Review: Rediscovering Vodka in the Heart of Polish Brooklyn at MOFAD May 25, 2017

Cover image: Canapés by Karolina Gumpert © Henri-Philippe Gares for WhereNYC

It had been a while since I last enjoyed a voddy, but a welcome-shot of Wyborowa Polish vodka turned the misty evening into a happy-cozy-jolly Brooklyn escapade. Carved out of an old garage, sits the Museum of Food and Drink on the edge of McCarren Park. For a first-time visitor, MOFAD was a lovely, warm surprise. Currently exhibiting Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant, I entered through a giant partition of Chinese take-away boxes.

Chinese take-away partition © Henri-Philippe Gares for WhereNYC

Looking around, we discovered a diverse group. All ages and an eclectic mix of the smart-dressed and casual mingling together while enjoying delicious canapés by Karolina Gumpert in collaboration with restaurants Le Fond and Karczma. Surprise, surprise!

On a display table, I discovered among other unexpected edible merchandise, some jars of Chapulines. These Mexican grasshoppers looked strangely enticing, straight from one of MOFAD’s previously daring showcases of traditional Mezcal and edible insects, which blended culture, history, science and food and drink.  Studying the table and enjoying my vodka, I knew I would learn a lot this evening!

Elizabeth Kaszarski-Skrabonja © Henri-Philippe Gares for WhereNYC

Guest speaker Elizabeth Kaszarski-Skrabonja shared a beautiful story about how her father almost became Mr. Polish Vodka for the US in the late 1930s. It was a romantic yet tragic tale of Poland, vodka, love and business between New York City and Poland, tragically interrupted by Hitler’s invasion in 1939. Fortunately, the drama led to Ms. Kaszarski-Skrabonja’s parents’ marriage – A very inspiring story that (helped by the vodka) took us back to a bygone world of nostalgia and new beginnings.

Center – Joel Lee Kulp, co-creator of the cocktail introduced during the event © Henri-Philippe Gares for WhereNYC

But wait! The point of the evening was also to introduce a new cocktail! A marriage of spirits from Poland and from right here including an unusual mix of vodka, gin and cider. It tastes a whole lot better than my crude description. This delight was put together by Joel Lee Kulp, the bright and friendly bar genius from The Richardson, a spirits-focused bar just around the corner. Of course the new cocktail had to have a hero’s name. The Kosciuszko Bridge.

Elizabeth Koszarski (second from left) © Henri-Philippe Gares for WhereNYC

The drink connects spirits from different continents. A beautiful way to honor Tadeusz Kościuszko the 19th century Polish hero that provided a name for the soon-to-be-destroyed bridge. May his name and spirit live forever in New Yorkers’ hearts!

And as an extra bonus, we sipped other less known Polish vodka brands. While they were all enjoyable and tasty, the popular Wyborowa was still the showstopper.

Azuz ensemble in action © Henri-Philippe Gares for WhereNYC

Keeping with the loungey vodka cocktails and mingling, Azuz Ensemble’s music was pleasant without being intrusive, which added to whole experience during the cocktail and canapé reception.

Don’t miss Discovering Taiwanese Tea talk and tasting on June 8 at MOFAD.

With special thanks to Henri-Philippe Gares for co-writing this article.

Review: French Tuesdays “Up In the Air” at Lovage Rooftop May 9, 2017

Lovage

French Tuesdays Lovage Rooftop © Daniel Serrette

It was like entering an airplane about to embark on the swankiest flight. Bouncers standing at the elevator, which was decorated with luggage, flight attendants greeting beautiful guests while walking around and enjoying the 360º glass-in lounge at Lovage Rooftop NYC. Yes, this was not your average party but a French Tuesdays’ bash.  Have you ever heard of French Tuesdays? Neither had I. Since its inception almost 15 years ago, it is become social getaway from a boring work week. It has opened chapters in most major U.S. cities as well as abroad in Singapore, London, and of course Paris, providing the Y generation with a fun, empowering social event, while appearing in the city’s most beautiful venues. It began in 2003 with a small group of people, including the three-piece suit sporting Pierre Battu, a native of France, and friends in New York who desired a more sophisticated alternative to the nightlife options available. Its aim was to bring a little decadent French fun to New York’s party scene, yet today it boasts over 15,000 members worldwide.

Lucky winners of a trip to Paris. Photo Credits: Daniel Serrette

Tonight’s party started at 7:30pm and went through till midnight. Every element had the theatre including sparklers glittering over a bottle of champagne for groups celebrating friends’ birthdays. Photographers scurried the the room with cameras while guests made their way to the dance floor. Was this a work event or was this a club, I kept asking myself. A bit of both perhaps but all the more fun. 

