A Sit-down with Pink Teacup owner, Lawence Page

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After months of speculation and anticipation, The Pink Teacup (a southern-style chicken and waffle restaurant and hangout) has finally made its way to Fort Greene. I had a chance to sit down with producer, restaurateur and Pink Teacup Owner Lawrence Page to get a sense of what he has in store for the neighborhood.

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The Pink Teacup

The Pink Teacup is an old brand, established in 1954. It became well known for their chicken and waffles and famous clientele.

In 2010, while in meeting with rapper Mobb Deep at the Pink Teacup, Page found out that the restaurant was going out of business. Afraid to see an institution with so much history burn, he bought it.

After the Flatiron location closed down (rumored to be because of a lost liquor license…a testament to the fact that New Yorkers are just a bunch of drunkards), Paige eventually relocated to Brooklyn.

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Brooklyn, here we come!

Why our humble (not really) borough? New York was changing. Tastemakers were dispersing and Manhattan was no longer the Mecca of kool (yes, with a ‘k’).  The obvious choice was Brooklyn (keyword: obvious!)

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The Man with the plan

Lawrence Paige was born in Birmingham, Alabama, but moved to Long Island when he was in grade school. The southern-style and comfort food dishes are actually inspired by his mother’s recipes.

He sounds passionate about making his mark on the Brooklyn scene. Gentrification is no stranger to New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites. It may be the first gem of city-living knowledge that newcomers become privy to as they seek out an affordable place to stay at night. Coffee shops and restaurants have become the visible signs that the neighborhood is accommodating a new clientele.

The Pink Teacup is doing the same, but the message is different. Page wants to embrace the new economic and racial diversity, but establish a reminder of the culture of “old Brooklyn.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that Pink Teacup is located just a few blocks away from Spike Lee’s studio.

The objective is for Pink Teacup to become a gathering place for the diversity of peoples now drawn to Brooklyn. Page wants it to exude comfort, ease and certainly a kool factor; somewhere where someone can have a piece of fried chicken alongside a nice merlot (metaphor intended). He gave a special shout out to cognac drinkers; yes, you are welcome too. Prefer a mojito? – have it pink.

5 Questions for Lawrence Page:

1. What is your favorite Brooklyn moment?
“The day I met Biggie.” (Jay Z invited him to a video shoot in Brooklyn, where he met Biggie and Lil Kim on the set.)

2. What was your most bizarre moment in Brooklyn?
“I found a stranger sleeping I my manager’s car.” The man honestly thought it was his car, so he got in and fell asleep!

3. What is one thing you would change about Brooklyn?
“Replace the mayor with myself.” (said half jokingly)

4. You jump up at 5am, what are you thinking?
“How can I make someone smile today?”

5. What was your fondest childhood memory?
He led a bike crew with about 20 kids from his neighborhood. They use to take root beer bottles out of the delivery trucks and redistribute them.

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Review: Felice 83

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I’m not one for Italian restaurants. The price American culture has placed on Italian food has been inflated, allowing hum drum outposts to upsell cheap and uninspired dishes made up for with candlelit ambiance. Experience this enough times and it’s enough to lose faith. BUT Felice 83 makes me regret my cynicism. It is a reminder that the details are what is important, and good food requires passion, carefully sourced ingredients and of course people who know what they are doing.

I had a wonderful tasting with 4 fellow food bloggers. Chef Simone Parisotto proudly paraded his work, as the food obsessed dug in with a critical eye. The tasting was paired with 3 wines — a rose, white and red — presented by the sommelier, producer and co-owner.

So here we go…

The meal started with a detailed explanation of the Felice wines imported by sommelier and co-owner Jacopo Sebastiano Giustiani from his family’s vineyard in Tuscany. He is somewhat if a purist, glorifying the wine making process and praising wines that aptly tell the character of the land and the conditions surrounding production. The pleasure partly resides in the separation of the elements to assemble a historical account of the bottle. It makes sense, Guistiani’s family has owned the vineyard that produces these wines for over 200 years. We tasted a rosé, red and white throughout the courses. My favorite was the white. It was crisp and complex with a vanilla note that was unexpected but really nice.

After our wine discussion we were served the appetizer course. The best, without protest, was the Coccoli Crescenzo E Crudo — an 18 month-aged prosciutto paired with coccoli (small squares of fried pizza dough) and crescenza cheese (a soft, creamy Italian cheese). The prosciutto was cured beautifully– it was salty enough and tender enough to easily cut with a fork. The three components together were an amazing combination of texture. It was like a deconstructed thin crust pizza eaten like chips and dip. An elegant yet down-home creation.

