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AMAZING

Urban Escapes NYC

Mollie-bike-excursion-New-York
Mollie takes a breather at the top of Storm King Highway.

by Mollie Chen

Finances and work have kept me close to the city this summer, but I've gotten my vacation fix by planning close-to-home adventures. I recently invested in a super-speedy road bike so I've been going on all-day treks to places like gorgeous Harriman State Park, and, most recently Weed Orchards, in farm-lovely Ulster County. I'm constantly surprised at how much nature--truly spectacular nature--is so accessible from the city. But as much as love my padded shorts (I mean, who doesn't like a little Spandex?), sometimes a different kind of adventure is in order.

New-York-Weed-Orchard-peaches
Weed Orchards has pick-your-own
peaches, plus what might be
the world's best apple cider doughnuts.

Enter Urban Escapes NYC. This outdoor adventure company was started by a bunch of urban twentysomethings in need of periodic doses of wide-open space. It leads a range of trips, from hikes in Bear Mountain to white-water rafting in the Lehigh River, and most are just day excursions--perfect for those of us low on cash and time. Guns aren't exactly my thing, but I have to admit I like the sound of Shootin' and Drinkin', a morning of clay shooting followed by a whiskey tasting and a riverside picnic. Sure beats jostling for a patch of grass in Central Park.

Further reading:
* Mollie finds another reason to check out the North Carolina Triangle's food scene
* Quick Trips: Your guide to high art in Minneapolis, midcentury architecture in Palm Springs, minimalism in Beacon, and good grooves in Austin

AMAZING

Florida's Highwaymen

Highwaymen_dt
Painting: Alfred Newton

by Aisha Sylvester

For decades they canvassed Florida's highways. Sharply dressed sweet-talkers, they convinced souvenir stores and hotels to purchase their canvases. Now, over 50 years later, some of the original band of Highwaymen artists are back. 

Abrams has just released The Journey of the Highwaymen, a compilation of captivating images from one of the most unique art movements of 20th-century America. With little more than inexpensive Upson board and a desire to improve their economic standing, these 26 self-taught artists painted their way into African-American history and the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. Initially regarded as kitsch, their depictions of crashing waves and vibrant sunsets are credited with encouraging a view of Florida as an exotic and untamed hinterland in the mid-20th century.

And if you happen to be in Winter Park, Florida, within the next couple months, you can see original paintings on display at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, through June 27.

AMAZING

Garlic, Be Gone! Chef-Made Candles Do the Trick

Montage
Produce at Montage:
Chef Boyce's inspiration?

by Mollie Chen

Over the weekend, I tested recipes from three of our 2009 Hot Tables list, which hits stands in less than two weeks. (Get excited: we've got plenty of pork belly, farm-fresh dishes, and designer cocktails.) Over 48 hours later, my apartment still smells of meatballs, roasted lamb, and veal tenderloin. Opening all the windows hasn't seemed to do anything--I can smell the garlic before I even unlock my door.

I have a new solution, though: Voluspa's new James Boyce collection is a line of organic candles intended to be used in the kitchen. James Boyce formulated the scents when he was chef at the award-winning Studio restaurant at the Montage Laguna Beach. (He has since started his own venture in Huntsville, Alabama called Cotton Row.) In the same way that fresh lemon juice is the best way to de-stink your hands after handling fish or other pungent ingredients, Boyce's California Citrus candle clears up kitchen smells with Satsuma tangerine and Meyer lemon. And they're not just for cooks. The scents are simply transporting: Herb Garden, with black chanterelle and cardamom, channels spring, while Chef's Special, with heirloom tomato, celery and fennel, smells like the height of a ripe summer.

Further reading:
* You can now find Boyce's candles at most department stores and online
* Check out last year's Hot Tables
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING

Fly Delta and Become a Film Critic

Calling all traveling film buffs: You can weigh in at the Tribeca Film Festival's judging table.  Starting now through April 12, Delta Air Lines is inviting customers to view and rate five short films for free, either onboard or online. The highest-rated film will be featured in the Tribeca Film Festival's Short Film Program.

