New Chef From Tel Aviv Takes Over Kitchen at NYC’s Green Fig

Known for modern Israeli cuisine with influences from the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe, the new year at NYC urban restaurant Green Fig has started with a new menu.

Diners will find inspired dishes from new Chef Yuval Litmanovich who joins the kitchen straight from Tel Aviv, where he worked at some of Israel’s most acclaimed restaurants including Meir Adoni’s Catit, as well as Brasserie. Yuval, whose family roots are Hungarian, also spent time at Barcelona’s Hisop, and San Sebastian’s three Michelin-starred Arzak.

Green Fig Chef Yuval Litmanovich
Chef Yuval Litmanovich | Green Fig

For Green Fig’s new menu, Chef Yuval takes inspiration from the Israeli pantry and Mediterranean cooking. An homage to his favorite place in Tel Aviv, the “Ha’Carmel” Market Kebab is a more refined take on traditional street foods with grilled skewers of lamb and beef kebab over diced grilled vegetables accompanied by hummus and tahini, as well as a refreshing salad of radish, parsley and fennel.

Flavor-exploding Burrata is unusually paired with vibrant beet soup with brown butter semolina dumplings and dusted with cocoa powder.

Green Fig Burrata & Beet Soup 2 by Michael Tulipan
Burrata | Green Fig

For​ a Mediterranean twist on an Italian classic, Mushroom “Risotto” is made with Israeli couscous instead of rice, along with roasted fennel, pastis and Parmigiano Reggiano. Spanish Octopus comes with root vegetable cream and a grape-apple-shallot relish, while Branzino arrives atop a fennel, lemon and burnt eggplant puree with marbled potatoes and labaneh (streained yogurt) from Lebanon.

Perfect for cold-weather comfort are slow cooked Braised Veal Cheek with tricolor carrots, wheat and beef jus and melt-in-your-mouth Pork Belly, over a stew of swiss chard, chickpeas and preserved lemon with a tangy tomato chutney. Vegan King Oyster Steak stars a grilled King Oyster mushroom in porcini stock with freekeh and baby zucchini.

Green Fig Veal Cheek 2 by Michael Tulipan
Veal Cheek | Green Fig

 

A few signatures like The “Not Kosher” BBQ, a traif feast of pork short ribs slathered in house barbecue sauce, za’atar potato wedges and labne; Fried Cauliflower with labane tahini, preserved lemon, almonds and mint aioli, and Mezze are still available.

Green Fig Fried Cauliflower by @RatedRuwan
Fried Cauliflower | Green Fig

Green Fig is located at 570 10th Ave, NYC, 4th FL YOTEL. For more information visit its website, greenfignyc.com.

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NYC’s The Black Lodge Channels European Speakeasies at Weekly Burlesque Show

Recalling the gender-bending nightclubs of Paris and Berlin, and the origins of Victorian Burlesque in London, the cozy and chic decor of the speakeasy is the perfect setting for this naughty and sensual entertainment, as voyeurs can sink into the cushy banquettes with their friends or significant others, to gaze at the performers.

Every Thursday in the Speakeasy downstairs from BL Burger Bar a burlesque show is hosted by Dottie Dynamo, a New York City-based burlesque performer and producer, and feature a different cast of five performers. And you can sip delicious cocktails by Miguel Aranda while watching the show. There is no cover for the show but people who are interested in coming can reserve one of the booths by sending an email to the local hot spot. Otherwise, it is standing (at attention) room only.

When burlesque began it was an underground form of adult entertainment, usually taking place late at night in basement clubs and after-hours speakeasies. There has never been a better time to revamp the model, and go back to where burlesque was born, and no better speakeasy to do that at than The Black Lodge, the unassuming cocktail lounge and below-ground speakeasy at 20 Prince Street in the NoLIta neighborhood of Manhattan.

The classic burlesque shows will have a different cast of five performers every Thursday beginning at 10pm. Dottie Dynamo has been tearing up stages since 2011, and is the producer of shows such as Bare Necessitease, Shaken & Stirred and Risque. Dottie has graced stages all over the United States as well as internationally, winning titles such as the Judge’s Choice Award at the 2014 Arizona Burlesque Festival and Most Classic at the 2015 ABurlyQ! Festival.