Our evening’s sponsors included Paris-based XL Airways who raffled a free trip to Paris — full disclosure I did not win, but instead, opted for the endless cocktail supply of Pink Palomas, L’Orange Gin Fizzes, and Cope Perriers, courtesy of Perrier. For the high rollers and larger groups, however, bottle service was available from $110 a pop.

The beautiful people. Photo Credits: Daniel Serrette

As I mixed and mingled with the beautiful people in dresses and coats (yes they’re formal), I learned more about French Tuesdays and the extent to how it has expanded into a classy social-networking phenomenon and lifestyle brand, offering contemporary men and women an entrée to a network of successful individuals and a world of couture nightlife and entertainment. Each party has a different theme, including the Bordeaux wine-tasting at Splashlight studios, the Paris-themed event at Avenue Bar and the still-buzzing 14th anniversary party, at Zuma.   

So what kind of people did I meet? Lawyers, Mutual fund people, artists, publicists… to name a few. They were all very fun, looking to make connections, and having a good time after a dull day at the office.

For more information on upcoming events or membership, please visit French Tuesdays.

Review: Slane Irish Whiskey Event at Middle Branch May 10th, 2017

Cover image: Slane Whiskey © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

The introduction of Slane Irish Whiskey was a special one and the Middle Branch speakeasy was the perfect place to showcase the taste and explain the history behind this new libation.

Slane Irish Whiskey Cocktail Menu at Middle Branch © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Slane Irish Whiskey Cocktail Menu at Middle Branch © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Middle Branch is a speakeasy on East 33rd Street, and it’s a bit hidden for those who are going for the first time. Just be aware to look for the black door with a small light outside, which will lead you to an intoxicating venue with new décor and scents.  Once inside Middle Branch, it has a very intimate and cozy setting that gets you in the mood to drink and relax.

Slane Whiskey was on display on every table, proudly showcasing to all that there was a new whiskey to enjoy. There was a list of cocktails that were specifically made to bring out the great taste of Slane in new and delectable ways.  With cocktails such as the amazing Slane Sling and delicious Inside Job, there were plenty of cocktail choices for any whiskey lover to choose from.

For those who are new to whiskey cocktails, I would recommend the Inside Job cocktail, very smooth with a subtle sweetness that will surely make you crave another. A great aspect of Slane Whiskey is how smooth it is, even when tasting the whiskey neat, it doesn’t taste overpowering at all.

Alex Conyngham © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Alex Conyngham, whose family owns Slane Whiskey, began to explain the roots of the brand and the Rock & Roll history behind it. The name “Slane” comes from an Irish town, which is known to have a massive castle that the Conyngham’s have owned since the 18th century. Slane Castle Concert series takes place at the castle, which was founded by Alex’s father Henry Conyngham. Many classic bands have played there over the past 30 years, with Guns N Roses poised to make an appearance there later this month as well. The Slane family has taken this Rock’n Roll theme along with the history of the town of Slane to create this amazing whiskey.

For more information on upcoming events. visit Middle Branch Speakeasy.

Review: First Fridays at The Frick Collection, May 5, 2017

Cover image: © Lucas Chilczuk Photography / Frick

The line at the First Fridays event at The Frick Collection almost put me off; I didn’t know at first whether I’d get to go in. It was worth the wait in the end.

Live chamber music at The Frick Collection © Lucas Chilczuk Photography / Frick

Once having entered its doors, it was impossible not be enchanted by the Frick’s elegance. While patrons sketched the beautiful fountain in the indoor courtyard, the sounds of classical music added to the heavenly effect. As desperate as I was to attend one of the complementary tours, I had to stop and just appreciate the surroundings.

Free Fridays help draw in a younger crowd. © Lucas Chilczuk Photography / Frick

The Frick has always seemed the most digestible of all New York City art museums, which showcases several favorites among the classic European paintings. For all my art history training in undergrad however, 19th-century British  painter J.M.W.Turner remained elusive from the course curriculum. Thanks in part to Director Mike Leigh’s 2015 film Mr. Turner, there has been a renewed interest in the artist and his depictions of stormy seas and rustic, coastal ports.

Viewing J.M.W. Turner’s paintings in the Oval Room. © Lucas Chilczuk Photography / Frick

The Frick Collection’s special exhibit offered the public a rare opportunity to view some of Turner’s most striking seaport paintings. Among his paintings, however, The Port of Dieppe was the one that really stood out for the sheer amount of detail. As for the others, I could see them but didn’t know how to ‘read’ these works. Fortunately, the half hour lecture on Turner’s works really helped me to understand these unusual paintings.

