The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

Looking for Some Yum Organic Food in NYC? July 31, 2010

I’m an avid user and reviewer of Yelp, so I decided to highlight some of my reviews of organic, local, and sustainable eats in NYC and Brooklyn. This is by no means comprehensive though! On my to-do list:  The Good Fork, ABC Restaurant, Xoom, and so. many. others. Good sustainable food is everywhere, you just need to know where to look!

Bobo

West Village

7/31/10

As a huge local food fan, I’m always excited to hear about a restaurant with a relationship with the farmers. You won’t see a Cisco food truck outside of this place. Every dish is lovingly crafted from artisinal cheeses, locally-grown produce, and delicious humanly raised meats. It makes it all the better than the owner, Carlos Suarez, quit finance (“a lack of values” he said) to open this restaurant.

We arrived just a few minutes later for our 7:45 reservation, and an older gentleman led us up the painted wood stairs lined with flickering candles to a romantic dining room. The handcrafted quality of the restaurant shines through even in the decor. Fashioned from what was obviously a townhouse at some point, the dining room is romantically lit, with bookshelves stocked with old tomes, heavy draperies, and candles everywhere.

We hit a hiccup when our waiter forgot to provide us with a wine list, but he apologized when he realized 10 minutes later and was quickly back to take our order of an artisinal and biodynamic malbec. There was also a short list of cocktails, bottled and draft beers, and aperitifs. I hardly noticed the less than stellar service because he was so friendly, and even made me laugh a few times.

We provided the waiter with a coupon from Blackboard eats, and received in return a plate of fig leaf wraps with brown rice and a sweet sauce, and three “shooters” of pepper and zucchini infused non-alcoholic drink. They have a long list of canapes that comes in singles for about $3 a piece, so you can mix and match.

The star of the night was the duck breast with chorizo that my boyfriend ordered – it was an eyes-rolling-back-my-head moment. My brook trout wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, unfortunately. And at one point I had to pull a small bone out of my mouth. Yuck.

However, you must order something from the dessert menu. We had a trio of ice cream sandwich sliders: gingerbread-oatmeal-raisin cookies with a mildly fruity ice cream, chocolate with what I think was a cookies and cream ice cream, and and a classic chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. We made a huge mess, but since they put down paper on the tables instead of white cloth, I didn’t feel so bad.

As we left we noticed that the downstairs bar was booming. And it looks like you can order some food at the stand up tables by the window as well.

A word on the prices – they are very reasonable. I was suprised that the bill wasn’t more, given that we ordered so much, and the quality of the restaurant. Add in the fact that all ingredients are local and organic, well it’s practically a steal. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but the value is definitely there.

All in all I would definitely come back here, but it hasn’t quite made my list of favorites.

The Farm on Adderley

Neighborhood: Flatbush

7/28/2010

Oh man does my boyfriend know me well. I’m a huge local/organic/sustainable food buff, and at his suggestion we came to The Farm on Adderly for a casual after work dinner.

We ate inside, since there was a short wait for the garden out back. The tables are well spaced so you aren’t elbowing your neighbor, and the whole space has a cozy feel.

When the waiter (friendly, knowledgeable, and prompt) described their steak special of the night, I wondered to myself if the meat was grass-fed or local. Imagine my delight when I spied the footnote on the menu: “All the meat on the menu has been sourced locally, is pasture-raised and humanely cared for.” Score!

The menu itself is short and sweet, with an assortment of cheeses, not more than five salads, and some entrees. But the beer and wine menu looked extensive. We ordered cocktails – he got the cucumber lemonade and I ordered the grapefruit Blue Ridge Parkway (a reference to a scenic drive through the Appalachians.)

For non-alcoholic beverages, they had some interesting choices, including Fentiman’s Brewed Cola, Zico Coconut Water, Fever Tree Tonic, and even homemade kombucha.  This place is a hippie paradise. At the bottom, as if they are ashamed to admit it, there is diet coke too.

I ordered the special, which was… hmmm… what did they call it… a crepette I think? It was a meat dish with tripe. The waiter was nice enough to warn me about the tripe, but really, you can’t even tell it’s there. It wasn’t the best meat dish I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t bad either, and was very filling.

My bf ordered the butcher’s meatballs, which he reported being quite satisfied with. We took a glance at the dessert menu, just to see what was on there. Mistake. I had to shove it away so I wouldn’t be tempted by all the delicious confections on there, including banana chocolate upside down cake. Another time, for sure.

