Review: 934 Conference Black History Month: Empowering Young Leaders at the French Consulate Feb 15

Cover image:  Left to right: Arun Venugopal, Muriel Quincard, Janai Nelson and Vinny Dotoli

Consule Générale Mme Anne-Claire Legendre © WhereNYC

In recognition of Black History Month, Arun Venugopal, correspondent for WNYC kicked off the discussion with a bit background of what was once known as Negro History Week in 1929, coinciding with the birthdays of two abolitionists: President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. The remarkable historical events commemorated during Black History Month, according to Mr. Venugopal, also transcended different communities and social groups.

“It isn’t only about black people,” Mr. Venugopal explained the impact the movement had on other populations and should be considered pivotal in U.S. history. Although he didn’t experience the Civil Rights era during the sixties, the movement also helped to bar racist immigration laws, which according to Mr. Venugopal, had previously barred people from Asia and and elsewhere to immigrate to the States.

Though the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s may have affected different ethnic groups, Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that African-American youth still struggle today. Academic expectations for African-American students still remains low. Black students comprise around 13% of academia but roughly only 2% percent  ever reach the PhD level. In spite of the glaring inequality, there are those who are trying to make a difference. Vinny Dotoli who has run the Harlem Academy, said that one of the school’s missions has been to give back to community and invest in the neighborhood’s youth. But still he said schools even his own still sometimes “stamp the status quo” without bringing revolutionary change.

Empowerment is not privilege based on race or social status, Ms. Nelson said. It is about giving the tools to create opportunity for those disenfranchised in society. It includes purchasing power, and the power of vote. According to Ms. Nelson, during the last presidential election, people of color made up of half the vote. She also argued that it was one of the most diverse electorate that had voted, and the level of participation has dramatically increased. The subsequent post-presidential election protests such as the Women’s March drew solidarity across the world.

In spite of the progress made in achieving diversity, it still is an ongoing struggle. Empowerment is not so easy to achieve, according to private school headmaster Mr. Dotoli. Although his school has been successful in providing quality education to a portion of the city’s African-American children, he acknowledges that his contribution is limited and only represents “a small slice” of the disenfranchised population. He attributes the problem to a lack of gifted and talented programs but admits that this cannot solve the entire problem.

934 Conférence © Consulat Général de France

Organizer Muriel Quancard, who has embraced the culture of inner-city youth in the suburbs of Paris and attempted to turn it into an expressive art, has worked with youngsters in France to build bridges over the gaps of social inequality through art and music. This combination of art and youth participation is encouraging especially when it comes to political participation. Normally apathetic, the election of Donald Trump has given a valuable lesson of voting and the importance of being informed. “People are learning about the underbelly of darker history,” Arun Venugopal said. Mr. Dotoli said that even adults have “woken up to their responsibility.”

French Consulate

934 Conférence © WhereNYC

While there are encouraging signs of general awakening of the power of the young, the level of political participation remains incredibly low. According to the New York Times and CNN, roughly 44% of the voting population did not vote during the last election. While Hillary Clinton received more than 3 million votes more than Donald Trump, the general voting turnout remained low.  Ms. Nelson said that it was not out of apathy, but in some cases, many were prevented from voting. “The real issue was voter suppression that affected turnout.”

Previous 934 Conference included Chef David Bouley and panel © Consulat de France à New York

Though it is a laudable effort on the part of the French Consulate to boldly create a hospitable platform to foster exchange of different opinions, the panel discussion fell flat and at times lacked focus. It was not entirely clear how a private school principal and arts coordinator could effectively address the ramifications of social inequality when they occupy a small place in the efforts of empowering youth. In respect to private and charter education, how can we discuss greater teacher accountability, as Mr. Dotoli had said without understanding the lack of funding that exists for public education? And for those who are not accepted to the Harlem Academy, what happens to them? If empowering the excluded means providing access, as per Ms. Nelson, then maybe students, themselves, need greater accountability to become active members of their community.

Full House © Consulat de France à New York

It was a daunting challenge to fully address these issues, but the 934 Conférence still allowed for a thoughtful, poignant discussion, upholding the revolutionary republican spirit of debate and understanding that have defined the French Republic since 1789.

For more information on upcoming events, please visit the 934 Conference.

Review: Junoon Aphrodisiac Valentine’s Day Celebration Feb. 13, 2017

Two of the event’s starters © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Junoon’s Mumbai Margarita and virgin Grapefruit & Saffron © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

It was love at first sip as I lowered my nose into a fragrant Masala Americano cocktail, a refreshing apératif especially made for the evening’s soirée at Junoon. A creation of head bartender Hemant Pathak, it had a unique combination of flavors including: Aperol, sweet vermouth, dehydrated orange, shiso leaf, cava and served in a whiskey tumbler. The level of attention to detail in bringing out the most in flavors sums up Junoon’s ethos of maximizing taste while appearing minimalist.