Who are the finalists? "Cold Calls" by Jack Daniel Stanley; "Eight Percent" by Alexander Poe; "Gerald's Last Day" by Justin Rasch and Shel Rasch; "The Green Film" by Andrew Williamson; and "Locks" by Ryan Coogler. After your votes are in, Delta will fly all six filmmakers to New York City during the festival to party--and nibble their cuticles--until the winning film is announced. That winner will then receive a pair of round-trip tickets for travel in BusinessElite, Delta's international business class, anywhere Delta flies worldwide, not to mention some cinema cred. So, action!

AMAZING

Language Sleuthing: The Amazing Adventures of Greg and Dave

by Sara Tucker

When it comes to cool jobs, a lot of us missed the boat, but who knew that "language sleuth" was one of the coolest? I surely didn't. Then I heard about The Linguists, which starts airing Thursday, February 26, on PBS (it's a TV Guide Editor's Pick of the Week), and now I'm sick with envy. The film stars ethnographers David Harrison and Greg Anderson, two college professors on an Indiana Jones-style quest to document the world's endangered languages before it's too late (the rate of attrition is one every two weeks; 167 are threatened right here in the United States). Their heroic pursuit takes them to remote pockets of Siberia, Bolivia, and India, and the result is a documentary that struck Sundance 2008 like a coup de foudre. The Linguists has been on tour for the past year (the Kansas City Star called it "Funny, enlightening and ultimately uplifting"; Vanity Fair pronounced it "a fantastic little film"); television audiences will finally get to see it for the first time Thursday night. For a sneak preview, click the video above or go to their Web site.

AMAZING

The Perfect (Alternative) Travel Tee

Traveltee
Scenes from the David Foote for Alternative Apparel launch party
Photo: Liam Alexander

by Eimear Lynch

Who doesn't need the perfect travel T-shirt? While donning American Apparel basics is easy enough, we'd rather go alternative with this statement-making iteration by artist David Foote for Alternative Apparel. Launched as an exhibit February 10 at Bo Concept in New York's Soho (69 Greene Street), the black-and-white tee--which reminds us of a softer, chicer Murakami--is available at both the store and on Foote's Web site through April 10. Want one? Pat yourself on the back: A cut of the profits will go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

AMAZING

New LA Landmark: Green Gas Station

Green Gas
Click image to go to site

by Tom Loftus

No doubt taking notes on SoCal's ability to transform hot dog stands, hot-rods, and hot-bods into quasi-iconic status, British Petroleum has transformed an unassuming gas station at the corner of Olympic and Robertson in Los Angeles into the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao + squeegees. 

As the press packet--yes, this gas station has its own Web site--explains, the station uses recycled steel, solar panels, motion sensor lights to reduce electricity, CO2-reducing greenery, a green roof, and other green best practices.

"It's not a prototype 'station of the future,'" the site explains, "It's a station for today that's a little better, a living lab where we can try out ideas for other stations and where people can find ideas they might want to bring into their own lives."

As long as the station dispenses good old cancer and greenhouse-causing gasoline--and not, say, clean spring water--we'll take this press release with a Hummer-sized grain of salt.  Still, according to DT-er Mollie Chen who stumbled across the corner during an L.A. weekend, the place looks neat. 

AMAZING

NYC & Company's Digitized Visitor Information Center

Visit NYC
Photo: © Albert Vecerka/Esto.
All Rights Reserved.

by Liz Granger

Tourists, rejoice! Visitors to New York City can now bid adieu to the woefully conspicuous guidebook. NYC & Company has revamped its visitor information center, trading racks of brochures for eco-friendly digital kiosks.

I visited the new office this morning before work, and planned a personalized weekend itinerary of boutiques, bars, and spas (a broke girl can dream). I slid a "puck" across a large, waist-level map of Manhattan and the boroughs to find points-of-interest within 25 minutes of my puck's location. Enter Edith Machinist, Temple Bar, and the Russian & Turkish Baths. Once I finished selecting locations, I carried my puck over to a wall-sized screen. Like magic, when I placed my puck onto a nearby pylon, a flyover Google Map view of my itinerary appeared on the screen. Another pylon allowed me to print a color copy of my itinerary, complete with a map and contact information for each site.

