NYC Spotlight | Meatpacking District’s Newest Hot Spot Hybrid: Kola House

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The kola nut is a caffeine-containing nut of the kola tree. {Credit: Kola House}

Meatpacking District’s Kola House had a lot of expectations to live up to. Touted as one of the biggest and hottest openings of Fall, this 5,000 square foot space is the “first experimental kola bar, restaurant, lounge and event space to open in the U.S. market.” According to a recent press release. “The flagship location (in Meatpacking) will also serve as a transformative event space for pop culture moments in music, art, style, film, sports and more.” The Kola House pays homage to the kola nut, a nut that also drives the creativity and inspiration of its cocktails, elixirs and specialty plates on the menu.

PepsiCo owns this modern, oh-so-trendy hotspot, but you’d never guess it based on the atmosphere, décor and style of the space. You won’t see any iconic red, white and blue cans, or any other hint of product-pushing from the food and beverage conglomerate. What you will see are exposed brick walls, a shiny back bar and cocktail infusion area, copper accents, hard wood floors, a space for impromptu pop-up performances and an illuminated square sculpture hanging from the ceiling.

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{Credit: Kola House}

The cocktails and elixirs are some of the best we’ve ever had. Alex Ott is Kola House’s sensory ringmaster — the beverage magician, if you will. Upon reading his bio you’ll read the following about his skills which, “combine sensory dining/drinking psychology with his unique knowledge of hangover preventative elixirs, alcoholic and non-alcoholic functional and disease preventative beverages, nootropics, dietary supplements as well as deep space travel and fine fragrance.” If you’re a little confused as to what that actually means, we can help you. The drinks are out-of-this-world.

The intergalactic peace is described as “a stunning and memory evoking spectacle of beverage induced interconnectedness.” This cocktail comes in a glass dome which houses campfire smells of woods, tobacco, and sandalwood, and inside this dome of fragrance is your cocktail of spiced cognac/rum, tobacco infused honey, sandalwood, vanilla, pear and lime. Before you imbibe, you can inhale the incredible mix of smells which enhances the entire drinking experience.

If you’re looking for something calming, get the Mind & body, which is described as a “resort like elixir with mood regulating and anti-inflammatory properties.” Think: mild bitters, white cranberry, levigated pearl garnished with a delightful spruce pillow of forest scents. Absolutely lovely.

Bottom line: make sure to get some cocktails.

On the food side, Kola House’s Executive Chef, Jon Feshan draws from his Persian heritage to create New American cuisine that highlights purity of flavor and freshness of the ingredients used.

We ordered a nice selection of dishes which began with a fresh fig toast with sweet, crunchy maple-glazed hazelnuts and cheese; the unique wild salmon tartare which came atop crispy sticky rice, and a scallion crème fraiche; and the very filling pork shoulder carnitas which was seasoned with a kola spice rub served with warm tortillas.

To some, that may sound like a full meal. Not for us. We continued the feast with a light dish of braised beets with lemon yogurt, pistachio granola and chunks of pickled strawberry. The grand finally was the roasted & fried chicken with collard greens and a side of house-made Fresno hot sauce butter. Similar to a buffalo sauce on steroids. The roasted chicken was juicy, while the fried chicken had a satisfying crunchy coating surround the also tender meat. This dish is meant to be shared and is a must-try for lovers of buffalo chicken wings.

For dessert we recommend the s’mores bowl – no need for explanation on that decision. It’s indulgently sweet.

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NYC Spotlight | Winter Village Holiday Shops at Bryant Park

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Gooey, cheesy goodness.

New York City wastes no time when ramping up for the holiday season. Even though the weather is still relatively warm, and we are barely past Halloween, Bryant Park has officially reopened its much anticipated pop-up market. This year, the Holiday Shops at Bank of America Winter Village feature a dedicated food market called “Feast on 40th” on the park’s south side. In addition, Bryant Park’s seasonal skating rink is in full-swing and already busy with people wanting a jumpstart on winter festivities.

The market, curated by the well-known pop-up organizer Urbanspace, is featuring over 30 different food purveyors, selling everything from classic New York staples to new food-mashups.

