What you're looking at above is a coffee shop. If it doesn't look like any coffee shop you've ever frequented, that's precisely the point of the Blue Bottle folks, who opened a satellite of their San Francisco haute-java enterprise in Williamsburg this week. (You may have seen the omnibus NYT piece on Wednesday that listed Blue Bottle and 29 other top coffee joints in town.) Conveniently, the location is only three blocks from my apartment, on Berry St. between N. 5th and N. 4th, and you can't miss the double glass garage doors that serve as its facade. While the shop has some nice equipment inside (and a lovely spartan aesthetic clearly meant to reinforce the seriousness of the coffee-making), one's eye naturally drifts to the expansive space beyond the customer area, designated off-limits by a beige velvet rope. The view is of a laboratory, or a church, where Important Things are made in secret, impenetrable fashion. No wonder Blue Bottle teamed with Mast Brothers Chocolate, which supplies the key ingredient in the hot chocolate ($3.50). The brothers' space a block away has a similar set-up, with chocolate bars in glass cases up front and inscrutable factory-like tableaux in back. Blue Bottle is next-level coffee (for New York, at least), so it needs a next-level space. I dig.
And the coffee? My individually prepared Ethiopian drip coffee served au lait ($4.50) was sublime. It may not've been "better" than the Clover-prepared drip at Gimme! Coffee or El Beit (on Bedford Ave., no website), but the overall vibe at Blue Bottle certainly enhanced my experience. And as I stood at the long wooden table sipping my non-commodity along with the other customers, I heard frequent exclamations of delight. The next time I go, I'll have what they're having—like the SG-120, a variation of a macchiato.
Remainders Another marvelous experience was had recently at The Vanderbilt, the newish restaurant in Prospect Heights from the owners of Saul in Cobble Hill, in partnership with the Saul alum who runs the Num Pang sandwich shop near Union Square. This was my first trip to Prospect Heights in forever, but I was just a wee bit sick of the same-old, same-old Williamsburg culinary scene, even though I love it so. I wanted adventure! And I wanted to hang with my pal Andy, who lives nearby in Clinton Hill. After a short stroll from the Clinton-Washington G-train stop (not so hard!), we were on Vanderbilt Ave., which houses not only the eponymous restaurant but several other enticing spots like the subway-tiled cocktail lounge Weather Up (no website) and oysters-and-whisky resto Cornelius (it boasts over 200 varieties of the brown stuff, so you know I'll be checking it out!). The whole stretch reminded me a tad of Berlin's Neukölln nabe: removed, quasi-desolate, but with jumping attractions.
I digress. The Vanderbilt struck me as a particularly contemporary restaurant, with three areas to sit depending on your mood and interests (and what's available: we walked in around 9 on a Friday night and were offered seats at the bar overlooking the main food-prep station, which I totally enjoyed). The menu is similarly customizable, with sections for meat, charcuterie, vegetables, etc., sort of like a new-style Craft for the 2010s. We had the boudin blanc, the spicy fried-chicken wings, and a short-ribs-and-polenta special that was insane. (Two of my favorite foods combined? Hello!) We also had the oreilles de Christ, or fried pork skins, which resembled those Chinese things the name of which I can't remember and came with droppers with which to apply the hot sauce. Weirdly cool, like The Vanderbilt in general. Word.
I made my famous Meyer Gold Rush cocktail this week. Actually, it's Savoy's, but I certainly publicized it enough that maybe they'll name a drink after me now. (But what would I taste like? More anon!) Anyway, it's so easy, and so delish: 2 oz. rye (I like Rittenhouse, which also happens to be cheap), juice of a whole Meyer lemon (with a segment or two reserved for garnish), 1 tbsp honey, and a dash of bitters (I used Angostura, which is all I had, but orange bitters might be better). Shake without ice, then pour over ice, squeeze the reserved lemon on top, and then plop it in. Doesn't it just look good? (NB: Photo's of Savoy's version, not mine!)
I had brunch today at Pâtes et Traditions (no website), which's been around the corner from me for more than a year but the rain made me think of crêpes et voilà. It felt like the south of France inside, and the servers/owners were actually French, so I got to practice my pronunciations. (I was corrected.) Indeed, the feeling was of this sign (summer cocktails can't arrive soon enough):
Finally, I must give props to Happy Goat Caramels, which I picked up at the baskets-and-sundries shop in Chelsea Market. Also, the chocolate-covered dried cantaloupe pieces I got at the supermarket there, which were a special but which can easily be made at home. And Trader Joe's salsa verde, made with fresh tomatillos and jalapeños but no preservatives (an infrequent quality at TJ's). I've been eating it with Xochitl blue corn chips dusted with sea salt. Last but not least, given my obsession with this place, I was pleased to find my favorite Saltie sandwich listed as one of the best in the city by New York mag. I didn't even know it was "vegetarian," yo! I thought it was just a Tasty Thing.