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IMG_2418I wouldn’t call myself a “girl about town.” I’m usually the last to know about the next “it” spot. By the time I get to whatever it is, it’s already been boarded up or has been deemed “old news”. But not this time, my friends. No, not this time.

Last Friday, Wylie Dufresne (of wd50 fame on the Lower East Side) debuted a brand-new restaurant in the East Village, Alder. A tiny spot with just 56 seats, Alder turns to the design school of late: minimalist with loads of slate, earth tones and exposed wood. A cocktail menu embraces hot hipster classics, like Pimm’s and rye which are mixed weirdly with things like horseradish and oolong. But it all seems to work. (Try the Dr. Dave’s ‘Scrip Pad: rye, yuzu, amaro and smoked maple.)

Alder is about pub-grub with a twist (it wouldn’t be Wylie Dufresne without that twist). This includes a New York take on old favorites from around the world, “turning them into something distinctly American,” says their website.

IMG_2419So anyway, back to being on top of the scene. I was able to snag a table for Saturday night (after an hour-and-a-half wait, mind you). The menu isn’t too long and the waiters are very helpful in recommending what to order.

You must start with the Pub Cheese and the “Pigs in a Blanket.” The Pub Cheese is a smear of cheese infused with red wine so that it is literally purple. It is festooned with pistachio-fig brittle and served with Martin’s potato chips. The Pigs in a Blanket are chinese sausages wrapped in flaky pastry with a side of Japanese mustard and sweet chili sauce.

From there, you should order the foie gras terrine, which is served with poached apple cartreuse yogurt and an english muffin. For me, the piece de resistance is the fried quail, which is tender and moist and served with banana curry, chinese broccoli and pickled turmeric. The Rye Pasta is also delicious (think pasta that tastes similar to rye bread and is flecked with bits of tender pastrami). Finally, try the pork rib, which has saffron spaetzle and green apple-celery root hash.

The wait will be long for the next few weeks as this restaurant is literally the newest on the scene, but with restaurants embracing modern technology (they will text you when your table is ready), feel free to wander elsewhere for a pre-dinner cocktail.

Last tip: Budget wisely. Six dishes, all of sharing proportion, and two cocktails run around $150. Alder is on Second Avenue between East 9th and 10th streets.


wesandersonbingoAstoria vs. Williamsburg. It’s a friendly rivalry between my group of friends, and I can say with certainty that we are not the only ones that debate on which neighborhood is better for the thriving, young, New York professional. Do you want more space for less money in quiet Queens, or stimulation and action at every turn in bohemian Brooklyn? It can get ugly. As most of you know, I am partial to Astoria’s charms, but as long as Williamsburg keeps hosting Wes Anderson Bingo Night at local bar Videology, I will continue to try and broker piece between the two worlds.

Last night my pal Jenna was somehow able to drag me out of my apartment on what was the coldest night of winter to date. She lured me with Videology, a video store-turned-bar that hosts nightly screenings and fun games to match. Last night was Wes Anderson Bingo. It’s free. Awesome.

The corner bar is candlelit and has a spacious back room set up like a screening area, with walls lined with DVDs and a giant projector screen. Bingo starts at 8:30, but I recommend getting there about 45 minutes early to get a good seat, because it fills up fast.

Each player is doled out a bingo card and chips. Cozy up with a drink and let the viewing begin. (Might I also suggest ordering bowls of creative popcorn like parmesan and three pepper, or chili, lime and tequila.)

The spaces on the bingo cards have generic Wes Anderson style choices (knit cap, vintage eyewear, plunky harpsichord music). Whenever any of these appear in the movie, you place a chip down on your card. Last night’s viewing was Moonrise Kingdom.

Prizes range anywhere from pre-stamped envelopes (it is Williamsburg, after all) to free drinks and movie soundtracks. It’s just good fun. To be fair, this is a relatively new endeavor and Videology is still working out the kinks, but the atmosphere is laid back, fun and everyone seems to have a great time. And even if you aren’t into bingo, there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night than sitting back in a dim bar with a beer watching a Wes Anderson flick.

Photo courtesy of Yelp

Photo courtesy of Yelp

We’ve all heard the rumors about Chinese massage parlors. I’m sure you, yourself, have even contributed to the stereotypes. I’m not above the occasional (and obvious) “happy ending” joke. But after last night I may have to place a moratorium on all off-color massage parlor jokes. Why? Keisy.

