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The Studied Thrills of Christine Mangan’s Debut Fall Flat

“If you are not smart at home…you will not be smart here. If you run into trouble at home, do not be surprised to run into trouble here. You are still the same person.” This is some of the very best advice Christine Mangan’s debut novel, Tangerine, has to offer and might have been its brightest scene if the book hadn’t been frivolous enough to stuff these words into the mouth of a Moroccan man named Youssef. Despite being portrayed as a mostly manipulative street ruffian with zero interiority throughout, he kindly dispenses this smarting bit of wisdom to a British woman whose dogmatic gullibility has landed him in prison, possibly for the duration of his life, framed for a crime he did not commit.

To backtrack: Lucy Mason arrives on the doorstep of Alice Shipley and her husband, John McAllister, in Tangier in 1956 — as Morocco is in the throes of liberating itself from French colonial rule — a year after the two women have left Bennington College. There they’d been roommates, very close, bound by a common, tragic biographical detail (they are both orphans, or profess to be) and an enigmatic, indescribable attraction. In alternating chapters conveyed by the female leads, there unfolds the story of how Lucy ruins Alice’s life because she’s jealous of her, and in love with her, and she has no impulse control to speak of — but she is also a masterful logistician, in the vein of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. At the tail end of 2016, Imperative Entertainment acquired the film rights to Mangan’s thriller. Scarlett Johansson is attached to play Alice.

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Alice is wealthy, guileless, petite — but hates the word “petite”! — and does not like to read. Lucy remarks of her, in a characteristically mixed and turbid description, “she was made of lightness and air, she was made, it seemed, for living, rather than reading about the experiences of other lives.” John also doesn’t read (his sizable collection of English literature is only for show), but does seem to enjoy deceiving and undermining his wife. Meanwhile, Lucy is diligent, charismatic, American. As the evidence mounts, we learn she’s also poor, corrupt, murderous, and well-read. Between the predictable sociopath, the empty-headed aristocrat, and the misogynist par excellence, it’s hard to pinpoint a decent critique of this novel’s world from within. Each of the book’s characters, in their own way, is entitled yet passive, an impervious thrill-chaser gazing lamp-eyed about their foreign surrounds, except for Youssef, an overused auxiliary character who is somehow worldly and scheme-driven, yet fooled at all the most opportune moments — a dull, flat tool for the terse dilettantes who have come from the West to play in his backyard.

Tangerine’s strength is its propulsive, tightly drawn plot, especially toward the end, and exhibition of tried-and-true thriller themes. The central relationship between Alice and Lucy strongly recalls Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley in its frenetic pace, homoerotic implications, stark class divide, and mutual obsession (Mangan even borrows directly the scene from Ripley where Tom is caught modeling Dickie Greenleaf’s clothing before a mirror in his host’s home). Although actually, the book feels more like a screenplay for the movie version, a text in which each line advances the plot, selects a mood or a time of day, but appears far too untroubled by artistic intention, novelty, or intrigue. Desire is always occluded behind the pink, magisterial clouds of international travel or “Vermont’s Green Mountains,” and that’s passable in a sleek, noirish kind of way. But the imperious conflation of personal drama with the coinciding fight for Moroccan independence is flat-out unbearable. This acquisitive register is perhaps best encapsulated by Alice’s description of Tangier as “this strange, lawless city that belonged to everyone and no one.” Or Lucy’s reflexive likening of Morocco’s impending independence from France and her own weird drama over her former college roommate: “Things were changing, shifting, and Tangier — all of us — would never be the same again.” Fine, but I don’t believe that last part.

Tangerine
By Christine Mangan
ECCO
320 pp.

