August Laura: From Dreams to A Charming Reality

so-it-appears
So It Appears

Sure, New York City has lots of glitz and glam. Huge buildings and iconic attractions are among its characteristics, but NYC wouldn’t be what it is today, without its dreamers; those who take a chance to pursue their passions with reckless abandon – or those who live by ‘YOLO’ (You Only Live Once). For generations, New York has been built by go-getters and is full of those seeking their ultimate ‘American Dream.’

The same aspirations are true for Frankie Rodriguez and Alyssa Sartor, owners of August Laura, in Brooklyn. Bartending more than 20 years combined in New York City, the couple was blessed to open their ‘dream,’ befittingly located four blocks from where Alyssa’s grandfather (an Italian immigrant) grew up. Paying homage to her grandfather, the living room style bar has been named after him. The deep familial ties are undeniable at August Laura. Family pictures and home-goods are tastefully placed around the room, creating a cozy nightcap for all guests.

Tipples are elegant, intriguing, and satisfying, at the warm neighborhood cocktail bar. Each highlight the individual ingredients whether sweet, bitter, or savory and progress thoughtfully in spirit strength. The signature and nostalgic Amaretto Sour is seriously addictive. Alyssa’s recipe uses egg white and flavorful Nocino walnut liqueur, which adds sophistication and a seductive, creamy element to each sip. Shaved nutmeg heightens the senses and is the perfect garnish for the luscious drink.

The dedicated staff at August Laura pours sippers for patrons nightly, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, while listing to stellar playlists such as Sam Smith, 90s rap, and even a live jazz duo (every Wednesday night).

In its premier year, August Laura is making its imprint because Alyssa and Frankie dared to dream. Each time a customer enjoys their drink of choice, in essence, he or she raises a glass to couple’s surreal American Dream.

Want to know more about August Laura? Check the interview and how to make the buzz-worthy Amaretto Sour on POUR.

August Laura

387 Court Street

Brooklyn, NY 11231

Tidbits:

Jazz on Wednesday evenings

Pop-up Weekend Brunch: Dovecote at August Laura – Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 3 pm (featuring La Colombe coffee, coffee cocktails, and local bakery goods)

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Brennivin is Here for Holiday Cheer

brennivinIt’s celebration season and Brennivin, the original Icelandic Spirit, marks the launch of its 80th Anniversary Cask Aged Aquavit. For the first time, this semisweet spirit is available in the United States.Only 1,200 out of 5,000 bottles may be purchased here for the holiday season.

The Aquavit is made from grain and infused with caraway seeds. Made from grain and infused with caraway seeds, the current batch was distilled in 2015, then matured for one year, aging within a combination of Islay Whiskey casks, bourbon barrels, and finished in New American White Oak. The result is a deliciously, smooth spirit which can be enjoyed on its own.

opalLicorice lovers have another reason to rejoice as Brennivin’s Opal Icelandic Liqueur recently made its première voyage to the U.S. The unique flavor profile is akin to Iceland’s beloved pasteille, a licorice-like candy. The unmistakable label echoes a groovy 1940s /1950s pop art bulls-eye design.

 

With such exclusivity to the Scandinavian sippers, there’s a handful of states which sell spirits (listed below). Howevery, if you are in or near New York City, you can head to the Up & Up Bar (116 Macdougal Street), the first U.S. bar to offer Brennivin. Imbibe on tipples such as the Icelandic Sense of Urgency crafted with honey, jalapeno and of course the 80th Anniversary Edition Brennivin or try the savory Visa Application made with both Brennivin exclusives, sherry and pear brandy. Cheers!

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Brennivin 80th Anniversary Cask Aged Aquavit:

— 40% ABV
— Price: market to market

Opal Icelandic Liqueur:

— 40% ABV
—  Price: around $35, 750ml bottle

Where to find Brennivin 80th Anniversary Cask Aged Aquavit and Opal Icelandic Liqueur (listed by state and merchant):  

Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—MS Walker
California—H. Mercer Imports, K&L Wines, Bar Keeper LA and Bitters & Bottles (SF)
Texas — Favorite Brands
Kentucky — River City Distributing
Colorado — European Wines & Spirits
Washington, DC — Sherry’s Wines
Washington State — Vinum Wines & Spirits
Alabama/Idaho/Montana/Oregon/Wyoming — State Special Order

Brooklyn’s Well Known Secret: Roberta’s

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Family Jewels Pizza

If you live in the vicinity of Brooklyn’s eclectic Bushwick neighborhood, or even voyage over the water from Manhattan (gasp!) you know ‘Roberta’s’ and heavenly ‘pizza’ are synonymous. This beloved Brooklyn pizza is as popular as New York City’s legendary bagels. So light and incredibly flavorful, the dough stands up to heavy-hitting ingredients.

