A guest post by Leah Blackman
I returned to New York last month after spending the year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where my husband had a visiting professorship at the University of North Carolina. When I returned, I had a horrible realization: New Yorkers live like animals. We’re all cooped up in tiny apartments. We think that living on the Hudson River is a fair exchange for a lack of backyard. We go out to eat five times a week, on average, and we justify it by saying that we have the best restaurants down the street. Not that it has anything to do with our lack of counter space or dorm room style refrigerators.
As a food-obsessed New Yorker, I know that restaurants really don’t take the place of a glorious home cooked meal with fresh produce from the farm stand. But since you’re asking, I’ll tell you about a few of my favorite New York restaurants – both in the West Village (where I lived for the majority of my Manhattan life) and in Brooklyn, where I’ve been living for the past month. These are my go-to spots. The places that serve as a good substitute for my own kitchen, when cooking seems out of reach. These are places that feel like home.
This space is so chic that the food could be terrible and I’d still come back for more. I’m a sucker for high ceilings, big windows and historic detailing. It helps that the food is great at Café Gitane, too. They press their own cucumber juice, have adorable cake plates with fresh pastries line the bar, and the servers are decked out in retro green dresses. Start with the avocado toast and finish with the couscous and merguez. You’ll thank me later.
When it comes to dining out, I can also be a bit lazy. So it was convenient that an adorable, authentic Italian restaurant was across the street from my old apartment on Christopher and Washington in the West Village. They make their own pasta, the waiters are Italian (and adorable, I might add), and in the summer months, the façade opens up and the dining room spills out onto the sidewalk. The grilled calamari with a squeeze of fresh lemon over a bed of arugula is fresh and succulent. I dream about the spaghetti a la chitarra with fresh tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. The wine comes by the carafe and there are always seasonal specials. For its sheer simplicity, this is my favorite restaurant in Manhattan.
This little gem in Red Hook, Brooklyn is worth the schlep. They are currently only open for brunch after suffering severe damage from Sandy, but brunch is really what they do best, anyway. The space feels like a cozy living room in some super hip upstate New York house. They pour Kitten coffee, and the eggs are silky smooth. My personal fave is the scramble with truffle oil and parmigiano. They are served with the most perfectly crisp potatoes provencal. And if you have a sweet tooth, the citrus dipped brioche french toast with caramelized pears and apples is ridiculously delicious. In a makes-you-want-to-take-a-nap-afterward kind of way.
I’m one of those weird New York women who doesn’t shy away from carbs. I could eat pasta every day. Crostini? Yes, please. The menu at Brucie in Cobble Hill is well-tailored to include a few seasonal salads, a few homemade pastas and a few main dishes. On our last visit they had giant chicken meatballs drizzled with bright salsa verde over fregola salad. But the showstopper here is the tagliatelle with tomato butter. It’s adorned with fried brussels sprouts on the side and a big hunk of homemade burrata. And we can’t get enough.
I’ve never had a bad meal here. The Good Fork is our go-to spot for out-of-town guests, brunch, even a mid-week dinner. The chef adds a Korean flair to the dishes, the meat and produce is locally sourced, the room is quaint and intimate, and the service is on point. The fish specials are always inventive and the bibimbap for brunch is exactly what you want to eat. It’s also a schlep if you don’t live in the neighborhood (Red Hook), but it’s worth it. I promise.
So if you’re down on your window-less galley kitchen in your overpriced New York apartment, remember: you have incredible restaurants in your backyard. Many of them are the best in the world. If you consider that in New York, these places are really an extension of your kitchen, you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself.
Leah Blackman is the Managing Director at ICRAVE, a hospitality design and branding firm in Manhattan. Leah has been with ICRAVE since 2006 and in her role as the business manager has helped grow the company from a small start-up design shop to a 35 person, multimillion dollar annual business. Her contributions over the years have included new contracts with Walt Disney Imagineering, MGM, W Hotels and OTG Management, the largest foodservice operator at airports around the country. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company including new business development, marketing and public relations and human resources.
A California native, Leah studied Anthropology at UC Berkeley and moved to New York upon graduation to pursue a career in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Prior to joining ICRAVE, Leah managed design and construction at Sushi Samba, a global innovative restaurant group.
When she isn’t working, Leah can be found in a new restaurant trying the most unique items on the menu, in her kitchen throwing together a kale salad, running on the Hudson River Park or practicing yoga. She also travels both domestically and abroad every opportunity she can get. In March 2013, she married the love of her life, Reid Blackman, a philosopher and professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY.
(Leah is also a dear friend of mine from high school. We have come a long way since sharing salads at restaurants on Ventura Blvd, and snarfing pancakes at dawn in a Denny’s in Buttonwillow, CA.)
(Throughout the month of June, I’ll be writing a series of New York-related posts, and/or inviting some friends to guest post about their New York experiences, to celebrate my eight years in New York City.)