In 2004—on a mission to bolster its community’s wellspring of art, creativity, and education—the nonprofit Bergen Performing Arts Center took over the former John Harms Center, an art deco–style movie and vaudeville palace built in 1926. Today, in the same antique theater where Shakespeare screened his first car-chase movie, the Bergen Performing Arts Center hosts 150 yearly events that bring dance, music, and theatrical productions to an estimated 250,000 annual audience members. Networks like HBO, PBS, and MTV all have filmed international broadcasts on Bergen Performing Arts Center’s stage, which has seen the likes of Tony Bennett, Woody Allen, and the Dixie Chicks.
Proponents of the slow-food movement, Bibi'z Restaurant and Lounge's proprietors believe that meals deserve to be savored rather than scarfed down. To that end, their chefs ensure that diners have plenty to relish: they use simple techniques to bring out flavors in sustainable and wild-caught fish, grass-fed Black Angus beef, and locally sourced organic produce, dairy, and poultry. The culinary team incorporates those ingredients into dishes such as vegetarian wild-mushroom ravioli with a butternut-squash cream sauce, pan-seared duck breast with a reduction of Asian five-spice, and gluten-free braised short ribs with a parsnip puree.
Hand-selected from sustainable wineries at home and abroad, organic and biodynamic wines—more of 50 of which are available by the glass—add their own nuanced flavors to meals. Barkeeps also quench thirsts with complimentary still and sparkling water filtered in house rather than taken straight from the blowhole of a whale. Each leisurely feast unfolds on Bibi'z's airy outdoor patio or in a spacious dining room replete with a fireplace and a lounge full of comfy leather chairs.
Tongues of flame twist in a fireplace, hinting at the warmth filling the bustling kitchen at MK Valencia. Rail lighting spills a blue aura over dishes that draw from myriad culinary traditions. Mediterranean flavors shine through in salmon drizzled in a pesto sauce and lamb osso bucco. In the dining room, glasses clink occasionally like a xylophonist failing a performance review, setting a tempo for the wait staff, which totes roasted salmon in a pesto sauce.
A curtain of bubbles rises up through champagne cocktails in lively colors that match the crescent-shaped orange booths or electric-blue wine racks. During warmer months, the murmur of conversation spills out onto a patio draped with live plants.
Belle Havana’s menu mixes and matches classic Cuban and French flavors served alongside the Royale Mojito($12), which comes muddled with fresh mint and garnished with bona-fide sugar cane and a splash of champagne. Chef Alexandre Cheblal’s knives have chopped and diced all over the United States, France, Japan, and Switzerland and infuse each fusion feast with international flavorizers. Devour pork and pickles inside cubano sandwiches ($7.95) or chomp tuna in a nicoise salad ($7.95). Start dinner with small plates of escargot served in cilantro-jalapeno butter ($8.95) to coat stomachs for the successful consumption of half a cornish game hen ($18.95) or red snapper wrapped in a banana leaf ($22.95).
Executive chef Rene Hernandez calls upon a culinary education at Spain’s world-renowned restaurant El Bulli to craft a tapas menu of 14 hot and cold plates of shareable dishes that draw from broad international influences. With a chosen glass of wine in hand, guests can cool tongues with the artisanal manchego cheese bolstered by organic chorizo and white grapes. Chefs hide crabmeat salad inside smoked salmon to surprise palates and place the fish on eggplant shaped like caviar to fit in at black-tie functions. Forks protect fingers from scorching by spearing-hot tapas including grilled baby squid served on a bed of caribbean salad with a cider vinaigrette. The crispy shells of sweet-plantain croquettes deliver dollops of chipotle aioli sauce, and teeth chomp their signature into packages of pan-seared shrimp in garlic and white wine.
Helmed by veteran executive chef Pedro Vargas, Riverdale Garden Restaurant & Lounge's cooks serve up a complex seasonal menu that deftly blends Latin American, Caribbean, and Mediterranean elements. Educated staffers help diners feel at ease, recommending the perfect pairings for food, wine, or beatbox tapes, and promptly deliver dishes to tables cloaked in crisp white tablecloths.
Riverdale Garden is located just steps from the 1 train at Van Cortlandt Park, enabling diners to stable their horse-drawn chariots for a night. As patrons stroll into the warm, brick-walled dining room, a chandelier poised above the bar drips crystals from swooping gilded arms, welcoming them to drink in the elegant, laid-back atmosphere.
Dominican native Sara Taveras, her husband, restaurateur Luis Taveras, and Caña y Café's new executive chef, Roberto Ferrer, inject contemporary technique as well as European, Asian, and Caribbean flair into Latin-fusion recipes to create vivid metropolitan cuisine. Flavorsmiths prime palates with a selection of seafood appetizers or classic Latin aperitivos such as empanadas or stuffed plantains. Snatching up the cross-cultural baton, entrees such as the rack of lamb whisper hints of continental and Caribbean flourishes, including the side of ratatouille and paprika blackened tomatoes. Other main courses arrive drizzled or otherwise accompanied by decadent garnishes such as truffle oil or sweet-plantain croutons. A selection of salads satisfies healthy cravings, with inspired combinations such as jicama, avocado, and cotija cheese, or peanut dressings with crispy chicken. Illuminating its lime-green wall and exposed brick with warm, intimate lighting, Caña y Café's dining room invites toasts with glassfuls of sangria or house wine from a list that includes such traditional Spanish grape varietals as tempranillo, verdejo, and California raisin.