Juiced up Supercharged cocktails at a Union Square newcomer

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Move over Bloody Mary, you’ve been dethroned as the healthiest brunch drink in town.

After you pile up your bags at the Saturday morning Union Square Greenmarket, head over to Irvington and grab a seat at the bar for an amped-up cocktail.

At Irvington, chef David Nichols is in the open kitchen cooking smart new-American food with zippy Mediterranean influences. When it comes to sourcing locally, the restaurant has exactly zero excuses: It’s located catty-corner from Union Square.

The healthful touches don’t stop at the food: bartender Nico Szymanski is behind the list of super-juice cocktails boosted with Liquiteria’s cold-pressed blends.

Settle in for a Green Dream ($15) made with Crop organic cucumber vodka and Liquiteria’s All Greens blend of kale, spinach, romaine, parsley, celery and cucumber.

Grab a seat and enjoy the good food and better-for-you cocktails at Irvington.

When we pressed Nico about calling a cocktail “healthy,” he gave it to us straight up. “I’ll put it this way: They’re as healthy as you’re going to get with something that’s also loaded with alcohol,” he says. “The vast majority of calories in a cocktail come from the alcohol itself (1 ounce of an 80 proof spirit contains about 65 calories). So beyond that, the only things that you can tweak to make a drink more or less healthy are the mixers. And in this case the mixers are fresh, whole ingredients loaded with nutrients, instead of sugar. So yes, they are as healthy as possible with anything that still gives you a buzz.”

Nico’s favorite is “The Seeing Red” ($15). In it, he pairs the sharp bite of rye whiskey with the earthiness of Liquiteria’s Beets Me blend of carrots, beets, ginger, orange and pineapple—garnished with candied ginger.

Add an order of avocado and spring pea toast with pickled cage-free eggs and shaved cucumber ($15), and we’d call that a brunch of champions.

Irvington
201 Park Ave. S. (inside W. Union Square)
212-677-0425
irvingtonnyc.com

The whole scoop Your improved summer ice cream game plan

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Here’s the scoop: Summer months mean ice cream, and there is an overwhelming number of new options for the licking in NYC. We’ve done the research and created a must-try list of Clean Plates-worthy frozen confections. So punctuate a gloriously sunny day with a creamy and dreamy scoop of one (or all three) of the options below.

A.B. Biagi Gelato & Coffee: Let the sunshine-yellow door of Antonio Barros Biagi’s Nolita shop be your siren song, calling you in for a helping of the new acai or almond soft serve made with house-made almond milk. Biagi is renowned for his gelato, but his new vegan sorbet options are a hat-tip to his native Brazil. Pump up a cup with a sprinkle of goji berries or cacao nibs from Amma Chocolate. Look for a second location to open this summer at UrbanSpace Vanderbilt, a food hall opening across from Grand Central Terminal.

Victory garden’s desert date yogurt “frozen dessert” is one of five flavors now available by the pint.

OddFellows Ice Cream Co.: This Williamsburg and East Village scoop shop invents out-there combos like grapefruit-jalapeño sorbet or black-pepper strawberry made with hormone-free milk sourced from Battenkill Valley Creamery. The new line of vegan ice cream made with coconut and almond milks is keeping things interesting too: try rotating flavors like chocolate chunk, coffee crunch and, our favorite, Thai iced tea.

Victory Garden: Sophia Brittan’s West Village spot is our first stop when we get a craving for grass-fed goat’s milk soft serve laden with halva, honey and nigella seeds (what, you don’t get that craving?). And now we can stock our home freezer as well: Victory Garden has introduced pints in five flavors (chocolate, vanilla blackflower, desert date yogurt, honey lavender and salted caramel). These “frozen desserts” are made like ice cream, but can’t technically be called that because goat’s milk is lower in fat than cow’s milk.

All hail Wassail Cider, vegetables and dessert: this new restaurant has it all

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The 2015 award for “Best Place to Take Your Friend Who is Seriously Skeptical of Vegetarian Food” goes to: Wassail.

The best part about Wassail’s vegetarian status? It’s not a thing; it just is. The fact that the menu is vegetarian is just one of many excellent reasons to visit this Lower East Side spot. This subtle tack has served husband-and-wife team Jennifer Lim and Ben Sandler well at their excellent The Queens Kickshaw in Astoria (which is also very much worth the trip).

