Category Archives: Libations

One More Reason to Love the 80s

On night 2 of my Parisian life, I found myself at a private wine dinner with a bunch of French people where not only were we tasting vintages from the 1980s, there was a quiz, too.  I was the only American at the dinner, held in a restaurant in a suburb just outside Paris. Obviously, I was the only person who did not speak French. In a touching gesture, one of the hosts (knowing my language limitations in advance) had translated the test into English.

Not that it helped me.

I scored 11.5 points out of 20, and I was proud.  I think everyone was happy that I hadn’t blown it completely, and had shown a bit of knowledge about the great traditions of French wine.


The first course, and my quiz



Check out these bottles.  Pretty cool, right?  I was building tree forts and playing with Barbies when some of these wines were bottled.




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Bitters Sweet

The rain hit my northbound Acela train right after Stamford, and didn’t let go all. day. long.  By the time I finished a long, schleppy day pulling clothes for a shoot, which involved multiple trips along the cold, puddle-filled streets of a very dark, grey Boston, I was in need of two things: comfort and a cocktail.

making Manhattans in Mom's kitchen

Only an amber-liquid would do.  Only something that I could feel warming my insides as I curled up on my mother’s couch at her house in the South Shore. Something slightly sweet.

Manhattan time.

Here’s the secret to a good Manhattan.  It’s bitters.  Sometimes, I just mix some sweet vermouth and bourbon, and add a slice of orange.  Yet it never has that slight, subtle sweetness that bitters adds.  You need only a dash or two.  You can use bitters for lots of other things. Last night, the addition of bitters (and a maraschino cherry) helped me achieve an elusive goal: making a perfect Manhattan at home.



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Cocktail Hour: Sazerac

The Sazerac was invented in New Orleans in the 19th century by a bartender who loved Sazerac, the French brandy.  Today rye whiskey forms the base of a cocktail that is incredibly aromatic and sippable thanks to an herbsaint rinse (like a pastis or absinthe), brandy and bitters.  It’s a slightly softer, jazzier Manhattan.  In other words, it’s all New Orleans.

You can order a delicious version at Peel’s, the new restaurant on the Bowery from the people who own Freeman’s.  Or you can make your own for cocktail hour.  Here’s a recipe from Esquire that seems quite good.




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Bloodies and Moules

It’s almost sacrilege that I haven’t paid my respects to the bloody mary at Ditch Plains and Landmarc (they’re sister restaurants).  It’s a triumph.  First, it’s served in a pint glass.  When I order a bloody, I’m looking for a nice meaty drink to sink my teeth into over time, to savor the crunch celery and the pickled vegetables and the spice.  I can only drink one, and I’d like it to be in this pint glass, so we can bond.

Two, it’s deliciously spicy.  I don’t know what they put in it, but the seasoning is plentiful and excellent.  There is lots of black pepper.  It goes nicely with the healthy serving of pickled veggies that I get with my Ditch Plains bloody.  It’s like V-8 juice.  I feel good about myself, but maybe that’s the bloody talking.

Third, it goes spectacularly well with moules frites, and I staunchly stand behind the moules frites offered at Ditch Plains and Landmarc.  Sure, you could order the Ditch Dog and choke on the fact that you just ate a mac’n’cheese covered hot dog (ok, it’s so good, and you only choke if you eat two), but you would miss the beauty of the mussels. They offer different sauces, and I never order the classic white wine and shallots.  Oh no.  I go for the curry or the dijonnaise.  The curry when I’m feeling exotic, and the dijonnaise when I’m feeling not-exotic.  The mussels are always large and luscious, piled wonderfully high in the cast-iron Staub, steaming when I lift the heavy lid.  I like to pluck half of the mussels from their shells, dropping them into the fragrant sauce and letting them get even juicier while I play speedracer with the ultra crispy French fries.  Oh man.  The mix of mayo+ketchup with a salty, crispy French fry is in my top five favorite bites ever.  I conclude that after exhaustive testing, mostly at the bar at Ditch Plains on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with someone else’s NY Times and that sweet Southern bartender.

DITCH PLAINS, Bedford and Downing Sts, West Village.  Visit for more info.

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Spring Fête

that's the back of my head, at the top left

Now that it’s getting warm all I want to do is throw a party, like this Sunday afternoon party I attended last summer in the Hamptons (see pic above).  My first spring fete will have a Frenchy bohemian vibe (shocker) and lots of rosé and some springy, easy food.  Here’s my plan:

Get a couple of these:

french carafe from a+r store. buy here.

Fill it with this, which is a nice dry $10 rose from September Wines:

Throw down these (because money is no object in my dreams), carpets and pillows from Calypso:

visit Calypso

Go to Blue Ribbon Market and buy a little of this and a little of that:

Then to Murray’s Cheese for more of this and some of that:

And for a treat, I would attempt to make this slow cooked asparagus which is cooked in parchment and is oh-so-pretty and seasonal, from the NY Times (thanks, Em):

And as day turns into night, I would light these, and maybe, oh maybe, we would switch to red wine and order pizza:

$12 candleholders from Crate and Barrel

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Libations: Lambrusco

Fizzy red wine seems wrong doesn’t it?  Like something you drank before you were legally allowed to drink, from a straw, with your fellow high-schoolers.