Patrons enjoyed several galleries of classics. © Lucas Chilczuk Photography / Frick

The paintings were indeed beautiful, and the lecture was informative; just enough for a person not familiar with art history to understand, but interesting enough for someone who only wanted to brush up on Turner’s paintings.

Complimentary tours and lectures informative and entertaining. © Lucas Chilczuk Photography / Frick

After the lecture, I did a run through of all my favorite paintings and rooms. Leaving seemed an impossibility but when I did, I did so unwillingly. The buzz in the galleries of people happily enjoying some of Europe’s most iconic classics continued until 9PM.

First Fridays are free to the public © Lucas Chilczuk Photography Frick

For more information on upcoming events and exhibits, visit The Frick Collection.

Review: Mezcal and the Taste of Oaxaca at MOFAD, May 4, 2017

Mezcal and the Taste of Oaxaca was hosted at MOFAD on May 4th

Cover image: Mezcal Creyente with oranges © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Some like it smokey, while others like it florally, but undeniably, Mezcal is the rising new hot spirit trend on this side of the border. The Museum of Food and Drink, better known as MOFAD, recognizes the importance of this popular spirit. On Thursday, May 4th, MOFAD along with the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York hosted Mezcal and the Taste of Oaxaca, on the first installment of the Spring Spirit Series with speaker Danny Mena who educated the crowd on Mezcal just in time for Cinco de Mayo.

 

Danny Mena the executive chef of New York City’s Hecho en Dumbo

Danny Mena, the executive chef of New York City’s Hecho en Dumbo and the speaker of the night, wowed the crowd with his extensive research on Mexican food. He’s been hailed as one of New York City’s top Mexican chefs and he proved to the audience why. Did you know that Mezcal is considered Moonshine!? That’s how it began. It hails from the agave plant, just like its cousin tequila. There are different types of mezcal including artisanal and traditional, and our guide Danny explained the origins and the processes of this delicious spirit.

Mezcales de Leyenda Guerrerol and illegal the alcohol itself usually has 35-55% alcohol. Danny mentioned that whiskey drinkers are more likely to enjoy Mezcal than a tequila drinker, which tends to gravitate to vodka… Who would have thought?

 

As avid tequila and mezcal drinkers believe there is an agave shortage. Danny quickly challenged  this by pointing to the fact that recently massive amounts of agave have been planted for harvesting later. Ironically, the amount of agave will become so great, according to him, that we will see farmers planting more corn. Simple supply and demand. 

Okay, so time for the fun part — TASTING!  There were three unique mezcal brands, each one carrying a different flavor. First was Mezcales de Leyenda table, which offered two different expressions of Mezcal: smoky and fruity. Both were smooth but were entirely different in terms of flavor and region of origin.

The tasting also included Mezcal Creyente, which is paired traditionally with oranges. Everyone at the table had a choice of four different types of worm salt to dip their oranges in. The group was instructed to have a shot of  tequila and then eat their orange covered with salt. I preferred the spicier salt myself.

Mezcal Creteyes wasn’t the only one featuring oranges with tasting salt. Merci Mercado also had a table of a variety of different salts with oranges for tasting. Yum!

Casa Mezcal provided the artisanal los amantes mezcals © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Casa Mezcal provided the artisanal Los Amantes Mezcals: Joven and Anejo.  The Joven had fruit tones and mildly smoked with citrus and sweet flavors that were slightly metallic and herbaceous. The Anejo had wood scents, aromas, and tastes of vanilla, coffee, caramel, and floral. Translation: They were very good. There were antojitos to eat from Casa Mezcal, including sopes with bugs on top. No worries – there were shrimp ones too for people not as adventurous, but both were equally delicious!

Merci Mercado also had a table of a variety of different salts with oranges © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Prior to the presentation, the reception area was open to ticket holders to taste the different Mezcals also. As they say… the early one catches the worm!

This was the first of MOFAD’s spring cocktail programs. If you missed it, there’s The Vodka Contract about the fascinating story of Polish vodka came to the U.S. which sounds just as yummy as the Mezcal. 

Oranges... yum! © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Oranges… yum! © Alyssa Tognetti for WhereNYC

Review: French Revolution: Wine Trailblazers at FIAF April 24, 2017

Cover image: The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers © WhereNYC

The 2nd installment of the Wine Tour de France sold out. © WhereNYC

Arranged before my eyes were nine glasses of wines: whites, rosés and reds, shimmering like a beautiful crystal bouquet. With a plate of charcuterie, cheeses and mini baguettes at my side, this was going to be a good night.