Black_Lodge_Burger_Bar_12107
Crafty Cocktails at The Black Lodge

While watching, one can lose their inhibitions, by sipping on the handcrafted cocktail creations of mixologist Miguel Aranda, who is one of New York’s most respected barkeeps.

Black_Lodge_Burger_Bar_12154
Get your hands on these cocktails at The Black Lodge

Aranda, formerly of Botanic Lab, has created more than a dozen delicious specialty cocktails ($13).

  • Rosemary Gimlet with rosemary infused gin, lemon balm, agave
  • Prince Smash with Bourbon, citrus/thyme reduction, lime, sugar cane
  • Saffron Old Fashioned with Saffron Bourbon, orange bitters, Angostura Bitters, simple syrup, orange peel
  • London Gang with gin, fresh berries mix, lemon balm, fresh mint, sugar cane
  • Sicario with basil infused tequila, pineapple, agave, lime, basil salt and hibiscus tincture
  • Red Kiss with rum, strawberry, fresh ginger, agave, lime.
  • Frida Rush with tequila, herbs reduction, habanero tincture, cucumber water, lime, agave, and more.
  • Aranda also shakes up a Copper Pineapple For 2 ($25) choice of: rum/scotch/ vodka, pineapple juice, walnut liquor, Orgeat, lime, bitters.

For more information on The Black Lodge Speakeasy, visit its website here.

St Tropez Transports New Yorkers to the South of France at It’s Charming Restaurant

A charming new restaurant and wine bar, St Tropez, transports New Yorkers to the South of France just in time for winter’s arrival. This is a cozy, date-friendly spot just opened in the West Village opened its doors in early December.

French soup in NYC | Soupe au Pistou
Soupe au Pistou | St Tropez Restaurant & Wine Bar

A concept dreamt up by four French friends, St Tropez celebrates the wine, food and joie de vivre of the South of France. It was important to the partners to create a charming and convivial spot that was aptly reminiscent of the South of France in that it also had a warm and inviting neighborhood feel.

Open for lunch and dinner, and soon weekend brunch, the welcoming restaurant is centered around an open white-tile kitchen, and features a design by Loubna Pichard is inspired by a Provencal farmhouse with lots of wood (including the floors – and ceiling) and large windows overlooking West 4th Street. Guests will be delighted by the details such as reclaimed wood shelves made of white pine, tables and custom-made chairs made with reclaimed oak, plus a communal table for 12. The restaurants also boasts a concrete topped bar with seating  for 16 on both sides of the counter.

Interior of the West Village’s St Tropez Restaurant & Wine Bar

Chef and Partner Gérald Barthélémy, who earned a Michelin Star as the chef at Les Élysées restaurant in Hotel Vernet in Paris and most recently helmed the kitchen at Taverne Gaspar in Montreal, offers an affordable menu that highlights Provençal specialties including a selection of starters, salads, main plates, tartares, and accompaniments, as well as cheese and charcuterie among other specialties.

Browsing the array on the menu, diners will find dishes such as Farcis Niçois (tomatoes stuffed with ground beef), Forestière Fougasse (mushroom flatbread), Boulettes Provençales (beef meatballs with ratatouille), Loup de Mer en Tapenade with black olives, sundried tomatoes, zucchini and dill, Daube Provençale (beef in red wine sauce) and more, plus wine bar standbys like platters of cheese, charcuterie and oysters. Nothing on the menu is over $17.

French food in NYC | Mushroom Risotto
Mushroom Risotto | St Tropez Restaurant & Wine Bar
French food in NYC | Nicoise Salad
Nicoise Salad | St Tropez Restaurant & Bar
Loup de Mer Branzino | St Tropez Restaurant & Wine Bar

A native of the coastal Saint-Tropez region, the restaurant’s General Manager and Partner Yohann Pecheux, who has worked at Aria Wine Bar in the West Village, brings to St Tropez a curated all-French wine list with 45 selections by the glass – like the menu, the focus is on wines from the South of France (esp. the area around Saint-Tropez), as well as organic and biodynamic selections, which start at just $9 and are also available by half bottle.

