Spend a Couple Minutes »Carved Candles from Enchantments

424 East 9th Street

You might be surprised but one of the coolest purchases I’ve made in the city came from an East Village magic/witch/head shop called “Enchantments“.

Like any subculture establishment, you may feel out of place when you first arrive or at least as though you might be intruding (like the familiar feeling of a woman entering a gaming shop, hearing the Magic the Gathering game come to a screeching halt as she patters by in high heels).
But the key, as really in any place you expect costumer service, is to be polite and respectful.

I was looking for a magic candle. I burned one for good luck while pregnant with Van from the Pharmacia Millionaire in Los Angeles and he turned out awesome so, of course, I wanted one for my new pregnancy.

Unlike my experience in LA, Enchantments will hand carve a candle for you, depending on your needs. It is then decorated (in my case with gold glitter and bronze) an encantation is performed (mine involved pennies, honey and inscense) and you walk away with a pretty sweet looking item for your house and superstitious mind.

Skeptical at first, my accompanying friend decided she may like one for herself to bless her upcoming wedding. It’s a much more satisfying experience than I had even hoped for.

Enchantments is also your source more any witchcraft needs including herbs and talismans.

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Posted on April 22, 2012

Desserts »Birthday Cake Truffles

at Momofuku Milk, 251 E 13th st

On one hand, there’s a very alarming Times article about the dangers of sugar but on the other, Momofuku Milk is now offering Birthday Cake Truffles!

And Birthday Cake is one of my favorite things on the planet. When it was knocked out of the Jezebel Cake vs. Pie Tournament I was much more upset than was reasonable.

One great thing about getting older is that our peers are now in charge of things. Whether it’s media or food, most everything is made in new and inventive ways, usually reflecting what we loved growing up. Momofuku pastry chef Christina Tosi is a perfect example.

I am willing to bet she also had sleep overs that involved a shared messy bowl of raw cake batter (or were my friends and I particularly indulgent?). Well, at least I assume she got to lick the spoon in the kitchen.

These truffles are a delicious way to relive those days and economical compared to the pricey but awesome whole cakes on offer.

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Posted on April 29, 2011

Desserts »Gift Box Cake

at De Robertis, 176 1st Avenue

Leave it to the over hundred year old East Village bakery De Robertis to make my New Years just a little bit sweeter. This adorable gift box cake with chocolate ganache, a marzipan bright red bow, chocolate mousse, and raspberry filling was superbly delicious without being overly sweet or rich. I love that this corner of Old New York is still alive and well and making goodies that make my belly smile.

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Posted on January 9, 2011

Desserts »NYC Icy

100 Avenue A

First, People’s Pops and now NYC Icy, this is turning into my summer of frozen treat delight!  This critical fave seems to have opened, closed, reopened all over the city many times before settling into this hole in the wall shop off Thompson Square park. I haven’t been in the area but have been meaning to swing by and curse myself for not making the trip sooner. Soft, smooth sorbets and cream ices come in an array of tantalizing flavors. I opted for a tart but balanced blueberry lemonade and an absolutely amazing and refreshing cucumber. Jim’s malted chocolate was quite decadent. I really can’t recommend this place enough and can’t wait to go back for more (then eat it in front of the gutter punks).

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Posted on August 22, 2010

Drinks »Gem Spa Egg Cream

131 2nd Avenue

Gem Spa, a corner over-sized bodega, cluttered with cheap sunglasses and trinkets doesn’t strike one instantly as the very best place to find anything, but they boast, in their signage at least, to have the best egg cream in New York. Having not tested every egg cream out there, but having had my share of separated ones that have that strange tongue coating plastic-ness caused by incorrect balance of ingredients. I can say that this one, offered in a paper cup with no fanfare or even a smile is pretty excellent. I’d definitely go back to get an egg cream fix- Brooklyn (vanilla) style of course. It’s such a temperamental though simple drink that you want to make sure you get one that’s made right, plus Gem Spa’s a bit of old New York and one of the few places left to get the native beverage.

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Posted on June 27, 2010

Restaurants »Soba-ya

229 East 9th Street

Ever end up in a pickle when you crave noodles, but it’s too warm for ramen? Enter Soba-ya where the dishes are offered cold and absolutely delicious. I loved, loved loved, my meal of cold udon, dipping sauce, and tiny shrimp and leaf tempura.