Bonus, go a few doors down to Sycamore for a follow-up drink in their garden. It’s equally enjoyable.

Community Food & Juice

Neighborhood: Morningside Heights

7/26/2010

I had heard such wonderful things about this place, and after coming here both for dinner and brunch, I’ve gotten a 360 view.

They have a wonderful selection of organic and local beers to start off with. I didn’t try the cocktails, but they were tempting, to say the least. In fact, they have a lot of local and sustainable fair on the menu, which is always very nice.

I had a delicious salmon and fried potato salad over a bed of parsley, which just blew my mind. I’m not a huge salad person, but I left feeling very full.

I came here a few days later for brunch. We managed to snag a table in the shade outside (the wait for an indoor table looked long) but not all tables are shaded, so watch out on a hot summer day.

We saw several B.E.L.T.s walk by (bacon lettuce tomato and egg on sourdough, yum!)  But I opted for a more traditional house-made apple sausage and eggs with carrot hashbrowns. Filling and delicious. My friend had the blueberry pancakes, which came with a syrup that tasted like brown sugar and butter. So decadent, and so good!

The service was great both times. The waiters quickly came by, and so did our food. I will be eating here whenever I get the chance!

Tangled Vine

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

6/18/2010

My friend and I were lured here by the promise of organic and biodynamic wines. The menu was full of organic wines by the glass as promised, but I had a hard time ferreting out a biodynamic wine. Too bad. If you are looking for an extensive wine list, you’ve got it here. It goes on for pages and pages.

I know this might not matter, but I noticed the menus are cheap photo albums with printed paper slid into the plastic pockets. Small things like that really factor into my experience. That, along with the unfinished awning out front, gave me the feeling that they weren’t quite finished putting the place together.

The food (all meant to be shared) was delicious, and the service good. We ordered the organic veal meatballs and asparagus and peas risotto. I could have licked the plate!

My one big complaint was the tight space. It was a crowded Thursday night, so we sat at a high communal table with five others. In order to leave, everyone on one side of the table had to climb down from their stool to let the person pass.

It was super loud in there, but my friend and I had to strike a careful balance between speaking loud enough to here each other, and not offending our neighbors, who we knocked elbows with the whole meal.

I’ll probably go back for a casual glass of wine and some plates with a friend since it’s in my ‘hood, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a romantic date, and I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

The Castello Plan

Neighborhood: Flatbush

6/14/2010

I am so happy this is right around the corner from my boyfriend’s place, because we both agree we’ll be going back soon!When the sommelier came over, he inquired after my preferences, and then went to get three bottles and three glasses. “I think I’ll taste some with you,” he told us.

Each glass he would give an abbreviated, broad description, (“full, fruity, bold) which was nice because it’s a proven scientific fact that you cannot detect five different notes in every wine, no matter how romantic it sounds. Then while my boyfriend and I followed protocol (swirl, smell, taste) he would knock it back like a frat boy taking a shot. We suspected he might be drunk, or maybe he didn’t even work there and was just hanging out. Doesn’t matter because we were super happy with the wine he helped us choose. He also pointed at the Brooklyn borough president who was schmoozing at a nearby table.

When our friends joined us, we ordered two appetizer plates, and an assortment of cheeses and prosciutto. The wooden platter of prosciutto and cheeses was amazing, but the duck really took the award for the night. I’ve never had such a sumptuous mouth-feel before. We tasted our friends’ sweet potato dish, it was hard to refrain from stealing their plate and eating the rest! Dessert was amazing too: bite-sized chocolate tulips. I would give you a fuller description, but by this point my faculties were severely impaired.

I also liked their presentation: vintage-looking silver and raw cut wood platters. We all had such a great time, I couldn’t imagine a nicer night.

Juice Generation

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

5/28/2010

As far as smoothie places go, this is the best.My reasons? Voila:

1. They use fresh, local-when-possible, organic ingredients.

2. They have delicious smoothies with ingredients like acai, goji berry, ginger, or just your regular strawberries and banana, plus boosters.

3. They use recycled plastic cups that – unlike Jamba Juice’s – don’t leach chemicals into your yummy smoothie.

4. Their sandwiches are fresh-made, and delicious, especially when grilled and cheesy-melty.

5. If you need a snack, they have crazy healthy raw food bars, trail mix, and protein muffins.

6. The people who work there are always friendly and helpful. They deserve all the tips they get and more!

7. In the winter, you can get a hot drink like their cold-busting ginger and orange juice drink. Peps you right up.

8. Everything always looks hyper-sterilized and organized.

This place costs me seven extra blocks of walking before work, but it’s totally worth it. I love starting my day with a smoothie or (if I’m hungover) a muffin.