And they’ve imported plenty of their friendly community vibe from Queens to the Lower East Side. This extends from their support for paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage for their employees to a serious focus on local sourcing, foraging and composting leftovers through Reclaimed Organics. There is a party-up-front, business-in-the-back situation going on with a lively bar scene in the fore, and a restaurant holding it down in the aft.

Chef Joseph Buenconsejo’s modern cuisine plays up vegetables and grains and plays off Wassail’s incredible selection of fermented hard cider. Of the 12 ciders on draft, more than half are locally made. Stop by now to try refreshing green strawberry gazpacho ($13), garnished with cucumber granita and green almonds, before local strawberry season passes by.

Wassail in the Lower East Side.

The cider focus is cool, the cuisine is bright and inventive, but it’s pastry chef Rebecca Eichenbaum’s vegetable-driven desserts that really left our heads spinning. Her vegetal desserts combine leaves, blossoms, stems and roots and atypical ingredients like knotweed, buckwheat and sorrel for surprising and delicious results.

She’s sourcing rye from the Regional Grains Project and sprouting it in-house, using cider lees (spent yeast) in her freshly baked breads and working with the sustainability-focused Raaka chocolate from Brooklyn. We loved the chocolate ganache with sassafras ice cream in a housemade kombucha moat, as well as the airy frozen spruce soufflé with pistachio and yogurt granita ($10 each).

“I try to celebrate the plant’s essence,” Eichenbaum explains. “When I think about using a specific part of a plant, I look at folk recipes, herbal remedies, etymology, and symbolism. I consider the compounds that give them their flavor, their botanical characteristics, what they’re related to, and what may compliment them.” Sounds pretty sweet to us.

Wassail
162 Orchard St.
646-918-6835
www.wassailnyc.com

Matchado It's easy being green with Chalait’s matcha offerings

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Every New Yorker should be as lucky to have the kind of relationship with his or her landlord as Michelle Gardner and Ramon Puyane of Chalait do with theirs: Instead of popping a chain into his primo West Village property, he took a gamble on the couple’s concept of beautifully prepared matcha in a modern setting.

If you’ve never given matcha a chance, scoot on over to give it your own gamble.

The drink, a staple in Japan, is made from finely ground green tea leaves. The chlorophyll-rich brew packs a distinctively grassy (in a good way) punch, along with potent antioxidants like polyphenols. It’s estimated that a single serving of matcha contains as many antioxidants as 10 cups of green tea. Many people find that they don’t experience the coffee shakes when they switch to matcha, since the caffeine is paired with the calming effect of l-theanine.

Chalait serves up beautifully prepared matcha in a modern setting.

Michelle and Ramon source their matcha from the misty rolling hills of Uji, Japan’s oldest and most celebrated tea-growing region.

On a recent visit, we went wild for the matcha latte ($4.75) made with creamy Battenkill Valley Creamery milk. Or take Ramon’s recommendation for the mint julep ($4.50), which blends cold-brew matcha and mint-fig syrup with almond milk.

Chalait is carrying on the happy new trend of quick-service cafés offering food that doesn’t suck and that’s organic and local whenever possible. That means muesli toast with matcha coconut custard, almonds and fresh berries ($9), as well as a sandwich stuffed with black bean mash, avocado, pickled red onions and tomato ($11).

Expect to see Chalait as a driving force behind matcha awareness throughout the city: Talks with various retailers are in the works and tins of Chalait matcha will be coming to a store near you soon.

Chalait
224 West 4th St.
212-929-0266
chalait.com

What’s for lunch Get hungry for this Belgian import

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There’s no getting around it: At lunch we New Yorkers can be some seriously difficult customers.

We want our food fast, but we also want it to be delicious, nutritious and sustainably sourced. And while we may want our order to fly to the table, we certainly don’t want to feel rushed to leave when we’re finished eating.

When it comes to all of these difficult demands, EXKi delivers.

The Belgium-born company has more than 75 locations in Europe and is settling into New York nicely with two park-side locations—one just off of Madison Square and another by Gramercy. Touches like speedy grab-and-go with compostable packaging, green energy, eco-friendly cleaning supplies and food sourced from local heroes such as antibiotic-free FreeBird chicken, Red Jacket juices, Jasper Hill Farm cheeses and organic SoyBoy tofu make us feel right at home. Anything that isn’t used during breakfast, lunch or dinner is donated to City Harvest at the end of the day.

