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the sweet scoop
the sweet scoop
Neighborhood comfort is what Marcus Samuelsson’s new Harlem hotspot, Red Rooster, is all about. With an already impressive list of accolades under his belt—including winning Top Chef Masters and receiving two three-star New York Times ratings as the Executive Chef of celebrated Scandinavian restaurant, Aquavit—the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised Samuelsson focuses his Lenox Ave outpost on affordably elevated American classics.
Last night, I excitedly hopped on the 2/3 train and headed north to see what the Rooster was all about. I entered into a warmly lit lounge area boasting an expansive copper-topped bar, with a wall of premium liquors and glass carafes of house-infused bourbons on display. Patrons were packed into the space (expected since it was NYC Restaurant Week), but my guest and I managed to squeeze into two stools at the bar, so the crowds didn’t hinder enjoying a couple pre-dinner cocktails.
Living and studying in Florence, Italy was one of the most incredible experiences in my life. Everything about this charming city—the people, culture, art, architecture, shopping and of course the delicious food and wine—was in a completely different league than anything I had been previously exposed to.
My first apartment in Florence looked out upon Piazza Pitti, a beautiful open square surrounded by the famous Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens. Throughout the day, locals and tourists alike would sit outside and sunbathe, read, shop at the adjacent street merchants or enjoy a cup of creamy gelato, while relaxing in this inviting courtyard. I was so fortunate to take in such a lovely sight everyday when I walked out my door.
It’s rare to find authentic fare in the States that can compare to the delicacies I became accustomed to while overseas—the Italians are truly masters of creating fresh, flavorful cuisine with a bit of love infused into every bite. While growing up, my two Grandmothers and Mom set the bar extremely high for what I consider great Italian food, and living in Florence only elevated it further.
I still hold Firenze very near to my heart and it will always be one of my favorite cities in the world. Whenever I long for those sun-kissed Tuscan days and want to reminisce about Italia, or my beloved piazza, I head down to Bar Pitti in the West Village.
While there, I feel like I’m in Tuscany all over again. Black and white images of Florence grace the golden-painted walls of the eatery’s cozy interior, which is jam-packed with wooden tables, but the restaurant’s true standout is the exceptional outdoor dining space. A chalkboard of daily specials extends the already enticing Mediterranean menu offerings, while the patrons and staff speak their country’s native tongue far more than any English (I love going places where I get to practice my Italian). Plus, this establishment is dog-friendly, so I can bring Cooper along while I dine alfresco.
A Voce has been one of my favorite Italian restaurants ever since celebrated Chef, Andrew Carmellini, held rank in it’s kitchen (oh, how I miss his duck meatballs!)—but the popular Madison Avenue hotspot hasn’t skipped a beat since Missy Robbins, named one of Food & Wine‘s Best New Chefs of 2010, took over as Executive Chef in 2008. This much-acclaimed modern eatery offers classic and accessible Italian cuisine with a contemporary twist. The menu celebrates the traditional ingredients and flavors of Italy with memorable dishes that are executed simply, with a touch flair and elegance.
A Voce opened a second location late last year on the 3rd floor of the Time Warner Center (in the former Café Gray space) and I recently dropped in to have lunch at the new locale. The clean, modern interior features an intimate bar area, exposed kitchen and a spacious, sun-drenched dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows offering magnificent views of Columbus Circle and Central Park.
The all-new, moderately priced menu pays tribute to Carmellini’s original, but clearly Robbins had no hesitation in making it her own. She masterfully enhances rustic Italian classics to create straightforward dishes with delicately balanced flavor profiles.