Okay. Why Keisy? Keisy Oriental Nature Center sits on E 9th Street between Second and Third avenues, on that little strip that is dotted with shabu-shabu and sushi restaurants. A fluorescent sign with red lettering and a sandwich board out front advertising $45 for a one-hour massage is all the pomp that this place affords itself.

Let me get this out of the way: this is not a spa. The massage parlor is up a flight of stairs in a sparsely decorated space that looks more like a row of office cubicles than a place for deep relaxation. But do not be fooled. What you are about to experience is transcendental.

One of the masseurs takes you to a room and leaves to you strip down to your skivvies and lie face down on the massage table under a (very clean) sheet. Then, without ceremony, a stereotypical soothing voice or a hint of aromatherapy, he or she essentially goes to town on your muscles. I had muscles worked that I didn’t even know I had.

I’m not going to lie to you. Parts of this experience were some of the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (you should also know that I have the back of a 90-year-old cripple), but afterward I felt like an overly tenderized piece of meat…but in a good way! These people know what they are doing and they leave no stone unturned. Forehead, ears, shoulders, back, legs, arms, feet, hands and even your nose. It’s all rubbed, massaged, unclenched and stretched out.

You will leave Keisy in a dopey state of bliss, and for just $45 your wallet won’t feel any lighter. It’s a win-win.

Want to make it a win-win-win and keep the health flowing? Head just across the street to Hasaki for a light sushi dinner. The quality is unbelievably fresh and with the green tea flowing, this is just the meal to keep your organs and muscles smiling all night long.

I’m trying really hard to ‘wow’ you with a first post of 2013, but I’ve heard if you try to write well, you usually don’t. So in lieu of a creative lead and a really solid first paragraph, I’ll just tell you what I did on New Year’s Eve and hopefully it will inspire you to check out a truly untapped neck of the woods in New York City.

The area off the East Broadway stop in Manhattan is still a mystery to me. It’s part Chinatown, part Lower East Side, and both parts spooky. I think that’s why I like it so much. To close out 2012 I visited this part of town and have returned with three establishments that should be on your list for a a complete night out.

barThe Leadbelly: On Orchard Street just above Canal, you won’t find much. It’s a dark part of Chinatown where overstuffed black bags of garbage outnumber people and Chinese symbols rule the roost. The only (and I mean ONLY) storefront you could notice has a frosted window out front with The Leadbelly: Oysters and Liquor carved in cursive. If that’s not enough of a hook then you should probably stop reading right now. Inside you will find white washed wooden beams, exposed brick, a wall of vintage suitcases and records and a menu of fresh oysters, small bites and creative cocktails. Oldies music plays softly from the speakers while bartenders swirl whiskeys, vodkas and gins in silver shakers. If you visit during happy hour, which is until 8 p.m., select oysters are $1.

scotcheggThe Fat Radish: Directly across the street, at 17 Orchard Street, is sister restaurant The Fat Radish. This farm-to-table-style restaurant has a similar effect as The Leadbelly, in that diners enter and completely forget that the street outside looks like a set from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. The menu runs the gamut from oysters and snacks to experimental vegetable dishes and free-range proteins. I highly recommend tucking into the scotch egg, which is a six-minute egg cooked in a sausage cradle and plated with cornichons and grain mustard. You should also check out the whole roasted local cauliflower and the Montauk Diver Scallops. Be sure to order a side of the sauteed Tuscan Kale with chili.

169 Bar: Before you hop back on the F train at East Broadway and head back uptown to the real world, make a pit stop at 169 Bar. Literally steps from the subway entrance, you can’t miss this bar that has potted palm trees out front. Inside the bar is glossed with a red and blue glow. Mismatched furniture, hanging lights, a pool table and a cage for gogo dancers are just a few of the quirky decorative touches. Try the Oyster Shooters – a shot glass with your choice of a tequila or vodka bloody mary and a fresh oyster at the bottom.

china1A fluorescent Chinese menu blinks up on a wall behind a window flecked with dirty rain spots and grime. A tiny slit behind the register reveals from the kitchen little more than familiar smells of soy sauce, salt and mysterious meats. It’s not what you think – but nowadays, few things in New York are.

This is Mission Chinese Food, an outpost of the San Francisco phenomenon that has taken the City by the Bay by storm and since has moved East to surprise New Yorkers, a breed that puts Chinese takeout above church.