Junoon’s spice lab © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Ever since the demise of Danny Meyer’s Tabla, many contenders have stepped in to fill the void and bring progressive, upscale Indian dining back to New York. Hindi for passion, Junoon is the ambitious project of owner Rajesh Bhardwaj.

Junoon’s interior is sleek and very inviting with an enormous amount of space for a Flatiron restaurant including two dining areas and a stylish lounge. Dimly lit, it is, however, excessively dark in areas, making it difficult to really see the beauty of its dishes.

Junoon © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Having maintained its Michelin star for six years, Junoon’s caliber for quality is, nevertheless, on par with some of the city’s best restaurants. Yet, giving a modern flair to traditional Indian cuisine without sacrificing on taste is a difficult challenge. The hype of refining Indian dishes in many restaurants is often at warp speed but with only bland, lackluster results.

Crispy roti with beetroot ©  Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

On the other hand, you could be at Junoon. Our tour of the restaurant’s spice lab just demonstrates Junoon’s borderline obsessive devotion to making new masala mixes. Like any top end kitchen should, all spices are roasted and blended in house. Maintaining authenticity, the chef selects spices to match regionality of its dishes. They include familiar and unusual ingredients like the tellicherry pepper from Kerala often used with roasting bones for soup stocks and preserved black lemons, which can be used in chutneys. Having a flair for the unorthodox, Junoon sometimes add star anise to its house-blend garam masala.

Hemant Pathak © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

While some Indian restaurants’ dishes tend to taste alike because of using the same spice base, Junoon captures uniqueness in almost every bite. With each hors d’œuvre, the contrasts of flavors and spices made my mouth dance. The beetroot and roti and asparagus chat were night and day in terms of taste. The sweetness of the beetroot worked well with the roti which had a hit of spice while the creamy asparagus chat was light with a kofta-like texture.

Masala salmon with spicy avocado © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The masala roasted pink salmon had lovely sweetness of the fish but with a very spicy avocado. And the grilled octopus, nice and tender, was done with precision and respect. The chili chicken – almost like a peri-peri style, served with spaghetti squash – delivered a serious take-no-prisoners belt of heat proved that Junoon is not afraid to challenge. It was absolutely delicious.

Spiced Cola Negroni © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The attention of Junoon’s precision shows through its array of cocktails by Hemant Pathak inviting you to dive in a delicious pool of refreshment between the trays of canapés. Our favorites of the evening included a near-genius spicy tequila-based Mumbai Margarita with rose-chili syrup and a rim of coriander Maldon spiced salt. With every sip, each ingredient had a purpose carefully accenting one another.

The Spiced Cola Negroni made with gin, Campari, spiced Carpano Antica really complemented the grilled salmon and octopus and happily was not too sweet. The big surprise was an improvised virgin grapefruit juice cocktail with saffron that brilliantly tempered the tart sweetness of the grapefruit.

Spicy chicken with a sense of purpose © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The combination of Junoon’s delicious bites and artisanal cocktails reminded us that good food should be wickedly delicious. Every ingredient had reason to be on the plate, and the drinks paired beautifully. Junoon Wine Director Michael Dolinski explained that like cocktails, the wines on the carte des vins have also been carefully selected to bring out rather than neutralize taste. “Indian food already has balance and may not necessarily need wine,” he said when explaining the challenge of pairing. But he said that people should experiment without only working with high profile wines.”If the wine stays above the acidity of the food,” he said, it is much easier to match. Working with contrasts such as pairing with a fruity rosé, as he suggested, can enhance rather than cancel flavor.

The evening was a delicious showcase of the diverse cuisines from a subcontinent too often ignored by some in the high end dining scene, especially in America. The flavor combinations produced by the chefs and bartenders of Junoon, however, are a testament that Indian cuisine is as vibrant and classy as it gets.

For more information or reservations, please visit Junoon.

Review: 2017 Slow Wine Trade Show at Eataly Downtown Feb. 1, 2017

Cover image: Piedmont wines: Malivrà Roero Arneis and Babera by San Michele © WhereNYC

Salumé delights © WhereNYC

Tucked away on the second floor of a department store overlooking the Ground Zero Memorial Park and steps away from the catherdralesque Westfield Oculus Mall, the casual observer may miss Eataly Downtown, but like its sister location, it gigantesque Italian food court can still barely hold the floods of office workers and tourists who frequent the stalls and markets. This year’s Slow Wine Trade Show took place Eataly Downtown’s sit-down restaurant Osteria della Pace, where members of the press and industry hopped from one table to another sipping some of Italy’s upcoming vino contenders.