Eat in comfort at EXKi’s new madison avenue location and check out the map of where their ingredients come from.

Laurent Kahn, CEO of EXKi NYC let us in on the secret of the vegetable emulsion. Each of the emulsions is a flavorful and 80% vegetable based healthier alternative to traditional oil-based dressings. The spring/summer menu has just launched with the addition of 11 new dishes and three new emulsions: fennel, red pepper and ginger-miso. Find the emulsions spread on sourdough tartines made with NY flour ($7), in whole-wheat wraps ($6.75) and on salads with organic mesclun ($10).

While EXKi may have originated across the pond, it has done a great job at infusing these city spots with some American tastes by working with chef Galen Zamarra (Mas (farmhouse), Mas (la grillade) and Almanac), while retaining charming European touches like magazines and newspapers free for the browsing. It’s enough to encourage even the busiest worker bee to linger over a pineapple, cucumber, mint and green tea smoothie ($6.90) made with Palais des Thés tea.

EXKi
257 Park Avenue S.
212-533-2011

76 Madison Ave.
212-447-1874
exkinyc.com

Snack break Just say no to unhealthy snacks with coffee

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Skip the dubious muffin, sugary yogurt parfait, and dried-out biscotti: When we’re craving a good coffee, we want a little somethin’ on the side that is way above average coffee shop fare and that is not going to bring us down, but nourish us and give us energy.

Thankfully, these two spots are doing a bang-up job of offering both. Go get your coffee (or tea) break on:

The Elk

This West Village gem is your stop if you want a snack made with ingredients sourced from the Union Square Greenmarket, a latte ($3.75) made with ethically sourced Sightglass coffee and Five Acre Farms milk and to pick up a jar of Bees Knees Spicy Honey. Owner Claire Chan declares, “We are firm believers that local is best.” It’s clear that philosophy is tasty as well, with options like local soft-scrambled eggs and sweet potato hash ($9) or a pole-caught tuna melt on country bread ($9). If you need to take anything to go, there are recycled pulp paper products and biodegradable goods. The Elk also doesn’t like to waste anything: leftover fresh pressed juices are turned into fruit jelly or incorporated into soup specials.

At The Elk you can pair your ethically sourced coffee with a tasty snack made with farmers market ingredients. (Photo credit: Bridget Bador)

 

Two Hands

At Two Hands (motto: “Good Food by Good Dudes”) you can pair a raw, vegan, organic and sugar-free Raw & Yummy vanilla almond cookie ($3) or a slice of banana bread with ricotta and honey ($6) with a cappuccino ($3.50) made with Café Integral beans and seriously creamy Ronnybrook milk. Aussie expat Giles Russell is particularly proud that he’s outfitted every staff member with a re-usable Klean Kanteen or KeepCup for use while working. You might decide to apply for a job yourself once you get your hands on an acai bowl topped with chia, hemp and raw cacao ($9).

The Elk
128 Charles St., New York
212-933-4780
theelknyc.com

Two Hands
164 Mott St., New York
917-475-1815
twohandsnyc.com

Life is a beach Pizza as healthy as they come on the UES

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If pizza grew in fields, it would look something like the pies at Pizza Beach.

There’s a pizza made almost violet with a mess of roasted beets, dots of fresh chèvre and sprigs of micro arugula ($19). The purple kale and butternut squash pie ($19) makes a beloved combination even better, and swoops of Japanese eggplant update classic cherry tomatoes and basil ($18). Gluten-free crusts are available for every pizza as well.

The menu is clearly and helpfully marked with symbols for vegetarian (more than half of the pies offered are vegetarian-friendly) and vegan options like a cannellini bean hummus ($12) served with radish, snap pea and fennel crudités.

This Upper East Side spot by the Martignetti brothers (the same family behind Clean Plates’ picks The East Pole and Brinkley’s) is decked out in whitewashed brick walls, strings of lights, surfboards and copious plants.

Pro tip: order a couple of pies to share so you can indulge in a variety of toppings (plus have leftovers for home)!