Known for its relaxed, funky ambiance that serves up decadent ingredients like Italian caciocavallo cheese and delicious spek, Roberta’s is a favorite of locals and beyond. Surrounded  by refurbished, trendy warehouses, vintage clothing boutiques, and local watering holes, this hotspot contends with the most favored pizzerias in New York City.

The thoughtful selection of wine, cocktails and beer are well-rounded and have an emphasis on supporting local vendors. One such beverage, the Wölffer Rosé Cider from Long Island, is an exquisite cider made in the style of Rosé wine. Tip:this bubbly bev. beautifully complements the Duck Prosciutto appetizer.The unique prosciutto interpretation of using duck compared to traditional ham is brilliant and is deliciously paired with the cider.

Any cured meat begs for bread and Roberta’s perfectly baked bread – flaky outside while magically light and fluffy inside – doesn’t disappoint. Truly, all of the doughy treats: brunch sticky buns, biscuits, and croissants are equally as mouthwatering, lush and baked on the premises. No wonder guests visit in droves, waiting up to two hours for a table sometimes. Unfortunately, reservations are not taken, but calling ahead for the wait-time status doesn’t hurt.

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Duck Prosciutto and Wölffer Rosé Cider

Every pizza is made to order and fired in a brick oven that greets guests upon arrival. Although it’s hard not to order one of each menu item, there are a few must-haves. I recommend the delectable Family Jewels pie  topped with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and prosciutto bread crumbs. If toppings are your jam, try the Spekenwolf with a whopping 14 toppings, including crimini mushrooms, eggplant and ricotta salata.

Roberta’s isn’t a one-trick pony, though. Other entrées like the zesty Sasso Chicken with salsa verde  or the addictive Dry-Aged Wagyu Carpaccio are also  showstoppers. With an enticing menu, regulars are always thrilled to try something different each visit or enjoy their ‘usual’ as if it was the first time. There are so many exceptional restaurants in unexpected places in Brooklyn – and Roberta’s is no exception to this truth. The quirky pizzeria is also a bakery and tiki bar in the middle of industrial and auto repair lots. It’s obvious Roberta’s doesn’t fit any molds but breaks them instead.

Roberta’s

261 Moore St.

Brooklyn, NY 11206

718-417-1118

Tidbits:

Manhattan outpost location: 230 Park in Midtown.

Roberta’s frozen pizza is available in select markets and online grocers.

Comfort “Phó”d Season

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Grilled Pork Chop Phó

‘Tis the season for comfort food. As always, it conjures up fond memories, awakens the taste buds and is super satisfying. We all have our go-to favs, but I’ve added different dish to my all-star list – phó – and Shanghi Shack serves up the real deal.

This shack is a local favorite among the NYU, Greenwhich Village crowds and phó lovers alike. No passport or long flight necessary to indulge in this pool of brothy love straight from the orient. Cozy up to a deep dish filled with noodles and grilled pork chop (or your choice of topping). Pick and choose from a spread of fresh lime, basil leaves and beansprouts to enhance the rich flavor of the phó. Or, settle down to the classic, plentiful báhn mì sandwich with Vietnamese ham, house bacon and paté. If you’re more of a vermicelli purist, pair it with tender grilled lemongrass chicken or seasoned soy. There’s a great selection of choices including vibrant salads and fresh juices, but don’t overlook the perfectly fried sweet potato fries with the addictive house mayo sauce – I promise you’ll want it sauce on everything!

As we turn to stews, casseroles, and roasted veggies this time of year, venture out and try a new type of home cooking. It may not be momma’s kind of fare but as long as it’s tasty and brings you to a happy place, she’ll approve.

 

114 MacDougle St.

212-228-0588

Open for dining, pick up and take out orders

**cash only**

U.ndeniably W.onderful S.pots in the U.W.S.