Slow Wine featured many new contenders. © WhereNYC

In between slurps of wine, visitors indulged in a little salumé hospitality of specially arranged charcuterie, savory parmesan cheeses, salads and canapés. Perpetually crowded, it seemed better to forego the hors d’œuvres and get straight to the wine.

Known for the full body reds, clean crisp wines and spicy rosés, in a glass Italian wines capture the charm and rusticness of the Mediterranean climate. Whether Northern or southern, Tuscany, Lombard, Piedmont or Sicily, the wines of Italy are both subtle and intense depending on the grape, harvest, year and method.

© WhereNYC

While there were the usual welcomed suspects of full-bodied reds with a superb long finish such as Roccapesta Calestaia 2011 Sangiovese and Mosnel’s Franciacorta Brut Rosé – a beautiful champagne-style sparkling rosé, the noticeable trend at this year’s show is to think outside the norm and bring something new to the glass. Many of the reds from the Italian peninsula showcased, for example, are surprisingly mellow and much more accessible.

Who were the winners this year? Although it is almost impossible to judge every wine fairly given the amount of sipping and spitting, there were a few that will happily linger on the palette. In Piedmont’s corner, some of the evening’s most memorable Italian reds included a light single-vineyard Malvirà Roero. It had an unusual but pleasant flavor thanks in part to the fossilized sandy soil. From Lombardy, Cascina Belmonte’s organic dry red Naturae Rebo 2015 was also another exceptional find. Very compatible with any meat or tomato-based pasta dish.

Mosnel’s Brut Rosé was a hit © WhereNYC

For unashamedly classic long finish reds, look no further that L. Monsanto Castello Chianti 2013 with a very deep flavor but surprisingly clean finish. Its other red, the Il Poggio 2011 is a spicy pasta’s best companion. Flying the Sicilian banner, the Tasca d’Almerita, a very rich red, gave a beautiful warming sensation that spread to my toes. Sangiovese fans should consider the Castello Di Magione 2015, which would be best enjoyed on a cold, rainy day or when tucking into a steamy deep dish pizza.

Smaller independent vineyards were also featured. © WhereNYC

Catering to a younger, economically-minded generation looking to maximise on affordable wines, Italian wine producers are offering more lighter-bodied, cleaner finish reds along with the rich big guns. These table wines should not be dismissed as pale, forgettable, but rather pleasant and easy to enjoy throughout the year.

Alongside the beautiful complex reds of Roccapesta Tuscany, the Ribeo, aged for two years, with light tannins, is  a great ready-to-drink wine. Next, the Riserva had a slight cherry taste, strong but followed with a clean finish. Ronc Soreli Pinot Nero 2016, (the Italian term for Pinot Noir) was very similar to a Georges DuBœuf Beaujolais that could go well with a roast chicken or turkey. There were bargains for anyone planning ahead. Piedmont-based Villa Giada’s Nizza retailing at $28 normally best if aged 13 years is readily inexpensive now and will keep in any cellar.

Lombardy wines were a hit. © WhereNYC

Inversely, while many vineyards are offering lighter, clean-finish reds, the trend for vino blanco this year has gone other way. with bolder flavors and higher complexity. That is not to say classic, crisp, tart Sauvignon blancs have suddenly disappeared. On the contrary, white wines can also pack a punch of long-lasting flavor. Some had the heaviness of a French chardonnay with a slight fruity finish such as Marotti Campi’s 2015 Luzano. Similarly, the Pinot Bianco chardonnay blend from Manincor was a bit on the strong side for a blanc, but for fans of Chardonnay, this would not disappoint.

Reds were all the rage. © WhereNYC

Younger wines do not necessarily have lighter taste. Those aged in steel are often aggressive in character when young and eventually settle down with age. Cascina Belmonte’s 2016 Groppello Rosé was a vibrant pink with an intense taste. The steel Manzoni 2015 was far less aggressive, almost mellow in comparison.

The final surprise, however, was the wines from Slovenia that debuted at this year’s Slow Wine. Burja “Bela” 2015, ZPG Vipavska Dolina with a fragrant honey and white flower bouquet with a complex white, with fleshy pear and pineapple on the palate, which according to wine expert Kristen Smart of Indie Wineries, has a richness which feels like and white chocolate melting on your tongue. Balanced acidity and great structure from the skin contact. The other Klinec Rebula 2011, Goriška Brda, Medana, Slovenia (100% Rebula or Ribolla Gialla, Ms. Smart said that the textured mouthfeel is layered with burnt orange, cheese rinds, and a little nuttiness, and is best enjoyed with cured meats.

