Up, up and away Upland is a culinary double-threat

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Feeling frustrated at your lack of ability to cross space and time borders? Head to Upland: it’s like visiting California and Italy at the same time.

This newly opened Flatiron restaurant from Justin Smillie is a beacon of bright citrus, California cool and Italian warmth. Smillie, who previously worked at perennial favorite, Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, has taken his Italian training and crossed it with his California roots. “I was born in Upland, California, and the region’s straightforward approach to cooking, as well as its produce, continues to inspire me today,” says Smillie.

Interesting vegetable preparations abound. There is the hunk of maitake mushrooms crisped in olive oil and resting on a bed of tangy farmstead cheese ($16), beets with white chocolate ($11) and slow-roasted celery root with black truffle butter ($15).

Upland’s porcelet comes draped with greens, Jimmy Nardello peppers,onions and persimmon slices.

We loved that every main dish we tried highlighted vegetables and none of them were overcooked or hidden under heavy sauces. Take the porcelet ($35): this crackling piece of pork is ringed with slender, sweet heirloom Jimmy Nardello peppers from Norwich Meadows Farm, charred onions and pieces of persimmon.

Upland can’t change the weather outside, but it can give you the warm fuzzies with its food, technique and welcoming atmosphere (no question about food or ingredients is unwelcome here). The word has already gotten out, so make a reservation in advance, show up early to snag a seat at the handsome bar or try your luck at lunch.

Upland
345 Park Avenue S.
www.uplandnyc.com
211-686-1006

Darling Darrow’s Union Square gets the healthful spot it deserves

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What’s in a name? Everything if you are Darrow’s Farm Fresh Takeout.

Although we would also happily call the new Union Square spot “We Want to Eat Lunch Here Every Day.”

Darrow’s takes a cue from its neighbor and sources as much as it can from the Greenmarket. Nutritionist Julie Starr, along with chef David Kupperberg formerly of Pure Food & Wine are the dream team who are making this menu hum.

Start your day with sheep’s milk or coconut yogurt and seasonal fruit ($4.75). Grey mornings that require an infusion of color will benefit from pan-seared peppers with polenta and avocado ($8.75).

At lunch it’s all about the Functional Plates ($13.75), which are a balanced meal with a goal (such as stress relief, energy or immunity) in mind: For instance, The Immunity Plate is a striking mix of black rice with kabocha squash, roasted carrots and broccolini.

The living wall and iPad ordering system makes Darrow’s the hippest place to grab a bite.

Darrow’s is casual enough for a lunch meeting, but sleek enough for a pre-dinner boozy cocktail with cold-pressed juice ($11 to 15) while oohing and ahhing at the living wall upstairs. Keep your eyes out for the cow that sporadically makes an appearance on the screen near the in-house market.

For all its simple, nutritious food, Darrow’s is also super high-tech. Self-service iPads at every table speed up the ordering process. When you settle on what you want (no easy feat), your order is sent directly to the kitchen and you can pay whenever you’d like.

Darrow’s kicks restrictive labels like “vegan,” “raw” and “macrobiotic” to the curb, in favor of clean, unprocessed and local food. Darrow’s shows you don’t have to adhere religiously to any fervent food philosophy to be eating well. We raise our glass of Darrow’s Detox (parsley, kale, green apple, mango, almond milk, lemon and ginger; $10) to that.

Darrow’s Farm Fresh Takeout
115 E. 18th St.
212-321-0997
darrowsnyc.com

Galen’s Almanac A new West Village spot puts seasonal vegetables at the fore

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We’re just going to come out and say it: Almanac is simply wonderful.

And if this weather continues, we’re giving notice to our landlord and putting in a request with chef Galen Zamarra to see if we can move in permanently.

There’s the bar, helmed with large blocks of stone and dotted with votive candles. Overhead circular iron chandeliers lend intimate light and the tables have honest-to-goodness linen tablecloths. The friendly service, lovely place settings and low noise level are all on point. Read: This is a place to make a reservation, commit to a tasting menu, have a real conversation and generally revel in a grown-up night out.

Chef Galen Zamarra (of Mas (farmhouse)) is not just into seasonality, he’s into micro-seasons. Zamarra believes that each part of the season (for instance, early fall, mid-fall and late fall) has its own distinctive bounty, rhythm and growing cycle nuance.

Make a reservation and enjoy a grown-up night out at Almanac.