Apart from the swanky minimalist interior, the best part about NYC & Co.'s updated information center is that you can email or text yourself data right from the site's kiosks. Instead of reading fan-fold maps on the subway, your smartphone displays all the information you need. Now nobody has to look like a tourist.

Further reading:
* If you like being conspicuous--and cute
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING

A Six-Course Cheer for Pratham

by Julia Bainbridge

Last night, some of New York's leading chefs took recipes from their own books to prepare dishes at Tabla's 10th anniversary celebration. Dan Barber poached eggs from his farm, David Chang riffed on his favorite ingredient, pork belly, and Floyd Cardoz, the man behind the restaurant, served up one of his New Indian dishes to benefit non-profit Pratham's Read India program.

Slumdog Millionaire has stirred up some controversy in Mumbai, but the truth is, as Pratham board member Arvind Sanger said last night, the movie does represent what the city's slums are like. And they are large--India is home to one third of the world's poor. Pratham's mission is to ensure that every child there is in school and learning well. Over two million children have already benefited from Pratham's pre-schools, remedial learning programs, and libraries. Now with the Read India program, the organization is attempting to eradicate child illiteracy in India; by 2010, it hopes to teach 60 million children across the country how to read.

Success so far has been astronomical: Twenty one million children have learned to read since the program started just one year ago. Hopefully dinners like Tabla's will double--even triple--that number. 

Further reading:
* Here's how you can donate to Read India
* Make a difference: Resources for caring travelers
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING

Suite, Suite Chocolate

Bsgodiva
Brooke Shields sidles up to the choco-wall.

The Daily Traveler stopped by New York City's Bryant Park Hotel last week to check out Godiva's "Decadence Suite," a collaboration with retro-chic interior designer Jonathan Adler. Everything from a chessboard to the headboard was covered with what was once glorious molten brown goo.

Chocolate lover Brooke Shields stopped by, too, and had to restrain herself from licking the walls. One lucky couple won't have to hold back, though: Godiva is giving consumers the opportunity to win a weekend in the suite, plus a private tasting in the chocolatier's Rockefeller Center boutique and dinner for two at a premier NYC restaurant (to be determined, based on the winners' dietary needs). Upon their return home, the winners will receive a year's supply of Godiva chocolate. To enter the sweepstakes, look for the heart symbol on specially marked Valentine's Day gift boxes valued $25 or more.

AMAZING

Dining on Seafood? Reach for the FishPhone First

Tuna
Rows of tuna at Tokyo's
Tsukiji fish market.

Photo: Wikipedia

by Kevin Doyle

Actor Jeremy Piven's recent sudden departure from his role in the Broadway production of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow was due (at least according to his publicist) to mercury poisoning occasioned by a few too many plates of sushi. Alas, the flurry of publicity surrounding the event (and Mr. Mamet's wicked and widely quoted observation that Piven was leaving the show to "pursue a career as a thermometer") has done nothing to slow the rising global consumption of seafood. In fact, stocks of bigeye and yellowfin tuna have become so depleted that the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns that "massive fishing fleets are on a path to completely wipe out Pacific tuna populations." Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks are also at dangerously low levels, according to the WWF.

I admit that I do enjoy tucking in to a plate of sushi now and then, but the thought of armadas of industrial fishing vessels scooping up countless tons of tuna and driving them nearer extinction does dampen my appetite.

I'm not prepared to swear off sushi yet, but from now on I'm going to use the Blue Ocean Institute's FishPhone text messaging service to make sure my choices are informed before I order seafood in a restaurant or fish market. Here's how it works: Say you're looking over a menu and the Chilean sea bass looks appealing. If you'd like to know whether or not it's a sustainable choice, text the message "fish" followed by the name of the species in question (in this case, Chilean sea bass) to 30644. In seconds, you'll receive a reply letting you know that Chilean sea bass is being depleted by illegal and unregulated fishing and that it may contain harmful mercury or PCBs. Not quite so appealing, after all. Tilapia, on the other hand, gets a green light in every regard. The Blue Ocean Institute's Web site is a great resource for information on the health of the world's seas and their inhabitants and how to consume seafood in a way that won't harm the planet. Best of all, the information is based on solid science and presented in an evenhanded way intended to inform rather than to shame. Bon appétit!