Baked Cheese Haus is a must. Picture a glorious raclette service where they melt half wheels of Alpine cheese and scrape the gooey cheese over items like fresh, toasted ciabatta and cured ham, topped with Dijon and baby gherkins. If bubbling cheese isn’t your thing, we definitely recommend grabbing a savory, crispy chicken filled Chick’n Cone — which also makes for awesome Instas — trying out a bowl of borscht from Veselka’s Borscht Bar, or biting into some traditional meatballs from Meatball Obsession.

Brodo, a bone broth vendor we haven’t seen much of, is a popular, warming choice that comes in either chicken, beef or hearth broth with add-ins like bone marrow and roasted garlic puree. Those of you who attended the 2016 Vendy Awards will recognize the award-winning Mr. Bing selling its traditional Chinese street crepes — jianbing — filled with Peking duck, barbecue pork, and eggs.
img_5253img_5242Taco lovers will be thrilled with a nice selection of Tacos such as Coney Shack’s incredibly crunchy fish tacos or Domo Taco’s Asian-inspired options with meats like lemongrass chicken and braised five spice pork. Perfect for when winter really hits, the Ramen Bar by Chingu is offering hot bowls of noodle soups in flavors such as Bulgogi with beef bone broth or vegetable with fried tofu skins.
img_5630img_5252Over on the sweet side there’s a whole lot to try. Get hot cider and cider doughnuts at Breezy Hill Orchard. Bite in to a fresh Cretzel (croissant-pretzel hybrid) in flavors like pumpkin or Nutella almond from Breads Bakery. Grab a hot chocolate from Max Brenner’sand pair it with fresh doughnuts from Doughnut Project. Grab one (or two) crunchy, sugar coated, dulce de leche filled churros at Dulcinea. Buy a pretty box of classic macarons at Woops! Or crunch in to some Nutella filled chimney cakes. Trust us, you can’t go wrong.
img_5259Lastly, check out Danny Meyer’s new pop-up restaurant, Public Fare which will be an all-day cafe with pastries, coffee, soup, sandwiches, and cocktails for the evening.

Make sure to swing by the Holiday Shops at Bank of America Winter Village before it closes on January 2. For more information, click here.

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Events | Dessert Goals 2016: The Sweetest Festival in NYC

Here’s a recap of all the sugary excitement that went down at New York City’s first ever dessert festival.
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New York City officially had its first all-dessert festival last week. Dessert Goals 2016 was the first of its kind and a huge success. The event was organized by two friends who were perplexed as to why no dessert fest existed: Miraya Berk, the founder of Pop Productions (a boutique events studio), and Liang Shi, creative director and experience designer of  clients such as Forbes to Conde Nast.

The event was a sugar-fiends’ dream. With pop music throwbacks in the background, the festival allowed each excited attendee to have a designated hour and a half to try all the dessert they pleased. Each vendor churned out picture perfect creations for people to taste — and to photograph, of course — and each vendor was more than happy to talk about their creative process, how their dessert came to be, and what inspired them.
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Aside from filling up on sugar, those that bought tickets to specific workshops were able to learn from the best experts in the dessert and social space. Dessert photo styling, tips on taking unbelievable food pictures and how to make a living off your blog or Instagram were just several of the workshops offered.

One thing that’s known about myself across the board, is that I love dessert. The words, “dessert first” have never rang truer with any other individual. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that Dessert Goals was one of the best days of my life as a New Yorker (I’m from San Francisco). Described as, “a day of celebration, indulgence, discovery and deliciousness,” this dessert fest now marks another honor: the day Chelsea Davis ate her weight in sugar. #sorrynotsorry.
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As you enter Dessert Goals, you walk through The Hall of Affirmations, which includes signs such as, “Treat yo self” and “Life’s too short. Eat dessert first.” If you had any hesitation on whether or not you should eat as much dessert as possible, you didn’t after taking ten steps into the venue!

The event space was decked out to make it the sweetest experience possible. Inflatable larger-than-life doughnuts were floating around, old fashioned jars filled with classic candies adorned one wall, Instagram-worthy backgrounds were everywhere, and there was an excited buzz throughout the entire space. But maybe that was because everyone was also sugar-high?
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In addition to 21 of the most innovative dessert vendors in New York, Dessert Goal also had a variety of really thoughtful additions to the event. Outstanding extras included: free candy at the candy shop; free French press coffee and lessons courtesy of Bodum and Intelligentsia; and — for all the bloggers, influencers, photographers and fellow dessert enthusiasts — an Instagram garden, which is exactly what it sounds like. This dessert oasis is specifically designed for snapping pics of your vibrant, over-the-top sweet treats, complete with various backdrops and prop-desserts whose purpose is to be photographed.

