A Sober October Sponsored by Local Bar

I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in thirty-one days.

That’s right, I’ve had a Sober October.  The tradition, four years in the brewing, is the brainchild of Kate Buenaflor, co-owner of The Soft Spot bar on Bedford Ave, and manager of my softball team, the Soft Spot Specials. When I first learned of her plans, I was shocked: was the woman who brought five-gallon jugs of tequila-laced Gatorade to the dugout really going to lay off the sauce for an entire month?

You’d better believe it. Kate does it every year, and she’s recruited a small army of followers as well. Any other October, I probably would have agreed that it was a worthwhile pursuit (for crazy people) and ordered another beer. This particular October, however, followed one of the most sodden summers since getting my fake ID freshman year, and I was ready for a break.  More > >

Panties & Lipstick for cost of a Latte @Peachfrog

Rack at Peachfrog: $25 sweater coats

Opened not long after the dramatic economic collapse of autumn 2008, discount designer store Peachfrog is coming up on its one-year anniversary party. In that time, with stock priced up to 90% off of retail, the Williamsburg shop, located on N 10th St between Bedford and Berry, has become a magnet for bargain hunters from all around the Tri-State metro area.

Case in point: as I was interviewing metal sculptor-slash-Peachfrog-co-founder Bill Norton late Thursday afternoon, a petite middle-aged shopper piped in, “I came in from Freeport!”  That’s in Nassau County on Long Island.  More > >

The Daily Photo + Links

Wlsbrg Bridge South 6th Beatrice Abbott 1937

Greenpointers Weekend Blend  [Greenpointers]

Nada Surf @ Music Hall of Williamsburg Wed benefit (photos)  [...theendofirony.net]

Williamsburg festival features Beatles favorites on the ukulele  [DailyNews]

Tenants Protest Living Conditions Outside Owners Wlsbrg Home  [JewishBreakingNews]

Video: Williamsburg Subaru Driver to host Car-aoke at Woods  [Gothamist]

Halloween Party @ My Moon: Best costumes win tix to MFO live  [tulumba]

Saltie

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378 Metropolitan Ave
(718) 387-4777
Tues-Sun 8am-8pm
Mon closed

By Mary Yeung & Photos by Eric Ryan Anderson

I’m a fan of chef Caroline Fidanza’s cooking. When she was working at Marlow & Sons, I would saunter over just to check out all the wonderful new dishes that would appear on the menu. Her sandwiches and baked goods are always very well thought out, and when she opened Saltie last month with two other chefs, Elizabeth Schula and Rebecca Collerton, I knew the neighborhood was in for a real treat.

Although there is a nautical theme in the shop’s décor (white and blue) and in the names of the dishes (The Captain’s Daughter, Scuttlebutt…), seafood is not the shop’s main focus. It’s a quaint sandwich shop and a bakery that offers unexpected flavors. There are intriguing sandwiches, salads, some unusual baked goods and homemade ice cream. And for all dishes both sweet and savory, gourmet salt is the not-so-secret ingredient.

“We don’t care for very sweet food,” says Fidanza. “We just want to serve food we love to eat. It just makes perfect sense to sell savory dishes in New York. I’m surprised there are not more shops like this.”

The menu is small, but everything is lovingly prepared. Saltie is a great place to sample all the sandwiches you’ve read about in some arcane gourmet magazine but never tried because you couldn’t find a good canned sardine, or you didn’t have the best olive oil, or you didn’t know where to buy the imported capers. The Captain’s Daughter, for example, is a sandwich made of pickled eggs, sardines, salsa verde and home baked Focaccia. All the ingredients come together beautifully. Another terrific sandwich is the Spanish Armada, which pairs potato tortilla with marinated roasted red peppers on a focaccia. Thanks to the well-seasoned ingredients, both sandwiches were savory and delicious. I promise you, you’re not going to miss the meat.

From the baked goods section, I fell in love with the olive oil cake, which is seasoned with chunks of coarse salt that really heightens the flavor of the olive oil; the cake became as addictive as fresh potato chips, only better tasting. The ricotta cake has a rich, milky texture, a nice twist on the old-fashioned pound cake. The homemade ice cream was laced with a sweet and salty caramel sauce. It’s quite sweet, but you’re not likely to forget the roasted caramel flavor. Other intriguing dishes on the menu include a Concord grape goat cheese tart.

