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.
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.
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.
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 flare into Latin-fusion recipes to create vivid, metropolitan cuisine. Flavorsmiths prime palates with a selection of appetizers that includes the pulpo a la brasa al estilo Mediterraneo, where Mediterranean-style octopus grills atop a bed of charcoal before curling up beside a pool of black-olive tapenade. Brimming with aquatic and earthly morsels, the paella Valenciana tosses shrimp, scallops, chicken, and chorizo into an ocean of saffron Arborio rice and sherry for diners to spear with miniature tridents. A grouper fillet struts out to tables alongside fresh crabmeat, spinach risotto, and chardonnay-butter sauce to create the mero relleno de cangrejo. The chuleton de puerco accessorizes its frenched pork chop with a Francophile trio of mushroom ragu, gorgonzola-truffle butter, and a spinach mustache.
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.