Wine and smiles at Slow Wine @ WhereNYC

The variety of tastes and surprises of this year’s showcase of affordable Italian (and Slovenian) wines made the 2017 Slow Wine trade show all the more memorable. Whether enjoying them on their own or with a meal, each kind of wine had its own unique character and taste.

For more information on news or upcoming events, please visit Slow Wine.

REVIEW: ONE STEP BEYOND with The Brothers Macklovitch, Prince Klassen, and DIRTYFINGER.

Cover image: ©AMNH/C. Chesek.

A diverse cast of DJ’s playing the best beats under the stars of AMNH’s Hayden Planetarium, led to an excellent night of music. In front a packed house, Dirtyfinger, Prince Klassen and Brothers Macklovitch put on an amazing show.

Even from the beginning, the dance floor was buzzing with excitement and ready to unleash in a dance off.

The Brothers Macklovitch ©AMNH/C. Chesek.

DirtyFinger and Prince Klassen kicked the party with some great tunes and got the crowd warmed up for The Brothers Macklovitch.

DirtyFinger has played all over the Brooklyn in spots such as Tender Trap and other loft parties, and has taken his skills worldwide.

One Step Beyond, 2/3/2017 ©AMNH/C. Chesek

Prince Klassen also brought great vibes to the party, and he is currently playing in Brooklyn as well and hosts the Turntable radio Podcast.

When The Brothers Macklovitch came on, they really turned up the heat and played amazing tracks with a good mix of old school beats and the newest trap music. Legendary superstar A-Trak and Chromeo’s Dave 1, the brother duo has turned house into a family business. Originally from Montréal, Canada, the two have an impressive pedigree of high end projects, from launching Fool’s Gold Label almost 10 years ago and has toured with likes of rapper Kanye West. Dave 1, one half of electro-funky Chromeo, guitarist and singer, joined A-Trak and created Canadian Hip Hop label Audio Research Records

One Step Beyond, 2/3/2017 ©AMNH/C. Chesek

From playing all over the world and playing in the best festivals, the crowd was hyped to hear them play.  Their set included a great mix of old club classics, trap music, electronic music, and Hip Hop staples. As usual the visuals above the planetarium dance floor were amazing and dancers young and old loved every bit of it.  It was a great mix of modern jams and old school classics that made this event a must see.   

One Step Beyond, 2/3/2017  ©AMNH/C. Chesek.

For information on upcoming dance parties at the American Museum of Natural History, visit One Step Beyond.

Review: Chef Mikuni Talks Flavor at the Japan Society Jan 30, 2017

Cover image: Left Nancy Matsumoto (left) and Chef Kiyomi Mikuni (center) and interpreter Stacy Smith at the Japan Society © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Sake and Chef Mikuni’s dashi making kit including dried bonito and konbu. © WhereNYC

Like many award-winning chefs in the industry, Kiyomi Mikuni’s career started with a humble, but a poignant introduction to food at an early age.

Gregarious, friendly, full of humor and fully fluent in Japanese and French, he is not shy of modesty when describing his cheffy abilities in the kitchen nor his friendships with the likes of high end kitchen heavy weights such as Thomas Keller. But he has a certain humbleness when it comes to children.

Televised interview for Japanese TV at the reception © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The son of a Hokkaido fisherman, he used to scour the shore gathering fresh sea pineapples with his father, who taught him the simplicity of taste of pure ingredients. “Wash with just a little sea water,” he said speaking through an interpreter. The sea pineapple had the five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. That particular food memory had a lasting effect on him as went on to culinary school in Switzerland and trained as a protégé in France under Alain Chapelle, where he mastered the art of French gastronomy. And it followed him as he chased after the highest accolades, including being the first Japanese chef to earn the prestigious Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in cuisine. Even as chef patron at the luxurious Hôtel de Mikuni in Tokyo since 1985, he still invests a great deal of time running ambitious culinary workshops for youngsters.

© Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

His inspiration to invest in educating the youth about food and nutrition stems from legendary chemistry professor and food-lover Dr. Jacques Puisais who founded the Institut de Goût in France, which pioneered taste education for kids. His other inspiration to work with students came from the Slow Food organisation in Italy, that according to Mr. Mikuni, used food coloring and yogurts in one of its workshops to teach children about color and association of flavor.