It was the kind of meal (sans tempura) that I could eat any time of the day, any day of the week. I’ve had the dish elsewhere, but there’s something indefinably special about the noodles here, which is probably why there were throngs of people waiting for a table by the time we left.

The authentic spot does unique takes on their appetizers, offering a shrimp ball with soft noodle shell version of shumai and veggie options like fried taro in broth, which was excellent.

The staff is polite and the crowd is hip to the fact that this is a step above some other St Mark’s area eateries. The restaurant also boasts a washlet, which you’ll read more about in this week’s how to spend a couple minutes section.

Click here for the rest of Soba-ya

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Posted on April 11, 2010

Spend a Couple Minutes »Bellisimo

125 4th Avenue

Clean, kindly, and convenient: Bellissimo, right near Union Square, was the perfect spot for a much needed pampering with an equally frazzled co-worker. We opted for a pedicure with a ten minute foot massage that was heavenly. I loved the selection of colors as well as the funky soft beads your feet soak in. Next time I’ll be sure to partake in one of their back massages.

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Posted on April 4, 2010

Spend a Couple Hours »Facial

35 E 1st Street

My very first facial was serene and relaxing at Sakura Salon (home of the awesome manicures I’ve raved about). They have a small, secluded spa room where the sounds of ocean waves and birds chirping really take you away. The woman was gentle and the products were nicely scented… it was thoroughly peaceful. I had a gift certificate for a mini facial (thanks again Astrid!!) but opted to extend my treatment to a full hour, which includes a neck and shoulder massage and extractions.

I had been warned that extraction could be painful from friends, but it really wasn’t bad at all. If you need to be pampered, this is certainly a very excellent way to go about it.

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Posted on February 21, 2010

Spend a Couple Hours »Sakura Nail Salon

35 East 1st Street

Sakura Nail Salon is one of the few spots in the city where you can get Calgel nail art, a nail-healthy, shiny polish that protects nails as it makes them look totally awesome. While the artists (Fumiko and Hitomi are the best!) can create nearly anything your heart desires (I toyed with the idea of cats on thumbs) one of the most popular treatments is the ombre manicure. I opted blood red fading into clear, which allows my nails to grow without an obvious line where the manicure stops and gives me the look of a vampire that’s just had a messy meal. I added some bling in way of crystals on my pointer fingers. Astrid went bolder in color and got blue fading to black with gold lightning bolts on her thumbs. (see photos below/after the jump.)

Really, the only limit is your imagination. Online I saw a Mondrian manicure which is quite enviable; black lace, which was requested by a young French woman while we were there, would also be cool. Sadly that girl was super pissed because it wasn’t possible – which leads me to my biggest warning/recommendation: Make an appointment!! and specifically ask for Calgel Nail Art if you want anything special, otherwise you’ll be pencilled in for a regular (though, surely wonderful) manicure and look on sadly/angrily as those with more diligent phone skills get all sorts of specialness on their nails. The calgel manicure takes about an hour and a half.

True, it’s a pricey treatment, especially with any add ons like crystals, but, in theory, Calgel can last at least three weeks, which makes the high price a little less shocking. Regular manicures, by the way, without the ever-lasting Calgel, are comparably priced to other salons. The ambiance here is serene and friendly and the staff offers all sorts of discounts to bring you back. For example, you get 30% off if you come back with a friend. And speaking of friends, I want to thank my friend Astrid once again for what is probably one of the coolest birthday gifts ever! Think she may have started a personal, money leaking obsession…

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Posted on January 24, 2010

Restaurants »Baoguette Cafe

Baoguette Cafe37 St Mark’s Place (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)

While sitting down to write an essay about my favorite sandwich has me feeling a smidge like Liz Lemon, banh mi (a French/Vietnamese sandwich served on a baguette stuffed with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, chile peppers, pate, mayonnaise and more) is something I love so much that I honestly don’t care if I’m betraying a deal-breaking character quality (I’ve already written about Phish – twice this week…).

I’ve long been a fan of Vietnam Banh Mi So 1 on Broome Street and Nicky’s on 2nd Avenue, so when Silent H opened its doors on Berry Street and banh mi became available locally, I was totally psyched. Sadly, the price, service and hours they chose to serve sandwiches during (weekdays noon to 4), made me less than happy…

Recently, An Nhau’s banh mi shop on Bedford and North 7th has changed my life (I must eat at least one meatball sandwich a week). The sandwiches are cheap, delicious and prepared in about three minutes, but when Brittany and I were out in the EV a few nights ago, we grabbed dinner at Baoguette Cafe.