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AROUND THE WORLD

The annual buffet of worldly sounds known as GlobalFEST returns to Webster Hall with the most diverse dozen acts you’ll see all year. This buzzing, schmoozy, triple-stage showcase introduces far-flung new names while reminding us of legacy performers — like true gypsy kings Fanfare Ciocarlia and Moroccan trance master Hassan Hakmoun — still delivering the goods. Flashy, Bollywood-inspired 11-piece The Bombay Royale and Jamaican guitar minimalist Brushy One String will make their local debuts alongside traditionalists, subversives, and everything in-between. Highlights include Congolese “rumba rapper” Baloji, Ukrainian post-punk folkies DakhaBrakha, Dutch-Antillean sampling synthesists Kuenta i Tambú, Daptone a cappella gospel trio The Como Mamas, Tucson-based mambo-neocumbia big band Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, Mauritanian psych-folk siren Noura Mint Seymali, and Lebanese electropop chanteuse Yasmine Hamdan.

Sun., Jan. 12, 7 p.m., 2014

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Little Feels Fresh or Believable in Corporate Noir Capital

Greek-born French filmmaker Costa-Gavras has gone after “isms”—fascism, Nazism, imperialism—in vivid political melodramas like Z and Missing, as well as less accomplished, though watchable, movies like Music Box and Amen.

The director’s latest tackles capitalism, and the title, Capital, is essentially the only apt thing about it. A tacky corporate noir that makes you long for the leanness of Margin Call, or even the clumsy theatrics of Arbitrage, the film revolves around Marc, a Parisian executive (French-Moroccan comic Gad Elmaleh) unexpectedly named CEO of a bank.

Much to the irritation of the board of directors, Marc proves to be an uncontrollable S.O.B., all too willing to follow the lead of the story’s real villains: American shareholders who pressure him into laying off dozens of employees—a no-no in the land of strict worker protections—and making reckless investments.

Capital is a parable about France selling out to keep up with America’s “cowboy capitalism,” but the film’s portrayal of soulless suits is so obvious and silly—typical dialogue: “CEOs write checks, fire people, and eat well; watch your waistline”—that it’s hard to muster more than a yawn and a giggle (the latter when a malevolent femme fatale licks globs of caviar from her knee). Little feels fresh, from the generically pulsing score to the chilly grays of Eric Gautier’s cinematography to the long-suffering wife character.

Most fatally, sweet-looking Elmaleh fails to convince as a shark. He’s more persuasive flinching at a family dinner while his socialist uncle scolds him for firing people. Marc may be a bastard, but he’s a French bastard, through and through.

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Music Reverberates Throughout Jajouka, Something Good Comes to You

The renowned Master Musicians of Jajouka play for their Northern Moroccan mountain village throughout Jajouka, Something Good Comes to You. Morocco-born co-directors Eric and Marc Hurtado (also cofounders of the group Étant Donnés) pay lead musician Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians poetic tribute by wedding the sounds of their flutes, pipes, and goatskin drums to a tale of harvest time adapted from Attar-told legends. A man tending his fields encounters a woman in white requesting the delicacy of a cow’s mouth to eat; she might be the siren Aïsha Kandisha. In counterpoint to her still, smiling body—which appears and disappears throughout the fertile land—roams crazed “Father of the Skin” Bou Jeloud, a disruptive half-man, half-goat. Both cross a rocky, verdant landscape containing Saint Sidi Ahmed Sheik’s tomb, where Attar and the Master Musicians jam. The artists prove a motif rather than a resting point, with the film circling around them, then breaking away for further visions. A man whispers, “Who are you?” into an evening campfire; a woman’s skin glows violet; and the music reverberates throughout, lifting life into myth and dreams.

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Richard Kuo Goes His Own Way at Pearl & Ash

Food doesn’t haunt people, sadistic ghosts do. But you may find yourself thinking of Richard Kuo’s cooking long after you’ve tasted it at the newly opened Pearl & Ash on Bowery. From a wee kitchen outfitted with old induction burners, Kuo builds elegant, colorful small plates that often whisper of faraway places.

Slices of scallop ($6) are dusted with berbere, the African spice mixture, and served with fennel and the edible bulb of the lily flower. Tiny raw shrimp ($6) in a slightly smoky lime yogurt are sweetened with a sprinkling of bee pollen, tiny yellow granules packed together by the hive’s workers. One of the most dramatic dishes on the menu is the hanger steak tartare ($7)—a harissa-spiked crimson mash served with a bright orange pool of yolk that covers half the plate. It is rich and silky, and the shards of toast are so delicate they might break as you lift them from the plate.

