denver's avanti food & beverage (it's a winner!)

There was this game I played when I was a teenager. It went something like, “If you were stranded on a desert island, name three things you would take with you.” Everyone always included something to eat, which made sense because you wouldn’t want to starve, would you? I haven’t been asked that question in years, but if I did have to come up with an answer, a Venezuelan arepa from Quiero Arepas would be coming with me. It's my desert island dish and yes, they're that good...

Quiero Arepas is one of 7 start-up restaurants in the new and highly-anticipated Avanti Food & Beverage, which bills itself as: “One collective space…inspired by European markets and food truck roundups…” I love it already!

Avanti is a two-level modern food hall located in an old 1930s warehouse in the Lower Highlands (LoHi) at 3200 Pecos. It houses 5 restaurants on the first floor and 2 on the second level. Both levels have well-stocked bars which serve up cocktails (I loved the Palomita Picante), wine, and beer. Many of the craft beers are from local Colorado breweries and the only non-Colorado brand that I recognized was Dogfish Head out of Delaware (it has its own page on the drink menu). Honestly, though, I lean towards cocktails and wine so I can’t add anything more to the beer conversation. But my husband, who enjoys a good beer, was impressed.

Avanti has a lot of appeal. From the affordable high-quality and inspired food to the stunning décor, there really is something for everyone. I can see myself going there on a date, a ladies night, a business lunch or a family dinner.

In addition to Querio Arepas (which has vegetarian and vegan options) you'll find:

Farmer Girl, a farm to table concept committed to local and sustainable food. The menu will change with the seasons. (I should have taken a screen shot of their menu last night, but I do remember a mushroom tartine.)

Poco Torteria, which serves Mexican tortas (baguettes), sides and aguas frescas. They are also offering cake which is delicious! (It's related to Pinche Taco.)

MiJo, a noddle and rice shop with an emphasis on udon. (It has ties to Bones.)

Brava!, which features Neapolitan inspired wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches using lots of local ingredients, including seasonal specials from the chef’s own garden!

Souk Shwarma, a Lebanese-inspired concept that serves up warm pita/gyro, basmati rice, sauces and pickles. (That description makes it sound too run-of-the-mill; the people sitting near us were raving about the flavors.)

And Bixo, which interprets modern Mediterranean and Europen recipes and adds a Mexican flair. 

I took a quick glance around and I think every restaurant is putting out a main dish for $10 or less (though  some prices are a bit higher for dinner service). In other words, #budgetfriendly.

Like many of the recent additions to the Denver food scene, the space and interiors at Avanti got as much attention as the well-curated menu items. The seating (a good deal from Housefish design), lighting, and patio furnishings are all perfect. The use of materials- like container ships- is well conceived. There's great artwork throughout the space and I spotted a succulent shelf positioned on the side of the staircase that's inspiring me to do something similar at home. (You know how I feel about cacti, right?!)

The views of the city are spectacular since Avanti’s rooftop deck faces Downtown and the Ball Park neighborhood. On the topic of outdoor/rooftop space, there is so much of it that I started wondering what would happen in the colder months.  But worry not, they apparently installed heated floor boards on the deck. They thought of everything!

We spent two hours at Avanti and I can’t wait to go back. Upon leaving we were asked if anything could be improved and neither one of us could think of anything…except maybe building something like Avanti over on Colfax. Like right by East High School. Because teenagers love good quality affordable food right? And I live close by, too. I'm just gonna plant that seed...

Avanti opens tomorrow (July 13th) at 11 a.m.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 
Happy eats!


A shout out to Beckie + Igor, the dynamic couple behind Quiero Arepas. Thank you for extending an invite to the Friends + Family preview. Matt and I had a blast!

* All photos were taken with my iPhone (which is sort of broken. Oy.)
Click here for the Westword piece - it has images that will give you a much better sense of the food and the space.

Denver O' Denver: An Extensive City Guide of Denver, Colorado {Updated 2015}

A City Guide to Denver, Colorado
This is my guide to Denver, Colorado. We moved here almost three years ago from Brooklyn and we've fallen in love with the city. Its neighborhoods, the less frenetic pace of life, the mountain views, proximity to nature, and the more-than-ample living space have won us over. It feels like things are happening here (jazz in the park, fabulous art and design, a burgeoning food scene, incredible bars and watering holes, historic neighborhoods, mid-century architecture, etc.), and yet Denver seems to be retaining its Denverness (stock shows, awesome Mexican eateries and lots of orange garb on football Sunday).
I decided to put this little guide together because we've been having lots of visitors and more friends are on their way. I thought it would be useful to synthesize the places we like to eat and visit in a single blog post. 
I am certain to have missed a few things, so chime in if there's something you love, an omitted must-see, or a place you really love to eat or drink. It's really hard to keep up with everything that is going on. 
I have taken all the photos in this post. Feel free to use them, but please credit them appropriately.  
Hope you enjoy Denver as much as we do. 