Those needing a palette cleanse could head to the roof top for a sugar break at the salt bar (indulging is all about balance) and an adorably hip vintage ice cream lounge presented by The Dobbins St. Vintage Co-Op. Skyline views, fresh air, giant ice cream-shaped pillows, and baby pineapple plants were just a few things that made the roof top extra special.

The carefully curated mix of vendors offered a huge range of dessert styles. From the epic 1950’s-style Hong Kong egg waffles from Wowfulls, stuffed with ice cream and topped with goodies like mochi, strawberries and pocki; and Mini Melanie’s opulent gemstone dessert truffles and decadent mini cakes; to Taiyaki’s fish shaped waffle cones stuffed with red bean and topped with matcha soft serve ice cream; and the always-classic, Cookie DO cookie dough mixed with whatever sweet extras your heart desires, there was something for every taste preference.
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Heard of artisanal twinkies? Neither had we until we tried Jae NYC Eats’ Twinkie-inspired “Cakies” in flavors like halo-halo — Pandan, Jackfruit and Ube. This was a thrilling discovery! There was #BAONANAS’ banana pudding, which gave Magnolia’s Bakery a run for its money with its leche-flan inspired base with flavors that include lychee-rose with strawberry.

Bittles’ breakfast cake bites were another unique dessert that festival-goers enjoyed. These cake bites are infused with your favorite breakfast cereals and treats — like poptarts.
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Perfect coffee pairing bites included the one and only, Doughnut Plant, which offered a variety of Fall inspired flavors such as candy corn, filled with corn pudding and good ol’ pumpkin spice. Also fabulous, were Joey Bats’ flakey, creamy, and rich Portuguese egg tarts.
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For ice cream aficionados, Noona’s Ice Cream was scooping Korean-inspired flavors like salted peanut butter + banana caramel, toasted rice, matcha + dark chocolate and whiskey + bacon.  In addition, Mochidoki was serving chewy, mochi-wrapped balls of ice cream in inventive flavors like mango Thai basil, black sesame and pumpkin cheesecake.

This year’s Dessert Goals sold out in a hurry. If you couldn’t snag a ticket this time around, at least now you know it’s totally worth it!

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Getaways | Guerneville, California

img_7650If Napa Valley is the only thing that pops into your mind when you think of California wine destinations, this article is for you. Guerneville, located in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, exudes all the charm and culinary sophistication of wine country, minus the pretentious vibes.

Unique and eclectic, Guerneville has something for everyone: for the ocean-lovers, there’s Johnson’s Beach; the adventurous can do a number of activities on the Russian River such as boating, kayaking, rafting, and fishing; hikers have a number of trail options courtesy of the Armstrong Woods State Park; the foodies can munch at numerous locally sourced eateries and cafés; and of course, there are plenty of picturesque vineyards for the wine enthusiasts.
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[big bottom market]
After a drive up to Guerneville you’re going to want to have a bite before your day of exploration. There’s no better place to relax and unwind over artisanal food and drink than at [big bottom market]. The big bottom market’s warm and welcoming atmosphere will have you feeling right at home.

One step in to the teal-framed entrance and you’re surrounded with the smell of its famed biscuits. With wooden communal tables, stools to sit by the window and people-watch, outdoor seating, and a rustic-yet-modern interior, the market is a modern day general store with “lumberjack chic style.”
img_1797The menu offers a mix of gourmet deli sandwiches, salads, and quality bites — all of which use sustainable, locally sourced ingredients. You can’t come here and start off with anything but freshly baked biscuits with options that include butter and jam; mascarpone and honey; cream and berries; gravy; and BBQ pulled pork. Or opt for one of its house-favorite biscuit sandwiches such as the Sea Biscuit with smoked salmon, crème fraiche, capers, and pickled onions or the Ham + Cheddar biscuit with black forest ham, melted cheddar served warm.
img_1799One of the best sandwiches I’ve had is the muffuletta which is packed with salami, coppa, mortadella, ham, provolone, mozzarella, and giardiniera-olive spread with garlic aioli on a toasty ciabatta. The combination of cured meats and the vinegary-pickled flavors of the spread is perfection. For something on the lighter side, the prosciutto + fig sandwich with provolone, fig jam, and arugula pressed on ciabatta is a great choice.

