Ellen Swandiak, Author at HOBNOB Magazine

Author Archive

Lisbon: Street Scenes and Scenic Spots

Posted on: November 15th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Here are some snippets of Lisbon life, taken over 5 days in mid-October. We were lucky to have nice weather, which added to the ambiance and beauty of the city. If traveling to Lisbon, be forewarned that sidewalks throughout the city are done in a stone mosaic, and many streets are cobblestone, providing a wobbly, tricky surface to navigate. Good shoes are not only suggested, but required.

Lisbon is also a city of extreme topography. And due to the terrain, it’s not always direct to get from one area to another. Example: we were taking a taxi which had been arranged by our hotel, and were heading southwest of Avenida da Liberdade. So when the driver made a right to head north on the Avenida, we thought he was either mistaken as to our destination, or trying to rip us off, so we directed him back to the hotel. The concierge showed me the Google map which indicated the most bizarre routes, one north, one south, that were anything but simple and direct. Lesson learned!

See more Lisbon DINING and DRINKING from Hobnob’s trip.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Parque Eduardo VII sits at the top of the Avenida da Liberdade, a street that is an uphill climb all the way, and the park continues the incline with a duet of pedestrian streets that move up the center. These photos were taken off the beaten path, up the hill past the grassy area inside the park.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

At the top end of Parque Eduardo VII is just one of the restaurants (Praia no Parque) in Lisbon that mix into fantastic locales in the city, often with great views.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Casa-Museu Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves: This former mansion beautifully designed in Art Nouveau style now houses a collection of over 3000 artifacts. Period rooms are open to roaming along with traditional displays.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Casa-Museu Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves: Part of the exhibit which featured a collection of elaborate fans made with ivory, lace, and some with exotic ostrich feathers used for seduction. We loved the Fan Language dictionary that accompanied the pieces. Right, an exquisite statue.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Casa-Museu Dr. Anastácio Gonçalves: This room held cases of antique jewelry and decorative boxes, but I thought the room itself was spectacular.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Scenes along the Avenida da Liberdade.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

The Avenida da Liberdade is tree-lined with a main roadway in the center and this section dividing the pedestrian section with stores. The water features were designed to represent the two major rivers of Portugal the Tagus and the Douro. Right, one block east of Avenida da Liberdade was a pedestrian street where The One Hotel Palacio was located. These scooters were available to rent and seemed to be all over the city.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

One of the stunning Art Nouveau shops in Chiado, where the sidewalks were even more elaborate. Right, located a few blocks below the Avenida da Liberdade’s end is a square whose sidewalks match the ones in Rio de Janeiro. Praça Dom Pedro IV, aka Rossio, has been one of Lisbon’s main squares since the Middle Ages.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Another Art Nouveau shop in Chiado that caught my eye.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

En route to the Principe Real neighborhood was a climb from the Avenida da Liberdade involving steep streets and stairs. Right, a graffiti-covered house along the way.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

The view from the top of the staircase. Right, more graffiti, this one of a playful nature.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Principe Real: The Botanical Garden of Lisbon felt straight out of Jurassic Park with its oversized palms, ferns, and pre-historic looking craggy trees and cacti of all kinds.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Principe Real: The Botanical Garden of Lisbon’s bamboo section.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Principe Real: I was in the market for some linen napkins, as the quality in Lisbon was ultra fine. So, when we came upon this store, I felt I hit the jackpot. I bought 10 napkins, and when I asked this gentleman when the store opened he took that as a cue to tell the entire story of the shop, which was fascinating. Basically, his mother owned the property next door, and in the mid 1960s this wonderful spot became available. His mother, an expert embroiderer started this business, which at one time employed over 385 workers. One day the shop was visited by L’Oreal’s heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who fell in love with the workmanship and quality and purchased a trousseau for her daughter. She personally spread the word to fellow luminaries, such as Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace, and to this day, this little shop supplies custom embroidered collections to royalty and the 1% around the globe. Now the shop employs 39 embroiderers, who carry on the legacy. Principe Real Enxovais

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Principe Real: A funky jitney for hire. Right, a look into A Cevicheria. If we had more time, I would have loved to dine here.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Principe Real: Coyo Taco, a few shops down beckoned as well.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Principe Real: The extravagant and enormous 100-year old tree with metal supports, in the park. When we walked through here there was a couple with guitars playing lilting Brazilian songs.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