I have no affiliation with any of these restaurants, businesses or cultural institutions. I receive no compensation- monetary or otherwise. This guide is heartfelt and is simply a list of things I love here in the city of Denver... For a steady stream of all-things Denver and Colorado you can find me on Instagram:

Red: Links to previously published posts on this blog. 
Blue: Official site or external review.

Culture & Main Attractions:

  • Denver Art Museum: Some of my favorites in the permanent collection include Nara, Motherwell, Kirkland and Kiki Smith. There's great Western art too, so check out Theodore Waddell who is on the 2nd floor of the new building. Special exhibitions have included YSL. Van Gogh is showing right now (till Jan. 20, 2013). Architecture by Daniel Libeskind.

  • The Denver Zoo: The 5th largest zoo in the country. The new elephant passage is amazing. There are Malaysian tapirs too. A lot of global conservation work is done through the zoo and its affiliates.
  • Denver Botanic Gardens (Denver and Chatfield): A terrific place to spend an afternoon. You can see the Dale Chihuly installation from June-November 2014.(In Instagram.)
  • The Colorado Symphony Orchestra: Beautiful music. They have terrific programs and often pair up with other musicians (e.g. The Preservation Jazz Hall Band from New Orleans).
  • The Museum of Nature and Science: Dinosaurs. Outer Space. And traveling exhibits from Pompeii to The Maya. There are also fantastic views of the city's skyline from the rooftop (Anschutz). 
  • Molly Brown House Museum: You remember her, right? Historic home of the "unsinkable" Titanic survivor. 
  • The History of Colorado Center: Self explanatory. Historical information, wonderful info graphics, and an entry way constructed of felled trees. There are kid-friendly areas too. 

  • Red Rocks Amphitheater: You'd be hard pressed to find a better venue for anything, music in particular. (The image above is from the NPR News Quiz Show, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.")
  • The Denver Public Library: The Central Branch has great art exhibits in addition to (obviously) lots of books. The systems is a great one. 
  • Santa Fe Arts District: Galleries abound. Check out First Fridays (monthly) when the galleries are open late.
  • RiNo (River North) Art District: A truly wonderful part of Denver that is ever-changing. You can find galleries, street art, cafes and restaurants here. 

  • Lakeside Amusement Park: Over 100 years old, this park has an insane amount of retro-kitch without even trying. It's cheap and there's a kids area too. The Ferris Wheel is a blast and Lakeside is home to The Cyclone, one of only a handful of pre-war wooden roller coasters left in the country. May-September. Parking is free. Check Groupon for discounts.

  • The new Union Station opened in July 2014. It is spectacular. Architectural details from 1880-1914 mixed with modern interiors that are absolutely stunning. Catch a train or book a room in The Crawford Hotel. There are some pretty stellar eateries/restaurants (like The Kitchen Next Door, Snooze and Stoic + Genuine) and a Terminal Bar. Yes, there's a bookshop and ice cream too. 

  • Coors Field: What can I say? I'm a fifth generation New Yorker and my mom grew up on the Grand Concourse, so Yankee baseball is in my blood. But I really do love the Colorado Rockies and I now "root-root-root for the home team." 
By the Season:
Winter: Dec, Jan, Feb, March
Spring: March, April, May, June

Summer: June, July, August, September

  • The Dragon Boat Festival at Sloan's Lake: Boat-races, drums, dragons, food and crafts at this huge Pan-Asian summer event. (free)

Fall: September, October, November, December
  • Colorado Railroad Museum: If you love narrow-gage mountain trains, this is the place for you. Tons of historic engines on display. Thomas the Train (Day Out with Thomas) rolls into town during the month of September.
  • Sunnyside Music Festival: There's a lot of music, and usually sun (this year it's on September 7th).
  • Westword Dish: A celebration of metro-Denver's ever evolving dining scene. (September 22nd)
  • Georgetown, Historic Railroad Loop: The train runs year-round, but we go for fall foliage or just before the winter hits.

