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{TASTE} New York: Kitchen Table at Empellon Cocina

{TASTE} New York: Kitchen Table at Empellon Cocina

Mexican food is rarely considered to be at the same level as say French or Gastropub experiences. I don't think it has anything to do with racism, but, rather with the type of food normally associated with the cuisine - comfort, down-to-earth, even peasant like and served in tacquerias, bodega and such. Chipotle came in and tried to make it cooler but all still stayed within the $10 range. In our minds, therefore, it has firmly been marked as cheap and abundant value!

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{Taste} New York: Pickle Shack + Crop to Cup - Brooklyn

{Taste} New York: Pickle Shack + Crop to Cup - Brooklyn

Today, I share a couple of places I love to eat in the Park Slope. 

Crop to Cup is a coffee importer and roasting company in that imports raw beans and roasts it to their client's specifications and supply wholesale to Brooklyn Roasting Co and Taylor Maid among others.

Pickle Shack I have mentioned before. But I thought it's unique and distinct burger was deserving of a half post all on its own. The vegetarian and vegan friendly restaurant opened a year ago and is the brain child of Brooklyn Brine, a small scale pickling business, and Dogfish IPA, a NY based brewer.

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My Hometown Guide - Brooklyn

This post is in collaboration with Honest Cooking Magazine and Fiji Water as part of their My HomeTown campaign. For this post, I am going different and using only photos taken with my iPhone. Today, I am sharing a few of my favorite foodie spots in

Brooklyn, New York

New York is synonymous with the best, especially in the arena of food. Where Manahattan has glory, Brooklyn has heart. I am always amazed to find such dedication and persistence to food beliefs here. Food business owners here, I find are very social and willing to engage in conversation about what they stand for rather than simply peddling their wares.

Some say, there is a bit of elitism in this borough and a touch of uppityness. Like the French that is a misconception. Brooklynites are passionate but open-minded, they are not lofty just very assured of their beliefs. There is indeed the hipster in here, but, bear in mind a hippie is one who is unconventional and one who follows his/her own path in life. And, that is what being in Brooklyn stands for - the freedom to be yourself in spirit and not care about the material.

With that introduction, I am going to dive into some of the places in my ‘hood where I spend oodles of time in for the food, atmosphere, interesting people and overall fabulous experiences every time!

Coffee & Breakfast - Gorilla Coffee and Kos Kaffe

Gorilla Coffee
Kos Kaffe

Brooklyn is the veritable coffee drinkers haven to the point of being rather snotty about it. Yes, you may have your ear chewed off by coffee maniacs, but, really if you want good coffee, this botough provides a lot of access to it. Dotted across Park Slope and Williamsburg are several coffee shops each serving their unique blends and characters. I talk here about two that are my favorites in Park Slope.

Gorilla is of the first real coffee places in Brooklyn. By that I mean, cafes that cared about coffee and understood the bean for more than just its caffeine. The complexities of flavor, the earth the beans come from, the effects of the roasting and brewing processes both chemically as well as on the palate.

The espresso creations (my favorite being the cortado or piccolo or gibraltor as it is variedly called) are punchy not from the acidic, weakness characteristic of Starbucks but rather the rich, heady indulgence of a relaxing drink. Stop by here for just a cuppa or come sit here and enjoy the view on to 5th avenue.

Kos Kaffe Roasting House is my neighborhood haunt. You’ll find me there atleast 3 days a week and every weekend! They roast their beans on location in small batches and the weekly offering varies. While their latte art is very simplistic, the depth of flavors in each cup is immense.

What makes this place especially conducive to repeat visits is the staff’s friendliness and a very welcoming ambience. There is a lot of space, and free wifi. At any time, there are a dozen people sipping, eating and working away. A small but well executed food menu entirely helps the experience. The menu focuses on locally soured and made. The pastries are fantastic. My favorite breakfast here is the granola with yogurt, local honey and apple compote, and, an any time of the day meal is the grilled cheese sandwich. Simply amazing!

A sip of something - Wythe Hotel and Brooklyn Brewery

Wythe Hotel
Brooklyn Brewery

On a cool Spring day or a hot Summer one Williamsburg offers you several choices to spend your day in leisure with your friends. The Wythe hotel has both a restaurant and bar downstairs with retro ambiance and a much more conversational rooftop lounge. The cocktails are well punched and the view from the balcony is spectacular. On a clear day, one can catch a sprawling view of the borough into the city.

My other favorite watering hole is the Brooklyn Brewery. Sometimes, the wait to get in can be a test of patience but it is well worth it. The beers are brewed here and there are always crafty blends available on tap.

Brooklyn Brine and Pickle Shack

Pickle Shack - Park Slope

The borough has a general penchant for local business and along 4th and third avenues, there are quite a few of them that have sprung up in the recent years.