But this ain’t your mama’s Chinese takeout restaurant. Sure, it looks like that from the outside, what with its basement location and dingy exterior – but that’s supposed to be “cool”. Once you’re accepted into the fold, you are led to a back room, past an open kitchen where today’s youthful culinary elite are chopping and plating with inked arms and piercings. The dining room is washed in a red glow, making it look more like a concubine’s office than a restaurant, while a scarlet paper dragon twists along the ceiling.

china2And then it comes time to order. You won’t find eggrolls or wontons at this particular joint. The signature dish at Mission Chinese Food is its thrice-cooked bacon. Typically a signature dish never really lives up to the hype, but rest assured: it most certainly does. The taut pieces of bacon give off a smoky, almost jerky-esque flavor (we’ll call it haute jerky, if that helps you), and the meat rests on chewy rice pancakes that absorb the chili spices and bacon juice. (If you can manage to not eat the whole dish, save the leftovers for breakfast and cook with fried eggs.)

Then the menu gives way to old classics like buckwheat noodles with cilantro and seafood, and dishes more palatable to the epicurean hipster, like Kung Pao Pastrami and Stir-Fried Pork Jowl and Radishes.

The wait is long, even on a Sunday night – usually an average of an hour and a half, but with a plethora of bars in the vicinity, it’s not too bad of a situation. Dishes max at a reasonable $13 (save for the Veal Breast a la Orange, which is a hefty $24), and the portions are meant to be shared.

I think I’ve said all I can say on this eatery. You can read my elegant prose again and again or you can get yourself down to Orchard and Rivington and check it out for yourself.

Like what you read? Follow me on Twitter at @tripptravelogue!

There is nothing a New Yorker values more than New York than the ability to get away from it for a little while. (We are a complicated breed.)

This past weekend a group of friends and I were looking for a little daytrip out of the city and we stumbled upon North Fork Bike Tours, a biking/wine tasting tour out in Long Island’s wine country.

For $125, travelers are taken on a four-hour bike tour around the vineyards, which includes wine tasting, lunch and 13 miles of very manageable biking. Note: Two in our party are the least avid cyclists you could ever hope to meet and we did just fine. Yes, I was one of the two. I cannot stand biking, so if the fine North Fork folks could make me a believer, there is hope for anyone.

The tour’s start point begins just an hour and a half from New York City, depending on traffic. If you get there early like we did be sure to stop by Four Doors, a restaurant and bar that caters to a down-home local crowd. (Wines start at $3 a glass. We aren’t in New York City, anymore.) It’s the perfect spot to pregame a four-hour wine tour.

If you have never been to Memphis I feel for you. That city holds a very dear place in my heart. It could be because of the slamming barbecue food, the chilling Civil Rights Museum or views of the Mississippi, but the truth is it’s because that city is abuzz as the sun goes down and the seedy parts of your soul come alive to blues music.

New Yorkers will be unleashing their soulful angst tomorrow night, July 11 through Thursday July 12, as the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival comes to the World Financial Center.

Blues legends Buddy Guy and Neko Case will be the headliners at the second annual event. Other acts include Charles Bradley and John Mayall – both of whom have made deep trenches in the world of blues music today.

Best part? The festival is FREE! Performances will run from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. both nights. For now, enjoy some of the soulful stylings of Mr. Johnny Holiday, Memphis blues legend.

View of Manhattan’s Upper East Side from Roosevelt Island

There is nothing wrong with seeing your own city through the eyes of a tourist. Most local New Yorkers are so obsessed with seeking out the “underground” and the “obscure,” that they miss some of the amazing parts of the city that have been deemed a little too “obvious.”

I can give you a long list of locals who have never been to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, because they figured that these structures have always been here so they’ll hit them eventually. Not to be morbid, but I know many people that never visited the World Trade Center, owing that to the same mentality. The point is, you can’t predict the future so you might as well soak up every little ounce of your own city. You never know what hidden gems you will find. Carpe diem and all that sh*t.

Taking my own advice, yesterday I decided to explore Roosevelt Island. From 1921 until 1973, Roosevelt Island was known as Welfare Island, and before that Blackwell’s Island. In the 19th century it was home to the New York City Lunatic Asylum, as well. It runs for approximately 40 blocks in the East River.  Truth be told, there still isn’t much on the island today – unless you are into exploring hospitals and apartment buildings. But if you are looking for a bite to eat, a frosty beverage and a killer view, keep reading.

