Our 10 Best Places to Take Mom, 2012

If you really love your mom, you might want to consider skipping the Mother’s Day specials this year. They tend to be such gloomy experiences as restaurants transform into brunch factories for the day and serve mediocre set menus. Instead, I suggest you take your mother out in the evening, like a regular person, for some proper eating and drinking.

Here are my 10 current picks for where I’d take my own mom if she were in town (a few spots include extra-fun stuff that my mom loves, like looking at flowers, gambling, and people-watching):

10. Balthazar: Simple mussels and French fries at Keith McNally’s Soho brasserie can be a bit expensive, but there are few better places to slurp oysters while making presumptions about fellow diners’ relationships, wardrobes, and food choices, a number 1 pastime with my mom. 80 Spring Street, 212-941-0364

9. Franny’s: First a stroll through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden then up to Franny’s, a gem on busy Flatbush Avenue. The simple Italian menu is full of rustic delights, but you know what she’d really enjoy? A gorgeous, blistered pizza and a cocktail. 295 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-230-0221

8. Prime Meats: This pretty, airy bistro in Carroll Gardens is an ideal place to spend quality time, bonding over wobbly roasted bone marrow, excellent seasonal salads, exemplary steak-frites, and wines by the glass. It’s one of Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo’s beloved farm-to-table spots and generally full of local couples and young families. Very my-mom-friendly. 465 Court Street Brooklyn, 718-254-0327

7. Genting Palace: Recently reviewed by my colleague Robert Sietsema, the upscale Cantonese restaurant in Ozone Park has a kickass dim sum menu for high-rolling ladies willing to take a bet on soy-braised chicken feet and stuffed bean curd skin with shredded garlic chives. There’s a casino on site for actual gambling, too. 110-00 Rockaway Boulevard, Queens

6. wd_50: What could be more fun than a culinary adventure in the Lower East Side at Wylie Dufresne’s casual, wonderfully inventive wd-50. Sit at the bar, where you can pick two courses (either savory or sweet) off the new tasting menu and drink splendid cocktails. 50 Clinton Street, 212-477-2900

5. Perla: This lovely newcomer from Gabriel Stulman’s growing empire is the ideal place to share small plates of rustic Italian food done right. Go for the sugar snap pea and pickled rhubarb salad, the stunning lamb saddle, and whichever pasta dishes tickle your fancy. 24 Minetta Lane, 212-933-1824

4. Vinegar Hill House: This seasonal American restaurant is like a charming country house in the middle of the city, tucked away on a quiet street in Vinegar Hill. The food is hearty and delicious but never fussy. Make sure you share a pistachio-topped chicken-liver mousse–it’s the best rendition in the city. 72 Hudson Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-522-1018

3. Mile End: My mother might be concerned at first that I’m taking her to a deli for a special occasion, but there’s no doubt that a taste of Mile End’s modern Jewish cooking will rock her world. The grilled romaine salad, the lovingly prepared lamb tongue, and the thrill of being around young people with appetites. What more could she want? 97A Hoyt Street, Brooklyn, 718-852-75108

2. Red Rooster: I wouldn’t exactly say that my mother has a *crush* on Marcus Samuelsson, but she has been cooking for some time from his African cookbook, Soul of a New Cuisine, and would be delighted to see that the Ethiopian-born, Swedish chef is now running a popular restaurant in Harlem drawing from myriad culinary influences. 310 Lenox Avenue, 212-792-9001

1. Di Fara: For years, I’ve been telling my mother about Dom De Marco, the slow-moving, grizzled pizza master of Avenue J with the flour-dusted shoes and the only man to whom I offer a Valentine’s Day present every year. It’s time they finally meet! De Marco’s pies are imperfect, beautiful things, and I find they’re always worth the excruciating wait. 1424 Avenue J, Brooklyn, 718-258-1367

Know of a great spot that didn’t make this list? Tell me in the comments.


Marcus Samuelsson Talks Urban Farming

Marcus Samuelsson has recently penned an op-ed for The Huffington Post, in which he implores readers to think deeply about food policy during the upcoming elections.