I automatically ordered the classic #1 banh mi sandwich (pork terine, pate, pulled pork, fresh herbs) and it was amazing – but totally heavy duty, I was actually having a hard time finishing (the pulled pork is no joke) – and Brittany totally scored with beef vermicelli noodles (the waitress recommended the beef over the chicken bun dish).

We got to the restaurant at around 6:45 and it was gloriously devoid of any other diners, but by 7:15 dudes were beginning to pack the tiny interior – so go early!

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Posted on December 6, 2009

Restaurants »B&H Dairy

B&H Dairy127 2nd Avenue

If I had to name a least favorite type of food, I’d be quick to come up with diner food followed by vegetarian food, so imagine my surprise when B&H Dairy (which serves both) was so utterly delicious that I can’t wait to go back. Both diner food and vegetarian food get a bad rap because so much of it is terrible – ever tried an omelette at one of those indistinguishable diners on Long Island, or eaten at a veggie place that insists that bland is the only option?.

Of course, there are exceptions and B&H is surely one of them. The food here has heart and guts, the potato pancakes are incredibly crispy with a soft, pillowy center. The borscht is piping hot, flavorful and belly warming. The challah bread is slathered in butter and arrives handed to your table from the counter like a formidable tower of carbs. Definitely arrive hungry.

In a city that seems to be losing its Jewish storefront history, B&H has stood as a kosher mecca serving affordable and filling comfort food for over 60 years. While you may mix up the name with the giant photo/video mega store, you’d never mix up this tiny sliver of a place (about 4 two tops and a counter) and its genuine old world charms with anything so high tech and huge. It would be hard to find a place this quintessentially New York still standing in the neighborhood.

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Posted on November 29, 2009

Spend a Couple Hours »Russian and Turkish Baths

Going to the Russian and Turkish Baths that have stood on 10th street since 1892 is nothing if not a unique experience, especially for anyone shy and WASP with a limited comfort zones. You step into the building and offer up your valuables to a private lock box, in return you're handed a key that opens a locker and can be used like a room number for any special treatments you decide to charge. It's best to bring a bathing suit to change into because you'll be getting wet, wet, wet and next time I'd bring along my own flip flops because the ones offered up are monstrously big.

Starting in the main room, just below the locker area, you'll step into the semi public showers in a room that also houses a freezing cold dunking pool. Several sauna rooms lie off this main room. In the Russian Sauna room, you'll get hotter than you've ever been in your entire life. Huge white buckets of ice cold water are available to throw over your head to keep yourself from overheating. It's an extreme experience but even with the water poured regularly over my head, I couldn't stand the heat for longer than a couple minutes. Slightly more bearable is the heat from the Turkish Room that smells of eucalyptus and has a refreshing cool shower to step under by the door. The aroma therapy room was the most popular the day we visited and filled with a warm steam that is quite invigorating once you get used to breathing it in.

But the experience of the baths cannot simply stop with the saunas. If you're going to go you may as well go for it all the way and try the singular experience of one or two of their treatments. You'll be pressured to book a massage, oak leaf beating, or scrub even as you are getting changed in the locker room. While it's tempting to give in immediately, take your time to get relaxed and situated in the non-fancy, un-self conscious environment before you commit. Waiting will make you feel more in control of your destiny because once inside the little steel rooms, you belong to your masseuse.

Experiences vary greatly from person to person. My lady Rose must have sensed that I was a sensitive one, because in my dead sea salt scrub and subsequent massage she treated me like a new born babe. She even went so far as to offer small tokens of propriety by covering my crotch with towels. The treatments are not terribly cheap, so if you had to choose only one, I'd go for the spectacular scrub that features lots of water rinsing and left me smelling like baking muffins and returned my skin to baby softness. My massage was gentle and lots of slimy (in a good way) lotion further softened my skin.

Jim and Adam however, had quite a different experience, one that I'm proud of Jim for being so open about – though he really didn't have a choice. Their dude offered no towel, you're going to be swinging and swaying with your legs spread, your body twisted (at one point to Jim's horror his neck was cracked like an apparent attempted Mortal Kombat finishing move) and your breath nearly knocked out as a burly man crawls across your back. Jim will admit that any hang ups were his own, his dude couldn't have been less concerned with our uptight American bodies than a Pet Co employee is concerned with cleaning puppies. In the end it was fun, it was different, but it's best to be prepared for something wilder than you may be used to. Go with knowledge — or even better: with someone who's gone before.

