La Vara is one of those very “Brooklyn” restaurants where you feel like you’re surrounded by a diverse group of people who listen to NPR and volunteer at the local food co-op. On an early Sunday evening, there was the lesbian couple having a date night, the Millenials having a grown up day out, the locals taking their regular seats, and the bridge-and-tunnel Manhattan people (us) seeing how the hipper half live.Read More
Girona, Spain is a picturesque medieval town in the coastal region of Costa Brava. The well-preserved buildings in the Barri Vell or Old Quarter are perfect backdrops for some sort of a knight’s tale or a merry band of thieves, which makes the city a very popular filming location for movies and TV shows. In fact, you might recognize some of the narrow alleyways and stone roads in scenes from Game of Thrones when a blind Arya was running from The Waif, only to destroy her in total darkness.Read More
At the core of a Korean meal is rice and banchan side dishes. The quality and variety of banchan can really make or break your experience. I know it’s going to be a good day when a restaurant throws in a steamed egg or pan-fried tofu, and on the flipside, it’s always a sad day when all I get is kimchee and some limp bean sprouts. Atoboy, a new restaurant in Flatiron run by Junghyun Park, the former Chef de Cuisine of Jungsik, rethinks the banchan side dish as the main dish, where you can make a meal out of several of them. The menu is divided into three sections of small plates, which is differentiated by portion size, and for $36 you can pick a dish from each one of the sections along with a bowl of rice, the traditional white rice or the rice special of the day for an extra $2. As an fyi, you really should pay up for the rice special, otherwise you will miss out on something amazing like the bacon and scallion rice.Read More
Brooklyn is no big secret these days, but Gowanus is a part of Brooklyn that still feels undiscovered. I ventured out there for the first time last week, and I felt like I was discovering a whole new world where the streets were broad, ice cream parlors came with rooftops and shuffleboard clubs were trending. It’s nowhere near as developed as Bedford Ave and has more in common with low-key locales such as Bushwick and Red Hook–lots of space and warehouses along the water. There is a pretty good restaurant scene in Gowanus, the most well known one is probably The Pines, and now Freek’s Mill, a seasonal, small plates restaurant on Nevins St, is a new addition that continues to bring the average up.
I’m a little over the whole seasonally driven small plates trend, but after my dinner at Freek’s Mill, I’m having a change of heart. In fact, the small plates concept actually worked in our favor, because that meant we could try more things on the menu, and since everything was so good, we definitely wanted to (and did!) add on to our original order. The charred radicchio, which came with a sweet and creamy burrata, was truly a pleasure. It’s like they broke all the rules regarding leafy vegetable prep, weighing it down with liquids and cheese and testing the limits of its frailty by charring it, yet somehow they came up far, far ahead.
I also had a lot of love for the grilled octopus. This is a small plate that’s been so overdone, appearing as an appetizer on so many menus, and the prep being nearly the same, but the one at Freek’s Mill, with its tenderness and meatiness, and the airy lemon aioli, manages to keep it fresh. The dry aged duck caught my eye, mostly because I didn’t know one could do this with waterfowl, and let’s just say that this duck aged pretty well. The cranberry beans that came with it was an interesting choice, I’m not sure if it was quite the right accompaniment to the duck, but the way the beans were repurposed as a hash as opposed to something boiled and stewed was something different. We were on such a roll that we ordered the stracci, a creamy ricotta pasta served with lamb, and this last minute gamble was a big win.
Afterwards we walked over to Ample Hills Creamery, which specializes in crazy, fun ice cream flavors like Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, which is amazing, and Snap, Mallow, Pop!. You can eat your cones upstairs on the roof deck, which is the best way to consume ice cream, and something you could never do in space constrained Manhattan. You really can’t ask for more on a perfect summer’s day. Some people summer in the Hamptons, I think I’m going to summer in Gowanus.
285 Nevins St (between Union and Sackett St)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
305 Nevin St (between Union and President St)
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Cocotte is one of those restaurants that’s easy to miss. You could probably walk up and down Thompson St a thousand times and never know this place existed. Part of the reason why is that Cocotte is located below ground, so the signage isn’t really all that visible at eye level. But those who look carefully will discover a little bit of Paris in Soho. The space is small and stylish, with dark mood lighting, that makes it perfect for date night or for those looking for a good atmosphere. Drink up, because the menu of small plates, which are Basque in origin, will complement those glasses of wine very well.
The Basque influences are interesting, and you can really taste both the French and Spanish flavors in the food. The foie gras, for instance, isn’t the typical block of duck or goose liver served straight up with a side of bread. The version at Cocotte has strips of leeks and peppers interspersed for a little more spice and vivacity. There are the more traditional dishes for those hard core Francophiles. The thick butternut squash soup had loads of heavy cream which was unmistakably French, and the usual suspects of hanger steak and duck confit were on the menu.
I didn’t want cream and fat to rule the dinner completely, so I ordered the grilled dorade and the side of lentils to keep things light. The dorade filet was pretty solid, the skin perhaps could have been crisper, but the fish itself was salted and seasoned properly. Lentils are normally earthy and hearty, but the ones on this plate were dressed in a vinaigrette that lightened up these characteristics, although not without some bacon bits, but only enough to enjoy yourself and not to feel bad.
For dessert, we shared a lemon tart, which was as sweet and tart as you’d expect a glass of lemonade to be. You know what was surprisingly not tart? The service. This is one thing that wasn’t very French about Cocotte, the fact that the waitstaff was so friendly and genuinely wanted to see if we were enjoying the food. It’s like all the perks of Paris and none of the downside. So if you’re ever in Soho, take a moment to look around carefully, walk down those steps, and enjoy yourself with some good food and good company.
110 Thompson St (between Prince and Spring St)
New York, NY 10012