Along the west side of the island, just steps from the F train, is Pier NYC, a small wharf with a wet bar and both a raw bar and BBQ stall. Good to know: The seafood stall, Santos seafood shack, is the brainchild of former Per Se man David Santos. The BBQ joint, John Brown’s Smokehouse, is helmed by Josh Bowen of Long Island City BBQ fame. We sat sipping ice cold beers and indulging in shrimp cocktail while watching the yachts and sailboats cruise against the Manhattan skyline. Not bad for a 90-degree Sunday. Beers are a little pricey ($8), but you are doing something touristy so it’s to be expected. Note: The raw bar accepts credit card but the BBQ joint is cash only.

Roosevelt Island can be accessed from Queens via a bridge at Vernon Boulevard and 36th Avenue. The F train also stops on the island, or you could take the sky tram from Manhattan.

“If you don’t get out of the street you WILL get hit by a bus,” NYPD.

This is what I love about New Yorkers: 1) Our unabashed desire to not miss out on anything, causing us to jump in lines or into crowds without really knowing what we are there for. 2) Our complete disregard for auto traffic, and 3) The lack of disappointment we feel even when something is a complete bust.

Over 100 people gathered on the corner of E 34th Street and Park Avenue last night (and hundreds more at other prime intersections throughout the city) to witness Manhattanhenge – that special time of year when the setting sun perfectly aligns with the street grid, washing steel with sun. And sure, it would have been as poetic as that were it not for the giant-ass cloud covering said sun.

One cloud in the whole damn sky and it was blocking the sun. But c’est la vie, am I right? That didn’t stop hordes of people from running into the middle of the intersection at red lights to snap pictures, nor did it stop the mingling of like-minded wannabe astronomers. And really, no matter that it was a failure. We all live relatively close by…except for that couple that drove 400 miles to see the spectacle. Yeah…that blows.

But fear not. For those of you who attempted this time and were bummed, there will be another shot to see the half sun on the grid on July 12, and the full sun on July 11.

Crif Dogs’ Chihuahua (bacon-wrapped with avocado, sour cream and salsa)

Ahh the poor hot dog. A classic backyard, summery dish (and a delicacy in New York), which has become subject to scrutiny over the last few years, and sexual innuendos at its expense.

Encased meat has its place in every culture across the planet, but none quite like the New York hot dog, in my humble opinion. Sure, the quality of its contents is questionable, although that has significantly improved over the last few years (thanks FDA!), but you can’t come to New York and not try its signature dish.

We have your classic ball park dog or the more dubious “dirty water” dogs sold from street carts, but if you’re looking to up the level of creativity New York has a few joints you should hit.

Everyone knows Crif Dogs, the best-known of the innovated dog joints in NYC. On St. Marks Place between First Avenue and Avenue A, conspicuously hidden behind a giant hot dog sign that says ‘Eat Me,’ this particular joint has been rolling out bacon-wrapped hot dogs with names like the Spicy Red Neck (bacon-wrapped with chili, cole slaw and jalapenos) and the Tsunami (bacon-wrapped with teriyaki, pineapple and green onions) for as long as I can remember.

Japadog’s Yakiniku Rice

But the shops get weirder. Head further West on St. Marks between Second and Third avenues and you’ll hit Japadog. New to the hood, Japadog is a Japanese take on a hot dog. While the flavors didn’t speak to me quite as nicely as those at Crif Dogs, it is definitely an endeavor that shouldn’t be missed. I opted for the Yakiniku Rice dog (flavored rice and BBQ style beef on top of an arabiki sausage). Yeah, that’s a mouthful, but so delicious. A few friends tried the Terimayo dog (the signature hot dog with teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed). It was good…but better without the seaweed. Some things should not be touched.

Asiadog is a third spot for lovers of tubular meat. To be honest, I have yet to go so you’ll have to just check it out for yourself, but my great foodie friend Lauren E. (of Lauren Food E. fame – so she’s legit!) has sampled Asiadog’s Sidney, a Thai-style dog with mango, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, crushed peanuts and fish sauce. Ohhh yes.

Hope everyone had a lovely Memorial Day weekend. Now that summer in New York has (un)officially kicked off, feel free to relish in hot dog season (pun intended).

Note: I am also a big fan of Bark in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a bit of a trek, as it sits on Bergen and Flatbush Avenue, but after a bite of the Bacon Cheddar Dog, you’ll be calling the Slope your new home away from home.