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New York has many wonderful neighborhoods for dining. Midtown is not one of them. If you’re looking for a power business lunch or a super over-priced steakhouse, I can certainly recommend a spot or two in Midtown, but a cozy little date spot or a place to just kick back with a few beers and grub? Not likely.

This is why I find Sofia Wine Bar to be a true gem.

This cozy little wine bar sits on E 50th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues. It could not get cuter (or more delicious) than this in Midtown. It’s not going to be a cheap evening, but it will absolutely be a tasty one. You won’t find a bottle of wine for under $40 (but I guess in the land of office complexes and car services, that is to be expected).

Tip: Opt for the bruschetta trio, a selection of toasty breads topped with ricotta drizzled with honey, classic tomato basil and eggplant caponata. Your main course must must must be the meatball pizza.

I have eaten here for all occasions, so if you find yourself in New York for some sort of graduation, night out with friends or a second (or 60th) date, Sofia Wine Bar won’t let you down.

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‘Tis the season to be broke. Seriously I don’t see an end to the constant need for cash until the end of the year. First it was brother’s birthday in November, then Thanksgiving treats, then mother’s birthday in early December, then Christmas and Hannukah (because yes, I celebrate both) and then some sort of ridiculously expensive, sub-par New Year’s.

Thankfully, Seth Kugel, the New York Times‘ famous Frugal Traveler, has come up with a list of 10 reasonably priced holiday gift ideas for your globetrotting friends. Check it out here. Tip: My personal favorite is #5.

http://www.nytimes.com/gift-guide/holiday-2011/2011travelguide-frugal/list.html?ref=travel

I’m not much of a snow person. My idea of skiing is sitting in the lodge with a book and some sort of spiked hot beverage. But I hear that plenty of you love the concept of doing physical activity in 17-degree weather, in which case, this Frugal Friday is for you.

Hunter Mountain and Windham Mountain ski centers are the Great Northern Catskills‘ ski resorts, offering skiing two hours away from New York City.

Hunter Mountain is currently offering a “Big Lift Card” for $49. Card holders receive 25 percent off weekend and holiday tickets, and 50 percent off mid-week, non-holiday tickets. This promotion is valid all season long. Take the new Zephyr Express high speed quad or New York’s first six-passenger, detachable lift, the Kaatskill Flyer. Get snow reports, trail maps, daily
promotions, coupons and more via the mobile site m.huntermtn.com.

Play & Stay Packages at Hunter Mountain: Midweek special includes one night accommodations at the Kaatskill Mountain Club or Liftside Village. Package rates start at $125 pp/pn and include slope-side lodging, an all-access lift ticket and complimentary breakfast. Extend your stay for two nights or more and rates drop to $109 pp/pn. The offers is valid Sunday to Thursday, on non-holidays.

Nearby, Windham Mountain unveiled $2.4 million in renovations and upgrades for the 2011-2012 ski season. See renovations in the base lodge and new snowmaking and grooming equipment. A side-by-side Racing Zipline at Windham Mountain’s Adventure Park is also open this season, Other improvements for the winter season include the new trail WinTuck, a Competition Center for junior race programs, and the only Montana Crystal Edge Tuning Machine in North America, located at the Windham Mountain Sports Center.

Midweek Ski and Stay Package Windham Mountain: Stay at the Winwood Inn and ski or ride at Windham Mountain starting at $79.50 pp/pn. Package includes a lift ticket, accommodations, complimentary continental breakfast and a free shuttle to and from the mountain. On the weekend, package rates start at $120 pp/pn. Valid all season long, rates subject to availability.

Long Weekend Special: Purchase any multi-day Windham Mountain lift ticket that includes a Monday and receive 50 percent off of your Sunday night stay at the Winwood Inn.

Sign up for a free “Greene Card” that offers buy-one-get-one deals to both Hunter and Windham. The Greene Card makes the Catskills’ family friendly attractions even more affordable with the purchase of one mid-week ticket, card holders will receive an additional free ticket to be redeemed at the time of sale.