Lastly, to complete the whole experience, you must take advantage of the sun roof deck. I laid down watching the clouds go by (an activity not always easy to do while living in the city) for about an hour. The total cost will be higher than you might expect (taxes and gratuity must be added) but for such an extraordinary experience, it's worth it. Still, an open mind and a willingness to go with the flow no matter where it takes you are absolutely necessary to appreciate it. The squeamish need not apply.

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Posted on July 13, 2009

Restaurants »Prune

prune restaurantPrune is a highly acclaimed sliver of a restaurant that by seven o’clock will have you perched on top of your dining neighbors. On the plus side, this lets you take a close peek at what they’re eating (bone marrow to my left, burgers to my right) and for all the close quarters, an open front, which was taken full advantage of on Friday’s moment of seasonal sunshine, keeps the space airy and comfortable.

Prune, just like the small block it sits on above Houston is unassuming. The all female staff is friendly but slightly aloof and the food is very simply presented. We started with some cocktails served in nice big glasses (that I want for myself). I tried the Fresca, being on a bit of a grapefruit kick lately. It was a refreshing blend that also included vodka, mint and sugar. Jim went with the spiked lemonade that by the end of the glass was too spicy for him to finish (not wanting it to go to waste, of course, I drank the rest).

While sipping our refreshments, and nibbling on fried chick peas we began to pour over the menu. With so many alluring options there, we finally, after much deliberation, decided on the veal hearts to share. The meat strips were tender and tasty with a creamy salsa verde so good Jim and I were nearly fighting over the lettuce salad accompaniment (Jim doesn’t fight me for greens often).

For dinner, I opted for the sea bass special with some of the most scrumptious ingredients to my ears: cockles, sliced razor clam, chorizo and a saffron broth. It was delicious. Though Jim’s lamb was also tasty, the cut only offered a few bites of meat on the bone, which was disappointing.

We split a side of asparagus with spring greens. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton has a way with enticing flavors, each dish excelled in that aspect including dessert, a ricotta ice cream with salt caramel croutons, which for obvious reasons, we simply could not turn down. The two elements were just OK when eaten on their own, but the combination was dreamy.

I have heard praise (as well as some less impressed incounters) with their popular brunch, which most people wait in long queues for, and based on the dinner experience we had, I think I’d like to try it some day. After all who can say no to a huge, long list of bloody mary options?

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Posted on June 22, 2009

Restaurants »Back Forty

back forty restaurant

? Why do I mention it now?

Because Back Forty has been a staple for my friends and I. We eat here more than any other restaurant together. Also, their famous Crab Boil is going on all month, but reservations are in high, high demand and have been known to sell out within two minutes. To try your hand at it, go to their website the Wednesday before the Tuesday you want to attend.

Here's what I said back on 1/7/08:

This New Years Eve, rather than our typical outing to Mike and Shaun's with Prosecco, Scrabble, and the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, we all decided to go out. Marcus was awesome enough to find the spectacular deal at recently opened East Village restaurant Back Forty, which for $55, we enjoyed a family style meal and one free cocktail.

We chose the shaved fennel and pumpkin salad and fried Wellfleet oysters to start. Both were excellent. The fried oysters were declared by everyone at the table to be the best any of us had tried. They were crunchy, salty, and very fresh. The fennel and pumpkin, which came with a lemon tumeric vinaigrette, was a refreshing combination of contrasting flavors and textures.

As our mains, we chose the rotisserie suckling pig and the whole grilled Catskill trout. The pig was good, but surprisingly the trout stole the spotlight. I think the preparation of this dish alone restored a passion for fish in at least a few of us at the table.

For sides, we chose parsnips with white anchovy and Aleppo vinaigrette, a dish I was particularly excited about, but was the only slight disappointment in the whole meal. The parsnips were simply not flavorful enough or tender enough for my taste. Little matter though, because the brussel sprouts with dried cherry butter was simply amazing. French fries, nice a hot with rosemary salt rounded out the savory part of the meal.

The amount and quality of the food was really impressive, especially for the price, which was at least twenty dollars less than other spots which didn't even include a drink. We were well sated before dessert came, but of course, could not resist the sweet selections.

I had fresh donuts with apple cider glaze and they were as yummy as expected, but the real prize was the stout float – a complex taste sensation of bitter and sweet. It was a highlight in a very special meal and worth a trip to Back Forty for alone.

