Prospect Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux famously preferred the airy lawns of this Brooklyn oasis to their earlier design of Manhattan’s Central Park. So if you're heading to the park for a show, it makes sense to make a day of it and spend some time on its sunny, open meadows. Before the doors open, cool off (and use real bathrooms!) while enjoying an affordable meal at any one of these restaurants, all within a 10-minute walk of the park. For alfresco diners: Brooklyn Larder (228 Flatbush Ave.) OK, this isn’t a restaurant, though there are a few tables for eating and a good lunch special: sandwich, chips, beer or soda, and a cookie for $15, available 11 a.m.–3 p.m. If you prefer dining alfresco, come here for a fantastic selection of cheeses, breads, salads, and any number of jams, jellies, and preserves in cute jars to eat in the park. Drinking alcohol in the park is, of course, prohibited and can lead to a ticket. On an unrelated note, Brooklyn Larder has a great selection of beers, starting with Dale’s Pale Ale cans for $2.50 each. For cheap vegetarians: Dao Palate (329 Flatbush Ave.) A mainstay of vegetarians, Dao Palate serves fresh vegetables and mock meats in typical Chinese sauces that are a few notches lighter and fresher-tasting than average. Great for larger groups, the big restaurant’s main dishes run around $12, and their filling lunch specials around $9. My favorite, black-pepper seitan on a bed of chinese broccoli, comes with a spring roll and a miso soup to boot. For those with time to kill: Cubana Cafe (80 6th Ave., right off Flatbush Avenue) The food here is less of a draw than the cocktails and the decor, but it’s still consistently good, with a menu that hews closely to the dishes I’ve seen served in Havana: black-bean soup, roast chicken with rice, plantains. Most plates are meat-heavy and generous with the portions—beware ordering an appetizer and a main dish unless you’re very hungry. As you wait for the show to begin, linger over a mojito or a cold beer in a breezy dining room painted turquoise, pink, and yellow, where the floor-to-ceiling windows are flung open all summer long. For picky eaters: 67 Burger (234 Flatbush Ave.) With a long and flexible list of food options, 67 Burger has something to please everyone. The menu has your cheeseburgers, your curly fries, and your Lagunitas on tap, but also real salads and two veggie-burger options, all of which can be customized with many extras like goat cheese, chipotle mayo, and olive tapenade. Burgers range from $6.75 to $10. There’s also a wine selection and something called a beer shake, which intrigued me but not enough to try it on a weekday alone. Photos by Kasia Mychajlowycz.Read More
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The saying “less is more” has perhaps never been truer than it is at Porchetta (110 E. 7th St.) and Porsena (21 E. 7th St.). At both East Village hot spots, Chef Sara Jenkins has built a cult following by keeping her menus tightly focused rather than trying to do it all. Crowds gather at Porchetta to savor one specific thing: slow-roasted pork (served in varying ways yet always the central focus of each dish). At Porsena, they come for perfectly cooked artisanal pasta. Jenkins’s straightforward approach reflects a distinctly Italian state of mind, which makes sense, considering her upbringing around Tuscany and Rome. Mario Batali summed it up succinctly when he called her “one of the few chefs in America who understands Italy and how Italians eat." “I think Italians in Italy eat with a certain fairness that Americans and Italian-Americans don’t have,” Jenkins said, asked about what prompted Batali’s praise. “An Italian is perfectly happy with a perfectly cooked artisanal spaghetti with great olive oil and chilies, while an American would want to add three or four [more] ingredients.” When Jenkins isn’t working in her own kitchens, she can often be found exploring other rich, delicious, and straightforward flavors around the city. Here are a few of her favorites. For Italian (outside of Porsena): “I eat at Cesare Casella’s place on the West Side, Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto (283 Amsterdam Ave.). He’s a Tuscan chef who’s been working in New York for many more years than I have. He’s very authentic.” For gelato: “Il laboratio del gelato (188 Ludlow St.). They have traditional and nontraditional flavors.” For espresso: “Abraço Espresso (86 E. 7th St.) on 7th Street. They are maniacal about making it right.” For wine or cocktails: “I like to drink wine at Bar Veloce (175 2nd Ave.) on 2nd Avenue. It’s an Italian wine bar that’s been there more than 10 years. It’s not over the top, not pretentious or precious. Just a great wine selection in a nice space.” Check Groupon for deals on Italian restaurants in New York City.Read More
The dim sum lunch, or yum cha (literally “drink tea”), is the Cantonese answer to Spanish tapas. It is as much a tradition in New York City's Chinatown as weekend brunch on The Lower East Side. The bustling scene is all too familiar: packed tables, servers pushing metal carts while hawking their selections, the din of impatient, hungry diners. They wait for shrimp dumplings, steamed pork spareribs, roast pork buns, pork and shrimp shu mai -- the seemingly endless variety goes on and on. But for vegetarians, the choices can be few. When it comes to dim sum, seafood and meat dominate the menu. New York vegetarians need not despair, because there are two very appetizing dim sum havens for non-meat eaters, and they’re right in Chinatown. Buddha Bodai on Mott Street serves a completely vegetarian and kosher menu of dim sum favorites, ranging from shrimp dumplings to beef rice rolls. The restaurant is usually packed on weekday lunch hours with City Hall municipal types, while the weekend clientele consists of tourists, locals and the environmentally conscientious. An all-day menu of vegetarian iterations of Chinese standards is also on offer, with creative takes on dishes like roast pork and sesame chicken. Using seitan, tofu and yam starch (among other vegetarian and kosher-friendly ingredients) as substitutes, many of these plates will fool even the committed carnivore in appearance and flavor. The line outside the door on Sunday afternoons may be the best way to spot Vegetarian Dim Sum House on Pell Street. Crowds tend to gather on weekends, anxious for healthy vegetarian takes on traditional dim sum dishes. The array of vegetarian dumplings -- pan fried, watercress, snow pea leaf, monk dumplings -- draw in voracious vegetarians who want the variety of a full-scale dim sum restaurant without sacrificing their principles or lifestyle choices. The menu is comprehensive, full of inventive vegetarian fare using Eastern and Western-style vegetables, not to mention an exhaustive list of diced, sliced or sautéed mushroom dishes. At Vegetarian Dim Sum House, there’s no need to solely imitate meat dishes. Here, vegetables are allowed to take center stage.Read More