The menu also features several decadent desserts, including the Tropézienne tart, which interestingly enough was created in Saint-Tropez and became famous when the film crew making And God Created Woman starring Brigitte Bardot filmed in town. A young Polish baker created it in the 1950s, filling brioche with a mixture of pastry creams. A fun little bit of trivia: Bardot is said to have fallen in love with the pastry and named it too.

French cuisine in NYC
Tropezienne | St Tropez Restaurant & Wine Bar

St Tropez is now open at 304 W. 4th Street, NYC (between Bank and W. 12th). Hours: Sunday – Wednesday 12pm – 12am; Thursday – Saturday 12pm – 1am (lunch and dinner daily). For more information visit: sttropezwinebar.com or call 917-388-3893.

Greenwich Village’s Rahi Delights Guests with India’s Unfamiliar Regional Dishes

If you find yourself perusing the streets of NYC’s quaint Greenwich Village and the aroma of Indian spices hits you, then you might be close to discovering Rahi—step inside this artisanal Indian restaurant for a local taste of lesser-known, quintessential regional dishes from across India.

Led by Executive Chef Chintan Pandya, the eatery features local New York produce in its recipes which pay homage to cuisine that is reminiscent of his childhood growing up in India. At Rahi, guests can experience the tastes of the country in an authentic yet modern setting.

Stop inside this upscale spot sometime soon to experience one of three new winter dishes, including the savory, flakey Achari Paneer Tart featured above. This is a twist on a favorite Indian tea time snack filled with paneer and topped with squash drizzled with a berry compote.

Rahi_NYC Indian Food_Kashmiri Lamb Ribs

Kashmiri Lamb Ribs, above, are braised in milk that is seasoned with spices native to Kashmir, including cumin, bay leaves, black cardamom, and fennel seeds along with red chili powder and turmeric. Chef then thickens the broth with yogurt, known as “yakhni curry”, native to Pakistan, and adds Sichuan peppercorns for their unique flavor profile of heat and menthol, and serves the lamb in the gravy topped with crispy potato strips.

Rahi Indian Restaurant in NYC - Nargisi Kofta Dhoki

The Nargisi Kofta Dhokli is another new dish on the winter menu, made with a delightful egg yolk and ricotta ravioli served over chicken keema and topped with garam masala spices.

Rahi is located at 60 Greenwich Ave, New York, NY 10011.

Lil’ Gem Brings Whimsical but Authentic Lebanese Fare to NYC’s Lower East Side

Not only will you find family-style Lebanese cuisine served at lil’ gem, but also a love and respect for family and heritage carried on through Chef Melissa O’Donnell and restaurateur Lesly Bernard. While O’Donnell does not sound Lebanese in the least, Chef Melissa celebrates her Lebanese culture by way of her grandmother and Bernard through his daughters, who are half-Lebanese.

Through the restaurant, they each share their passion for Lebanese foods. Diners will find the energy and passion of Lebanese dining brought to life at lil’ gem, their new restaurant at 29 Clinton Street (at Stanton Street). Using the term “Lebanese- ‘ish”, coined by Bernard, Chef Melissa interprets recipes and dishes served at the restaurant her way while maintaining respectfully authentic but whimsical dishes.

Diners at lil’ gem will find Chef Melissa’s modern menu includes small, sharable and large family-style plates, plus a selection of dips, flatbreads and shawarma, a popular street food in Lebanon typically consisting of grilled meat sliced off a vertical spit. Unique to lil’ gem, a house specialty features a deep-fried shawarma using diner’s choice of rib eye, root vegetable, lamb or chicken, served with miso fermented hummus. An icon of the restaurant’s open kitchen even includes an authentic Saj oven, from which guests are treated to a crispy, doughy herb-clustered Za’atar Manakeesh in addition to several flatbreads.

With toppings ranging from ricotta cheese with mission fig jam, to pickled plums and wild arugula, and lamb koftas with truffled sun- choke and mint, diners at lil Gem are treated to a wide variety of flatbread options. The restaurant even serves rotisserie ducks, in half or whole portions, which are cured overnight, then smoked after being rubbed with a unique marinade of quintessential Lebanese combination of honey, coffee and cardamon. The rotisserie also features half or whole chicken spiced with the common aroma of smoked paprika, turmeric and preserved lemon which one would find in Lebanon.

