2010 was a fabulous year....see my favorite picks on FB, best BITES, best SALADS, best ENTREES, and BEST COCKTAILS for the year. And thanks to all who stop by...best of luck to all of you in 2011. See you next year!


Edi & the Wolf: Austrian comfort in the East Village

The owners of Michelin-star restaurant Seasonal have branched out to Avenue C with a cozy, relaxed wine bar. The space is reminiscent of a barn, whose ceiling mimics light filtering through the cracks (photo), accented with hipster Victorian accessories, and a cushiony, tufted banquette. I don’t know if it’s because of the holiday season, or because of being so warmly hosted by owner Eduard Frauneder, but people are flocking to Edi and the Wolf. Specially selected Austrian, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Hungarian and Argentinian wines and artisinal beers accompany excellent Autrian fare, served until the late hours. It’s a fantastic spot to end the night with a bit of upscale comfort food and coddling. See photos of the space and food here.

FIESTA TIME: Antojitos Cookbook

Party throwers looking for new ideas will get their fill from Barbara Sibley and Margaritte Malfy’s new book. Antojitos is jam-packed with Mexican small plate ideas, gathered from the homes and the streets of Mexico, where the authors have traveled. These “snacks” that were designed to be the bite that holds you over in between meals are perfect for parties—especially because they provide a good base for holiday cocktailing. At La Palapa in the East Village I tried the Crepas de Huitlacoche, which are corn fungus crepes—hearty, filling and delicious (photo). Head over to their east or west village locations for a NYC escape to Mexico City. Go with a crowd, the portions are enormous!

Asellina: Intriguing and Sexy New Italian

Just opened in the Gansevoort Park Hotel, Asellina brings a sexy, sprawling bi-level restaurant and lounge to Park Avenue and 29th. I stopped by last Friday to see what it was all about. We parked ourselves in the lounge with comfortable oversized chairs and fireplace to sample a few of the cocktail offerings before dinner elsewhere. The drinks were great, but the most astounding taste we sampled was the bite that accompanied our sipping. The stuffed Cerignola olives with roasted veal parmigiano and semolina crust (photo) was over-the-top delicious. I will have to return for a proper dinner. See more photos of the space and cocktails here. The space is cordoned off into 5 distict areas, but each one is open to the other, giving the vast space order, yet maintaining peekaboo, people-watching opportunities.

Beautiful Bottles Make Welcome Gifts: Part 2

Act fast, this bottle is available only through December. Belvedere Silver, the holiday edition, is clad in an eye-catching mirrored silver. Your host will be delighted to place this on the bar—front and center. For 600 years, Belvedere has produced their vodka using a special rye only found in Poland’s Mazovia region, mixed with purified artesian water, without any additives. Four-times distilling creates the smooth, creamy, peppery taste. The 750 ml size goes for $35. For an interesting champagne toast, mix 1 oz of Belvedere Silver, with 1 oz of cooled Earl Grey Tea, transfer to champagne flute and fill with champagne. ••• Be the first to show up with this in your party bag. Debuting in New York this month, Excellia makes it’s tequila by aging it in cognac and sauternes casks to marry the tastes with 100% Blue Agave. Reposado, Añejo and Blanco feature sophisticated flavor profiles ranging from wood and spices, to honey and fruit. I have been mixing the reposado with Peller Estates Vidal Ice Wine from Canada. One third tequila, two-thirds ice wine and lots of ice makes for a sweet, appealing after dinner drink. Would be especially great paired with cheese. 750 ml - $55-75 ••• Even beer is getting into the barrel-aging act. Bringing this along to your next gathering will definitely get a conversation started. Innis & Gunn ages their mulitple award-winning beer for a minimum of 30 days, then monitors each batch before allowing it to be blended, adding hints of vanilla, citrus and toffee. Available at Trader Joes, select Food Emporiums, Met Food, and Gristedes. See the website for bars that are carrying the brand, so you can preview the taste. Available in 750ml and 11.2oz., and 4-packs.


Get Lost in Space at Beauty & Essex

I marveled at the scope of the new restaurant and lounge from Stanton Social’s Chef Chris Santos. A former furniture store has been transformed by the designers at AvroKo to simulate a retro-50s cocktail lounge complete with gold fixtures. A pawn shop sits in front of Beauty & Essex, initially obscuring what phenomenal details lie beyond. From front to back is about as long as a city block, with 4 atmopheres to choose from. Up the grand staircase leads to DJ booth, and The Pearl Lounge whose chandelier dramatically drapes below an entire tin ceiling. In the ladies room downstairs, a lovely woman serves free champagne. To accompany the regalia, Chris Santo’s small bites will take center stage, with his take on comfort food from around the globe: grilled apple, bacon and blue cheese crostini with black pepper, truffle, and honey, steaks from Creeksotne Farms, beer battered lobster tacos with red cabbage slaw, jalapeno mayo. Incredible cocktails too. See more photos of the space and night here.