  • Cultivate Food & Music Festival: A huge festival held annually in City Park, sponsored by Chipotle (which started in Denver). Artisan tent with locally produced goods, chef's tent with cooking demonstrations, food, live music, and education about farming and responsible sourcing. (Above image, esquites by Chipotle.)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: Bear Lake for fall foliage. A national treasure.


  • Root Down: Inventive menu, wonderful cocktails, and seasonal ingredients. Great decor in this converted garage. It put Denver's food scene on the map.(Highlands)
  • Linger: The sister-restaurant to Root Down. It features small plates of 'street food' from across the globe. There are amazing views from their rooftop bar.(LoHi)
  • Spuntino: Italian plates, sandwiches, gourmet popsicles, and don't get me started on their olive oil cake. James Beard winning pastry chef Yasmin makes some of the best desserts in the city.
  • The Truffle Table: They've got wine, cheese (with a separate cheese shop located on 6th Avenue) and some of the best gazpacho I've had to date. 

  • And next door to The Truffle Table, or more accurately right behind the building at the back door, is the cutest little sandwich shop run by Tiffany of Tifamade. You'll feel like you're in Paris, but you don't need a passport. Horchata too. 
  • Roberta's Chocolates: Exceptional fudge (the Sea Salt and the Snickers are my favorites), not just for Valentine's Day. (Highlands)
  • Avanti Food & Beverage: A modern 2-level food hall inspired by European markets and food truck roundups. Featuring 7 start-up restaurants and bars serving terrific cocktails. The views from the rooftop deck can't be beat! The Westword wrote about it here.(LoHi)
  • Burrito Giant: This place sells gym equipment and the best breakfast burritos out there. I know, it's weird. Get the burritos "smothered" with chili. I opt for the vegetarian option. It's the Denver way. (38th Avenue, Highlands)

  • Happy Cakes: Addictive cupcakes.(Highlands)
  • Hops and Pie: Self-explanatory. A great neighborhood hang-out.(Tennyson, Berkeley)
  • Little Man: Ice cream served from a giant dairy jug. Try their Salted Oreo. It's worth the wait. (LoHi)
  • Los Carbinocitas: The mushroom huaraches are fantastic. Locations on 38th Avenue and Sheridan.(Highlands)

  • Uncle: Amazing Highlands Ramen joint, with steamed buns, noodle dishes and sake.(Highlands)
  • American Sassafras: Great brunch in an historic home. Good use of seasonal ingredients. I loved their house-made ketchup, chipotle hot sauce and jalapeno jam (Voodoo Jam). Go on the weekdays, if possible. On the weekend it gets jam packed. 
  • The Populist: One of the best restaurants in the city. Their menu changes with the seasons. I've had their soups, salads, agnolotti (both carrot and huitlacoche). I think they should put out a cookbook (plus there's a patio for when the weather's nice). Great desserts and cocktails too. (RiNo)
  • Los Chingones and Sugar Mill: Related-restaurants that are next door to each other on Larimer in RiNo. Order a few tacos and a side of guac then head up to the rooftop deck. Go next door to the SugarMill for dessert. Of course you can have dinner at SugarMill too, it's fresh and seasonal and very good!
  • City O'City and Watercourse: Absolutely delicious vegetarian fare that even a carnivore will love. (Capitol Hill and Uptown)
  • Queen of Sheba: Ethiopian. (Park Hill) 
  • Abyssinia: Ethiopian. (Park Hill)
  • Cake Crumbs (Park Hill): Excellent birthday cakes and delicious cupcakes. They have two food trucks that roam the city: one for pies and one for cupcakes. Yum!
  • Tacos Acapulco: Some of the best pupusas I've ever eaten. Topped with curdito and sauce. Delicious cheap eats. (East Colfax/Southeast)
  • Pinche Taco: Long waits, ridiculously delicious, lots of vegetarian options, great happy hour.(E. Colfax