A light hearted moment © WhereNYC

Inspired by both Dr. Puisais and Slow Food, Mr. Mikuni founded the Syndicat de la Haute Cuisine Française au Japon in 1999 to educate chefs and school children about healthy food choices. Currently, his institute in Japan is in partnership with 50 schools working with close to 2,500 students. The aim is to excite them about local, healthy ingredients while putting a little fun into making dishes. Chef Mikuni created dishes, for example, from drawings submitted by students. Many of the programs are interactive allowing kids to participate while they learn. “When you make it yourself, it’s always better,” he said.

Chef Mikuni’s live dashi demonstration Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

When asked about the interest of working with children, his answer had to do with science as well as compassion. Parents should take note: instead of cooking one kind of food, consider exposing children to as many kinds of food as possible. By eight years, children acquire a home cooking taste, which is familiar and comforting. And at 12 years, the five senses are fully formed, and child’s taste buds are at their peak. As they age, they rely more on taste memory as their taste buds decrease. Finally, he said that kids who have not experienced all five tastes, are at risk of developing behavioral problems and tend to “lash out.”

Dishes inspired by kids’ drawings © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Following the tragedy of the 2011 tsunami in Sendai and subsequent nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, his collaboration with the Smiles of Tohoku, helped provide lunches to surviving local students. “It started bleak with scared kids,’ he said. Now, they are eating more and beginning to enjoy learning about different tastes including the famed umami flavor.

What is umami?

umami / Mikuni

Umami chart © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

“Complete deliciousness,” defined by Chef David Bouley, owner of Bouley and Brushstroke in New York. Often referred to the fifth taste by many in the chef world, it remains a mystery when describing it. While there are the big four: bitter, salty, sweet, and sour, umami has an unusual savory characteristic that can enhance flavor. As per Chef Mikuni, there are three components of umami flavor including glutamate and inosinate and guanylate, which were discovered by three Japanese scientists: Dr. Ikeda of the then Tokyo Imperial University in 1908 and later professors Dr. Kodama and Dr. Kuninaka.

An unusual masked pour of Kuramoto sake © WhereNYC

Combining both glutamate and inosinate actually boosts the richness or mattari by eight times! While this explains the use of the artificial flavor enhancer MSG in many processed foods, Mr. Mikuni is quick to point out that all three components are found in natural foods such as tomatoes, fish, cheese, and mushrooms. To get the umami flavor, one could simply chew three tomatoes 30 times.

Heaven on the plates © WhereNYC

Following the talk, Chef Mikuni and his assistant treated us to a live demonstration of making fragrant dashi, or golden broth using shaved dried bonito and rausu konbu from Hokkaido before we headed to the reception to sample at tasty chicken-tomato stock and the katso broth. The tasting menu including a mixture of Western and Japanese dishes that shared umami elements including a delicious Kuramoto sake. The flavors were fantastic, but the miso cappuccino and sautéed mushrooms with a mayonnaise sauce and sesame dressing were the triumphs of the plate and a perfect send-off as the evening concluded.

Don’t miss Shigemi Kawahara of Ippudo Ramen, Feb. 28 at the Japan Society.

Review: Dinner for Two at L’Appart Jan. 30, 2017

Cover image:  L’Appart NYC © Chang W. Lee / New York Times

Perhaps on Valentine’s Days past, the holiday has delivered on its reputation for exquisite decadence and heady indulgences, and you’ve found yourself at a beautiful table, with a beautiful date, a heart-shaped dessert upon your plate.

L’Appart’s oyster triumph © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

Or, perhaps the idea of dining out on Valentine’s Day conjures visions of industrial-sized trays of plated desserts, wrapped in plastic and stacked in a walk-in cooler, awaiting last minute touches–a streak of caramel here, a mint leaf there–before being whisked from the overworked garde manger (the pastry chef has been gone for hours) and placed before guests who dine on a special-occasion-only basis. Such are the perils of dining out on any busy holiday when restaurants are all but forced to turn to prix fixe menus to handle customer volume. Even tasting menus tend to lose their luster, turning to the crowd pleasing but uninspired: cue the lobster ravioli and chocolate lava cake, or some version thereof.

I’ve been on both the serving and receiving end of such meals, and thus my Valentine’s Day dining has been confined to my kitchen for years. Thanks to the culinary genius of Chef Nico Abello and the effortless warmth of Maitre’d’ George Thomas and his extraordinarily attentive staff, my husband and I may be liberated of our hunkering in habits on Valentine’s Day this year.

Here’s why: The Valentine’s Day menu at L’Appart marries the earthy and the sublime, as, I suppose, any aphrodisiac inspired menu should, and while the meal is built around the inclusion of amor-inducing ingredients, had they simply been put before me with no other explanation than that they tasted great together, I would have held the flavors alone responsible for the otherworldly places to which I was transported.