Those are Kuo’s “raw” dishes, but even as you progress to the heart of the menu, you won’t find the aggressive, gut-busting, über-fatty food that New York has been putting out lately, but something a bit more delicate. Kuo’s version of meatballs ($9) are the simple and endlessly comforting Japanese kind, the pork and veal seasoned with miso and served in a sweet broth with dancing bonito flakes. Veal cheeks ($12) aren’t particularly exciting, but they come with nuggets of dehydrated black rice, both crisp and satisfyingly chewy—a technique Kuo picked up working under Wylie Dufresne at wd-50. And a standout dish of skate ($12) with smooth cauliflower purée and ringlets of leek is infused with Moroccan chermoula, and tastes of classic French fare enriched by its immigrant cuisines.

Kuo was last seen cooking beside Aska’s Fredrik Berselius at the Williamsburg pop-up restaurant Frej. The chef was born in Taiwan but raised in Australia, and came to the U.S. to work as a cook when he was 25. At Pearl & Ash, where he’s running his own place for the first time, Kuo proves himself to be a thoughtful chef with a fluency in flavors. Though not every dish on his menu is a knockout, a lot of what’s coming from Kuo’s kitchen is fun to eat and bright and beautiful to look at—so it’s a pity the room is so dark.

The ceiling is black, most of the walls are black, and throughout the evening the lights are dimmed as the music is turned up. To be fair, there’s one wall of blond-wood cubby holes filled with wildflower sprigs in glass bottles, lumps of moss, and vintage cameras—like an Etsy-addict’s bookshelf. Pearl & Ash is on the ground floor of a budget hotel, one that was converted from the stack of grim dormitories and shared bathrooms of an old Bowery flophouse. It has always been too dark and cramped in here.

Despite this location in The Bowery House, Kuo hasn’t had to give in to the usual hotel-restaurant demands. There is no burger with fries to appease the hostel crowd, for example, and so far this seems to be working out fine. A lone Japanese tourist seated next to me at the restaurant’s communal table chewed happily on pieces of quail rolled up in crisp skin, while writing notes in her travel diary.

The welcome at the front door is consistently cheerful, and service tends toward comfortable and warm, even as the restaurant gets busy. Servers resist the urge to stupidly explain the restaurant’s “concept” or push any dishes in particular your way, though if you have questions, they have answers. That sommelier in the Motörhead T-shirt, crouching awkwardly by his tables, wears a suit when he runs the wine program at the Palace Hotel. It’s Patrick Cappiello, and his wine list here is serious business—with an unexpectedly huge selection from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Pearl & Ash doesn’t have a pastry chef, but the team manages to get around this by serving only two desserts, which each cost what a snack might from a vendor at Smorgasburg. One is a plain but rather cute Fernet-Branca ice cream sandwich ($6), flavored with just enough of the Italian bitters to please enthusiasts and set in a bendy chocolate biscuit that tastes, rather authentically, of almost nothing. It’s quite a departure from Kuo’s more complex savory dishes, but wrapped in paper and marked with a little smiley face, it’s a sweet one.

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Middle East Feast at El Omda

Halfway through our meal, the avuncular proprietor leaned over to explain a ’60s Egyptian TV show that flickered in black and white on the wall-mounted flat-screen. “It’s like Seinfeld,” he said, chuckling, “a show about a poor husband and his wealthy wife, who can’t tell a turnip from a banana.” Three friends and I were dining one evening in Astoria’s El Omda restaurant, found in a bucolic neighborhood of squat brick apartment buildings and tidy frame houses that feels remote from the bustling business district of 30th Avenue to the south. Apart from the squawking TV, the dining room is similarly serene, decorated with historic travel posters advising you to Visit the Pyramids and hanging metal lanterns that shoot beams through irregular swatches of colored glass onto tablecloths featuring such Pharaonic motifs as Nefertiti, Ra, and the ankh.