Visit http://www.greatnortherncatskills.com

 

Do you like to drink? I know I do. From high society sips to suds and swill, alcohol is just a very real part of my life (and the lives of everyone I know. Relax, Mom).

I’ve done my fair share of barhopping but now it’s time to see which ones made the cut in Lonely Planet‘s top 100 bars of the world. You can cast your vote and see the rankings change, but personally I like seeing how many of these I have been to. The grand total? Just one, but it frankly I thought I would have visited none. (Apotheke Bar, NYC)

Okay, now it’s your turn! Take a look at the list and share how many you have been to!

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope it is booze-filled and gluttonous!

I rarely disagree with my favorite TV hosts, but I think I may need to make an exception.

A few months ago I was watching Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, hosted by that cuddly, frosted-tipped character, Guy Fieri on The Food Network. He made a stop to my neck of the woods in Astoria to visit The Sparrow Tavern. I was instantly intrigued, first and foremost because it was in my hood, but secondly because it looked pretty f’n cool. Astoria isn’t exactly known for its hipster dining establishments, but this bar/restaurant was pure hip-chic (wooden benches, craft brews and an eclectic menu…oh and a couple of people in thick-framed glasses just for irony’s sake).

Needless to say I was pretty pumped to try it. I brought some friends along with me and hoped for the best….

…holy rude waitstaff! Sure, it was a Friday night at 8 p.m. so each table was packed, but the waitstaff looked as though they could not care less about whether we dined there or not. After a brusque “wait at the bar,” and a few minutes of awkward hovering, a table opened up and the waitress waved us over with a regal ‘if you must eat here’ hand.

But in the name of a good ladies’ night, we waited patiently until we could sit and order drinks. I opted for an Abita Light, a tasty NOLA brew, while one of my friends attempted to try some lavender blueberry mojito concoction. First I was told they were out of Abita Light so I went for my classic standby, a dirty martini, which ended up being more olive juice than vodka. Jenna’s mojito came watered down in a pint glass with a straw haphazardly thrown in. Sloppy to say the least. Did I mention that after I ordered my $12 martini they suddenly discovered they had Abita Light?

And then there was the food. Around the table we sampled mac and cheese, pork tacos, a chicken potpie and some sort of “bifteki burger,” which was a burger stuffed with manouri cheese and mint and topped with tzatziki.

Meh, is all I can say. The mac and cheese was nothing to write home about, the chicken potpie tasted usual at best, and I only received two tiny tacos. The bifteki burger was the only item that truly stood out on the menu, but that could have been by comparison to everything else.

Oh Sparrow Tavern, you let me down. More importantly, Guy Fieri, you let me down. I’m willing to give this place another go around, but if you are looking for hipster pub grub, this place is not really worth your travels. Minus one for Astoria.

I’ve been waiting for this day for quite some time. Anthony Bourdain returns tonight at 9 p.m. with the debut of his new show ‘The Layover’ on the Travel Channel.

I’m a huge Bourdain buff. I love his snark, his attitude, his disdain for the mainstream and his passion for all that is local. I think anyone would kill for this man’s job.

Tonight’s episode will feature a 24-hour layover in Singapore, where Tony will tour the city sampling coffee, breakfast, claypot rice and more. Should be exciting and I’m salivating thinking of it already.

I know all about Black Friday, but apparently there’s also something called Cyber Monday? Sounds like a bunch of bull to me, but on this Frugal Friday perhaps you will disagree.

Marriott Florida Resorts are looking to help you rake in the savings and are joining together to offer up to 25 percent savings on Cyber Monday with rates starting from $95 to $186 per night. Available online on Monday, November 28 ONLY, the savings can be applied on stays from November 9, 2011 through January 8, 2012. For reservations visit www.marriott.com/floridacybermonday or visit www.marriot.com and enter the promotional code DOD.