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How to Grocery Shop the Green Way, and My New Fave Grocery Store July 24, 2010

Last Friday evening I had plans to go see a movie (or two) with Vicki, but she had come down with strep throat. As I rode the elevator down to the lobby at my work, I wondered what I would do with my night. I could call some friends, but instead I decided to have a low key night in, and cook for myself.

I hardly ever cook. I know that it’s a great thing to do, but when I get home at eight every night, and want to get up at 6 the next morning…well, I have my priorities. So I relished the thought of having an evening to practice my cooking skills and get a good night’s sleep. (Yes, this is old woman behavior. No, I am not ashamed.)

I had visited the Westerly Natural Market a few times before, but in a slap-dash, grab-and-go sort of way. Located at 54th and 7th Avenue, Westerly Natural Market is like a more authentic version of Whole Foods. Instead of well-dressed, gossipy girls, there was a pair of old woman trading witty banter as they perused the full four aisles of natural supplements. Instead of women dressed head to toe in Lululemon, there was a woman dressed in t-shirts and jeans, with a fair-trade looking purse slung over their shoulder. There was a guy wandering around with both a shopping bag and his bicycle helmet slung over his arm.

I enlisted my iPhone to help me with my mission to cook something easy and healthy. I’ve been saving recipes on Delicious, and now pulled them up using the Delicious App. I chose Lamp Chops with Pistachio Tapenade, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

Westerly Natural Market has a basic produce aisle, four aisle of supplements and pills, and three or four aisles of both gourmet and beautifully packaged foods, and foods that looked like they had been lovingly cooked and packaged in someone’s apartment in Brooklyn. I wandered up and down, looking for my ingredients. (“Mmmm, homemade peanut butter granola! FOCUS Alden”.) When I couldn’t find the garlic, the manager cheerfully showed me to them, piled in a cardboard box on the floor, underneath the apples.

I picked up organic pork chops instead of the lamb, filled a reusable produce bag with bulk pistachios, grabbed a glass jar of green olives (instead of plastic, my dears), and a jar of capers. The recipe also called for fresh oregano and parsley, but seeing that those herbs were packaged in styrene and plastic, I decided to try it without.

And check this out! Westerly has a NUT BUTTER MAKER. Oh my gosh, it makes me so excited. I tried to make my own almond butter the other night at home, but I got bored with the process and didn’t want to subject Vicki to more than 15 minutes of the high-pitched food processor. So the result wasn’t awesome. So here was the solution: at the top, a whole bunch of nuts. You just press down the lever and out the bottom comes nut butter. I can’t wait to come back with an empty jar and fill it up with this stuff. (Little things get me excited, yall.)

I wasn’t even finished. I rounded a corner and saw a shelf of sun tan lotions. I’ve been meaning to get new sunscreen, since apparently skin cancer is on the rise partly because of tanning bed, and partly because sunscreen itself can give you cancer. Oh, but life has a sense of irony.

I whipped out my Good Guide iPhone app and started scanning. Nature’s Gate got a 1 for health out of 10. Really??? That’s worse than conventional make up and shampoo. I mean, this is supposed to be organic stuff! I picked up another “organic” brand and it also got a 1. I scanned another – Kiss My Face – and this one got a 3. At this point I was bored with the process, and figured, what the heck, a 3 is better than a 1. I tossed it in my basket.

(If you want to do better than I, check out Good Guide’s online guide to sunscreens. Hint: Coppertone sucks.)

Finally, I tossed some Burt’s Bees Radiance Day spf 15 in my basket (Good Guide score of 6.8 overall, 5 for health) and paid for my items. I was so freakin pleased with myself, what a green shopper I was!

In summary, for a great green shopping experience:

1. Use your iPhone’s helpful apps for identifying healthy and genuine products. The iPhone also has some fun price comparison apps.

2. Go organic, free range, cage free, and hormone free.

3. Come prepared with produce bags and reusable shopping bags. I keep my reusable Lululemon fold-up bag in my purse at all times, with a produce bag tucked in the outside pocket.