They seemed in general to excel in beverages. Aside from the Stout Float, other offerings from their small but well thought out drink menu included a cask ale beer, creamy and delicious, The Loisiada Sling, a sweet cachaca, ginger and chipotle concoction, and the cocktail favorite of the night, the Back Forty, a wining combination of Ezra Brooks whiskey, maple (though none of us were sure what this meant exactly) and lemon. A real winner, that one.

It was a grand place to finish out the new year. Bustling, but not too loud, with Willie Nelson and The Violent Femmes playing in the back ground. The service was excellent and the setting was refined and a bit rugged chic. The term back forty, refers to “the acres a farmer sets aside from his regular crop, for planting whatever he fancies” according to the New Yorker and it seems Chef Peter Hoffman fancies good, hearty food, spectacular cocktails, and an easy atmosphere.

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Posted on June 15, 2009

Restaurants »Mermaid Inn

mermaid inn salmonThe lack of fresh seafood to buy in my neighborhood makes the prospect of a great dish from the sea all the more appealing and The Mermaid Inn, which has been on my list to try since I was able to pay for a nice meal out, is a great spot to indulge in the craving.

We shared oysters to start, a nice selection of East and West coast, the best we've had in a while. I have to give particular praise also to my hot and dirty cocktail – an ingenious combination of a dirty martini and hot sauce, complete with a banana pepper garnish. Why I've never thought of it before is a mystery, but it is certainly a drink I'll be making myself in the near future.

The space is warm and naturally lit with a staff that perfectly balances upscale service and genuine personality. It's little wonder that the restaurant is a neighborhood favorite, everything is just about right from the food to the price – which is maybe a little high for everyday grub, but far less than comparable places.

They even have a recession deal (before 7pm) that knocks the classic lobster roll down to twenty dollars plus a free Blue Point beer. Jim was psyched. My equally good meal of a perfectly pink, big salmon was set off by excellent accompaniments: asparagus, yellow squash, tomato hollandaise, yummm.

The meal was finished with an off the menu complimentary chocolate pudding with cream and the cute signature freebie of a Fortune Telling Fish that told me I was “in love”.

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Posted on May 25, 2009

Desserts »Cornflake Marshmallow Chocolate Cookie

cornflake marshmallow chocolate cookie momofuku milkEver wondered what a belly-filling, all cookie meal might be like? Head over to the ever inventive (the menu includes cereal milk and fireball soft serve) Momofuku Milk and order one of their incredible cookie creations. I opted for Cornflake, Marshmallow, and Chocolate and I think I can safely say it's one of the greatest cookies on earth.

Any food lover in the city is by now very familiar with David Chang and his mini empire of impressive food, and at Milk he's employed the brilliant Christina Tosi who hails from WD-50. I am excited to return and try more – currently they're featuring an Arnold Palmer cake: “A layer of iced tea-soaked cake, followed by tangy whipped lemon mascarpone cream, almond tea crunch, and iced tea jelly. In the middle: a layer of lemon cake. Repeat with cream, crunch, jelly, and cake.”

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Posted on May 25, 2009

Restaurants »Porchetta

porchetta nycPorchetta has been at the top of my list since it topped all the big end of the year restaurant round ups, but the place is super tiny and with little chance of grabbing a seat and the weather being as crummy as it has been, we've yet to make the visit until just this week. The titular and most popular dish is, of course, porchetta, an Italian culinary tradition of roasted pork with crispy skin, lots of herbs and spices then slow cooked. There are sides too, but we just stuck to the?main attraction.

It's out of this world yummy. Don't bother to spoil the layered textures and moist juices with any extraneous toppings – this is one sandwich meant to stand on its own sans condiments. The sandwich is smaller than I expected, which is probably a good thing as far as my calorie intake?goes, and it was plenty filling. It's served on a ciabatta roll that holds up to the intense innards without overpowering it (I hate to bite into and sandwich and get all bread) but you can also order the pork as a platter without bread, but I can imagine it's quite difficult to take away.

The place is crowded but the line moves pretty fast; it's bound to become a classic East Village destination and I can't imagine that between the overwhelmingly positive word of mouth and the amazing food that it will be going away anytime soon. Still, I'd stop by sooner than later – heavy cracklins and pork sandwiches tend to suit the slightly cooler days of early Spring more than the dead of Summer.

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Posted on April 13, 2009