Felice 2We also had the arancini, which is a saffron-infused rice ball, stuffed with braised veal and mozzarella cheese, breaded and fried until it was golden. This was again a brilliant play with textures but also had a nice developed flavor from the veal ragout.

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The last appetizer was a tomato and burrata salad. It was beautifully plated and very fresh. It was a nice and light appetizer if you’re one to have a salad with every meal. But up against the prosciutto and arancini, it was a bit of a throw away.

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Next up was the pasta course: a Linguini con vongole e pomodorini (a seafood pasta with clams and tomato), and Orechiette al sugo (orechiette pasta with shredding pork). The seafood pasta was my personal favorite of the two. It was a classic, but elevated with quality ingredients and a light touch. The Orechiette was excellent as well. The pasta was of course house-made and cooked beautifully to a soft and slightly gummy chew. Mixing this with shredded pork was just the icing.

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And then there was the main course. We’re had a 34-oz dry-aged NY Strip (Costada) and Veal Chops sautéed in red wine reduction; boy were they tender. The steak was grilled, keeping the preparation simple. The chef seems to believe that the magic came from his choice of grass fed beef from a farm he visited in Oklahoma, but he’s not giving himself enough credit. It is still beautifully grilled, juicy and tender. The veal was my favorite. It was cooked with a red wine reduction, and so tender you cold rip it with a fork.

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The chef surprised us with a seafood stew. It tasted like a cook-all-day affair — the seafood was broken down into a rich tomato sauce covering piles if branzino, octopus, shrimp and squid. Harmonious flavors — notice a trend?

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Last up was dessert. We had a sampling of about five desserts, all of which were just fine, but did not live up to the standard created by the dinner. My favorite was the pistachio gelato, which had the most pistachio flavor I’ve ever tasted in any dessert. It was a nice, refreshing treat and a simple way to end such an extravagant meal.

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Felice 83 is a wonderful experience curated by people who care enough to give you the very best. Their passion comes through in every aspect, and the details in their execution are impeccable. This place is a treat. It’s the perfect place to go with people you care about, where you can relax, share everything family-style and enjoy some really great Tuscan cuisine.

Review: Desnuda

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It seems like the East Village will forever be the mecca for the young, hip and grunge. It has this unshakable history of being a hotbed for artists and nonconformists and is birthing a new and distinct food scene. It’s the perfect setting for Desnuda, a wine bar and cevicheria that serves up elegant, complex and intriguing ceviche, but in a relaxed, trendy and easy environment.

First of all – yes, there is such thing as a ceviche bar. The menu consists of wine, ceviche/tiradito, oysters and two sides — rice and sweet potatoes. That’s it! And you will soon realize that this is more than enough.

Desnuda – Spanish for “naked” – is very small and aptly described as a bar, as the bar is the only place that you can sit. Dark woods and plush stools make the dark atmosphere cozy. It’s a place to get comfortable with the company of wine and friends (or a date) and share entree-sized marinated raw fish dishes tapas-style.

I started off with the Macabeu & Muscat wine. It was a nice crisp white wine with a dry effervescence. I liked it because it was bubbly, but not sweet. It was light and sharp enough to not interfere with the delicate fish.

I sipped my wine and snacked on complimentary truffled popcorn while I watched the chef prepare my fish behind the bar.

First up was the Tiradito de Atun. Tiradito is a Peruvian, spicy, marinated, raw fish cut similar to sashimi. The Tiradito de Atun was an elegant fusion of Peruvian and Japanese flavors. The tuna was marinated in a soy-like sauce (specifically a shishito Uzi truffle glaze) and covered in jalapeño peppers, red onions and potato chips and cilantro. The first thing you notice when you dig in is the quality of the fish. It is excellently filleted, melting in your mouth with little more than mashing of the tongue necessary to break it down. The next thing you notice are the potatoes chips. They call it a “potato crunch” but it seems like that was their way to class up the fact that they were mixing potato chips with a very fine piece of tuna. But it worked! The crunch not only added texture but salinity and starch, rounding out the dish. Next came a sweetness I thought it was from the sauce, but it seems to have been coming from the jalapeño! All together, it was a great balance, offering a salty and umami flavor from Japanese traditions and the sweet spiciness of Latin cuisine.

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Next was the Ceviche de Salmon. Buttery king salmon was mixed with orange slices, almonds, red onions, cilantro, thai chili oil and black sesame seeds. The salmon was so smooth. The play on textures was perfect. It was bookended by medallions of sweet potato with a sweet brûlée top. The dish was visually beautiful and complex in texture and taste.

