Friday, May 29, 2015

A Rooftop Retreat in New York City

You think you know a neighborhood, until you don't. Every day, I commute back and between Manhattan and  Queens via an express bus, a bus I board in the Herald Square neighborhood. Most non-New Yorkers know this as the home of Macy's, Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. It's one of my least favorite hoods, hardly one that would be considered charming. So imagine my surprise when I found out that a scenic rooftop bar was steps away from my bus stop.

The Hyatt Herald Square is home to "Up on 20," a small faux greenery-walled venue with prime views of some of New York's iconic sites, most notably the new One World Trade Center - seen from the South  Terrace, and the Empire State Building, visible from the aptly named Empire Terrace. Snuggling into one of the comfy sofas on the sunny South Terrace makes for a relaxing end to the work day. Whether you choose one of the drinks on the daily Happy Hour menu or not, you're bound to find quality. "Up on 20" gravitates to locally-sourced menu items. The Dorothy Parker, Chief Gowanus and Perry's Tot all come from NY Distilling Company; New York beers include Blue Point (from Long Island), Bronx Pale Ale and Southern Tier. Two popular cocktails are  refreshingly appealing with the approaching sweltering summer: Newton's Apple made with Knob Creek Bourbon, elderflower liqueur, apple and lime; and the Pavan Sangria Rose mixes white rum with Pavan, fresh berries and seltzer.

But more than the views and the alcohol, it's the eclectic menu, especially the shareable items, that's stellar. They divide the menu into four parts, each targeting a diner with a different palate: those who want to dig into a juicy burger, crave something light (salads), prefer a snack that pairs well with beer (spicy pork crackling, truffle fries), or are attracted to something more adventurous.The latter fits my dining profile and this, plus the sweeping views and laid back ambience (but I wasn't there on a weekend night) is what would keep me coming back. Among the shareable, creative dishes that are must-tries: the pulled whitefish sliders with avocado, cilantro and lime -- I'm a big fan of whitefish and this did not radiate fishiness; shrimp ceviche served in a bowl with pineapple and chile and a side of kettle chips to scoop up the shrimp -- perfect amount of heat; and, my very favorite, the ultra flavorful mini meatballs with hoisin sauce, sesame glaze and baby leeks. Each of the dishes was served with a pleasant aesthetics that included minimalist slate dishware.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

An Innovative Portuguese Restaurant In New York City

    Chef George Mendes of Aldea fame, the Michelin-starred Portuguese restaurant in New York City, recently opened Lupulo -- the name translates to "hops" in Portuguese -- a restaurant distinctly different in terms of its design and menu concept. While Aldea is fine dining and more traditional cuisine of Mendes' homeland, Lupulo has a  contemporary decor with traditional touches, and the same can be said for the cuisine.

    An immense oval bar sits smack in the middle of this expansive space that's suffused with natural light. Portuguese blue and white tiles line one wall while heavy maritime-type ropes act as vertical room dividers. An open, non chaotic kitchen takes up one entire wall.

    This gastropub  specializes in dishes that are an homage to Portuguese, but with a welcome creative twist. A mackerel spread had none of the expected bold fishy flavor. Instead, the kaffir lime, Vinho Verde wine, olive oil and a  touch of sea  salt lend a complex but mild flavor. The bowl of mackerel spread is ringed by ultra thin pieces of toast. This dish is one of several tasty petiscos (Portuguese tapas or small dishes) that include the light and flavorful grilled green asparagus with a dollop of dried sea urchin, plus sorrel and walnuts.

    For main courses -- though we shared everything -- I recommend the green peas made with diced chorizo, and topped with sunnyside up eggs along with parsley,Vinho Verde and kaffir lime. (The latter two appear in a number of dishes and, I must say that I never tired of the tanginess they gave each dish.). Another creative entree is the red snapper crudo, served in a bowl of coconut milk and kaffir lime broth, made spicy thanks to serrano peppers plus benne seeds.

    Unlike most people who love Portugal's traditional egg-based desserts, I find them cloyingly sweet. Thankfully, Lupulo's desserts are Portugal made modern. We opted for the chocolate "salami" sprinkled with sweet chocolate powder, and served with a side of olive oil ice cream.

    Of course, because Lupulo is named for the Portuguese word for "hops," it's no wonder that you'll find a wealth of craft beers, including the Sagres Pilsner and varieties from Japan, Belgium and Germany. Lupulo's wine menu features only wines from Portugal including the region I'm most fond of: the Alentejo. 

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Iceland - A Country Where Writers Are Revered

Do you consider yourself a writer? Maybe you have a brilliant idea for a book and you've been jotting down notes on Post-Its and hiding them from family members for fear they'll laugh at you. Or you secretly write poems, scribbling them on napkins and jamming them in your bag, hoping they won't fly out when you're on a date. You're not a writer, after all, because you didn't get a degree in creative writing or you've never published anything, right? And if you attended a cocktail party and told anyone you're a writer, would they ask you what you're working on, or would they ask what's your day job?

In Iceland, if you asked a crowd of citizens "Who's a writer?" or "Who's a poet?" you could expect a dozens and dozens of hands to go up. In this wild, wonderful country, most everyone wants to be a writer. Iceland also has more writers per capita than any other country in the world.

What better way to become inspired (as a writer) than attending a writers retreat, not a pretentious one where you feel stifled because of the competition, but a warm, welcoming, inclusive one. I just published an article for the Huffington Post on Iceland's vast literary tradition that goes back to its founding, and the most inspiring of writers retreats: the Iceland Writers Retreat held in Reykjavik. This is the writers retreat for you because, even if no one has ever seen what you've penned, you are a writer.
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Monday, May 18, 2015

Gear Review: Fun Travel Notebook

Wreck This Journal is the journal for the non-journal writer. The traveler who wants to record their experiences and impressions, but becomes anxious when confronted with the blank page. The person who maybe takes themself a little too seriously. Who thinks that their days of being inquisitive and spontaneous are in the distant past. This is the book that will inspire you to be playfully creative like you were when you were a child. And, instead of valuing the book as a revered tome where dog-earing or, heaven forbid, adding margin notes would be sacrilegious, here you're encouraged (and prompted) to punch holes in the page, scribble notes with anything you have on hand, rip out pages, paste items of significance, or just go all out drawing without a care in the world. This is your book to treasure because each page is your creation, taking you back to the long ago time when you didn't wonder what anyone thought of your sketch or your poem. Each page has inherent value because you made it. 

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