The Brooklyn Brine is a pickling factory just off 4th that for years has catered, to restaurants and retail customers, intense, pucker-worthy, sour, spicy and sweet pickles. In October of 2014, they partnered with Dog Fish IPA to open Pickle Shack and added to the changing landscape of 4th avenue. PIckle Shack is a vegetarian and mostly locally sourced restaurant that I accidentally landed in during the first week of being open. I have to say I was blown away by their offerings.

It is a small place that offers some very creative items on the menu and some super popular ones like fried pickles. My recommendation would be the burger with cashew cream and the simple amazing pies with coconut ice cream.

East Williamsburg and Green Point

East Williamsburg and Green Point

Williamsburg is lot more than Bedford Avenue. Walk East and you will stumble across neighborhoods that are still held in their traditional immigrant and artistic roots. Dotted along the landscape are small Polish bakeries with awesome breads, tiny ethnic restaurants and really cool boutique food stores. I recommend Rye Restaurnt with its prohibition era look, comfort food, awesome basement bar and the best happy hour deal with their signature Old Fashioned at $5!

Heading East and North has a distinct warehouse and industrial look and feel, that can take you through unexpected jam sessions, opens onto the densely packed area of Green Point. The latter is now becoming the hot bed of gentrification and much before the real estate became appealing, the place has been a culinary haven. The juxtaposition of East European immigrants and new thinking food business brings an interesting confluence of appetites to this area. Mentionables here are Lokal, Anella

NiteHawk Cinema

You may be surprised as to why I mention a screening theatre in this list and I assure you it is for good reason. Night Hawk is not your regular theater. Ok it is, but it also hosts a series of movie and food tastings, called Film Feasts, that are simply well thought out and executed.

The movies are not always recent but the food and cocktails (or spirits) paired are themed with the film being screened. When they screened Gangs of New York last year, they teamed up with The Dead Rabbit to create signature cocktails and a tasting menu that was timed with the key moments and characters of the film.

That is my list of foodie recommendations in Brooklyn for today. I had to really try hard to stick to just five. Well, ok I snuck in more than that but well, I have so many to share! If you absolutely love a spot in Brooklyn, I would be thrilled to hear about it and visit the place.


Gorilla Coffee

97 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Kos Kaffe

251 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11215

Pickle Shack

256 4TH AVE, BROOKLYN, NY 11215

Rye Restaurant

247 S 1st St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Nitehawk Cinema

136 Metropolitan Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11211

{Disclaimer: This is a Sponsored Post by Fiji Water for the #Myhometownguide campaign. All opinions expressed are my own and I received no remuneration from the food places mentioned in this post}

Conrad Hotel - Dare to Pair with Mount Gay Rum

I recently attended a tasting dinner that featured pairing with

Mount Gay Rum

at the


restaurant in

Conrad New York

as part of their Dare to Pair series.


One hears frequently about beer, wine, and, less often, cocktails paired with food. The latter is typically not as much a harmonized menu as a table side collaboration with the mixologist/bartender (if any good). That is to say, that the cocktails are paired by the diners as they go along rather than it being a concerted effort by the chef.

In context of that, and given

1. I am not a particular fan of cocktails, except for a precious few that I slip into.

2. I prefer wine to accompany my food as I find it ever more sippable and I have a better palate for it.

3. I love rum - Mount Gay XO is one of my favorites, and, much like whisky, I tend to sip on it slowly without any accompaniment other than good company. It is my unwind spirit.

Needless to say, when I heard of this series, my curiosity was piqued. So, I went.


In a private tasting room overlooking the Hudson, the evening began "

Dark and Stormy

" and then we plunged directly into the fine tasting Mount Gay Black Barrel neatly paired with succulent oysters topped with rum jelly. This was a stunning pair and the best of the evening. A fine tip that I picked up from the national ambassador for Mount Gay was that a few drops of rum intensifies the delectability of oysters. So next time you are at an oyster bar, move over white wine, here come the gentlemen and ladies of the saloon!

Over the course of the evening, we tasted tuna tartare, pork tenderloin with freekeh falafel and finally a upside down pineapple cake paired with sazerac, XO and, finally the 1703! The cocktails were well crafted and the rum was sublime (and abundant) as you would expect from the maker. We were regaled by stories of rum making, the skills of the master blender as well as how to best enjoy the spirit.


My verdict on the food is that the components of the plates need simplifying. Spirits have a strong flavor statement and it is imperative for the food accompanying to have a solitary strong note that complements the drink. From the successes of the evening, the best pairings were those that were clean and uncomplicated. The opening course sent a strong, promising statement, which, unfortunately, got diluted by the end of the meal. The mango puree in the tartare was too sweet and would have served better, incorporated as chunks with the tuna, and, the pork plate had too many components. Given the higher sugar palate of spirits, the food need more acidity to create a magical balance.

