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.
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.
True to its name, Just Grapes Lounge focuses on wines, with more than 30 vintages poured by the glass and 18 more varieties sequestered on a reserve bottle list. Microbrews, champagnes, and ports round out the lounge's full bar, complementing a Mediterranean-tinged tapas menu. Small plates, ranging from hummus and crostini to stuffed baked clams, are ideal for smothering appetites or boosting a tiny table's self-esteem. Three styles of rustic pizza artfully pair tomatoes with cheese, whereas molten fondue, served in a bread bowl, comes in varieties including gorgonzola and double-cream brie.
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.
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.
The cooks at Feelgood Italian Fusion Grill split their time between preparing traditional Italian fare and familiar American comfort foods. Sautéed orders of veal scaloppini and chicken marsala can emerge from the kitchen alongside grill-seared burgers and 16-ounce cuts of New York sirloin steak, which are gently tenderized by the kitchen's own massage therapist. The dining room evokes a similarly casual ambience with its sconce-lit, neutral-toned walls and plush booths.