charm.

The bar
Indoors is also wonderful, particularly cozy in winter with its exposed brick and arched windows. The space was an icehouse and recalls the industrial past.

But the menu is forward thinking. Though it emphasizes pasture raised meat, it also has plenty for a vegetarian. The roasted acorn squash, a stand-by, is stuffed with quinoa. This is a bit wintry for summer, but there are choices for warmer weather.

The simple 'organic seasonal lettuce salad' in summer had strawberries and goat cheese and was a hearty starter. With another starter, scallops with truffle risotto and squash (but minus the proscuitto) I was set for dinner.
Seasonal lettuce salad

There is also a delicious, rich lobster bisque and a lobster salad with hearts of palm.

Scallops and risotto 
My husband always has the salmon without the chorizo, but with the fennel and potatoes. New this summer is ahi tuna with pickled chanterelles. I prefer more well cooked fish, but the hubs loved it.

The charred brussels sprouts, without the pancetta, are wonderful, as is the goat cheese and potato puree. The wild mushroom spaetzle, another side, with one of these, can be an entree.

The martinis are ice cold, with perfect olives. Interesting cocktails include the Rye 'N Gosling's, with rye, rum and ginger syrup, or a barrel aged special.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

GaGa for Donuts? Where to go in Brooklyn

The PB & yuzu from Du's Donuts

Do you drive hours out of the way for the reward of hot donuts? Du's Donuts are for you.

Just Du It

I have to confess: donuts are not my weakness. I enjoy them, just not passionately. That being said, I was happy to arrange a bike ride around checking out the latest donut shop in Brooklyn. Du's Donuts, from the genius behind wd-50, is a new shop at the William Vale hotel in Williamsburg.

Let them eat cake

Du's Donuts are the cake variety, and the shop has just 8 flavors daily. We sampled the Mexican hot chocolate, which had a hint of cinnamon, but not heat. It was delicious. We also packed a peanut butter yuzu one in my bike bag and it made the trip home even wen we rode another 26 miles with it.

The entrance to Du's Donuts
I loved the unusual flavor of the yuzu with the peanut butter.

For the donut averse

Watch the donuts being made
Wylie Dufresne, the owner, loves an egg and cheese sandwich, so that's the only other food available right now. I'll have to return for this; it was a bit much to eat along with a donut, when we'd only ridden 6 or 7 miles to start.

Coffee and more

The spare interior 
Coffee at Du's comes from Brooklyn Roasting Company, whose flagship shop used to be on the bike path from Dumbo to Williamsburg. There's a Brooklyn Roasting Company location still open in Dumbo that served donuts from Dough. Though that may have changed with this donut (or doughnut) partnership.

Reflecting Wylie's Rhode Island roots, Du's also serves coffee milk, a chocolate milk variation made with - duh - coffee flavor instead. My sister when to Brown, so I'm familiar with this and wanted to try it. But Du's coffee milk is pre-mixed with whole milk, which is a bit rich. Plus I'm going dairy free during marathon training, so I only drink plant-based 'milks.'

You can watch the donuts being made from inside or outside the cafe.

Note: Du's Donuts does not accept cash.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Truly Seasonal: Summer Only Harbor Bistro

Goat cheese and pear salad

Some restaurants tout their seasonal menus, but Harbor Bistro, in East Hampton, is truly seasonal. The waterfront restaurant, with a large covered patio, is open only in summer.

And it specializes, of course, in fresh seafood and local produce.
Salad special: grilled baby artichoke, scallops and almonds

Even better, Harbor Bistro is also moderately (for the Hamptons) priced. Most entrees are in the mid $20-$30 range, and are substantial enough to not need an appetizer. When I went recently, there were so many great appetizers that I had an appetizer and a salad for dinner and still couldn't finish my food.

There is a raw bar with local oysters and clams, and a vegan appetizer nightly. I had the vegan hold bowl, with edamame and soba noodles. Not sure why it was called 'chilled' since it was indeed cold, but it was also quite tasty.

Tuna tostadas
I als had a special salad, with grilled baby artichokes, feta cheese and almonds, plus a mess of greens. My husband had the goat cheese salad with three large rounds of breaded goat cheese, on a bed of greens, with pear.

At our table, one person got the tuna poke, with avocado and local tomatoes, and others got the fish tacos.