Also on the menu is a variety of salads that include curry chicken with spiced pepitas and a chickpea artichoke option. There is a fantastic selection of specialty meats and cheeses, along with fresh breads, to create any sandwich you fancy.

Those in a hurry can grab box lunches (complete with your choice of artisan sandwich, chips, and a house-made cookie). Don’t forget to check out the shelves of unique items that include everything from jams, chocolates, and honey, to a variety of locally made products, coffee table books, wines, candles, and more.

Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery
Porter-Bass Vineyard & Winery offers an intimate, laid-back wine tasting session with the husband and wife duo of Luke and Elana Bass. While sipping wines made from their estate biodynamic grapes on the property, Luke and Elana are more than happy to answer any and all questions about the wines.
img_1839Though there’s no tasting room, you’re offered the opportunity to sit under the shade of lovely, deep-rooted tree, to take in the scenery of the surrounding vine-covered hills and billowing redwoods in the distance.
img_7656The three wines they specialize in are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel — my favorite was the Poco a Poco Sauvignon Blanc (Poco a Poco is one of their other labels). An afternoon tasting at this family-ran vineyard makes apparent how much the vines, grapes, and farming of the land is cared about. Guests can expect gracious hospitality, a welcoming environment sans any pretentiousness, interesting conversation, and delicious wines.

Marimar Estate: Tapas & Wine Pairings
Marimar Torres is the daughter of famed Spanish winemaker Miguel Torres. After traveling to California in the mid-70s, she later began planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varietals. Since her first wines were released in the 90s she has continued to make some of the area’s best wines and has added some Spanish varietals including Tempranillo and Albarino. Today there are 30 acres planted with Chardonnay and 30 with Pinot Noir at the Marimar Estate.
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This winery was built in 1992 to resemble a Catalan farmhouse. Unique to this property is experiencing its Spanish tapas and wine pairings lunch on its unbelievable stone terrace — the terrace faces incredible views of the surrounding redwoods, coastal forest, and an array of wild flowers.img_1851img_1864The wine and tapas pairings included the following sips and bites: 2014 Chardonnay/ Albariño; 2013 ‘La Masìa’ Chardonnay; 2013 ‘Dobles Lìas’ Charfonnay; ‘Mas Cavalls’ Pinot Noir; and the ‘Earthquake Bock’ Pinot Noir; and on the tapas side, zucchini cake Cristina; prawns in a garlic sauce with sweet red peppers; cabbage dumplings stuffed with pork, chorizo, pine nuts, and raisins; and figs stuffed with chocolate and nuts in a chocolate sauce. The authentic recipes came from Marimar Torres’ cookbooks and certainly didn’t disappoint.

Paul Mathew Vineyards
Located in “downtown” Graton is the charming Paul Mathew Vineyards which is known for truly artisan wines by winemaker, Matt Gustafson. His wife Barb Gustafson — who is wonderfully knowledgeable of the wines — manages the tasting room and the business while her husband often is out in the fields carefully selecting and farming the grapes that go into his barrels.
img_1872Treat yourself to a tasting of five wines that include: Bohemian Pinot 2013 with flavors of bright red fruit; Ruxton Pinot 2013 with touches of black berry, cherry and plum; HSB pinot with cherry flavors; TnT pinot with hints of cinnamon and clove; and the Cabernet Franc with floral notes and a touch of bell pepper.

Iron Horse Vineyards
Everyone loves sparkling wines and gorgeous views, right? Located in the heart of Green Valley, Iron Horse Vineyards face stunning views that span from across Sonoma County to Mount St. Helena.
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Think: rolling hills, wild flowers, and over 160 acres of lush vines. Known for some of the best sparkling wines in the world, they pride themselves on premiere vintage quality, of which theirs belongs to the category of “Grower Champagne”.
img_1875img_4241Iron Horse produces 12 different cuvées — all estate bottled—ranging from the Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blancs, made from 100 percent Chardonnay, to the bright, bold, and very dry Brut Rosé. The Wedding Cuvée (aged three years) is absolutely refreshing and delicious.