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As I sat at the bar, wondering if the paper fans on the ceiling were actually waving rhythmically in sync or I had one too many glasses of wine (rest assures, the fans do wave in sync), I realized that I stumbled on something truly special. A small menu serves them well; they do one thing, and they do it fantastically.

Brooklynites, check out their outpost in Williamsburg!

Review: ButterLane Cupcake Class

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Disclaimer: cooking classes are not my thing. I do perfectly well with Professor Television and Professor Google. The world is at my fingertips, thanks to my classmates at Chowhound and Yahoo! Answers. Best of all, the cost of my culinary education is the equivalent of my cable and Internet bill. Welcome to the digital age!

Yet I decided to step out of my life of screen-jumping to attend a cupcake class at ButterLane.

For the uniformed (which included myself pre-cupcake class): ButterLane is a cupcake shop with outlets in the East Village and Park Slope. Their cupcakes are super light and fluffy with a crisp top, fresh frosting and crazy flavors.

They offer how-to classes, one of which I attended with a group of fellow food bloggers run by my friend Mallory from Total Noms.

I have to admit that I had a good time. The class was separated into three groups: chocolate, vanilla and banana. You grab and apron and choose your favorite. No frills: metal benches, no chairs — you stand and you will like it!

I settled into the banana table, and met my banana-loving baking partners and everything we would possibly need to make…cupcakes.

A pleasant girl named Olivia instructed the class in a very matter-of-fact way. There was no doubt that she has a special love for her craft. Growing up she “never played with play dough, just brioche dough.” I could only assume that I was in good hands. She gave us clear instructions with interesting tips and tricks if her trade. And after our “manly splashes” of vanilla and careful mixing, we were elbow deep in her world.

Before I knew it, we had made 6 different flavors of frosting and were perfecting ButterLane’s “tap ‘n turn” technique for frosting cupcakes.

By this time, we were all several glasses of wine in (oh, did I forget to mention the complimentary wine? Shame on me!), so let’s just say we were very friendly and silly. We were given two cupcakes of each flavor (plus two extra of our choice) and mixed and matched our frostings.

After just two hours, we had collectively baked and frosted a grand total of 144 cupcakes, and while I am still far from a professional, I am definitely much more informed.

So was it worth it?

They give you tips and tricks that I probably could have found on the Internet. But sometimes relishing the convenience of the new “digital age” gets old, and some good ol’ fashioned community building is necessary. I had a fabulous time, I met some really great people, and I got to take home 8 pretty amazing cupcakes.

Special thanks to Olivia and everyone at ButterLane and CourseHourse!

More info on the class here.

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Review: The Chocolate Room

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The Chocolate Room is nestled next to the old Cobble Hill Cinema in Court Street, Brooklyn. Like the theater, there is something decidedly old world about it; it screams with nostalgia.

When you walk in, you encounter a glass showcase of chocolates, but I urge you not to be distracted. Past the cafe counter, a small hallway and the kitchen is a beautiful parlor complete with dark woods, marble tabletops and a back wall covered in floor to ceiling windows that look out into brownstone backyards and balconies. In springtime, it is serene.

The menu is full of chocolate treats. Looking for a savory meal? Won’t find that here. You will find traditional desserts and suggested pairings. And this is where the nostalgia ends. I assure you that you have never tasted chocolate done like this.

After placing your order you’re given complimentary brownies. Moist, light, slightly nutty and covered in powdered sugar. It’s not too sweet and small enough to just whet your appetite. Ever been to a dessert place complete with an amuse bouche? This was a first for me!

I ordered a Brownie Sundae with mint chip ice cream. The brownie was perfectly warm and fluffy, but had a slight crisp to the top. The ice cream was homemade (by hand!), and it tasted like they used real mint! It was icy, creamy and perfectly cooling. The ice cream was topped with whipped cream and a cherry soaked in brandy. Everything was topped with chocolate shavings and a healthy pour of chocolate fudge. The fudge cooled when it reached the ice cream, giving it a creamy, chocolaty thickness, and then melted again when it reached the brownie, leaving a pool of gooey fudge at the bottom of the bowl. Never had I ever tasted a brownie sundae like that!

Their chocolate cake may have been the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. It was moist, fluffy and chocolatey. The chocolate was the perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Disclaimer: I am not a lover of chocolate cake. The chocolate/vanilla debate always goes to vanilla in my book. But I have yet to find a vanilla cake that I would choose over TCR’s chocolate layer cake.

The Chocolate Room definitely gets my recommendation. You can also try out their 5th Avenue location in Park Slope!

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