El Omda (“The Mayor”) features the cosmopolitan food of Egyptian cities like Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, and Port Said. This cuisine features a fascinating mixture of familiar Middle Eastern stewed beans, bread dips, lemony composed salads, and charcoal-grilled kebabs, plus recipes borrowed from Sicily, Greece, North Africa, and even France. Added to these is a cooking style typical of Egypt’s seaside cities, in which whole fish are sautéed or deep-fried, and such crustaceans as clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid are also prepared with elegant simplicity.

If you want real working-class Egyptian fare, head for the Special Dishes section of the menu. On it find foul (pronounced “fool”) madamas—a stew of fava beans loaded with chopped garlic and cilantro ($5), cooked long enough that you can spread it on bread, and one of the most delectable items on the menu. Often called the national dish of Egypt, it’s sold by street vendors from giant bubbling cauldrons in urban areas. El Omda’s baba ghanouj possesses a nice smoky flavor, but is strangely devoid of the usual tahini. Instead, like the foul, it conceals a megaton of garlic. Another favorite of mine in the same your-Egyptian-mama-might-have-made-this-at-home vein is stuffed grape leaves ($8). Swaddled in deep green, a dozen cylinders that have never seen the inside of a can bulge with red rice faintly flavored with dill. These three dishes would make a spectacular vegan feast.

The grilled meats are abundant and nicely cooked over charcoal. They arrive preceded by a salad doused with a classic French vinaigrette, and accompanied by a rice-vermicelli mixture that will remind you of Rice-A-Roni. Nevertheless, good as the meats are, these are the most prosaic things on the menu. Unless you’re a fervid carnivore, you’re better off skipping the shish (lamb), kufta (ground beef with onions), and chicken kebabs in favor of the more interesting seafood preparations. The one exception is the quartet of long-boned lamb chops, which are flavorsome and cheap ($18). They’re so tender, you almost don’t need to chew.

El Omda’s seafood recipes have several origins. The most Egyptian is the blackened whole fish ($15, about one pound), which might be a sea bass, pink snapper, or porgy, depending on what’s available that day. Heads and tails intact, these creatures are thickly coated with spices, grilled to midnight blackness, then doused with brine, as if a disgruntled cook had thrown them back into the sea. The skin should be carefully removed before eating, to reveal the most vibrant-tasting fish flesh imaginable. Another specialty is Sicilian seafood pastas. The best ($15, enough for two) features clams, mussels, squid, and shrimp tossed with linguine in an oily red sauce—reminding us that the original meaning of “marinara” was a sauce to go with seafood. Another class of dishes braises aquatic creatures in a clay tajine, Moroccan-style. Shrimp and squid ($20 and $10, respectively) are done this way to spectacular effect, both riding a wave of oniony sauce.

As we were sopping up the last of our shrimp tajine that evening, an Egyptian cooking show came on the TV, starring a white-clad chef who just happened to be making a tajine. “That’s a standard Egyptian dish that originally came from Morocco,” interjected our host. We watched with some surprise when the chef tossed in the main ingredient: hot dogs! As the chef simmered the franks with tomatoes and green olives, we heard a faint sigh from the rear of the restaurant. Looking back, we saw our chef —a petite women in a flowered headscarf—staring at the screen, a look of horror spreading across her face. “Don’t worry about her,” the proprietor said, laughing. “She’s from Morocco.” That explained it: Not just how Egypt came by its North African tajines, but why the food at El Omda is so damn good.

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DESERT STORM

The entraining beats and politically 
engaged music of famed Moroccan quintet Nass El Ghiwane is the subject of 
director Ahmed El Maanouni’s 1981 concert-doc Trances, which opens BAMcinématek’s three-Monday Saharan Frequencies series dedicated to the music of North Africa. The film has been 
restored by the World Cinema Foundation at the behest of Martin Scorsese, whose Last Temptation of Christ it influenced. Nass El Ghiwane’s immense popularity also permeates Hisham Mayet’s Musical Brotherhoods From the Trans-Saharan Highway, a 2008 look at the spectacular traditional and contemporary ensembles kicking out their sacred jams night after night in Marrakech’s crowded, colorful, and fragrant Jemaa Al Fna square. Past and present dovetail dynamically in the two films, which will be discussed by Mayet and music journalist Byron Coley following Brotherhoods’s screening.