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NYC Spotlight | Anisette

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This vibrant dish comes with house-made tortoloni stuffed with Swiss chard and ricotta cheese in a carrot Agro dolce sauce. {Credit: Anisette}

This newly opened eatery will fill your longing for rustic French fare and regional wines.

If you want a charming and delicious dining experience, look no further than Anisette, a “country fresh” wine bar, café, and bistro that features innovative French Provencal cuisine.

Located on the corner of Third Avenue and East 19th Street, this lovely spot stands out against the bustling New York City backdrop thanks to its bright blue patio awnings, rustic décor, creamy white accents, and dainty hanging flower pots that adorn the restaurant.

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The owners of La Follia, the sister restaurant to Anisette that will reopen soon, have put together a diverse menu with offerings that include small plates, salads, and market vegetables; charcuterie and fromage boards; as well as rich pastas and heavier entrées. I started my meal with a flakey, buttery, and warm goat cheese tart filled with zucchini tomato and caramelized onion; tuna tartare with fennel, citrus, and avocado; and a creamy, indulgent truffled burrata.

We also received a steamy pot of fresh PEI mussels bathing in a flavorful saffron-tomato broth and a side of herbed French fries. Excellent.

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Though the menus includes entrées such as duck leg with lamb sausage, mushroom, and lentils; steak au poivre, a dry-aged shell steak with spinach and potato purée; and short ribs with summer vegetables, we opted for the carbo-loaded pasta dishes.

I devoured the meaty, decadent pappardelle with lamb ragù, artichokes, and Parmesan, and ate a hefty portion of my friend’s mushroom and ricotta agnolotti, which came covered in a fabulous, slightly sweet, brown butter and sage sauce.

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The wine list, curated by chef, owner, and sommelier Suzanne Letulle Riva, is stacked with regional French wines and refreshing rosés. We paired our courses with rosés that complemented the warm weather and French cuisine.

“The menu is inspired by the many bistros and homes where I have savored some of the most deliciously prepared and beautifully presented dishes,” Riva says. “When people ask me about the menu I tell them… Think olive oil, herbs de Provence, shellfish, saffron, ratatouille, and a great steak au poivre, and there you have my Anisette.”

The restaurant serves dinner seven days a week, 5 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Next month, the restaurant will begin serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week.
 

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Travel | Dominican Republic’s Famed Mamajuana Elixir + How to Make Your Own

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As if you need help relaxing at the already serene Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado resort in Samaná, in the Dominican Republic, this adults-only property offers an extensive variety of soothing treatments and services at its Bahia Spa — including one that utilizes the Dominican Republic indigenous drink of herbs and tree bark macerated with rum, red wine, and honey.

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The spa feels like an oasis in the middle of a rainforest paradise. Each window overlooks a lush, green tropical scene with countless palms, banana trees, and various flowering plants. Here, I was treated to the resort’s exclusive Mamajuana Spa Treatment ― a full body massage incorporating the mamajuana, an alcohol-spiked modernization of the herbal tea the island’s indigenous Taino people called “the elixir of fertility.”

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Today, besides being rumored to be an aphrodisiac, this beverage is also consumed for its reputed medicinal value. The alcohol is believed by many to extract the herbs’ curative properties, creating a healthful tincture, often served as a shot — when it’s not being used for a luxurious massage.

The massage was honestly one of the best I’ve had. It loosened my muscles, relieved tension (especially in my lower back), and wasn’t too hard or rough in terms of pressure or technique. After the massage, I was calm and rejuvenated ― and ready for a nice nap.

Post massage, guests are welcome to enjoy the spa’s many facilities, including its Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, tropical storm shower, and bubble beds. We were also given a shot of the mamajuana to sip on while we took full advantage of the gorgeous indoor pool area. The pool was cool and refreshing ― the perfect ending to the spa experience.