The savings applies to these destinations:

Miami
Eden Roc Renaissance Miami Beach
Doral Golf Resort & Spa, a Marriott Resort
Miami Airport Marriott
Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay
South Beach Marriott

Fort Lauderdale/Palm Beach
Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
Hollywood Beach Marriott
Delray Beach Marriott
West Palm Beach Marriott
Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa
Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

Orlando/St. Petersburg
JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes ®
Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld ®
Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club
Orlando World Center Marriott

Southwest/Keys
Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa
Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa
Key Largo Bay Marriott Beach Resort

For most U.S. travelers the Caribbean consists of the USVI, Jamaica and Aruba. Sure, you may get a more cultured (and elite) crowd looking to venture off to St. Bart’s, Anguilla or St. Lucia, but the bottom line is America has the Caribbean covered. Or does it? Last night a good friend told me about an article in the New York Times on some off-the-beaten-path Caribbean gems. Take a look at Bequia, one of the many Grenadine islands part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

http://travel.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/travel/bequia-a-caribbean-getaway-from-the-getaways.html?ref=travel

I know I’ve said this before, but there aren’t many neighborhoods in New York where you can rub elbows with VIPs at one bar and turn the corner and drink $2 cans of PBR at another. On New York’s Lower East Side, however, that is the nature of the game.

Fortunately I have a slew of friends who can fit in at either of these locations so last night we made it a ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ meets dive bar’ kind of evening.

The night started at The Stanton Social, a sexy little hotspot perfect for star-gazing and small plates. Let me paint you a picture: Two of us arrived at 5:45 on a Tuesday. The dining room was empty, yet they wouldn’t seat us until our entire party arrived. Posh, much? The decor was New York chic at its best (I’m talking votives, Asian twisty branch things and a bar stocked with what looked like only top shelf liquor).

We ordered about five small plates, a couple cocktails and a bottle of wine and the bill came to about $120. I highly recommend the Old School Meatballs, French Onion Soup Dumplings, and Spicy Lamb Souvlakis. The Red Snapper Tacos and Butternut Squash Ravioli I could have done without.

On to…Welcome to the Johnson’s, the epitome of dive bars. It’s designed to look like your grandmother’s 1970s basement gone horribly awry. Faux-wood paneling, a banged up pool table, couches with plastic covering…oh and did I mention the $2 PBRs? Don’t get me wrong, though. This place still reminds you that it’s NYC (I’m thinking of you $20-minimum for credit card charges). Still, it’s a perfect place for some PBRs and pool on a Tuesday night. Fun fact: The NYPD shut down the bar in June for serving alcohol to minors. It’s up and running again for sure, but THAT is a dive bar, my friends.

Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor

Here’s another bite from upstate New York. Due to yesterday’s post’s rousing success I thought I’d bring you more tantalizing tales from the table.

It can be hard to impress a New Yorker’s palate, but the Albany Pump Station just off route 787 (at 19 Quackenbush Square) certainly did the trick. The Pump Station is a beer brewery and restaurant that has a little piece of upstate history mixed into the recipe. The restaurant consists of two adjoining buildings, the first of which was built in 1874. The Evans family, original brewmasters at the Pump Station, have been brewing beer since the late 18th century.

The menu is a hodgepodge of pub grub favorites, along with some refreshing new items for flare. Our party ordered the chicken nachos, spinach and artichoke dip and coconut shrimp as appetizers and then moved on to duck breast, gyros, sirloin steak and a full rack of ribs for main courses. Seriously, this place has everything.

The real kicker, however, is the beer. Not sure of what you want? I highly recommend the sampler, which is eight three-ounce glasses of all their beers on tap. When you figure out which one most appeals to you you can move on to full pint size drinks. Or, you can do what our party did, and keep on sampling. Nothing is a miss on this menu, and it’s another score for upstate New York.