FIAF The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers

Côtes de Jura “Les Sarres” Savagnin 2014

Gently swirling the crystal clear liquid in my glass and taking in a deep snifter, I was immediately bombarded with sunny, fragrant floral notes transporting me to the Jura Mountains near the Loire Valley. Then, the taste hit; light, dainty with just a little acidity and mineral saltiness. This was Savagnin from Domaine Rijckaert, a light, tart white wine with extraordinary boldness to super clean finish. With a bite of salty comté cheese on my plate and a second swig, I was in heaven.

The essential wine pairing kit. © WhereNYC

The second installment of the FIAF’s Wine Tour de France, hosted by Wine Enthusiast Magazine editor Lauren Buzzeo, introduced three passionate independent vintners, each from some of France’s most reputable wine-producing regions.

From left to right: Florent Rouve of Domaine Rijckaert, Patrick Léon of Château d’Esclans and Louis Fabre of Château Coulon © WhereNYC

Part of the charm of the event included hearing their personal stories, full of passion and knowledge, they came from a long wine tradition like Louis Fabre of Château Coulon in France’s Languedoc region, whose family-run business dates back to 1605. Domaine Rijckaert – the name of a wine enthusiast from Flanders, Belgium, who founded his domaine in the heart of Bourgogne and the Jura to produce lovely white wines. And from sunny Provence, Patrick Léon of Château d’Esclans who has been in the industry for decades delighted us with his beautiful rosé wines.

FIAF The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers

Florent Rouve © WhereNYC

There was a technical side to the talk and tasting as we learned about the grapes and of course the term terroir, which has no single equivalent in the English language. According to Ms. Buzzeo, terroir includes “the rainfall, climate, wild nature and herbs”, all of which contribute to a wine’s unique character. The direction of the wind, position to the sun and elevation can even affect its quality and taste.

Vins Rijckaert 2014 Pouilly-Fuissé. © WhereNYC

The selection of wines included the familiar crowd-pleasers that will never tire. Domaine Rijckaert’s 2014 Pouilly Fuissé and Chardonnay, happily less oaky than its heavier Californian counterpart, carried a delightful mineral acidity with lingering floral notes.

Waving the banner of Provence, Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel 2016 Rosé, whose name was inspired by a visit chapel, achieves “everything one would want with a rosé,” according to Ms. Buzzeo. It was exactly how Patrick Léon described it, light touches of syrah, fruité and reliably delicious. It could pair with just about any dish.

There were unusual newcomers which should land in everyone’s wine collection. Léon’s Rock Angel, a stronger rosé packed a little unexpected spicy punch, and his Garrus, a special blend of acidic blanc and slightly salty rosé works well with bold flavors, including truffles.

FIAF The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers

Château d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé was a winner. © WhereNYC

Moving west of Provence, to France’s Languedoc region, Louis Fabre, gave us our final three wines. Too often overlooked by many outside of France, the Languedoc actually produces some of the country’s best wines including the famed Pic Saint Loup and earthy Minervois.

The French Revolution: France’s New Trailblazers FIAF

Château Coulon 2015 Rouge, Château Fabre Gasparets 2013 and 2016 Rosé (Corbières)  © WhereNYC

Mr. Fabre is hardly a newcomer to the industry with his estate dating to before the French Revolution. Unique in character and utterly delicious, his three wines played with our minds and danced on our tongues. With each sip, my tongue was swimming in a sea of complementing contrasts. The intensely pink blended rosé Corbière of grenache and shiraz was beautifully done. Heavy, yet light, salty but sweet, and in the end, the clean finish. Chateau Coulon’s two remaining reds were simply amazing. The first Corbièreswas a young, accessible red with berry flavor with notes of cherry and sage herbs. The Gasparet was deep and intense in flavor with a certain cacao or coffee note that Mr. Fabre attributed to the grape. Earthy and fragrant, it had wonderful savage beauty that reminded me of the scruffy, landscape bordering the Southwest coast of the Mediterranean.

FIAF French Revolution France's Wine Trailblazers

Fun and informative © WhereNYC

Fun, interactive and informative for both novices and wine experts alike, FIAF’s Wine Trailblazers hit all the buttons, although there could have been a bit more cheese and charcuterie to pair with the wines. As the evening drew to a close Ms. Buzzeo and three vintners happily bantered with guests while posing for pictures. As I drained the final contents of my glass, I felt like I had just visited three regions of France without leaving my seat.

FIAF Wine Trailblazers

Travel France by glass. © WhereNYC

Don’t miss FIAF’s next Wine Tour de France with Vive La Femme; Women Winemakers on the Rise May 22, 2017.