No Middle Eastern restaurant is complete without an array of dips. That’s where Chef Melissa’s playful palette of ingredients take center stage when presenting traditional small plates diners would find in Lebanon, for example, homemade Labne (strained yogurt dip), as well as smoked eggplant Babaganouj spun in the whimsy of fall black garlic puree, beet tartare and tahini whip. Other fanciful traditional dips include Miso Fermented Hummus as well as a dip called Muhammara (made with red pepper, walnuts, and a kick of Aleppo pepper).

Additionally, Lebanese cuisine’s liberal use of vegetables makes lil’ gem a natural destination for vegans and gluten-sensitive diners. Carrying through other unique ingredients into traditional dishes, Chef Melissa offers raw Falafel with shaved carrot slaw, cumin, lemon and tahini sauce and sweet potato-quinoa Kibbeh filled with toasted almonds, goat cheese and chives.

Chef Melissa and Mr. Bernard are both natural born hosts, and the gathering of groups is a pinnacle aspect of Lebanese dining. lil’ gem brings that excitement to Manhattan’s lower east side neighborhood, which is rich with immigrant culture, where artistic endeavors are explored, and where family and friends gather to share food, ideas and hopes for their future.

For more information visit lilgemnyc.com, call 646-368-1392 or stop in to the restaurant at 29A Clinton Street, NYC. 

Here’s How MezzeCulture is Changing the Travel Experience through Local Pop ups in NYC, Austin and DC

If you really love travel and culture, I’ve got a message for you this holiday season that I hope you will share with others.

It wasn’t because there was any particular pride in a culture that was behind our start. But, rather, the opposite.

We started in 2015 to give folks a platform to cultivate a sense of understanding, empathy, and love by experiencing them all—led by our local partners and HUNDREDS of member travel enthusiasts in Austin, NYC, DC and growing.

(If you haven’t already subscribed your email to get our event invites, you can here: www.mezzeculture.co/subscribe)

As we start the holiday season, in a time when our immigrants and their cultures have been alienated when they should be embraced for the perspective they have brought for over two hundred years, this message of LOVE is important.

Because in actuality, culture is a beautiful illusion.

Why? Because it is something that we perceive with our senses so that it’s only a reflection of people and places.

The smell and taste of food.

The sights of travel.

The sound of music.

Think about it. It’s all just a reflection of the person or people who created it and the place that adopted it.

There are nearly 200 nations but over 6,000 organized cultures worldwide. In the U.S., we are fortunate to get a “taste” for nearly all of them, I’m willing to bet.

How often do we really get to know the person or place intimately—in a way that’s beyond our own perception of it? I mean, how often do we perceive with our mind and heart what culture is trying to tell us about people and places through these reflections of food, drink, music and more.

When we read a book, a blog or watch a show about a country, its great, but we still absorb and translate it OUR way because it’s handed down through a secondary resource, whether that be a blogger or a friend.

But what if we learned from the source? From someone who is a first hand expert in the culture.

That’s why we see international restaurant owners, boutique curators, musicians, and other artisans in our backyards and their craft as the ultimate resource at MezzeCulture—immigrants and representatives of the world at our fingertips.

We are a community of travel enthusiasts who come together at our pop up events hosted by these local partners who share a unique cultural narrative through their craft—to encourage those half of Americans without passports to travel and those who have to do more of it.

If you choose to subscribe, I thank YOU from my heart for being a part of US.

If you identify with our message this holiday season, please do share us with your friends in Austin, Washington DC, New York, and even Miami, Houston, and San Francisco where we will grow soon.

And please don’t forget to subscribe your email for invites to our exclusive events and check out our upcoming list.

www.mezzeculture.co/subscribe

With love,

Fatin

Founder, MezzeCulture

MezzeCulture is the sister event company of Mezze Weekly Magazine.