This steep incline was not unusual in this city of hills. It must be quite a challenge to build on this base.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Baixa: Along the tourist area which was lush with shops, hotels, and restaurants in the center of the pedestrian street, Rua Augusta. Right, the Praça Dom Pedro IV is bordered by Teatro Nacional D. Maria II where you can see dance shows.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Baixa: Scenes from the pedestrian shopping area which centers on Rua Augusta and the streets parallel, left and right and the side streets. Left is a store that sells only cans of smoked eel. Right, shops and outdoor eating.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Baixa: The bottom of the pedestrian area is marked by a stunning arch, the Arco da Rua Augusta, which leads to an enormous open square, the Praça do Comércio. The monument in the center had two mysterious scenes, which I could not decipher, nor find out what they depicted. One side showed a baby elephant trampling a man, the other side had a horse doing the same.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Parque das Nações at low tide, and a scooter that has seen better days. Right, a warning in Belem for bicyclist to watch for cars.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: the Jerónimos Monastery entryway’s fountain was very attractive to birds.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: Inside the Jerónimos Monastery. The scale of this and intricate detail was breathtaking.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) is a marvel. Note: it is closed on Tuesday (the day we went).

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) on the steps. Right, under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: The main street in this area was divided the walkway next to the river from museums and such on the other side with 4 lanes of traffic and train tracks in the center. Staircases were the only way to get across, and were few and far between.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: Garagem Sul, part of the Belém Cultural Center, focuses on architecture and had a fantastic exhibit that showed a timeline telling the story of how mankind went from a hunting gathering society, to farming, to cities, to the mess that the planet is in now—and some solutions.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: Garagem Sul, the space was a former parking garage, and their exhibit was hung simply.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Belem: Upstairs from the exhibit, the Belém Cultural Center. There was a nice restaurant up here and benches to hang out on around a garden.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

Seen walking through the Alcântara neighborhood, on the hunt for LX Factory, seen in the photo on the right.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

LX Factory: a complex of shops, restaurants, all with extra-arty touches throughout.

hobnobmag Lisbon Street Scenes and Scenic spots

LX Factory: Three barbers pose for me at the Barber Factory.

Fall Cocktails Bar Hugo NYC

Posted on: November 5th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

On a recent visit to Bar Hugo, located in Hotel Hugo in the west part of Soho, I was treated to a tri-tasting of cocktails by house mixologist, Kevin Montaño. Fortunately, I was able to persuade him to share the recipes for those who want to bring a bit of mixology genius into their homes. (see more photos of the winter rooftop and city views here)

These three cocktails cover all the bases. First, the Poached Pear blends a rich cognac and rye with just a touch of sweetness and pear. Would make a great opener for Thanksgiving pre-dinner festivities. For those into a more herbal concoction, the Evergreen’s addition of dill at the top adds a subtle touch to its fruity aromas. A wonderful offering for the sophisticates in your life. Lastly, for a wonderful dessert-style cocktail, try the Winter’s Eve, a complex and sensational mix of spiced rum, coconut, and and coffee-infused cognac which comes topped with cinnamon and shaved Mexican chocolate.

hobnobmag Cocktails Bar Hugo NYC


1 sage leaf ​(add into the shaker)
1.5 oz Hennessy Cognac
.5 oz Dickel Rye
.75 oz pear puree
.5 oz simple syrup
.25 oz Cointreau Liqueur
.5 oz fresh lemon juice

garnish: fresh sage leaf

Build drink in a cocktail shaker, shake, and double strain into rocks glass. Garnish with fresh sage leaf.

hobnobmag Cocktails Bar Hugo NYC



1.5 CUPS water
1.5 CUPS clover honey
2 grapefruits, cut into quarters

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Turn off heat. Add the honey and stir continuously until completely dissolved, then squeeze grapefruit sections and toss into the mix. Allow to cool, remove grapefruit. Store in refrigerator in a sealed container. Makes 3 cups for 24 cocktails.