The vibe here may be relaxed retro surfside chic, but this pizza joint is stringent when it comes to sourcing: all of the meats and cheeses are free of hormones and antibiotics. That slight bit of sweetness in the dough is courtesy of Hudson Valley Harvest honey. The lamb merguez in the impressive combination of sausage, shishito peppers, fresh cilantro and Oaxaca cheese ($20) is made with grass-fed lamb from the Catskills and contains no nitrates or other preservatives.

The brothers say, “All in all, we like to think our pizzas are as healthy as pizzas can possibly be, without being a carrot!”

With a location that is well situated near The Met and Central Park, this is a place to know about and remember.

See you at the Beach.

Pizza Beach
1426 3rd Ave.
646-666-0819
pizzabeachclub.com

As the bird turns Papa Poule's chicken is as good as it gets

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If you step outside in lower Manhattan today, the glorious smell of chickens being roasted to a golden crisp might just knock you upside your head.

Your nostrils can thank Soho’s new Papa Poule, and your belly will thank Armand Arnal, Benjamin Sormonte and Elisa Marshall.

If those names sound familiar, that’s because we recently raved about this team’s other project, Maman, the South of France-inspired bakery and café that harkens to meals prepared by a doting French mother.

In creating the handsome Papa Poule, the partners wanted to honor their fathers. “We created Maman to celebrate our mothers’ recipes from our childhood, though our dads played a big part in our life as well,” explains partner Benjamin Sormonte. “Collectively, it was a tradition to eat chicken with the whole family on Sundays, prepared and cooked by our dads. Papa Poule celebrates this tradition.”

Papa Poule’s sides: delicious and perfect accompaniments. 

Sormonte and team source organic, free-range, Québécoise birds. Once the birds land in the shop, they are marinated with olive oil and massaged with a heavy dose of garlic, thyme, and rosemary before being put on the rotisserie (a quarter chicken with two sides is $12.50; a half chicken with one side is $15, and a whole chicken is $19).

While Papa Poule is an itty-bitty takeout joint, the team sure packs a bombastic amount of flavor into each chicken. Spring will bring salads loaded with local produce, homemade pitas and chicken and egg breakfast items.

Just follow your nose to the chalkboard sign.

Papa Poule
189 Lafayette St.
212-226-8726
papapoulenyc.com

Clean Habits: Franklin Becker How the Little Beet's chef keeps it clean

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The road to wellness has been a winding one for chef Franklin Becker. Stops on his personal highway included weighing in at 235 pounds, being diagnosed with diabetes at age 27, a crash-course in the wonders of the Mediterranean diet while working at a restaurant in Italy and a son with autism.

These days Becker embraces a balanced lifestyle and encourages others to do the same with his cookbook, Good Fat Cooking: Recipes for a Flavor-Packed, Healthy Life ($30) and two farm-fresh restaurants: the Midtown lunchtime favorite The Little Beet and the full-service The Little Beet Table.

We checked in with the busy chef to see what a normal day is like for him and to snag a must-have recipe for broccoli deliciously charred and marinated with a glug of olive oil and a scattering of chiles and garlic. Get the recipe below.

What’s your morning routine like? 
I usually have a cup of tea and some oatmeal or a half a grapefruit. I love the quinoa oatmeal I created for The Little Beet. It is a great starter for the day.

How do you stay balanced and healthy while working in the restaurant industry?
I keep my sugar levels constant by grazing throughout the day. Plus, I am always on the go. I love to walk or bike everywhere and anywhere.

Franklin Becker and his new book, Good Fat Cooking.

What are your three desert-island ingredients? 
Olive oil, salt and citrus.

Is there an ingredient you would never use or a trend that you hate?
I hate “NO” diets. Our bodies need fat and carbohydrates to sustain ourselves. Removing them entirely makes no sense. We need to control them and know where they are sourced from, but not remove them. In the case of a gluten-free lifestyle, this is not a diet, this is a necessity for those with celiac disease.

 

Blistered Broccoli with Garlic and Chiles

  Serves 4
1 head broccoli, cut into 16 pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt to taste

Preheat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle over high heat. Place the broccoli in the skillet and char until blistered on one side. Turn and char the other side. Transfer to a large heatproof bowl.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Pour the oil over the broccoli and turn to coat. Let marinate for 10 minutes. Drizzle with the lemon juice, season with the sea salt and lemon zest, and serve hot or at room temperature.

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