4. Avoid plastic packaging where possible. Embrace the shabby chic aesthetic of jars on your shelves.

5. Read the ingredient label. A long list of scientific gibberish is NOT a good sign. Also, avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. In fact, if the food does not come with an ingredient list at all(“peanuts.” “grapes.” “wild rice.”) that’s the best. (Trust me, this is good for your long-term health AND your waistline.)

6. Unless you are in a lovely health foods store, stick to the edges of the grocery store like it’s the shopping district and and the center is a dangerous food ghetto. That’s where they stick on the deceptively delicious and highly-processed crap that you are better without.

7. If you don’t see a healthy and conscious brand, ask for it. They might take a hint and start carrying Burt’s Bees and Method like so many conventional convenience and grocery stores.

Anyway, I am happy to report that my pistachio tapenade pork chops turned out beautifully, even without fresh parsley, and Vicki scarfed hers down even with the strep throat. Really, if you have any brains you’ll try this simple recipe. Unless you are like Vicki, who apparently is afraid of anything involving heat. In that case, pass the recipe along to your roommate and have her cook it for you.

 

Overhauling My Beauty Routine July 11, 2010

This post is about cancer sticks.

No, not cigarettes. Yup, there’s a different type of cancer stick, and you just don’t know it yet. It’s your mascara, your lipstick, your chapstick….. From EcoSalon:

To date, the EU has banned 1,100 chemicals in cosmetics; the Food and Drug Administration in America has banned only ten. In fact, Cover Girl waterproof mascara contains the same ingredient (petroleum distillates, an oil by-product) as Dr. Scholl’s Wart Remover—both of which are illegal in Europe…. When I realized that many of the chemicals banned in the EU—but found in FDA-approved beauty products—cause cancer, birth defects, genetic mutation, and organ damage, I wondered: why is our regulation system so different from (and, dare I say, less effectual than) that of our European neighbors?

(Read more here)

More and more people are ascribing to the beauty mantra, “I only put on my skin what I can eat.” After all, you’re not a barbie doll. Your skin absorbs whatever you put on it. So when you smooth lipstick with mercury on your lips or put hair products with formaldehyde in your hair, that’s going to end up in your system. With how absorbent ourAztec Secret Mud, Almond Oil, Pangea Organic face products, pure aloe gel, coconut oil, burts bees chapstick, skin is, why even put petroleum products (Vaseline) or other crazy ingredients on it. Would you eat Vaseline? No. (Unless you’re a beauty queen who smears it on her teeth. If so, you are beyond help sister.)

Scary stuff right? I know I run the risk of sounding a little paranoid, but don’t worry, you can still look beautiful without setting yourself up for some serious medical bills later on. As an advertising person myself, I can tell you most commercials with pretty molecules spinning around on the screen are a really far stretch of the imagination. Has your hair every REALLY looked less frizzy after using that super fancy Pantene Pro-V? Thought so.

Start at the Natural Homemade Beauty blog. It might seem a little bizarre that you can get the same effects from simple stuff like coconut oil, lemon, sour cream, apple cider vinegar, almond oil, and other things you seem more commonly in the kitchen, but it’s totally true! I can attest from personal experience that the tips on her blog has reduced my breakouts and made my skin silky and smooth. And there’s scientific evidence to prove it. Here’s what I’ve overhauled in the past year in my beauty routine:

  • Replaced my foamy pink shave lotion with olive oil. Smoothest. Legs. Ever. Plus it’s cheap and creates less waste.
  • Threw out my Proactiv and bought Pangea Organics. I augment that with weekly facial masks of Aztec Secret mud masks. I’m broken out at the moment, but I attribute that to too much sugar, as usual, and missing my weekly mud mask.
  • Got rid of my fancy lotion and started using coconut oil. I smell really good.
  • Replaced my mascara and eyeliners with brands from Whole Foods.
  • Stopped shelling out for fancy Trish McEvoy makeup and got Bare Minerals instead.
  • Got normal, everyday organic shampoo and conditioner. I tried the no ‘poo method here but it didn’t work because I have insanely thick hair. But even though I don’t have a shampoo that is specially formulated for thick, brown-with-highlights, sorta wavy, 20-something hair, my hair is still silky and shiny.
  • Stopped using gooey $1 lip gloss and started using tinted Burt’s Bees lip stuff .
  • Replaced my deodorant with Avalon Organics spray and Tom’s of Maine Crystal Deodorant. I switch off between the two, but so far both work great.