The pair of amuse -bouche that began the meal, established the interplay of the earthy and the ethereal that would thread its way through the evening’s plates.  Served in a tiny glass cup with a tiny spoon to match, black trumpet mushrooms sprung from a fine and perfectly pungent onion mushroom puree that reminded one of the origin of all flavor: the soil itself. Until one was made to think of the sea with the second amuse,  a bite of tuna made light and acidic in the company of mandarin and black radish.  As if by magic, the flavor of the black trumpets reverberated in the mouth, even as it was learning the notes of the tuna trio.

L’Appart’s Lobster and avocado © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

And it only got better from there. Here are some highlights: The oyster’s aphrodisiacal properties are well known, but this oyster’s powers were gilded with the addition of saffron, another of the evening’s amative elements. The thinnest sliver of radish, crisp and mildly acidic, balanced the saffron cream, making this a heavenly bite.

Lobster floated on cloud of avocado whipped so as to be cloud-like in consistency and energized by a touch of ginseng so delicate and well-paired as to be unrecognizable.  Crisp, unsweetened tapioca pearls crowned the dish, lending it just the bit of air and texture it needed to achieve transcendency.

Black Sea Bass © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

 Black sea bass, tender and flavorful and moist, served with an aromatic combination of celery root whipped into a foamy lather and star anise, a touch of ginger inhabiting melange of flavors, was almost airy in the mouth such was the play of the flavors and delicacy of the textures.

L'Appart NYC

The inspired quail dish © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

                         

The quail grounded the meal, landing us back at the table, where we were reminded once again of the earth and its bounty: almonds, pears, swiss chard and rosemary. If the time-warp speed with which L’Appart was granted a Michelin star–in under sixth months of its opening–needed justification, surely this was it. As if for emphasis, the meal ended on an unsurpassably grand note: dark chocolate tempered with blood orange and ginger and finished with gold leaf.  Yes, real, actual, edible gold!                                                      

A luxurious chocolate orange finale © Sally Beane for WhereNYC

This restaurant, tiny and cozy, apart indeed from the bustling market in which it is ensconced, seems as if it were built with Valentine’s Day in mind, so symmetrical are its numbers in relation to the holiday: 28 seats, exactly enough to accommodate 14 couples at once on the 14th.

Luckily for us all, the charm and warmth of this room and the stellar offerings of its kitchen are available year round, items from the Valentine’s Day aphrodisiac menu offered on and around the holiday.

For reservations and information, visit l’Appart.

Review: The New York Times Travel Show January, 21-22 at the Javits Center

South Africa had the ‘wow!’ factor © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Cover image: Beauty in Wonderful Indonesia © WhereNYC

With over 500 exhibitor booths, destination seminars, live entertainment, cooking demos by famous chefs and tourism rep boards, the new layout of NYT Travel Show allowed for better access inside North America’s largest travel tradeshow.

Travel Experts Chica Travelista were fully mapped for the event. © WhereNYC

Drawing a recording breaking 30,099 participants and nearly 30,000 consumer attendees during the three-day expo, the buzz at the New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center was tremendous.

While there were some well-loved clichés such as tropical weddings in the Caribbean, the 2017 Travel Show also had new surprises.

Destination Wedding-themed Antigua & Barbuda © WhereNYC

In Asia there were familiar friends with some tasty treats. Queues of visitors amassed at the colorful Incredible India booth to sample delicious hot samosas (but no mint chutney!) while chatting with reps about new package tours. Japan served freshly grilled mini Hiroshima-style layered okonomiyaki. And Taiwan’s poured a Formosan favorite, ultra-sweet bubble tea with tiny, chewy tapioca balls.

Okonomiyaki © WhereNYC

There were no shortage of colorful displays drawing crowds, South Africa perched in front of the show had by far the most vibrant booth. In Southeast Asia, models sporting traditional, shimmering Indonesian and Malaysian costumes posed for pictures in front of backdrop of the Javanese mountains and Kuala Lumpur. And of course, there was live entertainment including a theatrical Korean Taekwondo demonstration.

Tour Malaysia © WhereNYC

While many cities such as Tokyo, Honolulu, Rome and Nassau will always remain popular destinations for travelers, the trend this year is get off the beaten path and explore something less touristy. Rather than stick a predictable safe choice, many of booths promoted both more culturally authentic and slightly more remote places ideal for couples or families seeking an intimate and personalized style of holiday.