New Spot for Sipping: Cocktails at 1534

A talented team of mixologists have created a sweet little underground getaway—with drinks inspired by a French Colonial explorer and decor that feels a bit formal and a bit like a ‘40s cafe. Pre-opening we stopped in at 1534 to see what Raphael Reyes was mixing and tried the Tahitian 75 (photo), a blend of Hendrick’s Gin, Hibiscus syrup, fresh lemon juice, and topped with sparkling wine and edible candied hibiscus. Marshall Alteir was behind the bar at the opening, who slipped us sips of the talked-about Bang the Drum cognac concoction with oversized ice cube, and many other delights. See more photos here of the cocktails sampled and the space at 20 Prince St, between Elizabeth and Mott St, downstairs from Jacques.

New Amsterdam Market: Artisinal Offerings

A week ago I visited the New Amsterdam Market. I could just kick myself for not going sooner, as of December 19 the market will be closed until spring. Take advantage of this last chance to get stocking stuffers and goodies for hosting. The market features a nice variety of vendors: luscious baked goodies from Shandaken Bake, fresh pasta from The Ravioli Store, unique blended teas from Bellocq, and a vast array of meats and sausages (my weakness!). I did stock up on meaty goodies from Mosefund Farm, Dickson’s Farms and Meats, and Hudson Valley Duck Farm so when company arrives I can offer them smoked duck breast, fully cooked white sausage, and bratwurst. It is a tradition in my Slovak family to stock up on cold cuts, headcheese, and kielbasas for the holidays, so I was delighted to come across such amazing selections. Go to this market to eat! I warmed up my bones with a über-tasty pork sandwich from Porchetta, my friend Mina had a lobster roll. Plus I was able to sample bites of meat before buying. And, after sampling the Finnish rye from Nordic Breads (photo) I got two large loaves to store in the freezer. I can’t wait to go back and experience what’s happening next year, when they will be continuing to offer a great mix of vendors, themed weekends and foodie events. Located at South Street between Beekman St and Peck Slip. More photos here.

A Cake with a Kick: Full Spirited Flavours Prosperity Cakes

Looking to bring an amazing dessert to your next dinner gathering? Three sisters from Pennsylvania can supply you with the sweet that will have everyone raving. After their own families oohed and ahhhhed over their cakes for years, the sisters decided to combine their talents and showcase their fabulous liqueur-infused buttery cakes. Whether you choose the amaretto, limoncello, raspberry liqueur, or coconut rum cake, they will arrive beautifully presented in recycled boxes. They come in two sizes: the FULL serves 10 to12, the JUNIOR serves 2 to 4. Cakes can be served right away or frozen for up to 3 months. I suggest ordering one for your party, and a couple more for yourself, to have tucked away, just in case.

Dressed for Dinner with Kuhn Rikon

The Cook & Serve stainless steel pot will not only look great on your holiday table, the neoprene sleeve keeps food warm while protecting the table’s surface. Comes in 2-, 3-, and 4-quart sizes all with tempered glass lid, with slipcover sleeve in red, orange, chartreuse, or royal blue.

Beautiful Bottles Make Welcome Gifts

Delight your hostess with a pretty bottle of Chambord Flavored Vodka, whose light pink tones will have everyone curious. It adds a nice dimension to typical vodka combinations with its black raspberry hints. I have been mixing it half and half with Pinnacle Crème de Pommes, a Canadian Ice Cider Cream Liquor, to create a more sophisticated substitute for egg nog. For a lighter version, thin out with ice and Raspberry Emergen-C-infused water. ••• L’Esprit de June liqueur is made from a combination of grapevine flowers in Cognac, France, which bloom for only a few days. Each handpicked flower is mixed with spirit to extract the unique flavors, then distilled by artisans, resulting in a delicate, floral and fruity liqueuer. Perfect to mix with champagne for a grand toast. ••• Galliano has re-issued Galliano L’Autentico, based on the original recipe of 1896. Juniper, anise and yarrow musk add herbal and botanical complexity to the signature vanilla flavor. Create a buzz by serving the original Harvey Wallbanger. In a tall glass mix 1.25 oz vodka, .25 oz Galliano, 3 oz orange juice and garnish with a slice of orange.


A gift for the nurturer: Bialetti Hot Chocolate Maker

I was skeptical upon first eyeing this piece. Why would anyone need a hot chocolate maker? One sip of the results was enough to change my mind! This appliance does more than heat up milk, it adds a wonderful frothy consistency, and works on a timer, so you don’t have to worry about burning the milk. Just add an organic hot cocoa mix or your favorite shaved chocolate (the preferred method) to create a soothing, sweet winter treat. Alternatively, you can also let the appliance froth milk for many cappucinos with its 32 oz. capacity top. Once summer comes around, you can flip the switch and use it to make iced coffee drinks, shakes and cocktails. Available on the website for $99.