  • Glaze: Euro-Asian (German and Japanese) baumkuchen, or baum cakes, are absolutely delicious. Think Matcha green tea and white chocolate, or concentric layers of lemon with glaze and strawberry mousse. An added bonus, you can watch them make the cakes in the "red dragon" oven. Update: Glaze is now paired up with Sushi Sasa, so awesome food is available too. (Congress Park)
  • Ethiopian Food: Ethiopian Restaurant. The name says it all. In between Detroit and Fillmore on Colfax. 
  • Snooze: Great brunch. Long lines. Worth the wait. Get their sweet potato pancakes, chilaquiles, or huevos rancheros. You won't be disappointed. (Congress Park, Uptown and Union Staion)
  • Fruition: A classic. Seasonal and farm-to-table.(Country Club)
  • Barolo Grill: Italian. We went here for a friend's birthday and had a blast. I thought the pesto gnocchi was one of the best I've eaten in Denver. Lots of seasonal ingredients on the menu (in our case, berries). Expensive, great quality, excellent wine list. (N. Cherry Creek)
  • Osteria Marco: Amazing burrata, antipasti and pizzas. A more casual version of its sister-restaurant Luca d'Italia. (Larimer Square/LoDo) 
  • Euclid Hall: Pub food, elevated. {Inspired recipe.}(Larimer Square/LoDo)

  • ChoLon: Modern Asian bistro. Try the kaya toasts and Onion-soup with Gruyere dumplings. (LoDo) 
  • The Squeaky Bean: The food was inventive and seasonal. It's not known for its vegetarian fare, but that's what I got (obviously) and it was forward thinking and delicious. The cocktails were some of the best I've had in Denver. 
  • Colt & Gray: Great food, mostly locally sourced and seasonal. Great bar with creative cocktail list. Gorgeous space. (South Platte)
  • Vert Kitchen: The perfect place to sit down for lunch. Of course you can also make your order to-go and head over to Washington Park for a picnic. Best sandwiches in Colorado? Maybe. I love the torilla española. The sides are fantastic. (Washington Park West)
  • Sushi Den: The place to go for sushi (it is pricey, but really good). Their sister restaurant Izakaya Den has excellent Ramen. 
  • Devil's Food Bakery: Addictive pastries and cake that you just can't stop eating. (Washington Park, Gaylord St.)
  • Jonsey's Eat Bar: Terrific gastropub with killer fries (considered some of the best in the U.S.) and an amazing southwestern black bean slider. (Uptown)
  • Ace: Ping-pong (or table tennis) and dim-sum. (Uptown)
  • Steuben'sI finally got to eat here after trying three separate times. Great food, lively ambiance, fun decor, and a vegetarian burger made in house. Mac and cheese was delicious too. Comfort food, elevated. They also have a food truck at Civic Center Eats. (Uptown)
  • Beast + Bottle: Reminded me of home. Delicious plates, seasonal ingredients, excellent execution, nice ambiance/design. Expensive and worth it for a special occasion. (Uptown)

  • Sweet Action: Some of the best ice cream in the country. (Broadway/Historic Baker) 
  • Pizzeria Locale: The Boulder-based pizza joint now has an outpost in Denver. It's delicious! Note: Boulder is restaurant-service and Denver is quick-service (i.e. You order on line and then pick it up before sitting down. Great if you have kids.)
  • Punch Bowl: Relatively new. Bowling, food and drink. Gorgeous interiors too.(Broadway/Historic Baker)
  • New Saigon: Vietnamese. Down on S. Federal, but worth the trip if you're local.(South Denver)
  • Jerusalem: Hands down, the best Middle Eastern food in Denver. And trust me, I've lived in the Middle-East (DU neighborhood). Home-grown chains of Garbanzo and Falafel King (Boulder) are nice too.

  • The Humble Pie: Delicious in every which way. Chocolate pecan, spiced pumpkin, banana cream are some of my favorites. Oh, what am I saying? They're all good. Savory options like mushroom & spinach quiche shouldn't be missed either. (Coming to Colfax in Fall 2015)

  • The Source: A reclaimed and resigned 1880s ironworks building that's been converted into a modern marketplace. Bread, cheese, chocolate, beer, artwork, restaurants (including the award-winning Acorn and one of my favorite taco places, Comida). It's pretty awesome.(RiNo)
  • Famed Voodoo Doughnuts opened this fall on Colfax. Yes, that Portland institution has come to Denver. Long lines, but not too terrible in the early morning hours. Sometimes they will even give away buckets of hour-old doughnuts for $8. Also, and equally exciting, Glazed & Confused will have a brick and mortar on Leetsdale. Good thing we Coloradans love hiking so much! 
Drinks and Breweries:

  • Beatrice and Woodsley: You'll feel like you're in a Colorado mountain lodge thanks to the Aspen trees that help decorate this fantastic spot. Great menu. Delicious drinks. The Violet Beauregard (muddled blueberries, Sobieski vodka, simple syrup and St. Germaine) was lip-smacking good.(S. Broadway/Baker)
In a category of its own: 
The Bronocos at Mile High Stadium

Walking Tours & Architecture:

  • Krisana Park: Several (long) blocks of Eicher-inspired, California-style Mid-Century Modern architecture. It's unreal. 
  • Colfax and the Googie signage (I'll be posting on this soon...)
  • Note: There's also The Denver Microbrew Tour-- which I haven't done, but it's on my list.