In summary? I smell delicious, I look at least as good as I did a year ago if not better, I’m creating less waste, spending less money, and taking proactive steps to limit my exposure to carcinogens and other nasty stuff. That’s a win.

 

ADORABLE ALERT: Pocket Guide to Produce Pesticides June 21, 2010

Can’t afford to buy everything organic, but still concerned about pesticides on your produce? Carry this adorable guide in your wallet, which tells you the dirty dozen of pesticides, and the cleanest too!

(Click the image to download)

 

Get Sophisticated at a Wine Bar

wine at the Tangled Vine on the Upper West Side in NYCThere’s something that seems so much more natural about wine versus other alcohols. Somehow, when it comes to enjoying an eco-friendly buzz, the harsh burn of vodka – no matter how organic it is – doesn’t compare to the fruity and smoky undertones of a wine from upstate.

As luck would have it, I’ve found myself at four different wine bars over the past month or so.  Perhaps I’m just turning into an old fogey, but suddenly I think I like wine bars way better than fratty sports bars that reek of PBR.

Let’s be clear: I know next to nothing about wines. If you gave me a blind taste test, I could identify Riesling, Chardonnay, and…”Red,” and that’s the extent of my expertise. But who doesn’t want to learn more about wines? A wine bar is the second most fun way to do so, behind visiting the winery itself and before ducking into a knowledgeable wine shop.

Bar #1: The first wine bar I visited was when I first started dating Mike. We spent the day at Brooklyn Botanic gardens, and in between that and going to his friends’ barbeque we stopped at Total Wine Bar on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. It’s a simple layout, with bench seating in the front, and u-shaped bar at the back. It was in the afternoon, so every seat was filled at the bar while the rest of the place was empty. I suspect we would have gotten the full experience if we could have fit in at the bar (where everyone seemed to know each other) and chatted with the sommelier, but alas Mike just got a couple glasses and we were relegated to the loser bench at the front to have a party with ourselves. We finished our glasses and moved on.

Bar #2: About two weeks ago my mind was wandering at work, and I realized something. I texted Mike. “We’ve never gotten drunk together!”

How did that happen? What a change from college, where it seemed guys would only talk to you if you had been prepped with three cups of warm Natty Light. And now here I was, six weeks deep into a new relationship and we hadn’t even had a “What happened last night,” moment. I mean, it’s not like we hadn’t drank together, but we hadn’t been taking shots together either.

I wasn’t sure whether I felt lame (what happened to the party girl??) or proud (I can get a guy to hang out with me when he’s sober!) [Clarification: I have, in fact, dated other guys who not only take me on dates when they are sober, but don’t drink at all. My standards aren’t that low.] Either way, it was time to remedy this lapse. After all, you never really know a person until you’ve seen their drunk side, in my opinion. So we decided to get wasty-face together.

True to form, Mike sent me an email with the link to The Castello Plan, a wine bar only a couple blocks from his apartment. At first I was taken aback, and told him so. “I was thinking some place, with, you know, shots?” But he insisted it is a great place and promised if we started slow we could kick it up a notch later at other nearby bars.

Mike managed to recruit a couple friends to meet us. “Don’t worry,” he said. “All I do is drink with Bobby and Danna. They’ll be the perfect company for the night.”

Game on.

So Mike and I showed up at The Castello Plan at eight on a Friday. His friends were running late so we went ahead and waved a guy over to our table who looked like he worked there. “Hey, my name’s Ben,” he said. “What can I get for you?”

“We’re not sure what we want,” I said. “Can you recommend a red?” (I’ve been really into reds lately.)

“Sure, would you like something really fruity and and full-bodied? Or something lighter?” We asked for lighter, and he left and returned with three bottles and three big glasses. “I’m going to have some with you,” he said. He lined up the bottles in a row. “Fuller to lightest,” he said, indicating left to right. As he set about uncorking the bottles, he started telling us about how he had just shaved his beard off that morning. Random, I know, but he seemed nice (ok, and cute) and I complimented him on his fresh look. He pointed to the large round table in the corner, where an older guy held court telling a story to a rapt audience of five other people. “That’s the borough president,” he said. I was duly impressed.

“You live near here?” he asked Mike. Mike said yes. “And you two..don’t live together?” Ben said, arching his eyebrows, sliding his glass in a circle over the wooden surface of the table to swirl the wine.

“No,” I shook my head, blushing. Mike told me later he was convinced Ben was hitting on me, but I told him he was just making conversation.