Cafecito Bogotá

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1015 Manhattan Ave
(718) 569-0077
Mon-Thurs 8am-10pm /
Fri-Sat to 11pm/12am
Mon night closed
www.cafecitobogota.com

By Mary Yeung & Photos by Eric Ryan Anderson

Greenpoint doesn’t have many Latino restaurants, but a few good ones can be found on the downhill stretch of Manhattan Avenue heading toward Long Island City. Cafecito Bogotá, opened by brothers Oscar and Freddie Varela, has been open for three years, faithfully serving authentic Colombian fare. It’s an intimate café, a warm place to grab a bowl of thick soup, linger over a glass of wine or a cup of café con leche while being an audience to a poetry reading or various activities which they host.

I started with the crunchy and savory fried empanadas, served with a sweet and sour salsa to whet my appetite for all those arepas to come. Arepas, little corn pancakes adorned with an array of toppings, are the café’s specialty.

There’s the Medellín, made with rice and red beans and Colombian chorizo; the Calena, cilantro marinated shrimp mixed with crispy green plantain cubes and sautéed in a garlic and plum tomato sauce; and the Tolima, caramelized strips of lean pork mixed with gandul beans sautéed in a green recaito sauce. And more than a dozen other selections, with plenty of vegetarian choices like the Punta Verde Greenpoint, topped with pesto-infused tofu and string beans seasoned with sesame seeds.

After sampling the arepas, my friend and I went on a suicide mission and ordered the Bandeja Palsa, the Columbian version of the hungry man dinner that’s served in every Colombian restaurant I’ve ever visited. This dish has everything including the kitchen sink; slices of beef, chorizo, fried eggs, perfumed rice, plantain-infused beans, arepas, fried plantains, and a slice of avocado, all for $12.95.

“Too much food!” we half jokingly complained to Freddie, who explained, “It’s a tradition. People used to work all day in the fields.”

The Latin-style brunch on the weekends is quite popular with the neighborhood. Now that the weather is getting nippy, all those famous home style Columbian thick stews and soups may help us get through yet another New York winter.

Sui Ren

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302 Metropolitan Ave
(718) 218-7878
Sun-Thurs 6 pm-1am
Fri-Sat 6pm-2am
Mon closed
www.suirenbrooklyn.com

By Mary Yeung & Photos by Eric Ryan Anderson

Just a few years ago, Spanish tapas bars were all the rage. Today it’s izakayas, the Japanese version of tapas bars. Izakayas are where ambitious chefs can showcase their creativity and where adventurous diners can sample innovative fares in small and affordable bites.

Williamsburg is home to several very good izakayas. The latest newcomer is Sui Ren (“The One Who Brings Fire”) on Metropolitan Ave. Owned by Taiwan native Morgan Chang, Sui Ren offers not only Japanese dishes, but also Korean and Chinese street food.
  More > >

Interview with Art 101 Gallerist Ellen Rand

Ellen Rand in her gallery Art 101.  In the foreground, skeleton of a vessel, part of the recent installation: “Tidal Decade” by Joanne Pagano and Janice Mauro.

Gallerist Ellen Rand on Art 101 By Marley Magaziner

Ellen Rand in her gallery Art 101. In the foreground, skeleton of a vessel, part of the recent installation: “Tidal Decade” by Joanne Pagano and Janice Mauro.

In an uncertain economy, the idea of art for arts sake may seem unwise, even frivolous: an art gallery’s success has come to mean just staying open. But Ellen Rand, owner and art director of Williamsburg’s Art 101, has her own idea of success. “My idea was to show really good artists who had no place show. And in that respect I’m very successful.”

A painter, herself, Rand has resided in the building since 1982, and started the gallery in 2004. “I had kept my studio here always … then I just woke up one day—our address is 101 Grand Street, and I have a lot of artists in my background, and I’m an artist. And I thought, I’ll just have a gallery called Art 101. It was not a decision made with much forethought. “And I now know that most people who start galleries have a backer, or money themselves, or some form of financial stability. And they also usually have a list of contacts and collectors, or they’ve been to a very good art school and have a good network. Well, none of that applies to me.”