Perk Me Up:
  • Crema: French press coffee and great food. Wonderful atmosphere and decor. (Five Points)
  • The Humble Pie: Chocolate pecan pie + cappuccino = a pretty good day. There are seasonal options like strawberry-rhubarb pie and savory pies like white bean spring veggie too. Quiche is scrumptious. (Baker)
  • The Weathervane Cafe: Adorable cottage-turned-coffee-shop. Great desserts, love the lavender latte, house made food too. And they sometimes host a Cement Market with tons of locally made foods, goods and crafts (including Blade + Knoll cutting boards!).
  • Black Eye Coffee Shop (Highlands). Gorgeous restoration + boxcar coffee + sweets = great spot.

  • Boxcar Coffee Roasters: A Boulder-based coffee company, now in Denver at The Source in RiNo. Lives up to the hype.
  • Dazbog: Coffee with a bit of Russian heritage thrown in the mix.(Congress Park at Clayton)
  • Hooked on Colfax: Nice people, good brew. Close to the Bluebird music venue. And my neighborhood joint. 

  • Novo Coffee: One of the best roasters in the United States is located right here in Denver. I stumbled into their roasting facility (located in a warehouse at 3008 Larimer St.) on a Friday afternoon after 1 p.m. I got 2 Ethiopian blends and their holiday blend. And as an extra bonus, Herb and Erich showed me around. It was a big olfactory treat. Great beans, expertly roasted means one great cup o' joe. (They also host "Friday cupping.") 
Books: The Tattered Cover (Colfax and LoDo)I buy too many cookbooks. 'Nuff said.

Cut Your Locks:

  • Base Coat Modern Nail Salon (Berkeley/Tennyson): Part gallery, part salon = all parts awesome! This modern nail salon uses R.L. Linden natural beauty products (like oils, lotions and scrubs) and non-toxic nail polish in fantastic and well-curated colors!  

Petals and Plants:
  • The Perfect Petal (Highlands)
  • Wild Flowers (Congress Park): Great plants, fountains, home decor, unique greeting cards and cookbooks.
  • Ironwood (South Broadway) If I could live in a plant shop, this would be high on the list. Aerophytes (air plants), cacti, terrariums, and local art. It's a gem. 

  • Hazel & Dewey: The perfect shop. This modern mercantile is stocked with some of my hometown favorites (NYC/Brooklyn), great ceramics from Portland, and lots of Colorado designs too. Keep it local! 
  • Covered Wallpaper: The best wallpaper. Period. 
  • I Heart Denver: Local flare. Local art. Just plain local!  (16th Street)
  • Mod Livin': Mid-century and modern furnishings.
  • Lee Alex Decor: Great selection of vintage and mid-mod home furnishing, with consignment deals too (which are priced well). 
Parks:Click here to search all city parks
  • Washington Park: Denver's Central Park, minus the horse-drawn carriages. 
  • City Park: Hosts Sunday jazz in the summer. There are lots of spots to picnic, but watch the goose poop. You can also find the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature and Science here...and there's a public course, if golf's your thing. Boating available at the lake. *Summer splash pad (fountains) are located in the park, near the Museum of Nature and Science. 
  • Sloan's Lake: You can skip rocks on the lake and take in views of the mountains and the city skyline. This is where President Obama held a massive rally during the 2012 election cycle.
  • Cheesman Park: Gorgeous views of the mountains, right next to the Botanic Gardens. The perfect place for a picnic!
Hiking (we take the boys):