For example, Zamarra juices his squash at the beginning of its harvest and roasts it at the end, because the squash’s moisture changes throughout the season. Nose-to-tail here doesn’t just refer to eliminating waste and using the whole animal, but also to the fish and vegetables he sources: No part gets left behind.

Experience his hyper-seasonal vision with a three-course menu for $75, five-courses for $95, or eight for $145.

Our recent visit had us raving over roasted Island Creek Oysters mingling with ribbons of buttery leeks and pears and parsnips. Zamarra is having a particular love affair right now with the wintry taste of pine. Find wild steelhead trout smoked with pine and juniper and a dish of celery root carpaccio draped with shaved matsutake mushrooms, pine aioli and a smoked pine vinegar.

Have you made your reservation yet?

Almanac
28 Seventh Ave.
212-255-1795
almanacnyc.com

Easy love Healthy eaters will find bountiful choices at Vic's

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If you are still feeling all weepy about the closure of Five Points, you can stop the sniffling now.

Husband-and-wife team Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman (of the wonderful Hundred Acres and Cookshop), have rebooted and revamped the NoHo space beautifully into a chipper Italian-Mediterranean spot, Vic’s.

With its copper bar, massive skylight and exposed original brick walls—(fun factoid: the location was once the Astor family’s stables)—the airy, fresh atmosphere is easy to settle into.

Vic’s: casual, affordable with food that will have you coming back again … and again.

We are crushing on Vic’s hard because it’s already showing itself to be one of those crucial keep-it-in-your-back pocket NYC restaurants. Vic’s is the kind of place that makes us smack our heads and go “why can’t more restaurants be like this?”, where it’s possible to go nuts ordering one night (pork shoulder with pink peppercorns; $26) and then keep things more healthful the next (poached cod with kale, meyer lemon, leeks and almonds; $26).

We’d happily eat a meal composed of chef Hillary Sterling’s rollicking seasonal vegetables (no boring sides here). Roasted squash is jazzed up with brown butter vinaigrette and balsamic almond bread crumbs ($8), while heirloom carrots are radiant when dashed with dill, capers and roasted shallots ($6). Vegetables even wend their way into dessert: Look for parsnips in the honey cake ($9).

It’s the little touches here that will happily threaten to turns us all into regulars, including kicky goat butter, the availability of reasonably-sized half portions of every pasta dish and simple belly warmers like a fennel-tomato broth minestrone with kale and parsnips ($9).

Vic’s
31 Great Jones St.
212-253-5700
vicsnewyork.com

Happy meal Fast food never looked or tasted so good

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We get the allure of fast food; really we do. Convenient hours, speedy service and decent prices are all so sweet, but gut-punching mystery meat and trans-fat consumption as part of the deal make it no deal at all.

That’s where Lyfe Kitchen rolls in. You may have already heard of the fast-casual chain, as it’s already making waves in California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois and Nevada. But now is really the time to sit up and take notice as the first NYC location has debuted in Midtown West.

It’s like the chain’s owners (who were once chefs to single name greats like Ellen and Oprah) have found the sweet spot on the X-Y axis that are healthfulness and affordability (see the menu here). Lyfe balances pricing by thoughtfully choosing produce from the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists, while sticking with antibiotic-free meats and eggs from cage-free chickens.

Lyfe Kitchen uses great ingredients to make their tasty, nutritious and beautiful dishes. 

Below, four things to know before you hop into Lyfe Kitchen’s fast-moving line.

1. Loud and Proud: You’ll never have a question about what you are ingesting whether it’s a grass-fed beef burger ($10; served with a kale and carrot salad) or a quinoa crunch wrap with local vegetables ($9). Lyfe Kitchen proudly displays a full ingredient list, as well as calorie, sodium and nut allergy information. Paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan eaters are all well covered here.

2. Drink Up: Smoothies and tasty drinks that cost $10 leave us clutching our wallets. Here, you can get grilled Mahi fish tacos on warm corn tortillas for that same $10 and spend just $1.50 on a ginger mint chia water, or $5 on a kale banana smoothie.

3. Take The Stairs: The first floor seating may be convenient, but space and natural light can be found overhead. Grab a table upstairs when you are done ordering and your food will be brought up to you.

4. Make It Faster: We found nothing but smiling employees and lighting-quick service on our trip to Lyfe Kitchen, but to really make things fly order ahead of time online.