Italian Restaurant ACQUA at Peck Slip Brings Naples and Fresh Seafood to the Historic NYC Neighborhood

When Chef Giuseppe Marrone opened his restaurant on the South Street Seaport neighborhood at the cobblestone corner of Peck Slip and Water Street, he wanted his patrons to feel like they were in southern Italy. ACQUA at Peck Slip is an authentic Italian restaurant, and its roots run deep not just because of its location among moored sailing ships near the 17 Pier, but because of chef Giuseppe’s desire to share the story of Naples through every family recipe and dish.

Born and raised in Naples, growing up he was inspired to become a chef by his home, family values, and the cooking of his mother and grandmother. He learned the mastery of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine while training at the renowned Hotel Institute of Angelo Celitti in Formia, a Mediterranean coastal city between Rome and Naples. All the dishes at the restaurant are from his hometown of Naples and have a heavy coastal influence.

Acqua at Peck Slip | Facebook

“[The food at ACQUA] is based on my roots always, because I think it’s more authentic when you cook the same way as your grandmother used to cook,” he tells us. In fact, you’ll find Chef Giuseppe at the local fish markets 3-4 times a week to bring in the freshest catch to serve daily to his guests. Seafood is significant to the city of Naples, where seafood from the Mediterranean Sea is considered by many, like Chef Giuseppe, to be the best in the world and he takes his fish seriously. “When we’re out then that’s it—I don’t like to put dish in the freezer because it tastes different the next day. When the portion is finished then it’s done.”

AQUA hosts a monthly dinner tour through the traditions of Naples. Learn more and RSVP»

Lobster and clam lovers, for example, can even enjoy the actual taste of the Mediterranean Sea itself—Chef imports these fresh Langoustines to give his patrons a different and truer taste of Italian seafood than is offered in the U.S. “We give our customers a little touch of the Mediterranean, offering lots of seafood as you’d get in the coastal restaurants and fish bars in Italy,” he says. Using his local suppliers in the New York City area, he shops by what’s available.

NYC Italian Food | Linguine Alle Vongole at Acqua at Peck Slip
Linguine Alle Vongole at Acqua | Facebook

“Maybe one day it’s a nice branzino or grouper, and sometimes we fight at the fish market, so I go early to be one of the first to get the fish. If you go after 6 or 7 A.M., you’ll only get what’s left. I go at 4 A.M. in the morning to the fish market in the Bronx, sometimes once or twice a day,” he tells us. Since the restaurant does not use tjr courseness of a freezer to store left over fish, patrons can be assured that their catch is fresh and delicately refrigerated. Most people understand when he’s out of something. If you go to a restaurant that serves the same fish day in and day out, Chef’s advice is that it’s probably not fresh because it’s extremely difficult to do and acquire from the markets.

Among favorite dishes include spaghetti with clams, crab cakes—spaghetti with any seafood really, he says. Even the popular seafood tartar uses a fresh catch he gets daily. Chef tells us sometimes it’s yellow tune, sometimes salmon, and sometimes grouper, but it’s always fresh. “Yesterday, I wanted to make tuna tartar and I went to the market but didn’t like the selection, so I didn’t buy it.”

NYC Italian Food - Tartara di Salmone at Acqua at Peck Slip
Tartara di Salmone at Acqua at Peck Slip | Facebook

Branzino is also a popular item on the menu, but if it’s not fresh when Chef heads to pick it up he won’t serve it simply because he values his customers. “I want my customers always happy, and my point of view is I want them to always come back. I just want them to enjoy the experience and receive good service. They need to feel like they’re in Italy, and on the Mediterranean where they can trust real Italian authenticity,” he explains. Most of his customers have never been to Italy, so he feels that being particular about what he serves is just part of the responsibility of truly representing what is culturally expected in Naples.

NYC Italian Food | Mediterranean Sea Bass - Acqua at Peck Slip

Mediterranean Sea Bass at Acqua at Peck Slip | FacebookChef doesn’t just carefully peruse the fish market, even his produce is fresh. In fact, take a visit to ACQUA for lunch or dinner, and you’ll find much more than seafood, including Neapolitan-style pizzas, panini’s, and several pasta dishes served with chicken and beef, as well as an extensive dessert and wine list. The pasta is hand-crafted by the restaurant’s professional pasta master, Bernardo. Tagliatelle, papardelle, ravioli, gnocchi and spaghettoni are just some of the pasta shapes ACQUA makes from scratch every day.