  • Mt. Evans: For the high-altitude seekers.
  • St. Mary's Glacier: Gorgeous hike up large boulders. Reward at the top is the spectacular glacial lake. And our most recent excursion to the glacier.
  • El Dorado Canyon: Mountain-fed streams cut through this gorgeous canyon. Lots of rock climbers and spectacular views. Start with Fowler Trail.
  • Red Rocks: music amphitheater and gorgeous trails, where you'll rocks!
  • Roxborough State Park: South Rim trail is easy with kids. Beautiful rock formations and mountain vistas. Lots of special monthly programs, kids welcome on most.
  • Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Spectacular hikes. Blue Grouse is a nice trail for beginner hikers. Higher-elevation trails give the most amazing views of the mountain range.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park: An amazing treasure. Exceptional fall foliage, tons of wildlife. Spend a long weekend. You won't regret it. Our most recent hike

  • Dinosaur Ridge: Millions of years ago, Colorado was part of the Western Inland Sea. It was hot, humid and the perfect place for mega flora and fauna (read: dinosaurs). Ghost prints, skeletal imprints and dinosaur bones were discovered in the 1930s when the Alameda parkway was being built. Walk the main road and turn right when you hit signs for Dakota Trail. Easy walk on the spine of the ridge, overlooks Red Rocks. 
  • Staunton State Park, opened in May, 2013. I'll be blogging about it in a bit. 
  • A shlep, but worth it: Hanging Lake and Glenwood Canyon (3 hours from Denver on I-70)

  • And another shlep (well worth it), Aspen. Maroon Bells is the gold standard.
  • Monarch Lake (image below) is also worth a trip and it's about 1 1/2 hours from Denver. 

Farms (Pick-Your-Own and great for kids):

For the Kids:

  • Children's Museum of Denver: Innovative play areas (the bubble room is lots of fun), story time and painting too. The brand-spanking new Newton-Kinetics room is amazing. 
  • Denver Art Museum: Child-friendly exhibits and play areas throughout. 
  • The Museum of Nature and Science: Designated discovery zone for kids and smaller play areas throughout the museum.
  • The Denver Zoo: The country's 5th largest. (See Culture & Main Attractions).
  • Denver Public Swimming Pools (seasonal, summer)
  • The History of Colorado Museum has great interactive areas for children. 
  • The Boulder Reservoir is also great for kids who are looking for a little bit of beach in this land-locked state.

And finally, my favorite local bloggers and local publications:
  • Fellow Magazine Simply stunning. Everything local.
  • Make. Taste. Muse. (Exploring the best of the maker community and sharing their stories. One make, taste and muse at a time. The author, Courtney, is also really nice.) 
  • Happy Yolks (Original recipes + hiking + beautiful words and stunning photography.)
  • Oh, Ladycakes (Ashlae, a Denver-based writer, pens this vegan baking blog that is chock-full of scrumptious recipes…and I'm not even a vegan!)
  • Two-Tarts (Boulder-based blog with seasonal food and amazing cocktails. Gorgeous photography too. The ladies behind the fantastic Colorado Crafted.)
  • A Denver Home Companion (Denver, food, musing on motherhood, skin care, and great guest blogger posts.)
  • Savor This (I love her style and spend a good deal of time thinking, "How can I make that vegetarian?")
  • 5280 
  • Modern in Denver
  • The Westword (Denver's Village Voice...)
  • Edible Front Range
  • Another good resource: The Design Sponge Denver City Guide. There is a bit of overlap in the food and cultural institutions department, but this guide emphasizes design, clothes and home furnishings.
Well, that concludes my little list. I think this is such a terrific city. Mayor Hancock, watch out! I want your job! 
We've lived here for almost three years, so I'm hardly a native. But I am adventurous and I like to take my boys out every chance I get. If I left something out, or there is some place I should eat, tell me about it. I'd love to know if something is missing! 
Buh-bye for now...

5Pointz, Long Island City, Queens and Pizza Margherita

On the day the world was supposed to end (May 21, 2011), we hopped on the subway and headed towards Queens. I really wanted to check out 5Pointz, a graffiti/street art project on the facade of a 200,000 square foot factory building in Long Island City. It had long been on my list of places to visit, so I was glad we finally got to see it.  
At 5Pointz, artists get permits to "tag" and paint; it's all completely legal. Most of the work is ephemeral and only lasts a few weeks before it is painted over, but the really good stuff stays around for a bit longer...