Ben poured the three glasses. “This one is medium-bodied, with a fresh berry flavor,” he told us. Mike and I dutifully put our noses in the glass to smell, but Ben had already knocked his wine back. I was surprised by his short description and short work of the wine.

He poured the next glasses, again gave a short description, and then poured it into his mouth. Ok, now I was convinced he had been smoking or drinking beforehand. I shot Mike an amused look. Ben waited for we slow pokes to finish our glasses, poured the third wine with another curt description, and finished it. “The second one,” I said. Mike agreed, and Ben filled our glasses and left us with a delicious bottle.

Soon Bobby and Danna joined us. We ordered food, a cheese and charcuterie platter with high quality sausages like wild boar. Wild boar! Just like Michael Pollan! Mike and I also ordered a duck spread, whose fatty deliciousness melted over the crackly bread and in our mouths. We tried I bite of Bobby and Danna’s sweet potato dish – delicious – and then a dessert of chocolate tulips.

By that time other tables had come and gone as we drank and talked and laughed. We paid our bill and wandered down the street to another bar, the Solo Lounge to get a shot, and then dispersed for the night. I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t stay out past 2 in the morning on our drunk night, but c’est la vie. Anyway, I can assure you we did reach our goal, because neither of us remember that picture being taken.

Bar #3: Agatha (@alutoborski) tweeted this last week:

This place looks like it’s up @AldenWicker’s alley. Wine + eco + UWS. Trifecta! http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/the-tangled-vine/

I agreed. Agatha, who works with me at Ogilvy, lives on the Upper West Side too, so by the next Thursday we were there.

It’s a fairly large place but was pretty crowded, so the hostess put us at a communal table. The wine list was printed on computer paper and housed in a cheap picture album, but at least it was extensive, going on for pages and pages. I scoured it for a biodynamic wine, but failing to find one by the glass, I settled for an organic red.

We were so close to our neighbors and the the place was so loud that at one point Agatha had to apologize to the older ladies to our left for talking too loudly. Every time someone had to get up, everyone had to climb down from their stool and stand to the side to let them pass.

We ordered a couple light plates, meant to be shared, of asparagus and pea risotto and organic veal meatballs. “If it’s organic, does that mean it’s humanely raised? Or just that it was stuff with organic corn?” I asked Agatha. She is just as into this stuff as I am.

“Who knows,” she said, spooning the last of the risotto onto my plate while I unsuccessfully tried to wave her off. “I feel like none of these labels really mean anything.”

I shrugged and waved down the waiter to refill our glasses. At least the food was delicious. After reading the reviews on Yelp, I concluded that the best experience would be at the bar, where one could have a conversation with the sommelier about wines. The check came and our eyes bugged out a little. I realized it was my organic wine that did it, at $14 a glass. Ouch.

Bar #4:

Friday Mike and I went to Angelika to see MicMacs by the director of Amelie (See it! Adorable!!) And afterward we casted around for someplace to go for dinner. I looked through my long list of saved emails from Tasting Table, Refinery 29, Daily Candy, and Thrillist. (I like email lists, so sue me.) “There’s a pizza place that’s supposed to be good near hear,” I told Mike. “You read my mind. I was just thinking I wanted pizza,” he said. So we walked to Otto Enoteca.

I wasn’t expecting such a fancy place! Dark wood, a fully stocked wine bar, menus printed on heavy stock recycled paper… Turns out it is Mario Batali’s “cheap” place.

It was almost ten, and the hostess said it was a forty minute wait. We balked a bit, but it looked so nice we decided to stay. She gave us a card with an Italian town, and told us to watch the train station-style flipboard at the front. We walked over to the bar and stood there for a moment, wondering what our next step was. A waiter noticed us and informed us that we could get service at one of the communal standing tables, so we set ourselves up at one and immediately had someone ready to take our order.

Mike ordered a bottle of red from Sicily, where his family is from. I menu at Otto Enotecalooked up the reviews on Yelp, and saw several mentions of truffle honey that came with the cheese platter. So I picked out two New York cheeses and Mike picked an Italian one that means “drunk.” After only a couple minutes, our waiter was back with four plates. On one he poured the truffle honey, a deep golden liquid with flecks of dark brown in it. On another he poured the cherry honey with three whole cherries, and on the third he poured honey with small chunks of apricot.