He heads to farmer’s markets on Long Island or in New Jersey or Connecticut because they offer smaller batches, and higher quality and taste he says. “I like to the go the product markets and touch and see what they offer, because when you order from a distributor you don’t know what they’re going to send you. The quality of the product makes a huge difference in the dish, even if you’re the best chef in the world.” A customer favorite though—tomatoes imported from Vesuvio—the Mount Vesuvius Volcano. Stop in for a meal one day and ask him about it.

Italian Food NYC | Handmade Italian Pasta - Acqua at Peck Slip
The restaurant creates handmade Italian pastas daily | Facebook

It’s obvious that owning a restaurant means to Chef Giuseppe that it’s more important to be authentic—not just by offering good food, but food that tells the real story of Naples. He values talking with his guests and taking care of them, and so does his staff. “If someone remembers what I like to eat, what I drink, and all these things, that’s customary in Naples, in Italy. Our customers will come in and ask if particular servers are in because they trust them and they also know them. They feel comfortable. They feel at home.”

Famed NYC Paul & Jimmy’s Ristorante Hosts New Southeastern Italy Sunday Table Monthly Series

The Gramercy Park landmark has been serving traditional Italian cuisine since 1950, and became home to the Azzollini family when they arrived in NYC from Molfetta, Italy in 1955. Executive Chef Greg Azzollini’s desire to welcome guests to the restaurant as part of the family is the same as his chef father, Louis, and grandfather, who bought Paul and Jimmy’s Ristorante after being a waiter at the restaurant for several years.

Paul and Jimmy's Ristorante NYC
Paul and Jimmy’s Ristorante | Facebook

On Sunday, April 30th guests are invited to an exclusive lunch presented by MezzeCulture and hosted by the restaurant. Join Executive Chef Greg, together with his father Louis at the monthly series A Classic Sunday Lunch Table of Southeastern Italy, to discover a piece of Molfetta through family recipes and as part of the Azzolini family.  Molfetta is within the city of Bari in the Apulia region of Southeastern Italy.

MezzeCulture is Mezze Weekly’s event arm, which presents exclusive travel guide pop-up events in NYC, DC and Austin, where hundreds of local travel enthusiasts have discovered the beauty of the world through the immersive experiences in their backyard beyond books and blogs about countries. You can subscribe your email to receive exclusive invites to upcoming pop-up events in your city.

Paul and Jimmy's Ristorante NYC
Dishes at Paul and Jimmy’s Ristorante are made with family recipes from Molfetta, Italy | Facebook

During this exclusive event hosted by Paul and Jimmy’s Ristorante, Chef Greg will guide guests through a cultural narrative that highlights the regional culture of a traditional Italian Sunday table, and the story behind the dishes through an exclusive 3-course lunch prepared for the gathering. The event is a monthly series offered at 1:00pm on Sunday, April 30, May 28, and June 25.  

You can view the exclusive lunch menu or join the April 30th table, but hurry and grab your ticket because seats are limited. Your $5 online ticket includes entry to the event, (1) glass of Italian red or white wine, and access to the exclusive lunch. The lunch price is $25/per person exclusive of tax and gratuity. Tickets are not sold at the door.

Paul and Jimmy’s Ristorante is located at 123 E. 18th Street, New York, 10003

NYC’s Café Buunni Pours Ethiopia’s Spirit of Community in Washington Heights

For Elias, among the earliest memories of his Ethiopian childhood is being with the neighborhood children whose job was to call in all the locals for the daily coffee ceremony. In Ethiopia, the two hour ceremony isn’t just a time to drink coffee, but for people to catch up over not just one, but three distinct rounds of the brew. It was an important part of chatting, whether about the day’s news and politics or to share information—most importantly for Elias he knew the ceremony was the heart of building community in his town.

Today together with his wife Sarina, both big travelers, Elias Gurmu is the owner of Café Buunnii a shop featuring micro roasted Ethiopian coffee in NYC’s Washington Heights neighborhood. He is also getting ready to open Buunni’s second location in Riverdale. Drawing on his influences as a child, Elias took on his first job after high school as a barista, Sarina shared. She continued to say that today coffee is still a part of his daily life and an important way to highlight the positive aspects of Ethiopian culture beyond the focus of contemporary culture like famine or poverty or other topics that try to overshadow the country’s inner beauty.

ethiopian-coffee-cafe-buunni
Cafe Buunni in NYC’s Washington Heights serves micro brewed Ethiopian coffee.

