L’Amant: A French-Colonial Homage

The perfect boîte can be an elusive thing.

For me, it has to have several components — a seductive yet comfortable setting, cocktails that are as delicious as they are inventive, and a menu that goes far beyond basic nuts and cheeses, filled instead with snacky dishes that actually excite.

Recently, I found a new little place in New York‘s West Village that checks all those boxes: L’Amant, a French-Vietnamese bistro that opened early September …

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Pier 23 Cafe (San Francisco): Bacon, Oysters and A Beer

If you, like me, head to the Ferry Building each time you come to San Francisco, you’ll know the problem that lies ahead.

After all the honey sniffing, cheese poking and book browsing you’ve done, a question inevitably arises: Where to get a lovely drink and nibble with a sweeping view of the water and Bay Bridge?

If it’s anytime after 4:30 p.m. or so and you’d like a comfy spot in the Ferry Building — good luck. Some of the places there have such terrific happy hours that you’ll be battling swarms of commuters and tourists all looking to belly up.

On a recent visit, however, my friend Matt had a better plan. Outside, on the Embarcadero, he started going north, pushing head-on into thick gales determined to blow us back. After a few minutes, our struggles were over when we came upon a little shack of a building.

From the palm trees plastered on its side and the kitschy neon sign that said “Pier 23,” I knew this would be the perfect spot …

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Candelaria: Eating Tacos in Paris

The gastronomic Paris in my mind is a swirl of glistening pastries, heady fromages and smoky bistros serving up heaping platters of seared steaks and frites.

It is most certainly not tacos. Not until recently, anyhow.

When a Parisian whose appetite you trust tells you that a certain taqueria is a must even if a visit there is going to take up a valuable dinner spot on a far-too-short trip, I figured it’s good to listen.

Which is how a little group of us hailing from Singapore, New York and a few points in between found ourselves tiptoeing along a dark and silent street in the Marais on a Sunday night, in search of good tacos …. Continue reading

Buvette: Chicken, Au Courant

It is never easy to lose something you love.

For me, this moment in New York restaurants occurred in late 2009, when the storied Pink Teacup, a soul food spot that had drawn celebrities ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to Mick Jagger (and had the autographed photos plastered on its walls to prove it) suddenly shuttered after 55 years. For years, this sleepy rose-hued cubby hole along slender Grove Street in the West Village was my go-to place on many a weeknight and lazy Sunday afternoon. Strawberry pancakes, smothered pork chops and — in my opinion — the best fried chicken in New York, the Pink Teacup had it all. Astronomical property taxes and rising food costs ultimately sealed its fate, however. (The restaurant has since reopened in a different spot but the scene — massive, clubby and loud — is different and sadly, so is the fried chicken.)

Just over a year later, a new restaurant has shoehorned its way into the old Pink Teacup’s sliver of a space, however, and it could not be more different. Billed as a “gastroteque,” Buvette, by chef Jody Williams (formerly of Morandi and Gottino), is a lot of things its predecessor was not. Packed with a crowd that looks as if it would be completely at home on the set of “Gossip Girl,” the place is French, constantly burbling with loud chatter, downtown chic and anything but homey and comforting.

When chef Simpson suggested we check it out, I was instantly dismissive. Surely, I couldn’t possibly like my old sweetheart’s replacement. Why waste my time?

Curiosity is a powerful thing, however. And soon enough, I found myself reluctantly sliding into a seat at Buvette’s jammed bar …

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Lantern: A Tranquil Beacon


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Singapore can feel so densely packed and swathed in concrete that it's hard to find a place that's truly tranquil.

The moment we stepped out into Lantern, the rooftop bar at the newish Fullerton Bay Hotel, however, we knew we'd found one. The 360-degree view of the city — with the Marina Bay waterfront on one side and Singapore's towering skyline on the other — was breathtaking. The blue glow emanating from the hotel pool was immediately calming. I could almost feel my heartrate slowing as I heard the sound of the live band's strumming guitars drifting over. 