Lyfe Kitchen,
248 W. 55th St.
212-265-5933
lyfekitchen.com

Nice to matcha you Why matcha is the green drink on everyone's lips

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Cups of frothy green matcha brought brothers Max and Graham Fortgang together during a stressful time in their lives.

Graham, a born-and-bred New Yorker, explains: “We were working around-the-clock and we didn’t have as many reasons to hang out, so we started getting together over a daily ritual of matcha. I felt myself getting sick less and I was more positive and attentive during the day without caffeine crashes.”

This brotherly love and wellness motivation are the driving forces behind the brother’s chic new Williamsburg café, MatchaBar.

If the name matcha (and the shockingly green color) is intimidating in the slightest, remember this: matcha is just powdered green tea. But instead of steeping the leaves in hot water, the entire leaf is ingested.

Wrap your hands around a warm, green, cup-O-matcha this winter!

If you’ve never tasted matcha before, prepare yourself for a fresh, grassy wallop, coupled with a creamy sweetness. Matcha comes packed with the calming amino acid L- Theanine, antioxidants (even more than gojiberries!) and roughly 70 mg of caffeine in every cup (compared to up to 110 milligrams in a cup of coffee).

Matchabar does offer Battenkill Valley Creamery cow’s milk, but the brothers try to gently steer their customers to alternatives like hemp, soy and almond milk. For an extra anti-inflammatory boost, top your latte with raw ground cinnamon (small $4.10; large $4.80).

The menu doesn’t stop with traditional Japanese preparations. Go seasonal with an iced drink that combines local Red Jacket Fuji apple juice, ginger juice and matcha (small $4.60; large $5.45). Or, go green-on-green with matcha mixed with Greenmarket cucumber juice (small $4.60; large $5.45).

These pioneers already have their eyes on the horizon: A west coast location is already in the works.

MatchaBar
93 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg
718-599-0015
matchabarnyc.com

Merci Maman We discover the cutest new cafe south of Houston

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If you weren’t raised with all the benefits of a French childhood (us too), you can now make up for lost time at Soho’s new Maman.

There, Armand Arnal, a Michelin-starred chef from La Chassagnette in the South of France, has opened a café and bakery inspired by the brightest spots of his Gallic upbringing.

If you want to pin down what food will be offered by Arnal—and his two partners, Benjamin Sormonte and Elisa Marshall—on any given day, you’ll have to check the daily menu posted to Facebook ($6 to $13.50 for salads, $6 to $8 for sandwiches, $6 for soup). Or take our lead and be confident that whatever simple comforts coming out of this open kitchen are sure to be healthful, radiant in color and made with a dose of classic French technique.

BENJAMIN SORMONTE, ELISA MARSHALL AND CHEF ARMAND ARNAL,THE TALENTED TRIO BEHIND MAMAN

This ever-changing stance is good for keeping both customers and the kitchen from falling into a rut. Elisa says, “We feel it is important for those who live and work around here to have a daily menu. In addition, and more importantly, we believe in working with fresh and seasonal ingredients, if we go to the market and the lettuce doesn’t look that good that day we will offer something else, also if it is out of season, you won’t see it on our menu.”

From the fields and orchards of farmer friends like Lani’s Farm, Phillip’s Farm and Cherry Lane, Arnal conjures dishes like red rice salad with a sweet and sour eggplant ratatouille, pear and parsnip soup, and chickpea salad with roasted pumpkin, beets and a orange-honey vinaigrette.

Maman is open 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and with all menu items available for dine-in, grab-and-go, delivery or catering, meaning you can live your French fantasy any time.

Maman Bakery & Café
239 Centre Street
212-226-0770
mamannyc.com

Happy Screams Downtown Creamery does ice cream right

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This summer, you (pick one):

  1. Ate too much ice cream.
  2. Didn’t consume enough ice cream.
  3. Were disheartened by the general state of crappy ice cream.

Whatever your answer, Downtown Creamery is your Autumn salvation.

For $40 a month, a bicycle will roll up to your home and deliver two pints of creamy vegan ice cream made from a base of coconut milk, cashew butter and maple syrup.

Downtown Creamery ice cream is not nearly as sweet as the commercial stuff, and the ever-rotating flavors (included chocolate and toasted almond, peaches and cream, and Concord grape sorbet) are richly complex stunners. Founder Megan Huylo says she dreams up flavors through “a combination of seasonality and creative high jinks.”