Kevin Doyle is the News Editor for Condé Nast Traveler.

Further reading:
* WWF to help fund creation of Aquaculture Stewardship Council
* PBS's "Empty Oceans, Empty Nets" series explores the marine fisheries crisis and the pioneering efforts to restore our oceans
* Blessings have arrived with Piven's departure
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING

U.S. Pizza Styles Defined

It happens all the time. Two people in a bar start arguing about what is better: New York- or Chicago-style. Having lived in Ohio all your life, you refrain from pitching in. Heck, you are too embarrassed to admit that you don't know the difference, pizza-wise. Until now.

This site now offers the definitive list of pizza styles. Not only will it tell you the difference between Chicago, New York, and (shudder) California styles. It will also inform you that even Ohio has its own style: Ohio-Valley.

AMAZING

Top Chefs Unite to End Hunger

A Tasteful Feast

Some of the nation's top chefs will be taking their talents on tour with the aim of helping to feed hungry kids. A Tasteful Pursuit, as the tour is known, kicks off on January 26 at New York's Lever House Restaurant, where chef Bradford Thompson will be joined by Terrance Brennan and chocolatier Jacques Torres. Other stops on the tour include Palm Beach, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.

A Tasteful Pursuit is the brainchild of Share Our Strength, an organization devoted to ending childhood hunger in America.  According to the organization's Web site, more than 12.6 million children in America--that's one in six--are at risk of hunger. Here are some more sobering stats. Thankfully, chefs such as Michelle Bernstein (Michy's, Miami), Don Yamauchi, (Forté Restaurant, Birmingham, MI), and Zach Bell, (Café Boulud Palm Beach) will be cooking for the country and, ultimately, its kids.

Check here for a schedule of this year's dinners.

Further reading:
* Bradford Thompson is also involved with Chefs for Humanity
* Condé Nast Traveler's Five & Alive Fund: Improve the health of children five and under
* Catch of the Day: International noshables

AMAZING

Bluenity, Social Networking for Air Travelers

Bluenity

by Julia Bainbridge

Air France and KLM have just launched a social networking site for air travelers called Bluenity. I know what you're thinking ("Not another Facebook!"), but the cool thing about Bluenity is that if you're flying on either of these carriers, you can just enter your flight number and find out who's traveling with you. Maybe you want to share a taxi--or a cup of coffee; you can do it through Bluenity's "community" network by chatting and sending invitations. If you're not flying Air France or KLM, you can still use Bluenity's "travel tips" section for users' favorite Bangkok street food and the like.

I polled my friends who travel and use social networking sites (and really, who doesn't these days?), and they collectively responded eesh. "If you were interested in all that, wouldn't you have signed up for group travel?" one of them wondered. Another, a frequent business traveler, said, "I hate chatter boxes on a day trip to Dallas." General consensus: Bar meet-ups? Maybe. Airplanes? Thanks, but I'll opt for my iPod.

Would you use Bluenity, readers? We're interested to know.

Further reading:
* Oy vey! Wikipedia's list of popular social networking sites
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING, HEALTH & BEAUTY

Argan Oil Gives Back

Kahina

by Julia Bainbridge

For generations, Moroccan women have used argan oil to combat desert wind-chapped skin. Very different conditions in New York call for the same beauty regimen; after doing a no-glove test of Kahina--Giving Beauty's organic argan oil on my hands this morning, I finally caught up to these women's speed. Argan oil, packed with vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants, is just the thing to stay hydrated through the bitter winter.