The cherry honey was so tart it was like Starburst candy. The apricot honey was delicious. But the truffle honey. Oh the truffle honey. It was sweet with a smokey, musky undertone. We had barely started when our town came up on the flip board 15 minutes early. A busboy skillfully gathered up our plates, balancing them up his arm, while Mike went to pay the check.

“The service here is out of this world,” he said when he got back. “I went to find our waiter and this guy asked me if I wanted the check, then another guy right behind me just handed it to me. It was amazing.”

We were led to our table through two dining rooms. There were a lot of pretty people there and I felt myself tense up a little. I wore little makeup, and just a simple dress with Jack Rogers and an old Longchamp. But as soon as we got to our table I relaxed as I dove back into the cheeses. Mike and I debated the merits of each pairing of cheese and honey and vowed not to be rushed through our dinner. We wanted to do it truly Italian style: slowly and with relish.

Well, we couldn’t go as slowly as we wanted, as the waiter stopped by often to check on us and as soon as our plates looked empty a busboy appeared to whisk them away and replace them with our four cheese and black pepper pizza. But oh-my-god-was-that-pizza-good. It had a thin, crispy crust with a melange of white cheeses that were just thick and gooey enough, while the pepper gave it a gentle kick.

“This place really is Sicilian,” Mike said as we walked out. The decor and food and ambiance all vividly evoked Italy to him.

That won’t be my last wine bar, for sure. I want to learn more about wines, and Vicki said she’s down for a wine class at Otto. Are there any other wine bars you would recommend in New York?

 

What’s Organic about Organic? Week-Long Kickoff in NYC June 18, 2010

Next week at the Here theater, the who’s who of the food, sustainable, and organic New York movement will be gathered around to screen the new documentary, What’s Organic about Organic? It discusses sustainable and organic agriculture and the myriad of issues that surround food. If you want to learn more about why what you eat is so incredibly important to the future of our country’s safety and happiness, (or you just want a fresh jolt of energy to keep walking past McDonald’s on your way home) you should check out at least one of the days for a panel discussion. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot.

As for the quality of the movie itself? I can’t find any solid reviews except for this very short one that says it doesn’t cover much new ground, though it is pretty interesting. Scroll to the bottom for the trailer and a synopsis.

I bought tickets for Monday through Thursday. I’m not going to watch the movie over and over, but all the speakers sound so amazing, I’m going to try to make as my panel discussions as I can! Unfortunately I’ll be out of town Friday through Sunday, so I’m going to miss the superfun-sounding benefit on Friday with fancy local food. But here for you is a list of the notable attendees and the topics:

(Buy tix here)

Monday, June 21 – 7pm screening
Topic: Bringing organic food to the NYC population, the trend of urban farming and the organic farming model
Jacquie Berger, Executive Director, Just Food, Hilary Baum, Co-Founder of Food Systems NYC and Founder, Baum Forum

Tuesday, June 22 – 7pm screening
Topic: Organic farming as a solution for climate change
Paul Mankiewicz, Executive Director, Gaia Institute, Karen Washington, President, NYC Community Gardens Coalition, Maria-Paolo Sutto, Director, Urban Design Lab of Columbia’s Earth Institute

Wednesday, June 23 – 7pm screening
Topic: Farmers’ markets & direct relationships between people, their food & farmers
Michael Horowitz, Director, Greenmarket Program, GrowNYC, David Hughes, Operations Manager, Greenmarket Program, GrowNYC, Bob Lewis, US Department of Agriculture and Markets

Thursday, June 24 – 7pm screening
Topic: Restaurants and organic farming
Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Sustainability, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Patrick Martins, Co-Founder, Heritage Foods, Jimmy Carbone, Owner, Jimmy’s 43, Carlos Suarez, Owner and Head Chef, Bobo Restaurant, Ian Marvey, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Added Value

Friday, June 25 – 7pm screening
Topic: Reconnecting urban and rural food systems
Scott Chaskey, President, NOFA-NY, Peter Hoffman, Chef, Back Forty and Savoy, Member of Chef’s Collaborative, Adriana Velez, Brooklyn Food Coalition

Friday, June 25 9pm BENEFIT PARTY <– Fun alert!
Benefit Party for NOFA-NY.
Tickets are $20.

