Chef Ricardo Cardona might be from El Salvador, but that doesn’t mean his cooking sticks to tradition. At Mamajuana Café, he draws on more than 25 years of cooking to build his modern cuisine on a foundation of his homeland’s centuries-old cooking traditions. And it seems like his efforts have paid off: his Nuevo Latino dishes, which also prominently feature Dominican flavors, earned the eatery a Critics’ Pick designation from New York magazine. All that attention might be on account of the chef’s inventive flavor combinations, such as sweet plantains stuffed with salted cod, chicken-tempura sushi rolls, and Cornish game hen topped with diced chorizo and lobster. In the dining space, tufted leather banquettes run along the wall just beneath studio lighting and backlit artwork. Bright red and earth-tone curtains give the room a clublike vibe, which set the tone for when diners take to the dance floor between courses.
In 1997, Chef Hok Chin moved to New York City from Hong Kong, where he’d been in training with some of the city’s finest chefs since age 14. Though his culinary talents were already formidable, the ambitious young chef faced a hurdle he couldn’t simply spatula himself over: the English language. Undaunted, he headed back to work the humblest kitchen positions and scrabbled his way back to the top at establishments such as Tavern on the Green, The Mark Hotel, and most recently, La Caravelle. In 2010, the multinational gourmet teamed up with nightlife impresario Brian Rosenberg, and the duo’s new venture, Sugar Dining Den and Social Club, drove Joanne Starkey of the New York Times to rave, “The food is delicious—much better than it has to be—and the service is excellent.”
Something between a nightclub and a fine-dining establishment, Sugar immediately immerses its guests in a world of bright lights, pulsing beats, and an arrestingly modern architectural scheme that sets a decorative forest of tree branches beneath a looming vaulted ceiling. After a dinner of gourmet fusion cuisine, such as Pacific Rim skirt steak with green chili potatoes and hand-cut sweet potato fries with maple-chipotle barbecue sauce, the eating area transforms into a dance floor soundtracked by some of today’s most popular DJs. The cocktail list keeps the party rolling late into the night with charmingly titled offerings such as the Black and White Cookie and the Swedish Fish.
Whether just entering the world of dance or already a seasoned performer, students are in good hands when they step into one of American Theater Dance Workshop's studios. The faculty boasts professional dancers and choreographers with backgrounds on Broadway and in well-known ballet companies. Some have even starred in films, as is the case for instructor Leslie Browne, who garnered an Academy Award nomination for her role in 1978's The Turning Point. There's one other professional artist you'll find in most classes: a pianist, who plays live music during the lessons. Aside from ballet, the studio teaches other dance disciplines, including musical theater, tap, and modern.
With chef Joseph Cannella at the gustatory helm, Bourbon Street Cafe serves up tasty Cajun meals that have earned it an award for Best Brunch on a Budget from Page Six Magazine. Dishes such as blackened catfish and New Orleans po boys compete for attention with the house-specialty seafood gumbo and jambalaya, in which chicken and shrimp carouse with ground zydeco notes in a creole-sauce-slathered nest of spicy rice and andouille sausage. The large eatery further captures the essence of a New Orleans–style café with its colorful wall murals, fringed tabletop lamps, and plates accompanied by Mardi Gras beads, and its multiple flat-screen TVs light up with Sunday football action when the New York Scallywags play the New England Ne’er-do-wells.
At Conga’s Bar & Lounge, the weekend begins on Thursday night, when DJs set up their decks for the first of three straight evenings of musical mixology. They lob Latin and Top 40 beats through the venue, caroming subtle bass lines and fervent tempos off the Cuban-themed décor.
All week long Conga’s kitchen slings wings spun in signature sauces, such as cranberry honey mustard, Louisiana ranch, and a Jack Daniel’s zest. Bartenders pour pitchers from 11 beers on tap, and they also dice fruit for sangria and shake exotic cocktails, such as the electric-red or blue fishbowl, named for its globe-like cup and ice cubes shaped like tiny plastic castles.
High on the wall at Your Mother's House Kitchen & Bar, large white lettering proclaims "Eat At Mothers"?a sign that welcomes visitors whether they're sidling up to the bar or slipping into one of the wide hardwood booths. After they get settled in, servers bring them plates of steaming Southern creations, such as housemade chili-mac 'n' cheese, creole snow-crab legs, barbecue ribs, and Carolina-style pulled pork sandwiches. As a whole, the menu relies on pure ingredients such as coarse sea salt, sushi-grade tuna, and raw milk cheddar harvested from only the surliest cows. Above the tables and booths, heavy wood columns stretch up to a cavernous ceiling, against which shines light from dozens of HDTVs?including some more than 20 feet wide. The restaurant's ample space frequently hosts events ranging from live music every Friday to screenings of special sporting events from the NFL, NBA, and UFC.