Growing up in a heavy Southeast Asian tea culture in Nepal and south Asia, Sarina’s experiences in Ethiopia were her introduction to coffee’s place in daily life. Not only how much time goes into the farming—but its where she also developed an appreciation for its preparation.

“The name, Buunni, is based on the Amharic word for Buuna, which is the Ethiopian word for coffee and Buunni is both a playoff and representative of the brown color of the coffee bean,” said Sarina. Connecting both the country and the authentic coffee culture of Ethiopia was important in the concept for the shop.

Two very Ethiopian beverages can be found on the menu at Café Buunni, including the Buuna, which is served in a little glass exactly as you’d find in a café in Ethiopia. Second, the Makiyato, or Macchiato as its commonly known, is also served in glass after being layered beautifully with milk, although familiar its portion is smaller than what you may be used to in the U.S.

buuna macchiato makiyato ethiopian coffee Cafe Buunni
A cup of Buuna and Makiyato (Macchiato) are both part of Ethiopia’s strong coffee culture.

Both coffee beverages are very pervasive in Ethiopia, especially in rural areas—in fact, for the shop it’s often that patrons will stop in for a makiyato and say, ‘This is just how I remember,’ or they’ll have the Buuna and comment on how they haven’t had it in years, Sarina described the conversations. “It can quickly transport you to a place, and for people who haven’t been to Ethiopia those two drinks can really bring it home.”

The shop uses the Ethiopian Arabica bean, including the Sidamo, Yirgacheffe, and Harrar coffee beans which come directly from Ethiopia. Coffee first originated in the country, which features locally differentiated types of beans with unique flavor profiles depending on the soil and altitude. Sarina explained to us that the varietals are from different regions and the names of the coffees are named for the places they originate from.

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Cafe Buunni serves Ethiopian Buuna in a traditional cup.

“It’s specialty coffee and very much rooted in the culture of the country. In many places, there’s large scale farming, but a lot of people have coffee growing in their backyards and drink and share it as a family, so it’s very much a local tradition.” In a global city like New York the universal concept of the culture can be easily understood.

One thing you won’t find at Café Buunni is rush hour. “The experience [at Buunni] is not a fast, quick jolt to get you started; it’s slow coffee,” Sarina laughed. While it’s not to-go coffee New Yorkers expect in their jaunt through the work day, the coffee shop does strike a balance between a true Ethiopian coffee experience and the New York City lifestyle. “We really try to stress the aspect of community, and coffee being a vehicle for getting the community together—for quality time with friends and family.”

team-at-cafe-buunni
Elias (far right) with team members of Cafe Buunni

“The café doesn’t try to overtly be Ethiopian, but there are elements we use [like] the traditional Ethiopian coffee pot, the art, and the sound of the machines we use. It’s a blend—it’s an Ethiopian experience in a way that’s translated to this context [of New York City].” Buunni Coffee is very much a NYC café, but it’s infused with the values of what Ethiopian culture brings to the city.

In a sense, the shop sort of serves like a bridge to a broader sense of the city’s local culture—rather than walking in and saying it looks like Ethiopia, patrons walk into something familiar that they know, like familiar décor and baked goods, and then take a step further to meet something new that they didn’t know.

buunni-coffee-nyc-washington-heights
Cafe Buunni supports local suppliers of its familiar baked goods.

The café hosts both people who come in to take coffee to-go, but the defining feeling of the space is for those patrons who like to linger, to sit, to sip and to chat. The couple’s value for a sense of community is also a part of the reason they deliberately source and support local businesses in their shop—from displaying handmade scarves from a women’s co-op in Ethiopia’s capital and largest city Addis Ababa, to a rotation of local art including Ethiopian artists, and even the chocolate they get from a local supplier to use in their coffee drinks.

cafe-buunni-nyc
The cafe regularly features a rotation of local art and Ethiopian co-op wares to support local community.