Just minutes before, I was outside the hotel, tiptoeing between cars and nudging my way past financial district pedestrians to get to the hotel. But now, just minutes later, my friend Vino and I found ourselves in idyllic waterfront bliss.

We decided to stay for a moment to check out the scene…

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Hotel Delmano: The Last Toast of Summer


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Labor Day weekend in the City and it can feel as if the world has fled to the beach.

For the less privileged, this is prime playtime in New York, however — packed restaurants are emptier, exclusive bars suddenly become accessible.

With Hurricane Earl nowhere in sight, the sky is a saturated cerulean; a light breeze cuts through the waning warmth. We are in Williamsburg, my writer friend Mr. B and I, for an afternoon of nursing our disappointments at not being at a beach ourselves. But mostly, to catch up on this Writing thing that we do.

“I want you to check out this bar,” he says, “I think you’d really like it.”

And so we find ourselves sliding into seats outside the Hotel Delmano, watching the too-hip rompers and ankle boots and tousled-just-so hairdos amble by.

The thing here is the cocktails. It’s mid-afternoon — but a holiday weekend, we reason — so we decide to oblige …

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East Side Social Club: Not Quite Monkey Bar Lite


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“Let’s meet here,” I had said, noting an Eater.com post that called the new East Side Social Club “a sleek sexy spot for the Monkey Bar rejects.”

My “been everywhere” friend Bob’s immediate response? “I never get rejected at the Monkey Bar.”

Good point.

Even so, East Side Social Club held some intrigue. Opened by Billy Gilroy (owner of Macao and Employees Only), with celebrity photographer Patrick McMullen as an investor and Devon Gilroy, who’s clocked time at Chanterelle and A Voce, helming the kitchen, the restaurant had generated plenty of buzz well before its doors officially opened last week.

The menu was designed to be Italian, with some modern American dishes with a locavore bent tossed in. And the cocktails, given Papa Gilroy’s other establishments, promised to be interesting.

We had no big complaints about either, really — the price and the ambience, however, were another matter altogether.

If you’re expecting anything like the fashionable, genteel comfort of modern supper clubs like Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar, you’re going to be a little disappointed.

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Orgo: Mile High Martinis


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I have been known to enjoy a cocktail now and then.

My requirements for boites, they’re generally basic — a clean seat, a friendly-bordering-on-flirty bartender and a decent wine list are all I need to be golden.

A fabulous view, however, now that’s a quality that never fails to keep me coming back. And in Singapore, I recently discovered a boite with an exquisite one: Orgo, a calculatedly hip restaurant and bar that’s perched atop the waterfront Esplanade arts center and has a sweeping view of the city skyline.

Now, as far as my three basic needs go, this place meets one — the seats were clean. 

The staff, it was perfectly perfunctory, if a little drowsed and unhurried. (Particularly unforgiveable given the place was almost empty on the nights we were there.) And the wine list — well, by the glass, you have two options: House white and house red.

But, what can I say? I’m a sucker for a bar with a view.

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Paris: A Roman Behind The Bar


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We’re sitting at the Hemingway Bar at the Hôtel Ritz Paris, my friend Greg and I.

He leans over and says, soft and deep, “That face, it’s beyond the dreams of pornography.”

The face would be that of Roman the bartender, the friendliest man behind a bar that we’d met in our Paris jaunts thus far.

Greg and I, we’re bar people — we adore eating at bars, perhaps even more than eating at actual tables.

At bars, you tend to get to know your neighbors well — even if conversation only starts up because a fork is in your elbow. You have a front-row seat to behind-the-counter action, all the little dramas that aren’t meant to permeate through the welcoming smiles of waitresses.

You also get to know some pretty gifted entertainers pouring drinks — and Roman happened to be one of them.

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Paris: The Tried And True


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The upside to visiting Paris with a first-timer: The excuse to retread paths well worn.

There is the Angelina chocolat chaud yet undrunk, the freshly baked Poilane pains undiscovered. 

The sister, she has come to Paris with guidebooks well-marked and images of Amelie’s Montmartre flitting through her head. But first, the basics must be covered; important stops must be made.

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