Matt, Otis, a very pregnant yours truly, and our dear friend  Andrew (a supremely talented modern classical composer who's working on a piece called Otis!) decided that before we took in all the street art, a pilgrimage to Jackson Heights' Delhi Palace was in order. With bellies full of delicious Indian food, we then set out 


* * *
It was a nice weekend and nothing could cap it off better than some homemade pizza.  I was craving a DiFara style pie, but not wanting to wait 2 plus hours in Midwood, I decided to make the pizza myself by adapting a recipe I saw in Saveur. 
Cook's Tip: Use high-quality, fresh mozzarella and slice the cheese into 1/4 inch rounds. Place the cheese in between 2 paper towels. Put a plate on top of the covered cheese and weigh it down for 20 minutes.  You can use a large can of tomatoes or some other canned product for the weight.  This will get the moisture out of the cheese so you don't have puddles on your pizza!   

Yields 2 11-inch personal pies
1 ball of dough (I purchased a ball of pizza dough from Union Market and it was excellent.  Another good option-- your local pizza shop.  Many will sell you a ball of dough for a buck or two.)
Extra-virgin olive oil
San Marzano tomato sauce (recipe follows)
One large ball of mozzarella di buffala (it's expensive but worth it)
Basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Remove dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.  Put a pizza stone on the lowest rack in the oven and heat oven to 500 degrees; heat for at least 40 minutes.  Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (I divided my ball into two), dust with flour; using your hands, stretch and shape dough into a 11-13 inch circle.  Transfer dough to a sheet of parchment paper or an oiled pizza mesh(I use the mesh).  Drizzle oil around rim of the dough.  Spoon about 1/2 cup tomato sauce onto dough leaving 1/2 - 3/4 inch border. (Original recipe had 1/4 cup of sauce on the dough.  I used more.)  Season with salt.
Arrange mozzarella di buffala evenly over pizza.  Drizzle pizza with more oil.
Using a pizza paddle or grasping the edges of the parchment paper, transfer pizza to pizza stone.  (I used a pizza paddle.)
Bake until golden brown, about 13 minutes.  Keep you eye on the pizza.  One Saveur commenter noted that his pizza was ready in 8 minutes.  Our oven took 12-13 minutes and it was perfect.
Slide pizza back onto the paddle and transfer to a work surface.  Top with basil, drizzle with more olive oil, if you like (and I do!), and put the pizza back on the stone for 1 minute.  Remove pizza from oven.  Slice.  
Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.  Reserve remaining sauce for another use, such as pasta. 

Basic Tomato Sauce
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, inspired by 101 Cookbooks)
2 tablespoon butter or olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 clove garlic, chopped
A couple glugs red wine
1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
1 15-ounce can pureed tomatoes
A handful of julienned basil (optional)
Zest of one lemon (optional)
Melt butter in saucepan over medium-high heat until foam subsides. Add shallots, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic sauteing them together for a few minutes until the shallots are translucent and beginning to color. Add the red wine, letting it sizzle and cook down slightly, then the whole and pureed tomatoes. Breaking the whole tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. Season to taste. I used an immersion blender to puree the sauce, but if you like a thicker texture, leave it as is.

Shades of Pink: Newark's Cherry Blossom Festival and Raspberry Coulis

My 19 month-old son (Otis) is obsessed with a book called "Eye Like Colors." The pink page has flamingoes, cherry blossoms and raspberries (among other thing) and it gave me just the inspiration I needed for this post. Cherry blossom blooms were everywhere a few weeks ago and I saw the most awesome looking raspberries the other day. Pink (or a light shade of red) was the color of the day, so I bought a pint of fresh berries decided it would make the perfect coulis. Now what would go well with coulis?  

It didn't take me long to remember that I made the best cheesecake I ever made a month ago. The recipe for Upstate Cheesecake from Brooklyn's Baked was a total hit and I was thinking about making it again anyway.
So, on a lovely afternoon while both boys (canine and human alike) took long naps, I started on the cheesecake. It's not difficult to make, but you do need to carve out a bit of time. After making the batter the cake bakes for 10 minutes at a high temperature. Then it bakes for another hour at a lower temperature. Next there is a slow temperature reduction which takes an hour with the oven heat turned off (the cake is left in the oven). This cheesecake doesn't require a lot of hands-on time but, like I said, you have to keep an eye on things and stay close to the oven.
Everything was going great until a bit of the oil I used to grease the spring-form pan started dripping down onto the oven floor. One thing led to another and smoke started to fill the room (I'm not totally sure how this happened). Our 'talking' fire alarm started screeching "Fire! Fire!" and all the sirens went off. Omar, the pooch, went berserk and I hopped up on my aqua blue rocking chair in an attempt to dismantle the fire alarm. Being almost 7 months pregnant, I don't exactly have the balance I used to and I got side swiped by a ferocious bout of vertigo. This led to a free-fall down to the floor, fire alarm in hand, and me yelling, "Otis, don't worry...mommy has this under control." Otis had woken up from his nap and he wasn't buying it. 
Well, as it turns out, near kitchen catastrophes make the best dishes and the cheesecake came out perfectly...even with a cool down period that wasn't in the recipe's instructions and was done out of necessity (I had to cool down the oven and clean it quickly). The raspberry coulis was wonderful and very easy to make. My sieve wasn't fine enough so I did get some seeds, but it was still delicious.