A gift for the show-off: Bialetti Eco-Friendly Non-Stick Cookware

These pretty red pots and pans from Bialetti will make the perfect statement on your holiday table, especially if you care about cooking without harmful emissions in the mix. Aeternum cookware has a water-based coating which is PFOA free, PTFE free, and cadmium free. Saute pans come in 8-, 10.25-, and 12-inch sizes, the 12” comes with see-through lid. There’s also a 2 quart sauce pan, with see-through lid that’s awfully cute. Order them at the website.

A gift for the perfectionist: Bodum Bistro Burr Grinder

Who doesn’t love the smell and taste of just-ground coffee? Though most people would agree, the percentage of people that actually grind before every cup of coffee is probably pretty low. The Bistro Burr is designed to make that job simpler and more convenient. Here’s how I would do it: Store the beans in the glass container on top. Test results by rotating the top to produce the desired grind. Once that has been established, on a daily basis you can just grind the amount you like, slip the static-free glass container from the bottom and brew accordingly. The grinder uses conical burr grinders, which crush, rather than chop the beans, and do so without heat, thus adding to the flavor. Choose from three gorgeous colors: red, orange, chartruese, or simply black, or white. $79.

A gift for the organizer: Stelton Paul Smith Collection

I fell in love with Paul Smith's Dot collection as soon as I laid eyes on it. I am definitely not alone, because since then I am seeing these colorful bowls all over the place. For instance, the kitchen at the Kips Bay Showhouse this year featured them along the fireplace mantel (photo). I can think of a ton of uses—on a desktop, a bathroom, dressing room, or in the kitchen. The exterior is made of brushed stainless steel, the interiors are enamel-like without the fragility. They range from $59 to $79. Buy it online at Unica Home. See more photos of my Kips Bay Showhouse’s favorite rooms here.

A gift for the decorating diva: Hats OFF to Mary McDonald

Once hat designer, now interior designer extraordinaire, Mary McDonald has come out with her first book, Mary McDonald Interiors: The Allure of Style. The book is loaded with beautiful objects and tons of design ideas for tieing rooms together. I like how the book is divided into in themes, like the Theater chapter, which features the Hollywood homes that have been boldly color-coordinated and artfully accessorized in moods of: Classic, Graphic, Obsession, Exotic. The book is truly a visual feast.

A gift for the retro-afficianado: Yubz Talk Cell Phone Handset

Anyone who misses the feeling of holding a substantial, durable receiver which transmits sound loud and clear should love getting this. The handset has a button to answer and hang up calls, volume control, and plugs right into the headphone jack. Check the Yubz Talk USA website to see compatible phones, and be dazzled by the color selections, and artist series. It also keeps the radiation from cell phones from being right next to your head (think about it!) This company also make a nice looking line of speakers for Ipods, a bluetooth portable speaker, and tiny lamps for use with your laptop. $45 in color, $65 for the gold.

Organic Spa Magazine’s Holiday Gift Guide

See my gift picks for 2010:
For the Home: Smoky Root of the Earth Bowls, Artenica tranSglass Cut Vase, photographer Garry Wade’s insect specimen prints, modern, minimalist quilts by Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle, Ikebana, a warm glowing LED light.
Wine Picks: 2007 Montes Cabarnet Sauvignon, 2008 Würtz Riesling Trocken, 2008 Wurtz Riesling Potate.
For guys: a humorously informative book, Guide for the Modern Gentleman, and hip bow ties from Skinny Vinny.
Green Design: a see-through, biodegradable umbrella from Brelli, green neoprene lunch tote from GreenSmart.
Help Others: a meaningful gift card from Opportunity International

A gift for the warm and fuzzy: Ewe Cuff Bracelet

This bee-ewe-tiful cuff cradles your wrist in 100% Merino wool felt, and is designed to be worn in a variety of ways. First, the cuff is reversible, from color to grey, and the die-cut shapes can be pushed in or out, depending on the mood of the day. Designer Brandon Perhacs, added strongly-attracting rare-earth magnets to the closure which snap together, adding to the joy of adornment. See Lichen’s website to find a store near you, or order online. Free shipping until Christmas. $44

A gift for the cook who can get messy: Utility Canvas Apron

Utility Canvas has designed a 5-pocket apron suitable for either man or woman. Wearers can create custom fit by adjusting the straps over the shoulders, through the holes in the back. Their range of colors allows you to have one to match every outfit. $48 available from their online store.

A gift to bring to a holiday party: Beautifully Bottled Olive Oil

Next time you show up at someone’s door with bottle in hand, make that bottle be a pretty bottle of olive oil. It’s an ingredient that’s welcome in every kitchen, and your host will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Allure Estates in California houses their award-winning oil in a lovely black bottle, for the sophisticate. O Tahitian Lime Olive Oil would satisfy the experimenter in your life. L'Olivier Extra Virgin Olive Oil looks great in a country kitchen, for the cook who likes to pamper his guests. Terra Medi Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a perfect pick for the person with a modern sense of style.