Kahina--Giving Beauty's argan oil gives more than just smooth skin. Ten percent of the company's profits go to the Berber women who, by law, are the only people allowed to extract the oil from the nuts of argan trees. For most of these women, such work is the only road to financial (and social) independence. "These women can't even write their own names, yet they produce the most amazing product," says Kahina--Giving Beauty founder Katharine L'Heureux. Now, though, many of them can write their names: Many Berber women have been learning to read through argan cooperative literacy programs, and their signatures now appear on Kahina--Giving Beauty's surprisingly contemporary-looking products.

Further reading:
* Alaffia's Bicycles for Education in Togo, West Africa
* The Samburu Project: Clean Water for Kenya
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING

Travel and Rest: The Ultimate Travel Pillow

Travelrest
Photo: Travelrest

by Julia Bainbridge

Here at the Daily Traveler, we've seen lots of gadgets promising to help travelers catch a wink: lavender-scented eye masks, Enya-like CDs of cricket chirps and lulling ocean waves, countless herbal supplements. We don't need all those trinkets to get our sleep on, though. For us, a good pillow will do.

TravelRest's "Ultimate Travel Pillow" recently floated our way, and after testing the long, slender but substantial cushion from cubicle to cubicle, we have mixed feelings. For those who don't already use travel pillows, TravelRest might make converts out of them. (One overworked intern snuggled it at her desk for a good ten minutes.) For those experienced pillow-ers, there are pros and cons to this model. It's more comfortable than the neck-crick inducing shoulder version, but it's a one-side-only product. What if you shift in your sleep? Looks like it's either a frustrated neighbor's shoulder or nubbly-carpeted airplane floor for you. One of our editors wants it to be more secure, but as TravelRest already has a cord to fasten it to your seat and another strap to snap it onto your seat belt, perhaps only a straitjacket will do for him. (Could that be the new travel trend: straitjacket chic? I can see our next cover now: Intense, Robert Palmer video-esque models wrapped and strapped in white leather and looking...intense.)

Point is: Design-wise, it's a personal decision. But no one can contest that investing in a travel pillow is a cheaper option than buying a $7 sleep kit every time you fly. And TravelRest can be deflated, rolled up, and snapped right onto your suitcase for convenient storage. (No extra baggage fees here.)

AMAZING

Country Brand Index: Another Reason to Bicker

FutureBrand, a global brand consultancy, has just issued its fourth Country Brand Index. Just what is a Country Brand Index, you ask? "This year's Index includes rankings and trends as well as country brand analytics, travel motivations and insights into the challenges and opportunities within the world of travel, tourism and country branding."

What this really means is that around 2,700 global travelers ranked countries across 30 categories (authenticity, ease of travel, friendly locals, value for money); the rankings speak to the countries' reputations, perceptions, and experiences. Australia, Canada, and the United States boast the best all-around brands.  To see the whole list, go to the Country Brand Index site.  After reviewing the list, feel free to post your reactions here. 

AMAZING

Calling All Election Day Specials

Vote
Dixville Notch residents wait for the stoke of midnight to be the first voters for the nation's
presidential election in New Hampshire.

AP Photo

by Julia Bainbridge

Election day is here and American businesses are sharing whatever wealth they have left with fellow voters. Here's what you get if you hit the polls:

In New York
* Tonight, the New Museum will host an evening of tequila, trivia, and live-stream coverage of the exit polls.
* "Get out and vote! Come in and drink!" says Boqueria, the Spanish small plates joint in the Flatiron District. Go to the restaurant today with your "I Voted" sticker and receive a complimentary sangria.
* Sangria not enough for you? Our friends at TastingTable.com tell us: "Counter's Tonia Guffey prepares special election-themed cocktails ($12), including the Palin Whine Spritzer (white wine, soda, grenadine); the Maver-Ricky (gin, lime, soda); the Obama Mama (white and spiced rums, coconut milk, muddled blueberries); and the Joe the Plummer [sic], made from plum-infused vodka and lemonade. On election night, the restaurant will be screening results."
* In more drinking news, New York Magazine's Daily Intel reports "Where to Drink When You'll Need It the Most," a fabulously thorough list of bars for either drowning sorrows or celebrating change.