Mon., March 4, 7 p.m., 2013

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El Mio Cid: The Sardines of Bushwick

Although modern tapas bars have achieved wildfire popularity—inspiring all sorts of other pricey small-plate places—old-guard Spanish restaurants are largely a thing of the past. Many of Gotham’s best examples originated in the wake of the Spanish Civil War and provided a dark, romantic dining experience for couples who tucked into broad paelleras of seafood-studded rice, greenish pools of garlic shrimp, and chorizos dramatically set aflame in brandy, served by waiters in starched waistcoats and red cummerbunds. Though a few places remain open in Manhattan and still limp along, gone are the days when James Baldwin famously dined at El Faro, and Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and midtown were thronged with Iberian establishments.

But the genre is being kept alive in the so-called Outer Boroughs, where Spanish immigration continues at a low ebb. What is really driving the trend are Spanish speakers from the Caribbean and South America, who look upon Iberian food not only as an ancestral birthright, but also as one among a range of Latin cuisines they’d like to consider when dining out. Enter El Mio Cid. Named after the epic poem commemorating the retaking of Spanish territories from the Moors a millennium ago, the Bushwick comparative newcomer is located in what is still largely a Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood, despite incursions from hipsters—who, unlike the Moors, are not going to be beaten back anytime soon.

The exterior is decorated with potted plants and a mega-mural of a bullfight. Inside, there’s a colorfully dressed dame dancing flamenco on the wall in one corner, while a castle surrounded by jungle foliage splays across an opposite wall, even though Spain is largely arid. More incongruously, a tin bas-relief of Vincent van Gogh in a straw hat glowers over the bar and reminds us that this neighborhood was once Dutch. The walls are deep red and the tables well spaced.

Consistent with their popularity, tapas—tiny plates of food invented long ago to cover your glass and keep flies from drowning in the wine—are the things to get. The portions are way larger than fashionable, so five or six will easily feed three hungry people. The chorizo ($8) arrives not aflame exactly, but sputtering madly in a crock with gravy. Use the excellent French bread to mop the remainders. The tortilla Española—what English speakers might call an omelet—has been expertly turned out, the surface crisp and brown. Rather than being jazzed up, this refreshingly simple dish contains only eggs and potatoes.

Three to an order, the sardines ($7.50) are some of the biggest fatties you’ve seen lately, sautéed head-on and sprinkled with fresh parsley. Squeeze on the lemon before raking the flesh downward from the flanks—the bones stay behind. Torpedo-shaped chicken croquettes are more poultry than potatoes, making the fritters exceedingly fortifying. For vegetable lovers, there are several invented tapas that still fall convincingly within the canon. A casserole of stewed leeks and mushrooms seems more French than Spanish, and a mélange of lightly cooked eggplant reminds you of the parallels between Moroccan and Iberian cooking.

Of the two octopus presentations, the one attributed to Galicia—a region in northwest Spain to which many Dominicans trace their roots—is the most interesting. Pulpo a la Gallega ($10.50) deposits spongy tentacles and spuds in a milky broth. But while the octopod is memorable, the soup called caldo Gallego ($5.50) is wan and watery. (It’s often superb in Dominican cafés.) Finally, El Mio Cid offers some cooling salads that constitute modern additions to the Spanish menu. The one featuring shaved fennel in an orange dressing is well worth ordering.

Like a house of cards in a full gale, the menu falls apart profoundly when it reaches its entrées. Although copious, the paella marinera ($18) lacks zip and frankly tasted reheated one evening. While the vegetarian version of this iconic dish is a boon to those who eschew flesh—roasted beets standing in nicely for red meat—it, too, would have benefited from a large dose of garlic. And though the main-course menu offers plenty of pork, chicken, and seafood, the selections we tried tended to be duds. Worst were a small swatch of overpriced salmon in berry sauce (“This is Spanish?” a friend exclaimed) and a trio of spongy veal cutlets in a nut glaze that tasted like sweet-and-sour pork from a bad Chinese carryout.