You’ll have a fresh perspective on the subject after trying Lambrusco, the Italian wine with a touch of fizz that is served chilled, often as an aperitivo or with light meals. Good lambrusco is nice and dry, with noticeable but not obnoxious fruit like cherries or raspberry.  I first had it at Inoteca, the restaurant in the Lower East Side, with a plate of meat and cheese.  I fell in love.

It’s pretty wonderful at the end of a hot day, or even a warm day.  Check out this shot from Gottino’s blog, where they paired it with their “pesto di Parma” crostini, which is made from scraps of proscuitto di Parma, chunks of Parmigiano, sage, olive oil, then ground together and topped with vin cotto.  Man that sounds, and looks, so perfect.

an afternoon snack at Gottino


Places to Buy:

Pasanella and Son, Vintners.  115 South Street in the South St Seaport.

Discovery Wines, 10 Avenue A, East Village.

September Wines, 100 Stanton St, LES.

Astor Wines and Spirits, 399 Lafayette St, Noho.

Bars and Restaurants to Try:

Inoteca, 98 Rivington (LES) and 323 Third Ave (Murray Hill),

Bar Veloce, 3 locations in E. Village, Chelsea and Soho,

Gottino, 52 Greenwich St, W. Village,

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The List: A Great Cocktail Era

Hemingway and Fitzgerald would really love New York right now.  We’re in the midst of a cocktail bar boom, one that clearly takes its inspiration from the Roaring Twenties.  There’s never been a better time to experiment with the wildly interesting cocktail lists from some of the best bartenders, mixologists, sorry, barchitects around.  Here are some of my favorites:

Death and Co.

Death and Co: This dark, cozy spot in the East Village has a cocktail book, and the cocktail names are almost as brilliant as the drinks (Sentimental Journey, Shattered Glasser, Faithful Scotsman and the Whirling Tiger, for example). If you’re more than two and can agree on something, there are punch bowls for $42.  Calling first to see if there’s room is highly recommended, as occupancy is strictly managed by a surprisingly friendly doorman. 433 E. 6th St nr Ave A, 212-388-0882 ,

Outside of Little Branch

Little Branch: An unmarked door and a steep flight of stairs lead to this spot where absinthe and real mint juleps are on the list, served by vested bartenders who look like they haven’t aged a bit since 1929.  Jazz trios every day from Sunday-Thurs makes this a great live music hideaway, but note it’s cash only.  20 Seventh Ave. South, New York, NY 10011 , no website.
at Leroy St.

Read more: Little Branch – – West Village – New York Magazine Bar Guide

Inside Employees Only

Employees Only: The beautiful Art Deco-inspired bar, managed by white-jacketed barkeeps in mustaches (well, not the females), is a cozy, intimate spot for a drink when it’s not three-deep and a total sh*t-show thanks to hoardes of people who read about it on some blog.  It’s best visited on a weekday, fairly early (before 8), for a starter cocktail. They carry an array of artisanal liquors, and create beauties like the Vesper, potato vodka, gin and lillet blanc. They also have a pretty back garden, and a really fine steak tartare if you want to stay awhile.  611 Hudson St, W. Village.  Visit

Tommy Rowles, the bartender at Bemelmans, has been there over 50 years.

Bemelmans Bar: Oh, this is such a classic.  You want old school New York? This is it.  It’s named after Ludwig Bemelmans, the man who created Madeline.  The bar at the Carlyle Hotel has live jazz starting around 5pm, the best bar nuts you will ever eat, and a phenomenal, perfectly mixed, cold martini.  I highly recommend doing this on one of those New York days when you actually go to a museum (Frick is right down the street). 35 E. 76th St, Upper East Side.

Hotel Delmano: You read about my run-in with the Devil’s Garden, isn’t that reason enough to hop over to Williamsburg and check out this vintage-looking lounge with nary a hotel room in sight?  82 Berry St, Williamsburg. Read more about it on

Weather Up: One of my favorite spots in Prospect Heights/Ft. Greene area of Brooklyn.  No signage, of course, but the bar looks like it hasn’t been touched since 1932, while the white subway tiled interior looks fresh and clean.  The drinks are very fine and there is a beautiful back garden in which to drink them. 82 Vanderbilt, read more on

Inside Madam Geneva

Madam Geneva: It’s tucked away at the back of the restaurant Double Crown, but it’s worth finding because it’s such a dark, sexy little room to hide in.  The jam-mixed drinks are interesting, and the Asian small plates menu means you won’t have to eat jam for dinner. Bowery and Bleecker, Noho/E. Vill.

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