Megan huylo, Founder and Chef of Downtown creamery

Huylo’s intense relationship with food runs to her pre-teen years when she battled cancer. While undergoing chemo, Huylo’s parents gave her foods like seaweed and ginger for their nutritional and healing properties. Since then, she’s embraced a balanced, holistic, mostly plant-based approach which inform the classes she teaches at the Natural Gourmet Institute and the custom cleanses, catering and wellness coaching she offers through Downtown Epicure.

If you want to take your ice cream consumption to the next level, Huylo will even design custom flavors for you, like a salty-sweet chocolate miso combination, or a labor-intensive kabocha squash blend.

Sign us up.

 
Sign up for hand delivered ice cream from Downtown Creamery!

Like Mad ACME now offers an all-vegetarian tasting menu

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ACME knows how to party. This Noho restaurant spent the first 25 years of its life as Acme Bar & Grill, a solid staple of New Orleans-style cooking.

In January 2012, a makeover, new management and a shooting star of a chef transformed the spot into the glitteringly hip ACME.

This summer, there’s even more to get excited about at this downtown spot: Chef Mads Refslund, who comes to Manhattan by way of Copenhagen’s Noma (frequently called the best restaurant in the world), has just launched an all-vegetarian tasting menu ($65), backed by his creative Nordic approach.

Chef Mads Refslund from Copenhagen’s Noma brings a nordic spin to Acme’s menu

Refslund’s thoughtful nine-course menu (see it here) is rife with unusual bits like foraged and pickled ingredients, and his way with vegetables is unlike any you are likely to see anywhere else around town. Take his summer cabbage, for instance: “It is one of the things on the vegetarian menu I like most,” he says. “We grill it for hours with hickory bark, thyme, lots of herbs, which gives it a smoky flavor, and then we serve the cabbage heart with fermented pear juice and coriander.”

Refslund is also a strong proponent of seasonality and local sourcing. “It’s very, very important to make people think about eating more vegetables and care for Mother Earth; it’s ultimately going to make the world a better place for people to eat more vegetables—and not just any vegetables, good vegetables, that are well raised, without pesticides, by small farmers.”

We think that sentiment is the hippest of all.

What is Nordic cuisine?

The Sweetest Thing Our bakery guide has your next craving covered

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You know that old adage, “There’s someone for everyone”? And while we can’t comment on your future soulmate prospects, we can say emphatically that whoever you are—and whatever your diet—there is a bakery for you in Manhattan. You could say finding sweet satisfaction is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

1. For Power Paleos: Hu Kitchen

The founders behind this Union Square real food mecca don’t mince words when it comes to their philosophy, “We think sugar in any form isn’t great for you…but we also love sweets, so our approach is to be smart about how we use sweeteners.” A commitment to zero corn syrup, cane sugar and artificial sweeteners is why we stock up on seriously good raw cacao and unrefined organic coconut sugar chocolate bars ($6), raw nut brownies ($4.50) or even sweet kale crunch ($7; try it, you’ll like it) whenever we swing through.

 

2. For Gluten Avoiders: Jennifer’s Way Bakery 
Vertical-middleThe fact that actress Jennifer Esposito owns this East Village bakery isn’t even the sweetest thing about it—it’s that Esposito (a diagnosed celiac) is militant about banishing gluten while maintaining quality. Stop in for pear-cardamom mini muffins ($2) and coconut-dusted donuts ($3) that are not only free of gluten, but also dairy, soy, egg, corn and refined sugar. Nationwide shipping is in the works, so stay tuned for your out-of-town gluten-free buddies.

3. For the Very Vegan: Vegan Divas 

As the wife of master French pastry chef François Payard, Fernanda Capobianco knows from good pastry. Her flagship bakery on the Upper East Side kicks animal products to the curb and employs organic spelt flour, maple syrup, cold pressed coconut oil and apple cider vinegar in the kitchen.
For baked good emergencies, oatmeal raisin cookies with chili powder ($3) and chocolate-covered “donettes” (mini donuts; $3) are available for same-day delivery throughout the five boroughs.

Hu Kitchen • 78 Fifth Ave.
212-510-8919

Jennifer’s Way Bakery • 263 E. 10th St.
646-682-9501

Vegan Divas • 1437 First Ave.
212-734-0845