While ceremonies for groups aren’t possible in the shop due to its size, the couple does perform coffee ceremonies by request at offices or in people’s homes—a way to share the experience with others. But that doesn’t diminish the defining qualities of the coffee shop, especially for Elias whose personal story and shop embodies the cultural aspects and hospitality of how the coffee is traditionally served.

“He’s very much a part of the [Ethiopian] story, and people like to talk to him about the coffee and the coffee culture, for recommendations and to try something new,” Sarina told us about her husband. “He very much enjoys that and making drinks for people.”

Attention to people is at the center of their operation at Buunni, especially the people in the process of getting coffee-to-cup. The couple pays close attention to the fact that coffee farmers in Ethiopia run small farms and there are a lot of people involved in growing the coffee. “There is a lot of respect for the people who are growing this very special coffee,” Sarina explained.

ethiopian-coffee-shop-nyc-buunni

“All of the passion that goes into the coffee—it’s essentially one coffee cherry that’s picked at a time, and that takes passion, time, love, and expertise.” The couple tries to always, even when training their staff, be extremely mindful that coffee is not just the commodity contemporary culture makes it out to be.

“A lot of people will comment that there is a self-respect and pride in Ethiopia—in the culture, the history, and the quality of things like the coffee. But it’s not an arrogant pride, but rather the satisfaction of being proud of something that you’ve cultivated to able to share.” In other words, it’s that kind of pride that communicates the value of Ethiopian coffee culture, and not for the farmers themselves but rather so that they can pass it down to others. It’s about community.

For more information on Café Buunni, visit www.buunnicoffee.com.

11 Japanese Kaiten Sushi Destinations Making Heads Spin Near You

Recently, I learned that Kaiten style sushi – think: the automated sushi-train – was created in the 1950’s. Immediately, I recalled a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant Wasabi in Northern Virginia’s Tysons Corner Mall when we were living nearby. It was a first-floor fixture right under the escalator—so that as my feet moved up, my eyes moved side-to-side as I watched the dizzying, captivating and beautiful belt in motion!

Kaiten style sushi (aka, Kaiten-zushi), known for its low cost but satisfying (and fun!) fish-fare, is served off the moving belt and is usually available ‘all-you-can-eat’ for a set fee, or the color or type of plate determines the price. Want to give it a try locally? There are several other US sushi bars and restaurants offering a similarly authentic Japanese Kaiten sushi experience in NYC, Miami, Houston, Austin, and San Francisco.

Here are some ideas for enjoying Kaiten style sushi near you.

NEW YORK CITY

East Japanese Restaurant
366 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10016
212.889.2326
Website

Kido Sushi
90-15 Queens Blvd.
Queens Center Mall
Elmhurst, NY 11373
718.271.3688
Website

WASHINGTON DC

Wasabi
Tysons Corner Center
1961 Chain Bridge Rd.
McLean, VA 22102
703.388.0646
Website
@SushiByWasabi

Matuba Japanese Restaurant
4918 Cordell Avenue
Bethesda, MD
301.652.7449
Website
@MatubaSushi

MIAMI

Katana Japanese Restaurant
920 71st Street
Miami Beach, FL 33141
305.864.0037
Website

Blue Ginger
15791 Sheridan Street
Southwest Ranches, FL 33331
954.680.9998
Website

HOUSTON

Sushi Choo Choo
1675 S. Voss Road
Houston, TX 77063
713.783.1368
Website                                 

Sushi Sakura Express
1014 Wirt Road
Houston, TX 77055
713.263.7552
Website

AUSTIN

Korean Garden
6519 N. Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78752
512.302.3149
Website                                         

          

SAN FRANCISCO

Katana Japanese Restaurant
920 71st Street
Miami Beach, FL 33141
305.864.0037
Website

Blue Ginger
15791 Sheridan Street
Southwest Ranches, FL 33331
954.680.9998
Website

Go out and try this fun sushi soon. In the meantime, be inspired by the Kaiten sushi eye candy that Erika Owen features in her article which highlights successful Japanese restaurant Muten Kuraszushi in Tokyo. 

P.s., the image is courtesy of rakratchada torsap at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.