Then again, maybe the mains are aimed principally at the invading hipsters.

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Curtis Stone Talks Around the World in 80 Plates, Filming All Over the World Part 1

He has a new Bravo show and a recently born son, so it’s a miracle that we got Curtis Stone on the line. Despite a whirlwind media day, the Top Chef Masters host gave us the scoop on Around the World in 80 Plates, traveling the world, and some destinations he’d like to re-visit.

You have a new show! How did you get involved in Around the World in 80 Dishes?
I was working with Bravo, obviously, on Top Chef Masters, and then they came up with this idea and I was like, “Are you kidding me? This is a dream.” So of course, like anybody with a heartbeat and a hunger for food and travel, I signed up for it straight away. Then we had to work on the format and finding the co-host and putting it all into place. I had an incredible time shooting it.

What can we expect?
You can expect a whole lot of action. They’re trying to interpret the local cuisine. You’re working on a team so everyone has their own opinions–it’s LA to London, London to Lyon, France and Lyon, France to Barcelona. Beautiful vistas, incredible food.

Was it stressful/challenging filming all over the world?
It was tough. We traveled extensively, so every two or three days you’re flying, [and] really long flights at that. Lindsey [Price, his partner] and I were expecting our first son so we had a totally different challenge to what you’d normally find when you’re doing a cooking show. But all that said, it’s such a beautiful experience, getting to travel the world. We really enjoyed it.

Any places that you were able to visit that you wish you could go back to or spend more time in?
I love Chiang Mai. We were in Chiang Mai, Thailand which is really special. I likely could have stayed there for another couple of weeks. That would have been very nice. Morocco was probably the other one that I have to go back to. Morocco is beautiful and interesting.

Do you watch yourself when the shows air?
Sometimes. You have to watch a lot in the booth when you’re recording the voiceover. It’s like hearing your own voice on the answering machine.

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Get Off the Sidewalk for Summer Outdoor Dining

Restaurant dining outdoors is one of the greatest pleasures a New York summer has to offer. In fact, the city has long since surpassed Paris in the breadth and excellence of its alfresco dining opportunities. But alas, too many of the outside tables are located on sidewalks, seeming more land grabs by space-strapped restaurateurs than serious seating: Tiny, graceless two-tops stand jammed together, mere feet from fume-spewing traffic, groaning garbage trucks, and pedestrians weaving so close to your table that they might reach over and grab one of your French fries.

What you really want is a secluded dining space behind the restaurant or in a courtyard, far from the madding crowd. Ideally, it might even be a garden perfumed with flowers. One such space is found at Anella (222 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, 718-389-8100), an obscurely located Greenpoint bistro. In summer, dine under a vine-draped pergola in a garden bedded with Shasta daisies and other colorful annuals, while scarfing homemade burrata with olive oil and sea salt, flawless fried calamari with an anchovy dip, or a thick steak sided Tuscan-style with rosemary potatoes. You’ll feel like you’re on vacation in Italy.

Another favorite backyard lurks behind Saraghina (435 Halsey Street, Brooklyn, 718-574-0010), a Bed-Stuy boîte with salvaged furniture and a pleasantly raffish feel, named for the fat, frowsy prostitute in Fellini’s 8 1/2. The place is driven by a wood-burning oven that turns out great pizzas, of which the best is “Capocollo,” draped with the spicy neck-meat ham beloved of Calabrians. The proprietors are from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, so the rest of the charcuterie and cheeses is also spot-on, and there are salads galore offered as daily specials. Last summer, these included one made with glove-soft octopus tentacles and another with shaved fennel—simple but delightful food, especially welcome in warmer months.

Although you might associate Teutonic outdoor suds-love with October, a German beer garden is an extremely pleasant place to sit at the height of the summer, too. The city’s best is also the hardest to get to: Killmeyer’s Old Bavaria Inn (4254 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island, 718-984-1202), a living museum of 19th-century German immigration to New York, with an ornate carved oak bar and a fenced backyard that seems light-years from Manhattan’s towers. Enjoy lighter German brews such as Köstritzer Black Lager while forking back an assortment of schnitzels and sausages. You can find similar fare and fermented hop products right in Manhattan at Loreley (7 Rivington Street, 212-253-7077), where rows of stein-littered trencher tables are shielded from rain and sun by umbrellas; you’d never imagine such a small spot has such a large backyard-seating area.