Continue reading "Calling All Election Day Specials" »

AMAZING

Pata Negra at the Plaza's Caudalie Spa


Host List New York: The Plaza emerges from its $400 million facelift with architectural grandeur.

by Mollie Chen

Aside from exclusive treatments and a gorgeous tiled hammam, the most compelling reason to go to the Plaza's brand-new Caudalie Spa is its decadent café menu. They take a liberal view of spa cuisine, focusing on lush, full-fat cheeses and shaved truffles rather than rabbit-like salads and insipid broths. What better way to follow up a honey-and-wine wrap than with a plate of jamon de pata negra and quince paste? They've also got France's famed Poilane bread to go with that earthy foie gras terrine and, in a nod to the Big Apple, a classic New York bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Further reading:
* The New York Plaza Web site
* Amazing: Simple ideas done right

AMAZING

Off-Season Cape Cod

Portuguese Bakery
Provincetown's Portuguese Bakery.
Photo: About.com

by Mollie Chen

It was 1 p.m. on Wednesday and I was very annoyed. On Provincetown's main street, the usually flamboyant costume shops and rowdy bars were shuttered and the only cruising being done was by white-haired artists on 1970s-era Schwinns. All three restaurants I had wanted to try were closed until Friday; the downside of the shoulder season. As I peered wistfully in the windows of the darkened cafes, I grumped about how working for a travel magazine means being perennially off-cycle. I've been to Minneapolis in the dead of winter, Antigua at the height of hurricane season, and now Cape Cod in the brisk first days of fall. And yet (when my blood sugar wasn't dangerously low) I've loved every one of those trips.

The benefit of the shoulder season--on the Cape or anywhere else--is that you are forced to live like a local. This past week my mom and I had the Outer Cape nearly to ourselves: the surprising and beautiful kettle ponds in Wellfleet and the endless Truro beaches, both of which are overrun in high season; Provincetown's best restaurants, which were wonderful once we figured out their finicky opening hours; and the seaside bike trails that dipped and rose through the dunes. The clear, crystalline early fall light on the marshes and the ocean made the landscape look like a series of Edward Hopper paintings strung out beneath a glorious blue sky. We hung out with the local artists at the bar of the Red Inn, which sits almost on top of the bay; quickly became addicted to the ultrastrong coffee and breakfast cookies at the Wired Puppy; and tested the oysters at P-town's Bistro 404 (roasted with smoky pancetta) and at Truro's Blackfish (buttermilk battered and fried). There were things I missed about summer--the bay held no appeal in 60-degree weather--but others that translated quite well: the malasadas at P-town's famed Portuguese Bakery are good year-round.

AMAZING

Sweet Revenge

Fourcupcakes_2
Chocolate, coconut,
and peanut butter--oh my!

Photo: Flickr, Rachel from
Cupcakes Take the Cake

by Mollie Chen

After last week's economic apocalypse, I had more than a few friends who contemplated fleeing Wall Street for second careers as ski instructors or flower arrangers--or that enduring last refuge: business school. On Saturday, I met a corporate exile who had turned her sour work experience into something quite delicious. Marlo Scott opened Sweet Revenge, a petite coffee shop/bakery/wine bar in the West Village, just two months ago, after spending a year testing recipes in her tiny apartment.

As I have my own tiny apartment, I've found that it's key to have wonderful neighborhood spots where you can work, read, eat, and drink. Sweet Revenge lets in fabulous light during the day, so you can settle in at the comfortable wooden bar facing the street and people watch while eating a deliciously flaky ham and Gruyere quiche. As the day goes on, you might cheers Prince Charles with a Wychwood Duchy Organic Ale and a Bit-o-Brit scone. (If you're me, you'll go straight for Scott's signature "Sweet Revenge" cupcake, a peanut butter cake with a ganache center and peanut butter frosting.) And at night, it's the perfect place to have a drink while you're waiting for a table at the perennially packed Market Table just down the street.

