The hookah's natural habitat is not a nightclub with crashing music and empty drinks slamming against tables. The hookah experience, according to Kimm Smith of Hookah House, should be unrushed and mellow. "It's very meditative," she says, "and should be shared with people you care about." This was the atmosphere in which co-owner Zo spent his childhood in Algeria, where people would spend long hours gathering with friends and families in hookah lounges. He and his Bostonian wife, Michelle, wanted to bring that aspect of Algerian culture to the United States, both to spread a feeling of community and as an homage to the marriage of their distinct backgrounds.
As the fruit-tinged smoke of shisha rises from between murmuring visitors, it passes rich fabrics, which drape the exposed-brick walls, and bright lanterns dangling from a marigold ceiling. Stories seem to overflow from the furniture and textiles, gathered during the couple’s travels in Algeria or preserved from Zo's former life as a sommelier in Paris. This is where patrons linger, resting shoeless feet on bright cushions and pillows as they converse or check email on the free wireless internet. Atop inlaid tables, servers place Turkish coffee, house blends of Moroccan tea, and small plates of Mediterranean-inspired dishes.
On some weekend evenings, live jazz stirs guests to twist among tendrils of smoke before a DJ steps up to spin a range of music, from Earth, Wind & Fire to Jimi Hendrix. Belly dancers, with bells and scarves for all to borrow, demonstrate to patrons how to pass lie-detector tests with just their hips. A psychic-in-residence reads coffee grounds most nights, translating the earthy onyx shapes into predictions about the drinker's future.
Housed in a two-story structure erected in 1926, Bizaare Ave Cafe pairs an eclectic menu of tapas and bistro meals with still more eclectic decor, earning the eatery Best Romantic Restaurant accolades from CityVoters in 2010. In the quirky downstairs dining area, coffee tables crowded with knickknacks host plates of tapas and glasses of wine. Diners in overstuffed armchairs tuck into dishes such as homemade pumpkin-stuffed ravioli or baked brie with raspberry sauce, a gift of rich, melty cheese that—like all good presents—is wrapped in puff pastry. Upstairs, things get more formal with a menu of bistro fare such as filet mignon, pork chops, and seared salmon. Aside from the fare, diners may purchase literally anything in the restaurant, including potted palms, decorative wall-mounted plates, and attractive fire extinguishers.
Inside Couco Pazzo, murals of Italian streetscapes provide a fitting backdrop to the aromatic pizzas and pastas that waiters whisk from the kitchen to candlelit tables. Some dishes, from the hand-tossed pizzas, housemade veal, pork, and meatballs to cioppino—a seafood stew of clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, and shrimp served over ink linguine—are a fusion of Italian, Mediterranean, and American cuisine, while others are classically Italian. The latter category includes the restaurant’s fresh baked bread and veal saltimbocca, which is served in a marsala wine sauce with prosciutto, mozzarella, and spinach. The menu also features nightly specials that feature two fresh fish, the risotto of the day, and a full bar with an extensive wine list. Customers can also enjoy Pazzo's al fresco dining in their covered patio adjacent to the bar.
As a pleasantly unpretentious pizza and pasta paradise, Rotelli entices regulars who stop by for lunch and dinner to gather with friends, raise a few glasses, and indulge in fine Italian meals. The menu taps its homeland heel with light starters, such as bruschetta italiana ($6.99) and crispy calamari ($9.99). It sends a swooping high-kick well north of Sicily with chicken parmigiana, layered in ricotta and mozzarella, served with pasta ($15.99), and hand-tossed Napoletana pizza, dressed in pepperoni, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and sausage ($10.99 for 10", $18.99 for 16").
In 1947, Don Kilwin struck upon the perfect method for making candies and chocolates—and when you discover perfection, you don't abandon it. That's why almost 70 years later, the chefs at their dozens and dozens of locations across the country still use old-fashioned copper kettles, marble slabs, and Howdy Doody puppets. And guests can see the proof of that: the glass-walled kitchens afford a clear view of the delectable goings-on as the dreamweavers conjure cashew brittle, caramel apples, fudge, and 40 flavors of ice cream. A steaming mug of coffee, hot chocolate, or cider pairs perfectly with these sweet treats.