Take me to the Bahamas © WhereNYC

While in the Bahamas, the all-inclusive resorts of Nassau and Atlantis still are abuzz, this year’s ideal choices for a tropical getaway steer towards to the outer Exumas, Bimini and Cat islands that offer tranquility away from the usual tourist mobs.

This year Kaua’i joined by Maui and virtually each Hawaiian island had its own travel booth showcasing the splendidly exotic, yet often overlooked spots in American Polynesia.

NYT Travel Show

Beauty & charm of Kaua’i © WhereNYC

//////////Rather than touting the usual frenzied Waikiki beachside resort hotel packages, O’ahu revealed some of its best secrets including the tranquil Paradise Cove and Ko Olina resorts and the North Shore, including Turtle Bay, an ideal spot for younger couples or families.

O’ahu © WhereNYC

Indulging in local food culture with a dash of ecotourism makes another interesting option for the traveler mixing nature with gastronomy. The obvious choices for gourmand gastronauts include Mediterranean favorites:  Italian Days Food Experience and family-run Liv Italy Tours, which both offer small, personalized adventures and include rustic wine, shopping, dining, truffle hunting and tours that will send you to gourmet heaven.

Eat, indulge and love in Italy © WhereNYC

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If looking for beautiful beaches with a seaside European flair away from the usual French and Italian rivieras, the Dalmatia Central in Croatia has seriously some of the most beautiful coasts in Europe mixed with a rich heritage of antiquities and is often less crowded.

If food hunting in Latin America, there are a couple attractive options to consider.

Croatia © WhereNYC

Costa Rica, known for its pristine beaches and lush jungles, is also famous for its rich, dark coffee. Finca Rosa Blanca plantation invites caffeine aficionados a relaxing resort retreat in a authentic boutique hotel with tours, workshops, hiking by volcanoes and outdoor activities at the Cinco Ceibas Rainforest Park.

Costa Rica @ WhereNYC

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If nature is your thing, but with a touch of tropical luxury, the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador run by the Añagu Kichwa community, offers intimate lodges, outdoor eco-friendly tours and interaction with wildlife including playful river otters. Or for a secluded option, the Alto Atacama Desert Lodge & Spa in the San Pedro oasis has comfortable accommodation with the all the mod luxes of saunas, steam baths, and massage therapy.  Further south, for adult travelers looking for a little refinement, Chilean Malbec wines are among the world’s best and Marmot Meets Chile has the perfect tour of the authentic, local vineyards outside of Santiago.

The Shires of Vermont © WhereNYC

The rise of craft beers and artisanal cheeses in the Northeast has also helped boost locavore food-lovers to Vermont and the Northeastern United States, which have some of the country’s best farmstead products. Skiing, kayaking and hiking are also among Vermont’s iconic outdoor activities which draw visitors year round. Don’t forget to see the American revolutionary landmarks and quaint village feel surrounded by beautiful meadows and mountains, in the Shires of Vermont. For couples looking for a relaxing weekend getaway in the rustic, coziness of a bed & breakfast and tasting local cuisine made by passionate individuals, consider Bennington or Manchester on the road trip itinerary.

Wild West City @ WhereNYC

While virtually every U.S. state had its own booth, there was a larger theme of promoting authentic Americana with a slight quirkiness. For a taste of the West, Wild West City in Dodge City, Kansas offers a historical and entertaining experience with a nostalgic flair of frontier America.

Silk Road Treasure Tours © WhereNYC

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For adventurous history buffs, Silk Road Treasure Tours explores the rugged but charming Caucasus and Central Asia tracing the steps through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, and more in the ancient world’s longest trade route. Some of the historical places date over 3000 years!

In spite of the political showdown between President Trump’s Iran travel ban and the federal court, the mood at the Iranian booth was jubilant as ever handing out pistachios and other goodies to visitors.

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Travel to Persia © WhereNYC

Along with India, Japan and Taiwan were among the big contenders vying for putting on the best displays. In addition to the tastings, each had a unique pull to attract more visitors.

Visit Japan! © WhereNYC

While the top three destinations remain Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, Japan’s hidden treasures such as Hida Takayama in Gifu, Hokkaido and Okinawa have risen to prominence thanks in part to the efforts of the Japanese National Tourism Organization and local governments.  In spite of Japan and Taiwan’s distance from the U.S., travel is getting easier with ANA direct flights from JFK to Haneda in Southern Tokyo.

Affordable mobile Internet access by Telecom Square © WhereNYC

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For those with limited mobility, Accessible Japan offers comfortable tours for seniors and the disabled throughout the Nippon islands.  Speaking of ultra convenience, Global Mobile hotspot provider Telecom Square helps travelers stay connected without roaming charges in Japan and elsewhere. Use promo code: NYTTS17 until June 30, 2017.