Many people know the Upper West Side, U.W.S. for short, for it’s exquisite museums – MOMA, The Museum of Natural History, the Planetarium and of course Central Park. But remember, this is New York City, one of the world’s food mecca’s and so ANY NEIGHBORHOOD in this city is known for it’s food – The Upper West Side included. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling some new dines and known favorites in this neighborhood.

New to me, but well established to locals is Canteen 82. This superb sushi and Shanghai-centric joint offers fresh, organic ingredients. So many imaginative sushi rolls in this eatery – there’s the Mango Fly Roll filled with spicy tuna and yellowtail fish topped with mango and also the Green Dragon Roll stuffed with sweet potato, shitake mushrooms and cucumber draped with avocado.

Green Dragon and Mango Fly Rolls, Canteen82
Green Dragon and Mango Fly Rolls, Canteen82

I cannot say enough about their succulent pork soup dumplings. These babies are similar to traditional dumplings but include a helping of pork broth inside, so your bite bursts with flavor to seduce your taste buds! You must try it at least once in your life. Unforgettable!

Address: 467 Columbus Ave. (bet. 82nd and 83rd )

Another popular place is Gabriela’s Restaurant & Tequila Bar. No passport necessary, but once your walk under the front trellis your are instantly transported to Gabriel’s back patio in Mexico. Authenticity is taken very seriously here. Especially in the coveted moles served – Poblano (pepper and chocolate based sauce) and Pipian(pumpkin seed and almond sauce). I recommend notable dishes: Empanada de Pollo Organico, a turnover filled with organic chicken, sautéed tomatoes and onions and the Pork Al Pastor tacos.

Empanadas de Pollo Organico, Al Pastor Tacos, Shrimp Chimichanga, and Suizas
Empanadas de Pollo Organico, Al Pastor Tacos, Shrimp Chimichanga, and Suizas

And you cannot miss the shrimp chimichanga filled with beans, cheese and tomato sauce (pictured) nor the Suizas enchilada packed with chicken topped with Pico de Gallo, sour cream and Green Salsa or you can opted for a mole sauce instead (pictured). No matter what you order you won’t be disappointed. Be adventurous and accompany your option with their delicious sangria or a fantastic margarita. Looking for a brunch option? Gabriela’s offers an unbeatable $13 spread of dishes every weekend and holiday!

Address: 688 Columbus Ave. (at 93rd st.)

One of my favorite places, The Meatball Shop, is one of the new kids on the block (literally). Recently making their claim to the UWS, Owners, Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow have opened their fifth location in Manhattan (sixth overall) which is all the buzz in town. This time, I tried the mysterious yet legendary Kitchen Sink Salad with a quinoas, turkey meatball topped with homemade pesto and vinaigrette dressing. The salad is made up of the chef’s choice of

Kitchen Sink Salad with Quinoas Turkey meatballs and pesto sauce
Kitchen Sink Salad with Quinoas Turkey meatballs and pesto sauce

greens and veggies. Mine included sliced apples, shredded carrots with raisins, sautéed cauliflower, mushrooms, and beets. All topped with extra mozzarella cheese. Absolutely tantalizing! I’ve reviewed The Meatball Shop in a previous post… if you’re hungry for more, read the full review here.

Address: 477 Amsterdam Ave.

Shakeshak, a glorious burger joint to New Yorkers. Known for it’s heavenly milkshakes, juicy burgers, dogs and addictive fries, this shack is a grill-grub home for museum tourists and natives alike. Cannot miss the DogMeister- a dog topped with Shack cheddar and American cheese sauce and crispy ShackMeister Ale-marinated shallots. Umm-hmm, sounds great, right? Wash it down with a Caramel shake or a featured beer. P.S. Congrats to ShakeShak for it’s newest location in Flatbush, Brooklyn!

Address: 366 Columbus Ave. ( at 77th st.)

New York’s Tastes and Tunes

There’s something about live music at mealtime that enhances the dinning experience. It’s refreshing to be greeted by a rousing brass band, stellar guitar solo, or the smooth stylings of an incredible vocalist. Regardless of genre, live performances tend to draw  great crowds. Plus, when you throw great food and drink into the mix, a great time is to be had!