If you don’t find yourself in a vacation destination, don’t worry. Just because vacation is over (or never actually got started,) doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself to the refreshing tropical cocktails of the Caribbean! For the adventurous at-home-mixologist, try creating your very own bottle of Mamajuana, the drink the Dominican Republic is most famous for.
mamajuanaAs one of the most traditional drinks of the area, it’s a deliciously potent brew of rum, red wine, and honey that has been soaked in twigs, bark, and herbs. This mix of ingredients creates an intense, complex, and sweet libation that is perfect for getting any party started.

Ingredients:
Red Wine
Rum
Honey
Dominican Plants (Indian bejuco, palo Brazil, canelilla, anamu, behuco caro, timacle, maguey, marabel, sweet nail, behuco, or sweet cloves)

Prep:
Start by bottling the aromatic plants with three tablespoons of honey and wine. Marinate or “cure” for a week or so. After one week, remove most of the wine from the bottle (leaving only a little) and pour the rum in. Many will add spices such as cinnamon, sweet cloves, vanilla, star anise, or/and ginger. Let the mixture marinate with the plants and herbs for another week. Pour over ice and enjoy!

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Welcome to Sugar Factory, the Real Life Candyland of Your Dreams

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Dessert fiends of all ages will get sugar high on the outrageous sweet treats and drinks this spot has to offer.

For the ultimate sugar rush, head to the recently opened real-life candyland: Sugar Factory. Whether celebrity spotting, hanging out, or simply in the mood to devour sugary, brightly colored goodies of epic proportions, this is the place to go. The recently opened Sugar Factory in Row NYC Hotel, has an energetic, lively, and fun atmosphere with décor that includes crystal chandeliers and pictures of famous, candy-loving celebs adorning the walls.

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The only way Sugar Factory could be better, was if the entire store was edible, a la Willy Wonka. I would be the only one with 24/7 access, of course.

Vibrant, candy-stuffed bins line the entire store; huge, swirly rainbow pops are everywhere; nostalgia-inducing candies such as Pez and pop rocks are for sale; and Sugar Factory’s signature creations — think chocolate-covered Oreos, fudge-covered pretzels, and frosting-dipped Rice Krispies treats — beg to be eaten. Not to mention the entire section of the store dedicated to various pastries, cakes, cookies, and cupcakes.

You can’t miss out on Sugar Factory’s famed goblets, either. These goblets are 60 ounces of sugary insanity. The signature goblet that I tried was the lollipop passion — “a true taste of the tropics.” It tasted amazing. Imagine melon, coconut, and pineapple flavors combined with a Slurpee on steroids, and (to put it even more over the top) it’s garnished with huge lollipops and finished with liquid nitrogen to transform the dessert drink in to a bubbling cauldron. They have a variety of goblets that all vary in flavor profiles, but all deliver on the O-M-G factor.

Ice cream and gelato are also offered, as are sugar cones dipped in chocolates, candies, and cookies to bring your scoops to the next level. For creamy beverages, you can also order old fashioned milk shakes.
IMG_23586You can get “real” food here, too (although, I’m perfectly happy eating desserts all day). Sugar Factory offers a huge selection of pancakes, waffles, crepes, and French toast, which are all arguably dessert in a way. But with options like red velvet pancakes, s’mores crepes, and banana split waffles, why would you pass up any excuse to eat these tasty monsters?

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NYC Spotlight | Scarpetta

IMG_05717LDV Hospitality’s Scarpetta, offers classic, upscale Italian food, in an unpretentious, elegant, and exceptionally classy way. The restaurant is very stylish and well designed— I particularly am a huge fan of the indoor skylight that allows natural sunlight to pour in to the dinning room.

Normally I don’t go crazy on the bread baskets at restaurants, but Scarpetta’s is in a league of its own. Along with fresh focaccia sprinkled with flakes of sea salt, comes cheesy, buttery Stromboli, one filled with sausage and the other spinach. It even comes with three options for dipping that includes a whipped mascarpone butter.

Appetizers range from refreshing and summery to more indulgent. The raw yellowtail with pickled red onion is a simple dish that highlights the freshness of the fish. The thin slices of yellowtail with a touch of olio di zenzero (a type of ginger oil), melts in your mouth. The tuna ‘susci’ with marinade vegetables and preserved truffle is likewise buttery in texture. The tuna was nicely rolled up with the vegetables giving it a nice crunch.