Perhaps the city’s most famous beer garden is the Czech Bohemian Hall (29-19 24th Avenue, Queens, 718-274-4925), an Astoria institution for more than a century that has become wildly repopularized during the past decade. There you can dine and drink under a canopy of trees inside a rustic stone enclosure. Although the beer flows freely, the food agenda is inconsistent, with Eastern European comfort food available from the indoor kitchen and various outdoor grilled-meat concessions and food-providing events popping up from time to time. Call ahead.

Brooklyn’s most tumultuous outdoor spot, also reflecting the ancient ethnic population of its neighborhood, is the hilariously named L&B Spumoni Gardens (2725 86th Street, Brooklyn, 718-449-6921), where a typical summer evening seems like a scene from Grease. Girls strut their stuff in ponytails and poodle skirts as convertibles cruise by on 86th Street, and the fare runs to Sicilian “sheet” pizzas, red-sauced pastas, and the eponymous ice cream product, consumed in a giant fenced front yard. You won’t want to leave. Also in an Italian vein, find a secluded dining space behind Leo’s Latticini (4602 104th Street, Queens, 718-898-6069), where they make their own mozzarella and ricotta, deployed in wonderful hero sandwiches like the iconic eggplant parm, one of Corona’s greatest vegetarian delights.

If you want water views, city eateries can provide those, too. Located right on the Hudson River at the south end of Riverside Park, the city-franchised Boat Basin Café (West 79th Street, 212-496-5542) has surprisingly decent food, mainly burgers and sandwiches, several in a vegetarian vein. The space overlooks the boat basin, where pleasure craft and houseboats are docked. Afterward, a stroll along the mighty river is in order. Occupying the south side of the South Street Seaport complex, Beekman Beer Garden (89 South Street, 212-896-4600) is more beach club than beer garden, though the place does grill a nice bratwurst. Rather, it’s a casual outdoor bar with various game opportunities (including outdoor Ping-Pong) and stunning views of the Brooklyn Bridge. The beer list is locavoric, and predictable fare runs to burgers, nachos, and fish tacos.

If it’s fish tacos and other Mexican food you crave in a sky-view setting, check out Café de la Esquina (225 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-393-5500), ensconced in a streamlined diner in Williamsburg. Right next door is a graveled dining area, where even on busy evenings, you can usually find a spot. The menu offers a greatest hits of south-of-the-border cuisine, including taquitos, chile relleno, guac, grilled fish, and even hamburguesas, washed down not only with beer and wine, but also with powerful mixed drinks.

Another form of outdoor dining remote from the sidewalk involves sitting on a rooftop and enjoying views of the city from a unique perspective. The French bistro Juliette (135 North 5th Street, Brooklyn, 718-388-9222) rises in the midst of Williamsburg’s tenderloin district, which seems less cacophonous as you peer down at it while munching on duck confit, escargots, artichoke salad, and Moroccan vegetable tagine. Yotel, the city’s first robotic hotel, boasts a delightful open-air seating area on its fourth floor adjacent to the restaurant Dohyo (a/k/a FOUR, 570 Tenth Avenue, 646-449-7700), where the Asian-fusion fare is much better than it needs to be. Small plates include foie gras gyoza, Wagyu beef tiradito, and the supremely snacky wok-fried okra.

Another spectacular rooftop space is found atop Eataly, the Italian supermarket catty-corner from the Flatiron Building. Birreria (200 Fifth Avenue, 212-229-2560) offers fare that mixes the Italian and the Germanic, with well-hung sausages and a peculiar emphasis on mushroom salads—though not psychedelic ones, damn! Beer is brewed right on the premises, but stick with the more standard Dogfish Head selections or try one of the recently invented Italian beers in bottles if you’re in an adventuresome mood. But you must be already if you’ve braved the strange combination of elevators and stairways that ascend to Birreria.