Restaurateurs have definitely been bitten by the “live tunes” bug. It’s no longer a new trend, more like a mainstay in many locations. Bars, lounges, supper clubs, and other dines have regularly scheduled performers during service. Since I love to indulge in great tastes and music, here are a few of my favorite places for both!

The Darby

244 West 14th St.

212-242-4411

Iron Chef Alexandra (Alex) Gaurneschelli is the culinary force behind the wildly popular speakeasy, The Darby. Reviving the illustrious 1920s, this sexy, intimate, and beautifully decorated dine transports diners into the yesteryear prohibition’s thrilling rebellious swagger. With plush cranberry and dark redwood accents, opulent chandeliers and a raised center stage highlighting The Darby Band – an exquisite five person jazz band with vocalist- this NYC dinner destination is well worth the hype. And since I’m all about food, the dishes are as spectacular as the band. Plates such as perfectly grilled octopus with a bacon and red wine dressing adorned with pickled jalapeno peppers, seared Colorado rack of lamb with roasted potato cake, green olives and fresh mint and a wide raw bar selection as well as caviar service (with Beluga Noble Russian Vodka!) are well worth a splurge as Iron Chef Gaurneschelli guarantees guests are dazzled by the selections and entertainment!

Tosh’s Living Room

9 West 26th St.

212-839-8000

Toshi’s Living Room, a part of the Flat Iron Hotel, is a fun, trendy spot for live music chasers. With whimsical, colorful furniture, guests are invited to relax or dance the night away to the tunes of rock, jazz, pop, or whatever’s on the nightly music menu. The fishbowl setting with its spacious front stage is the perfect backdrop for live entertainment. Click here for my full review of this rockin’ living room.

The Garage

99 7th Avenue

212-645-0600

Set in the heart of the West Village, stands a jazz haven pumping out original and iconic arrangements like Take Five by the late Dave Brubeck. Thoughtfully named The Garage, this jazz café is popular among the locals. Its raised stage spotlights local artists and bands playing classics by such legends as Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Portraits of many musical all-stars are displayed on the walls along with abstract designed car parts (playing into the name of the café). Weekend brunch is the best time to visit as there is a delicious prefix menu ($17) ranging from creative egg benedict dishes such as the Crab and Lobster Benedict smothered in a turmeric hollandaise sauce or the Surf and Turf with filet mignon and Main lobster covered in a smooth béarnaise sauce, to a delicious Belgium waffle with a choice of homemade macadamia coconut rum butter and freshly made chocolate sauce or a cinnamon apple compote. The Jazz Brunch also offers unlimited Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s and Screwdrivers for an additional $6. Can’t beat that!

These are just a few tasty, tune-centric haunts NYC has to offer. My list is continually growing. Check back for more soon!

An Adult Playhouse…No, not THAT kind of Playhouse! – Toshi’s Living Room

I love stumbling upon social gems in the city. That’s exactly what happened one day, when I noticed a building with floor-to-ceiling windows decorated by the glow of flashing neon lights and people dancing outside. Naturally, I was drawn in. It turns out that the fun factory was Toshi’s Living Room, aka Toshi’s Play House, a lounge in the Flatiron Hotel. This lounge was anything but low key; more like an after work play land. Surrounded by mom and pop shops in an uneventful section of Broadway, this meet up spot is a diamond in the rough. Colorful, cozy, sunken couches paired with low, chic coffee tables, created a grown-up Alice in Wonderland effect. The spacious hot spot houses a corner bar with egg-shaped stools, and a massive cylindrical aquarium with exotic fish as a backdrop. In fact, the surrounding windows gave visitors a fish bowl feel as well.

 

A great setting to showcase local bands, Toshi is known for nightly live music with space for impromptu dancing.  Foot tapin’ tunes inspire freestyle dancing, whether on the floor or in your chair.  Since it’s a hotel, there are guests of all ages which adds to the fun on any given evening, especially when drinks are involved! There’s a host of spirits ranging from bellinis, to traditional cocktails and wines. When you order wine, the waitress wheels over an actual barrel with a spout to fill your glass… Can you say “out of the box”?

 

With touches of whimsy, a great relaxed vibe, Toshi is now one of my fav picks for a nightcap. I did not try their fare since I had indulged before getting there, but that’s more reason to return!