The beet salad with shaved vegetables, market greens, and ricotta crema, in a light beet vinaigrette, was delicious. Not to mention it was beautifully plated and looked like a work of art. Other starters include the famed, decadent creamy polenta with a fricassee of truffled mushrooms and braised short ribs with a faro risotto.
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Scarpetta is particularly known for its incredible handmade pastas. I’m not one to usually order plain spaghetti, but here thespaghetti tomato and basil is said to be impeccable. Scarpetta takes many traditional Italian dishes to a whole new level, while staying true to their authenticity. Using seasonal ingredients in combination with unbeatable in-house pastas make for satisfying plates of complex flavor.

I highly recommend the short rib and bone marrow agnolotti with garlic chip and horseradish. The little pockets of pasta are filled with intensely flavorful meat, topped with fresh Parmesan. The duck and foie gras ravioli with a marsala reduction is equally indulgent. Both dishes were savory and rich, and I’d definitely order each again.

Though not the most carnivorous mains to be ordered, I didn’t miss having a hunk of meat on my plate at all. Other pastas featured are the black tagliolini with a seafood ragout and pancetta; a tagliatelle with braised oxtail and rapini; a zucchini mezzaluna with squash blossom; and the farfalle with vegetables and goat cheese fonduta.

There are also a variety of seafood mains to choose from such as the black cod with caramelized fennel; branzino with clams and a shellfish brodetto; and the halibut with braised Brussels sprouts. For those looking for red meat, Scarpetta offers a veal tenderloin with sweetbreads and a sirloin of beef with fingerling potatoes and truffled spinach on the menu.

For dessert I am a fan of the coconut panna cotta, which comes with a caramelized pineapple and guava ‘soup’ that is tropical, creamy, and perfectly sweet. For the chocolate lovers they feature a flourless valrhona chocolate cake with butterscotch and caramel gelato. Other options include a limoncello semifreddo with pistachio cake and a mascarpone cheese cake with stone fruit and gelato.

If you’re looking for a posh aperitivo spot, Scarpetta has recently debuted daytime hours (3 p.m.- 5 p.m, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) for the first time in the restaurant’s history with a weekend aperitivo hour, which you can also enjoy on its al fresco on its patio. Items offered include crudo trios, fried olives stuffed with homemade sausage, and, of course, a list of tasty rosés and cocktails.

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Travel | Planning a Perfect Day in Fort Myers & Sanibel Island

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Here’s what to do with a day of free time at this adventurous destination.

Here’s a little background on the beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, for those of you that haven’t been before. To start, it is a shell-enthusiast’s dream. The pristine beaches that have made southwest Florida — and particularly Sanibel — famous are literally covered with beautiful and unbroken shells of all sorts of pretty pastel hues.
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I’m a self-proclaimed shelling nerd; I’m proud of it. Through first-hand experience, I can attest that shells of all types (think: letter olives, lightning whelks, and fighting conchs) can be found quite easily on the sandy shores of “Sanibel Stoop” or “Captiva Crouch.” That said, if shelling isn’t your think, there’s plenty to see and do.

The best way to get the most out of an adventure on the water is by hiring a private charter for the day. While on a visit to the beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, our group went with Captain Ryan of Southern Instinct Charters on a well-planned day of exploration.

After we boarded the boat and got settled, Ryan had us cruising through the brilliant blue waters of the barrier islands with our choice of beverages in hand and classic rock blasting for our listening pleasure. Once far enough from shore, we tried our luck at fishing.
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I’m admittedly not a fisher at all — though I do get quite excited by the idea of catching a fish myself. With species that include redfish, snook, trout, and flounder swimming around, Captain Ryan assured us we would catch something. And we did! It was a fun experience to be on the waters, feeling the ocean breeze, anxiously waiting for when (if) something would bite. Ultimately, we threw the two fish we caught back in to the water, but even so, a few pictures of the live fish (for the Insta) were all I needed to be pleased with the “Catch & Cook” excursion.

We continued on until we reached a deserted, untouched, white-sand beach that was only accessible by boat. Once we got close to shore, we dropped our anchor and jumped straight in to the warm, clear waters of Cayo Costa. This beach is 7 miles of shells, and it’s also lined with pine forests and mangrove swamps depending on your exact location.