As for the Newark Cherry Blossom Festival, it did not disappoint. My husband follows Newark's mayor Cory Booker (see: Street Fight) on his twitter feed. The Mayor promised that the cherry blossoms in Jersey were more numerous than those in D.C. and indeed they were. The flowering trees were beautiful and the crowds were enormous. There were some cultural performances and some excellent snacks. Okay, and I had my fair share of deep-fried Oreos. Because, you know, nothing says springtime like deep-fried Oreos! 
What a wonderful time of year...
Otis with one of his most favorite cousins....

Raspberry Coulis (Courtesy of The Top Chef Cookbook, Contestant Hung Huynh) 
1 pint fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and puree.  Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing down on the solids.  Discard the seeds.  Taste and add more sugar or lemon juice if needed.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

I didn't make the cake in a 'water bath' which is supposed to help minimize cracking. That said, the cracking doesn't change the taste...not one bit!

Shalom/Salaam: It's Street Eats (Revisited) and Shakshuka

Navigating the streets with a little help from Saveur magazine
Jerusalem is an unbelievable city. Yes, sadly, it has known war and conflict for thousands of years. But it is also where kings built temples and religions were born (which is interesting to me, though I'm an agnostic). There are mosques, churches and synagogues. There are the market stalls of Machane Yehuda and the Arab souk. There is loud music and the calls to prayer emanating from the minarets. There are the sounds of people rushing to worship at the Wailing Wall and cab drivers who honk their horns incessantly. There is commotion and noise. But you can find pockets of silence in the city's old quarters too. And the food is some of the tastiest in the world. 
Palestinians and Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds-- German, Polish and Hungarian Jews, Armenians, Ethiopians, Copts, Russians, Moroccans, Greek Orthodox, Yemenis and Iraqis-- call this city home. All those diverse backgrounds give Jerusalem a wonderful culinary scene. It's where I've had some of  the best food I've ever eaten. Hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, labneh and fatoosh salad are some of my regional favorites. There are pillars of halvah, barrels of olives, eggplants, dates, pomegranates, pine nuts, pistachios, spices and the freshest, most amazing pita on almost every corner. There are also incredible sweets (kanafeh is my favorite, rugelach is up there too) and challah bread that is so good you could eat two loaves of in just one sitting. 
Many thanks to Saveur Magazine for directing my inner foodie on the streets of the Jerusalem, in a little place called the Middle East.
The best falafel in the New City
Palestinian Bread Vendor, Jaffa Gate

Dome of the Rock Zaatar Spice, Arab Quarter, Old City
Levy Brother's Falafel, New City 
Iraqi dish (I forgot the name), Azura, New City
My favorite breakfast on our trip was the eponymous dish at Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa, on the Mediterranean coast. Shakshuka, also spelled Shakshouka, consists of poached eggs, tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices. It probably originated in Tunisia (though some say Libya) and was made popular in Israel by Tunisian immigrants in the 1940's and 50's.  Where ever it comes from, you'll be hard pressed to have any of it left over on your plate.
I made my own Shakshuka when I got home, using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen (adapted from Saveur) which I adjusted only slightly:
Shakshuka [Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce]
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 cup olive oil
3 Anaheim chiles or 3 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed then sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
Kosher salt, to taste
6 eggs
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pitas, for serving
Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chiles and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.
Put tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush with your hands. Add crushed tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt.
Crack eggs over sauce so that eggs are evenly distributed across sauce’s surface. Cover skillet and cook until yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pitas, for dipping.
We had amazing Shakshuka the day we set-off for our day trip to Petra, Jordan.
All this food is making me think it is time to take a trip back to Tanoreen in Bay Ridge, for amazing Middle-Eastern food (though shakshuka is not on the menu).   
If anyone is able to get me Rawia's recipes, I will pay top dollar!
Shalom and Salaam!
شهية طيبة, Bi'Tayavon and Bon Appetite!