Having said that, I applaud Conrad for, indeed, daring to pair spirits with food and showing that it could be done. It was a very enjoyable evening and I learnt a few new ways of appreciating a beautiful, smooth spirit such as rum. I look forward to what the chef has to offer as the series evolves.


For this run, they have two more in the series -

Pairing with Hudson Whiskey, which, is a brilliant locally distilled whisky - March 19

Pairing with Remy martin April 24

Tickets are $110 per person

{Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest of Conrad Hotel for this tasting dinner. All opinions expressed are my own and I have received no further remuneration for writing this article.}

All in the family...



that evening

I told you about; the one when I witnessed a lovely union, the one when we were charmed by anecdotes from the Maccioni family?

Marco's stories piqued my curiosity. The family behind

Le Cirque

, where I have dined several times, and several other jewels in NYC and beyond, was definitely successful and I wanted to understand their secret. I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered while lunching with

Marco Maccioni

, at the flagship restaurant. During our leisurely conversation, he insisted I meet rest of the family as well. Now, that should give you a clue.

Over a lunch of meandering stories and memories interspersed with wine, delicious food and several hellos and goodbyes from clients and staff, I came away with three words that I felt captured their essence -

Friendly. Charming. Familial.

Photo Courtesy: Bill Cunningham


Although none of these words sound like business jargon, they resonate deep within the heart of this hugely successful enterprise.

Let's start with the obvious. Why does an Italian migrant who is very close to his Italian culture chose to start a French restaurant? The answer simply came down to commonly accepted myth and market economics. In the seventies,

when Le Cirque was born

, after years of Papa Maccioni's experience in the restaurant industry, Italian cuisine did not accredit as being refined to the rich and fabulous. The French were in command of the upscale market and so he went with popular demand; that makes justifiable business sense as well.


In of itself, it gives a clue to one of the most successful strategies that the family has adopted over the years - to

be close to the customer

. This particular trait has guaranteed the success of not only Le Cirque but every subsequent restaurant that they have opened in NYC and beyond. Mr. Maccioni's motto was to always put the customer first. What the client wants, the client gets. In an industry where hostpitality is largely a unactioned buzz word and, especially, in the echelons of French cuisine (where the chef reigns), this was a refreshing attitude from a restauranteur, which, I am sure was more than welcomed by their clientele.

Walk into the restaurant today and ask for an item that is off-the-menu but you really want; perhaps a childhood memory or a comfort dish that is your pick-me-up, and it will be served to you. That is their promise. The diner is king/queen! By being friendly and accomodating, they have built a loyal following amongst their diners. Infact atleast 50% of the lunch and dinner crowd are repeat diners!


Having built a reputation and a deep engagement with their clients the Maccionis were poised for the next stage. They partnered with old friends and clients to open new restaurants in Las Vegas, Delhi, Dominican Republic, aboard the international seas and soonly in Dubai! In all of their partnerships, Sirio Maccioni, used

one rule of engagement - trust

. He looked in his partner's eye, found the clarity he was looking for and closed the deal with a handshake. There was an implicit and full understanding on all sides of a fair deal, the nitty gritties of which were not to haggled over but mutually agreed with.

In an era, where corporate scandals abound and activist investors haggle over the last penny, it is refreshing to see the old family values of business still thrive and make a case for themselves!


the monkeys say the story...

Marco has cherished the idea of opening a restaurant in London for several years. So far, the right partner has yet to come give the family a trusty handshake. But, it is a wish that will doubtless be fulfilled in the coming years!

On the subject of family, my greatest curiosity was to understand how a family of strong individualities manage to work together and cohesively. To observe their interaction at lunch was insightful. There is abundant respect for individual strengths laced with a humor that can only exist among the intimate and affectionate. They tease each other, argue and fight like Italians {:)} about the business yet they all work towards the single common goal of the family. In keeping their roots and goal firmly in mind, they succeed where it would be very easy to fall by the way side. Mama Maccioni also helps in keeping this bond strong and fluid as the strong and inspiring matriarch.

A table at Le Cirque

Photo Courtesy: Sabrina Wender

In the end, everybody becomes part of this family and business. The staff, who have stayed for years, are treated not as those who work for but those who work with. The clients have always ruled the dining rooms and the legacy will only continue for several decades. The family, well, happily grows and manages to bring everyone into the fold. Marco's wife, Sabrina, is the vocalist on Musical Mondays at Le Cirque, an experience I look forward to enjoying one of these days!

This post has deliberately been not as much about the food, which, I feel the photographs do more justice than words ever can. Le Cirque has always a dining delight for me and it is stupendously thrilling to find that the family is just as charming and friendly!


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