Cayo Costa, which is along the Gulf of Mexico, is picturesque. At one point, I was wading in the water while watching dolphins swim in the distance. The shells I found did not disappoint. From a small conch to tiny “twisty” shells (as I call them), I amassed a nice little treasure trove, though I could have benefited from a much longer hunt.
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From Cayo Costa, we made our way to another island, also only accessible by boat: Pineland, Florida. We had lunch at the famed and historic Cabbage Key restaurant, which is known for the thousands of $1 bills that have been taped to the weathered walls. The walls — and entire restaurant for that matter — are literally covered in money. After you write your name in black marker on it (the wait staff has all the marker and tape needed), tape your dollar wherever you can find an empty spot.
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The front room is also the original porch of the house. It allows for a clear view of the marina and sound. In addition to all the money — which is honestly quite distracting — décor includes antique fishing gear, old photos, and all sorts of native fish on the walls.

This establishment, which has been around more than 60 years, offers a range of fresh seafood options and even offers to cook the fish you caught (that is if you just came from a fishing trip and actually caught fish worthy of eating). Guests can choose from gulf shrimp in-shell and gulf stone crab claws to grilled mahi-mahi and various fresh catches of the day.

For the non-seafood-lovers, items like cheeseburgers or chicken sandwiches are available. Wash it all down with the signature Cabbage Creeper, piña colada mix, rum, and coffee liqueur float (or a soft drink for the non-drinking crowd).

We rounded out our trip out by jetting over to Matlacha where we had the pleasure of visiting the Leoma Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens. Words don’t really do this magical rainbow land of color and coconuts justice. You won’t find a blank wall or canvas anywhere. Everywhere you turn, you see creative works of art, and though there are bright splashes of color on everything from the palm tree trunks to Leoma’s boat, there also are more than 6,000 royal blue glass Saratoga water bottles fashioned together in various clusters to make unique structures that adorn her entire garden area.
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From eclectic paintings of fish, birds, landscapes, and more to Leoma’s individualistic sense of style (think signature white-rimmed, hand-shaped lensed sunglasses and self-designed rainbow heels she walks around in), this is a destination that exudes creativity.

We were lucky enough to enjoy an afternoon painting class in which we painted on actual coconuts (instead of canvases) and did a walk-through painting lesson of tropical fish. Though I’m not an artist by any means (my sister is the artistic one), I was quite proud of my  “masterpieces.”
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Along with wine and scoops of fabulously refreshing ice cream served in mini coconut shells, this afternoon activity was a unique way to spend some time out of the sun.

If you’re looking to relax the rest of the evening with a few drinks, you’re in luck because Ft. Myers has several great breweries such as Fort Myers Brewing Co. In addition, it’s home to Mr. Tom’s Spirits headquarters where you can take a tour of the facility, taste countless samples of flavored rums and gins and figure out which is your favorite (then take a bottle home!).img_2830img_2820img_2816

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Dessert Alert | ViVi Bubble Tea

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WHERE
ViVi Bubble Tea
205 Allen St. New York, NY 10014
(Allen St. + E. Houston St.)

WHAT
Noticed the works of (bubble tea) art blowing up Instagram lately? Wonder what these glorious creations are? Say hello to the bubble tea float, only available at the Lower East Side location! Essentially it’s a combination of tapioca pearls + pudding + Oreos + red bean + ice cream, which is then topped with a beautiful cloud of cotton candy, sprinkled with pop rocks, and finally, finished off with a nice dose of liquid nitrogen to get things poppin’ (and smokin’ – literally!).

Drink flavors include taro — and all time favorite of mine — matcha, green tea, black tea, and chocolate. My final creation was a taro, cookies and cream, pretty-in-pink dream! This dessert beverage even comes with a shot of extra drink and whipped cream to pour in to your jar once you squish (and/ or eat) the cloud of sugar.

GO or NO?
This is a cotton candy revival. Who knew cotton candy was superb in pearl drinks? Plus with ice cream and Oreos? If you’re in the area, it is strongly advised you pop in! If you’re a cotton candy hating monster, don’t worry. ViVi has an extensive list of bubble tea flavors that range from strawberry or almond milk tea, to lychee or mango slushees, to even specialty drinks such as red, yellow, or black “Moo Milk,” though I’m still unsure what that is exactly. You can’t go wrong.

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