With so much on show at the the NYT Travel Show from vibrant shows, talks, tastings and special deals, visitors channeled their inner travel bug to step and explore somewhere exciting and unusual. Bon voyage!

Review: Chocolate and Wine Pairing at 2 beans Jan. 26, 2017

Cover image: 2 beans chocolate assortment © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Valentine’s Day at 2 beans © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

As we took our seats at the tasting table, self-described chocolate critic and the evening’s host at the 2 beans wine & chocolate pairing, Clay Gordon, quoted Deepak Chopra: “Instead of thinking outside the box, get rid of the box.”


Clay Gordon © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

With a Prosecco in hand and eyeing at the array of chocolates and bottles of wine ready to pair, this would be an evening of pushing boundaries.

A recent arrival on the high end New York coffee scene, gourmet chocolate purveyors 2 beans has become one of the city’s top contenders, expanding beyond its Park Avenue flagship store to Columbus Circle and the Upper Westside. Among the notable artisanal chocolates available at 2 beans, personal favorites include, Chocolat Moderne’s exquisite caramels, and Christopher Elbow’s amazing truffles and Fleur de Sel salted caramel.

Chocolate paradise at 2 beans © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Both a café and chocolate boutique selling between 50 and 70 brands, this evening, 2 beans transformed into a quirky, tasting lounge inviting guests to an ultimate chocolate experience on its second floor.  The chocolate and wine pairing event challenged our senses and wowed our palettes, with each new combination. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, the event was the perfect showcase of how to celebrate with a little luxury and imagination.

Chocolate winners Amedei and Rococo © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Professional chocolate critic, Clay Gordon, whose career began more than 20 years ago, went on to start his first website chocophile.com and later wrote Discover Chocolate. He is the founder of the Chocolate Life community and has hosted numerous trade expos including last year’s The Big Chocolate Show at the Waterfront in Hell’s Kitchen.

This evening, there were many delightful surprises during the course of our tasting adventure but most surprisingly was the white chocolate, which Clay said should never be underestimated. It, according to him, is a great “flavor vehicle” that can take bold ingredients. British chocolatier Rococo’s white chocolate cardamon bar was a showstopper.

2 beans © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Imagine the creamiest, most delicious unctuous Indian matai with a blast of nutty spice. It also paired beautifully with an acidic Tablands Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which cut the sweet richness. The evening’s other winning pair included Italian Amedei milk chocolate served with a glass of Rosalba rosé. The spiciness of the rosé made a perfect foil to sweet, creamy chocolate.

When asked about how he came up with these seemingly unorthodox pairings, his answer was surprising.  Often, he said that people tend to stick with predictable combinations when pairing, but according to Clay, relying on conventional wisdom may close the doors to other possibilities. Pushing boundaries is Clay’s speciality, but he follows a few guidelines when marrying wine with chocolate.

The unusual suspects © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

First, there are no right or wrong combinations. Taste is subjective, and he encourages us to experiment. Second, wines like chocolate differ by region and year produced. So one kind of Pinot Noir might go well with a certain dark artisanal chocolate, but the year, production process and ingredients have an effect on taste. The order of tasting wine and chocolate also determines flavor and aroma, which we discovered by alternating chocolate and wine sipping. And finally, both wines and chocolate invoke taste memory often related to childhood, which also influences what one tastes.

François Pralus © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Inspired by artist Josef Albers‘ contrasting images technique, Clay found that certain white wines (and not always red) really complement dark chocolate because the two contrast rather than compete with each other. Similarly to pairing prosecco, cava or beer with Indian cuisine, the same contrast works with chocolate, and even Clay attests that certain beers like pale ales can also complement it.

Finally, the more cocoa in chocolate does not mean more bitter. When comparing François Pralus  Fortissima- a blend of 80% versus Marou’s single origin dark chocolate at 76% cocao, the first was far smoother and less bitter than the latter.

Although pairing the two with oaky, deep red Primitivo and Rioja wines may have been a small step too far for a sensitive palette, they both carried the chocolate with a long finish.

For the adventurous, 2 beans also served squares of Indian-inspired caramel burfi with chickpea flour and silver leaf by BitterSweet NYC, which went the best with the rosé. 

The event finished with luxurious, passion fruit-flavored heart-shaped carmels “The Lover” by Chocolat Moderne, the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. For more information on upcoming events and promotions, visit 2 beans Coffee and Chocolate.

Chocolat Moderne’s The Lover and the Rosalba rosé