Saturday, June 26 – 2pm matinée
Topic: Fun with composting (bring the kids!)
Christine Datz-Romero, Founder & Director, LES Ecology Center

Saturday, June 26 – 7pm screening
Topic: The benefits of a field-to-fork relationship
Joan Gussow, Professor Emerita of Nutrition Education, Columbia University, John Gorzynski, Farmer/Owner, Ornery Farm and “character” in WOAO?, Claudia Keel, Director, Dr. Weston Price Foundation

Sunday, June 27 – 2pm matinee
Topic: The benefits of organic food for child health and development
Annie Novak, farmer and founder of Growing Chefs, Yonnette Fleming, Urban Gardener

Sunday, June 27 – 7pm screening
Topic: Organic nutrition and food retail
Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, New York University, Anne Saxelby, Owner, Saxelby Cheesemongers, Urvashi Rangan, Environmental Health Scientist, Consumer’s Union and “character” in WOAO?, Dennis Derryk, Founder, Corbin Hill Farm, Marty Mesh, Executive Director, Florida Organic Growers and Co-producer, WOAO?

WHAT’S ORGANIC ABOUT “ORGANIC?” rings the alarm for the need to develop an ecological consciousness.  The film illustrates that the organic food debate extends well beyond personal choice and into the realm of social responsibility.

Each of the film’s characters is intimately connected to the organic world; they’re farmers, activists, and scientists.  While many folks can easily endorse “organic,” the characters in the film take the discussion beyond just shopping for another eco-label. As we glimpse into each of their lives, we see how organic agriculture has the potential to solve many of our environmental and health problems.  The film will explore how organic farming can be used as a soil and air protection system, a healthy solution to toxic pollution, and an innovative means to combat global warming.

(Buy tix here)

 

Blue Marble: Organic, local, grass-fed deliciousness June 10, 2010

organic, grass-fed, Hudson valley dairy ice cream from Blue Marble

“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!”

That’s what my Nana would say every time I crawled into the front seat of the Buick between her and Papa, and we all set off for the only ice cream shop in Sanford. At the time I thought vanilla, mint chocolate chip, and rocky road were the pinnacle of deliciousness.

Well, we learn a lot as we grow older, don’t we?

Saturday Mike and I did the Atlantic Avenue art walk in Brooklyn. Most of the artists were pretty meh except the talented Donato Giancola, (I bought this print)  but it wasn’t a total bust. We played bocce ball at Floyd’s (I recommend!) and also popped into Blue Marble Ice Cream for  a cold treat.

I fell head over heels for this place, and here’s why:

chocolate, raspberry, butter pecan, culture, and cinnamon are some of the sweet treats at Blue Marble Ice CreamAmazing flavors: Drunk rum raisin, hazelnut, cultured (a yogurt flavor), dreamcicle, peach sorbet, blackberry, butter pecan, and a whole bunch others made me seriously consider asking for three scoops piled in a waffle cone. Mike laughed as I switched from flavor to flavor at least five times while we waited in line. Luckily I came to my senses and just went for the sweet cream, which is so simple yet so. friggin. delicious. This post by Chowhound says they have the best strawberry ice cream ever introduced to man, and the commenters are inclined to agree.

Simple yet perfect toppings: Forget crumbled oreos, Blue Marble goes old school with maple syrup and even balsamic vinaigrette for your strawberry or raspberry ice cream. I was disappointed to learn I couldn’t get local chocolate shop Nunu‘s hot caramel or hot fudge on top of my cone. Probably a good call since no one wants hot caramel dripping all over their hands, so next time I’ll get a cup so I can experience it. Or maybe I’ll get the strawberry with balsamic vinaigrette? Ooooh, or the honey! I don’t knoooooow!

High quality ingredients: Organic? Check. Grass-fed, happy cows? Check.We make our ice cream on a Hudson Valley Farm with premium, grassfed, organic dairy. Local? Check. Artificial colors and flavors? Nope! How could you make this ice cream any better?

Consciously consuming: Until everyone carries around a lunchbox of utensils and dishes, we’ll have to accept that some containers will be bought only to be thrown away after we are done. While we wait for mini picnic pouches to come into style, you can’t get much more responsible than Blue Marble’s compostable, recyclable, and biodegradable supplies, plus three bins in which to place them when you’re done. Nice!

The perfect setting: While you restrain yourself from attempting to shove the entire scoop of ice cream into your mouth in a fit of ecstasy, you’ll enjoy your green surroundings. Salvaged materials, white non-toxic paint on the wooden beams, recycled glass counters, and vintage-y looking touches lend the shop a homey feel, instead of the usual antiseptic linoleum floors and plastic tables at other ice cream shops.

I can’t believe you are still sitting there reading this! Go get some ice cream!

GO!