Tuna poke
My husband had tuna tostados, a hefty appetizer, along with the salad. Others had the grilled local catch, which was stripped bass when we were there.

None of the pastas when we visited were vegetarian, but they could be served without the pancetta.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

From Lavender Lake to Industrial Chic: Gowanus

Happy hour house cocktails at Lavender Lake

When I moved to Brooklyn 32 years ago, the Gowanus Canal was rank with sewage and the only street life was the occasional rat. Now, Whole Foods anchors the former Superfund site and luxury apartments are sprouting next to restaurants and bars.

Lavender Lake, a bar that draws its name from the ironic nickname of the canal, sits just over the wooden drawbridge that separates Park Slope from Carroll Gardens. The inside is cute, with exposed brick walls and a long bar, but outside is where Lavender Lake shines.

The backyard at Lavender Lake
A huge backyards picnic tables, greenery, and a welcoming water bowl for pups. Unlike many other bars, this dog friendly place lets you walk your dog through the bar and sit with you while you sip a beer.

Everyone is outside on a nice day
The bar has a daily happy hour, with a couple of lower priced local beers on tap and reduced prices on the house cocktails. The Gowanus Mermaid, which combines local Greenhook gin, blueberry shrub and lemon juice, is refreshing. For a kick, try the Gungan, which has jalapeño infused tequila, triple sec and a paprika salt rim. It's a much more sophisticated margarita.

The food menu has a supposing number of delicious vegetarian and vegan food, with the Brussels sprouts and vegan hero must haves.

Or, pick up dinner on the way home at Whole Foods.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Buddha Bowl: Rebranding Leftovers

Not for today's kids: old fashioned tuna casserole

Growing up, my mother made a lot of casseroles. She took leftover meat, usually chicken, and combined it with vegetables nearing the end of their shelf life, a can of cream of mushroom soup (undiluted) and dumped it into a dish. She topped this with fried onions from a can, or cornflake crumbs, stuck it in the oven, and voila, dinner.

No wonder my generation hated leftovers.

Foodie millennials simply renamed leftovers and created grain bowls, or Buddha bowls. The Buddha bowl means you have a happy rounded tummy after dinner.

Not that these bowls have to be made with leftovers. Or meat, for that matter. They are quite filling with a combo of grains, veggies and some delicious space you've whipped up.

I made fresh quinoa to pair with a few veggie odds and ends I had on hand: roasted peppers, beet greens, posted cauliflower and sun dried tomatoes. I added chickpeas for protein and black olives for umami.

Then I made a quick lemon tahini sauce: juice form half a lemon, a few chopped up bits of preserved lemon, a hit of cumin and smoked paprika and some olive oil and tahini. Since I prefer cooked beet greens and warm roasted veggies, I sautéed all the veggies for a few minutes, poured it all in a bowl and topped with the sauce.

Unlike my mother, I also Instagrammed it.

But unlike my mother's, mine was vegetarian. Vegan, in fact.

And also unlike my mother's casseroles, this looked good, So good, that my daughter asked me to make it for her for dinner.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Canine in the City: the Dog Friendly Residence Inn New York

Central Park view from the Residence Inn New York

As a New Yorker, my pooch has yet to stay in a hotel in New York City. And I don't usually frequent hotels in my hometown, though I have stayed at a few. So I was eager to see what the Residence Inn New York / Central Park had to offer, both for canines and for humans.

Residence Inn by Marriott

I was not familiar with the Residence Inn by Marriott brand, an extended stay hotel that has kitchenettes in every room. If you are have seen a studio apartment in NYC, the kitchen area is similar; there's a small refrigerator and separate freezer draw, along with a hidden dishwasher.

The fitness center, with outdoor patio
There was also a coffeemaker and a microwave, and pots and pans. If you want to cook more, a hot pot can be sent to your room.  And there are pots, pans and dishes.

The king sized room I saw wouldn't be great for a family, but there are larger rooms with ore beds and this is certainly ideal for families. The hotel also provides free breakfast and free WiFi.


The bathroom
The Residence Inn goes beyond the usual commitment to sustainability with rooftop beehives. The beehives are apparently the highest hives on a man-made structure.

The Residence Inn New York is atop a courtyard by Marriott hotel, with which is shares a lobby.