So how do you start a gallery without a traditional support system? First, says Rand, love art. “It was like an old sort of salon,” explains Rand. “For my first show, I called friends and I just invited the first 12 people I ran into. It was panels up against the front wall; it was practically just in the doorway.”

The gallery has grown in six years from one wall to four, and Rand has moved her own studio to the building’s basement. Outside of regular gallery hours, there are poetry readings and musical events. Says Rand, “It’s busy and it’s a source of great satisfaction. All of it.” The gallery is homey, with curtains on the windows and flower boxes outside. When the gallery isn’t open, Rand’s little black terrier Maggie likes to curl up in a chair and watch the action outside the front window.

On view when we visited was an installation called The Tidal Decade, which imagines a futuristic archaeological dig. Janice Mauro and Joanne Pagano Weber present sculptures, plaster panels, and videos telling the story of the great flood of 2040 to archaeologists in the year 9062. It’s not an easy concept; it’s perfect for Art 101.

The gallery used to be part of a row of four galleries on the same western block of Grand Street. The three others have closed or moved, and without the attraction of several galleries, walk-ins have decreased. Rand doesn’t know why other galleries have closed and she hasn’t. “Running a gallery is not a business with formulas. In the entire art world, success or failure of galleries is a question of luck and happenstance.” She was reluctant to attribute her success to her own taste in art. “All of the artists that I show, all of the shows that I have, are artists and works that I greatly admire and respect, and I want it to be known. And if the work doesn’t get the attention I feel it deserves, that’s disappointing, but it doesn’t mean that you stop working on behalf of that artist. “I don’t wish I’d known anything then that I know now. And I have no regrets. I find it completely rewarding, not necessarily financially, but in every other way. I lucked into it, I plunged into it without really knowing very much. All the rest I’ve had to learn. Some of it is excrutiatingly difficult. Just the whole ordeal of running it. I also started my catering business blind; everything I’ve ever done, painting, catering, the gallery, is all self-taught.”

This season, Rand has increased the duration of each show from four weeks to six, which gives artists more time to promote and sell their work. “Even if it’s not particularly successful financially, each show is an opportunity for the artist to put up his or her work and for people to see it. We have a wonderful spring planned with four new shows. I have enough artists to book the next two years.” Rand had her own catering business, which she gave up when the gallery opened. It was an easy decision. “Catering was just so grueling, I never charged enough for the food anyway. So I thought, well, I’ll just have this gallery and show all these people I know who are so good.” You might catch a sample of her cooking at the opening of a show or event at Art 101.

Ellen Rand was named for her grandmother, the successful American portrait artist Ellen Gertrude Emmet Rand, whose portrait of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens is presently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ellen recently self-published a biography of her grandmother, entitled “Dear Females.” While her grandmother traveled to Paris to study art, Williamsburg’s Rand never attended art school. “I started in stage design and then I quit. And then I started to paint. I just locked myself up in my room for about two years. I was searching for a way to express something and it’s almost as though a little door opened and I found it and then, oh, that’s what I was looking for.”

Currently at Art 101: “Optic Nerve,” paintings by Dennis Tompkins, through November.www.art101brooklyn.com

Off the Cuff with WRecords by Monkey

The Wrecords by Monkey design team self-portrait. Courtesy WRecords by Monkey

Getting Into the Groove

Inspired by last week’s emerging music fest CMJ, I decided to check out Patrick Chirico and Brian Farrell, the designing duo behind Williamsburg-based accessories line WRecords by Monkey (WBM), who recycle vinyl, and craftily “bridge the worlds of fashion, art and music.”

The designers who met while students at Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology, in 2003, started to produce their signature vinyl bracelet cuffs, in their dorm hallway. Now, 60,000 and counting cuffs later, their work is sold in 20 states. Among their retailers: several art museum stores, including the Chelsea Art Museum in Manhattan, the Houston Museum of Contemporary Art and Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center.  More > >