He says that hot topics such as organic and non-GMO eats are great talking points, but that bigger problems should not get ignored.

While we as citizens can be tempted to debate specific issues like whether or not genetically modified foods should be outlawed or not, we can’t forget that a large portion of the country is addressing more pressing issues like hunger, food accessibility, and food safety. Other more nuanced matters like the pros and cons of GMOs or sustainable farming are far from their minds.

In his essay, Samuelsson also cautions against cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The author and Red Rooster chef wants to expand urban farming, but points out that affordability remains a big issue for the country’s poor.

The next step is finding ways — whether it’s increased government subsidies or community-supported programs — to make food from farmers markets more affordable to low income communities. Food stamps are redeemable at farmers markets, but the high cost of food means that food stamp recipients ironically get more bang for their buck shopping at supermarkets than at farmers markets.

Samuelsson is cautiously PC — he doesn’t publicly back any party or candidate in this particular article.

Still, he urges conscientious foodies to think hard at the ballot box, and pick pols whose food-policy track record makes them likely to enact pragmatic programs.


What’s Happening This Week: Crayfish Celebration, Tomato Fest

Our weekly dining and drinking newsletter features all the hottest epicurean events in the city.

Krawfish + Kräftor Party
Red Rooster Harlem
Monday, August 15, 7 p.m.

Join DJ Kim Hastreiter, co-founder of Paper magazine, and chef Marcus Samuelsson in this celebration of crayfish season. Opt for a $60 four-course menu, including peel-and-eat crayfish, chilled yellow tomato soup, and crayfish and coconut blackened catfish with crayfish and lemon-dill slaw, paired with house-infused aquavit and Radeberger beer; or a $25 menu featuring the crustaceans.

German Beer Tasting
Loreley Williamsburg
Wednesday, August 17, 7 p.m.

Beer expert Leo Lauer will lead this tasting of nine different German beers, plus a three-course meal featuring three different kinds of sausage and Black Forest cake, all for $29. If you don’t eat meat, don’t forgo this one: Vegetarian options are available.

La Festa del Pomodoro
I Trulli Ristorante
Through the end of August

Celebrate everyone’s favorite fruit masquerading as a vegetable with a $48 five-course tomato-focused menu, featuring produce from such local farms as Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, Eckerton Hills Farm, and Cherry Lane Farm. Dishes include mozzarella di bufala with heirloom tomatoes, spaghetti with canestrino tomatoes, and a tomato parfait.


Marcus Samuelsson Gets More Love from the Times, Not So Much from Hamptons Mags

Geez, New York Times and Marcus Samuelsson — get a room! The Gray Lady has already given up plenty of inches of copy to the Red Rooster chef-owner — never mind documenting his wardrobe in intimate detail — but has still managed to find more to print. This time, the Style section takes a look at the racial harmony and slick threads to be found at Samuelsson’s Harlem dining destination. Just let this sidewalk café scene entice you:

Young men wearing cotton Breton fishermen’s sweaters, rolled jeans and Topsiders; African immigrants in brilliantly patterned head wraps and flowing robes; young boys with their hair styled in neo-retro Kid ‘n Play flattops; waitresses with plaited dreadlocks swept up into cantilevered coiffures; men in seersucker suits and straw trilbys with stingy brims; matrons dressed in flowing celestial-white ensembles; teenage boys with saggers slung so low on their hips that they’re forced to pluck at them, delicate as antebellum maidens, to keep them from dropping to the ground.

But not everyone is giving the chef editorial love.

According to the Post, several Hamptons magazines are refusing to — or at least avoiding — covering a new upscale food festival that will be hosted by Samuelsson. Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, which will feature dishes from 40 restaurants and wines from 20 vintners in Bridgehampton this Saturday, is named for Dan’s Papers, a longtime weekly that was recently bought by Manhattan Media. East End magazines are said to be abstaining from writing about the event for fear of boosting a competitor. Don’t they know who is hosting this $150-ticket shindig? In the spirit of Samuelsson’s restaurant, can’t they all just get along?