Since the hotel is so tall, rooms have amazing views of Central Park, the Hudson River and Times Square, though new construction blocks some of the vistas.

Exercise right

Dishwasher hidden in a drawer
The Residence Inn New York is a couple of blocks from Central Park, with biking and running paths, and multiple playgrounds. If you want to exercise in the hotel, there's a large fitness center. On a patio off the fitness center, there are free yoga classes.

Bring the dog

Residence Inn hotels charge a one time cleaning fee when you bring your pet, but then the dog is allowed in the lobby, or to get on the bed. You can take your dog to off leash in Central Park, where city dogs socialize and chase balls.

The hotel also has treats and food bowls is you forget yours.
Puppies at the dog-friendly Residence Inn

Bark-Fest with North Shore Animal League

I was at the Residence Inn for a bark-fest adoption event with the North Shore Animal League, so there were lots of puppies in the usual breakfast room of the hotel. But apparently the puppies agreed that the Residence Inn is a comfortable place to sleep.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Another Great Brooklyn Bar: Sweet Polly

Sweet Polly

Do you keep a list of bar and restaurants you keep meaning to try? Sweet Polly was at the top of my list ever since it opened about a year ago. I finally made it there the other night and plan to return soon.

This elegant bar has complex cocktails and small plates. The drinks are divided into house cocktails and 'forgotten classics.' There are also 2 cocktails on tap and a few local beers and ciders. And wine for those who avoid the hard stuff.

Tuxedo #2
We shared a De La Louisiane like a Sazerac: it combined rye, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters and absinthe. The classy coupe glass made it even more elegant. The Tuxedo #2 was a martini riff, with gin, dry vermouth, bitters and absinthe. It seems like a jazz singer should be crooning in the corner.

Next time we will stay awhile and get a cheese plate or some crudo.  And definitely dive deeper into the cocktail list

Friday, August 4, 2017

Bargain Hunting in Brooklyn: 3 Course Meal, $30

Arugula pizza at Gristmill

Happy hour menus get butts in seats at bars but eating early is often anathema to New Yorkers. Sure, there are pre-theater menus but many of us would never deign to make an early dinner reservation.

Sugar snap peas
Well, Gristmill in Park Slope, Brooklyn has an enticing alternative, and you can eat as late as 7:30. It's 3 for $30 menu, available Monday through Thursday, starts at 5pm, which is still brunch time for some But you can get to the restaurant at 7:15 and have a fantastic bargain priced meal.

For whatever reason, Gristmill, which opened at the same time as a couple of other highly touted Brooklyn restaurants, hasn't gotten the same press.  But it deserves it. The wood-fired oven turns out excellent pizza crusts and breads.

Cucumber and yogurt
On the 3 for $30 menu (which changes frequently) we had a light cucumber and yogurt dish that was not quite a soup, but delicious. It was perfect for a hot summer night. It was studded with nasturtium blossoms. I am a sucker for edible flowers.

We also shared sugar snap peas, enliven by edible violets.

Kale and potato pizza
Then we got two full size pizzas (the only other choice that night was a non-vegetarian burger). One pizza had arugula and cheese; the other, kale and potato. And cheese, plus a spicy jalapeño vinaigrette. The pizzas were more than enough for dinner, but with two appetizers, we had to take half of each home.

And we still had our third course.

That night, the desert options were a blackberry buttermilk pie and chocolate cake. There may have been another choice but I stopped reading at these.  Our waiter packed up a slab of each, and we had dinner for the next night, too, with dessert.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Electric SUV: Bollinger Motors SUV

Bollinger B! sport utility truck

When I built cars with LEGOs as a kid, they always looked kind of boxy. I was reminded of this when I saw the Bollinger B1 sport utility truck, an all electric SUV (SUT?) that can go off road.

Robert Bollinger, introducing his baby
The boxy, matte finish truck is like a toy truck come to life. I was at the global reveal, at the Classic Car Club of Manhattan, but this truck is like no other.

Heading towards to Classic Car Club
Bollinger Motors, led by Robert Bollinger, expects to produce its first product by 2019. The truck can go off road and features an all electric powertrain. The range is 120 - 200 miles, depending on battery size.
Robert Bollinger, CEO

With seating for four and a huge cargo area, the B1 is designed for both work and play. Not sure you can build one as cool looking with your old LEGOs but looking forward to seeing these when they go into production.