AMAZING

A380 Technology Hits the Kitchen

Twin Series
Twin Series glam shot.

by Julia Bainbridge

Zwilling J.A. Henckels just debuted its Twin 1731 Series, which uses Cronidur 30 steel--the same steel used in A380 planes. Developed by German company Energietechnik Essen, Cronidur 30 can sustain incredible heat and cold, and it has an excellent resistance to corrosion. The Twin Series knives, in turn, are über sharp (a curious customer or two have been known to take trips to the emergency room) and they retain their edges for a long time.

According to Zwilling's engineers, Cronidur 30 is the best, so that's why they chose it. Simple as that. It doesn't look too shabby, either: the knives' handles are carved from Makassar ebony, the blades are sleek, and they come in rich leather sheaths. Famed Italian architect Matteo Thun was brought on to design the knives' form--and a fine form it is.

Further reading:
* Zwilling J.A. Henckels
* Amazing

AMAZING

Cake-Happy Restaurants

Cake
AP Photo

by Mollie Chen

I'm a firm believer that if you're going to do something, do it right. When I fail, I do it spectacularly, and when I fall, it's usually with a resounding crash and a crowd of spectators. Same goes for birthdays. If I'm going to be publicly embarrassed, it better be with a rousing, off-key rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" and a very large candle. Which is why I appreciate the birthday cake on Thor's new dessert menu, which comes complete with a foot-high sparkler that illuminates the entire restaurant. 

Other restaurants with birthday cake (and who doesn't love a good yellow cake with pink icing?): Restaurant Eve in Washington, D.C., and The Peasant and the Pear in Danville, California. Know of more? Add to our list by commenting below.

AMAZING

Rock Star Munchies

by Mollie Chen

Seeing as how there's nothing I love more than ice cream sundaes and greasy fries at 2 a.m., it's hard to believe that I missed hearing about the best thing to happen to late-night eating since the frialator. Last week, the team behind the Grand Slam unveiled their most brilliant idea yet: a wee-hours menu with dishes created by bands like the Plain White Ts and Boys Like Girls. How are IHOPs and diners across the nation going to compete with the likes of the Eagles of Death Metal's white chocolate chip pancakes with strawberry syrup ("Hearts on a Plate"), or my personal favorite, "Potatochos," a mash-up of kettle chips, sausage, bacon, cheese sauce, AND shredded Cheddar cheese. Marketing ploy? Sure. But who am I to scoff in the face of greasy goodness?

AMAZING

The Neighbors Project

Bodega Box
Hodges and her new neighbor
friends party with the bodega box.

by Mollie Chen

When I moved from a high-rise doorman building to a cute prewar West Village walk-up, my ever-optimistic father anticipated that I would soon have five floors' worth of acquaintances who I could call upon for a cup of sugar or the name of a good locksmith. It's been over a year now and my interactions with my neighbors are limited to hearing the woman across the hall feeding her cats ten times a day and feeling walls vibrate from the musician practicing upstairs. "Met anyone in your building yet?," my dad asks periodically. Nope.

Kit Hodges wasn't necessarily thinking about my empty sugar canister when she founded the Neighbors Project in 2006, but she was reacting to the disturbing disconnect she saw between people and their communities. From Miami to Dubai, architects and New Urbanism disciples are looking for ways to combat suburban sprawl and faceless gentrification. Even in Beijing, a city that notoriously razed its hutongs to make way for new buildings, there is a demand for some form of a neighborhood. (Only there, it takes the form of architect Steven Holl's soaring "Linked Hybrid" complex, eight skyscrapers linked by floating pedestrian walkways.)

For Hodges and the Neighbors Project, the solution is simple: small changes delivered with humor and irreverence. Run by unpaid volunteers in Chicago and San Francisco, as well as a nationwide board, the organization offers small, fun ways to get to know the people across the hall, street, or alleyway--and to work together to improve your collective living space. To wit, there are checklists of neighborly things that everyone from renters to condo boards can do, ranging from creating local gardens and throwing sidewalk sales to organizing a building-wide listserv.

Continue reading "The Neighbors Project" »

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