2 dashes cucumber bitters
small bunch of dill
15 blueberries

2 oz Hendricks Gin
.75 Combier Pamplemousse Liqueur
.25 Green Chartreuse Liqueur
.75 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Grapefruit Honey syrup

Add bitters, dill and blueberries into a cocktail shaker, muddle.  Add rest of ingredients to the shaker, shake, and double strain into highball glass. Garnish with a fresh sprig of ​dill plus 2-3 blueberries.

hobnobmag Cocktails Bar Hugo NYC



Chocolate Abuelita
cinnamon sticks

“Chocolate Abuelita” is a very traditional chocolate from Mexico, the name translates to grandma’s chocolate. Shave both products and mix equal parts, 1:1, in a small bowl.


1.5 CUPS water

1.5 CUPS brown sugar
1/4 CUP golden raisins
1/4 CUP raisins
1/4 CUP cardamom

In a saucepan, bring water and brown sugar to a boil. Add the sugar and raisins. Stir continuously until sugar is completely dissolved. Add cardamom, lower heat and simmer for 10 min. Allow to cool. Strain and store in refrigerator in a sealed container. Makes about 3 cups for 24 cocktails.


2 dashes chocolate bitters
2 oz Oakheart Spiced Rum
.75 oz Cardamom Syrup
.5 oz coconut purée
.25 oz Grand Marnier Liqueur
.25 Grand Brulot Coffee Infused Cognac

garnish: Winter’s Eve Dust

Build in cocktail shaker, shake, and double strain into rocks glass or glass coffee mug. Sprinkle the top with Winter’s Eve Dust.

Bar Hugo at the Hugo Hotel Soho, 525 Greenwich St (betw Spring/Vandam St)

NYC Winter Rooftop: Bar Hugo

Posted on: November 5th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Featuring dramatic views of the Hudson River (seen in the photo above), and downtown icons like the Freedom Tower and 56 Leonard, the lower half of Hotel Hugo’s rooftop duplex bar remains open throughout the winter. A wall of glass faces the river, and small lounge areas are backed by the city skyline. Best of all, you will enjoy hand-crafted cocktails created by house-mixologist Kevin Montaño, who really has a special talent for unique tastes and perfectly-balanced drinks. (see more on the cocktails plus the recipes at this link)

hobnobmag Bar Hugo NYC winter rooftop kevin Montaño mixologist and cocktail

Mixologist Kevin Montaño. Right, Winter’s Eve, a dessert-style cocktail a complex and sensational mix of spiced rum, coconut, and and coffee-infused cognac which comes topped with cinnamon and shaved Mexican chocolate. I think this is one of my favorite dessert cocktails ever, in that it is not that sweet, yet full of wonderful nuances.

hobnobmag Bar Hugo NYC winter rooftop art deco bar

A small art-deco style bar greets you as you exit the elevator. Right, the Poached Pear cocktail. (see the recipe here)

hobnobmag Bar Hugo NYC winter rooftop cocktail EVERGREEN

Evergreen, an herbal mix whose sprig of dill adds to the drinking experience. Right, the lounge area which faces the river. Happy Hour is Monday through Friday, from 5pm – 8pm with select beer for $6, house wine $8, well-mixed drinks $9, and specialty cocktails $10.

Bar Hugo just before sunset, sunglasses were in order.

Comfy couches abound. Right, just before sunset it was necessary to don sunglasses, the light in here was incredible.

sunset seen from Bar Hugo with river view in NYC

Sunset, the magic hour, gave a beautiful glow to the room before all the city lights come on.

Cafe Hugo in the Hugo Hotel has a skylit green room.

Almost ready: Downstairs, off the lobby, a new restaurant awaits the final touches and liquor license. Cafe Hugo offers a small outdoor area in front will be ready once weather permits, while a skylit area covered in greenery makes for a perfect party space.

Cafe Hugo's polished wood surfaces and mid-century style.

The mid-century style and ultra shiny wood imported from Italy make it seem as if you were on a private yacht. Cafe Hugo now serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and coffee with casual, seasonal farm-to-table fare.

Bar Hugo at the Hugo Hotel Soho, 525 Greenwich St (betw Spring/Vandam St)

Happy Haunting: Spooky New York Halloween Events

Posted on: October 24th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Our list of must-attend New York Halloween celebrations are worthy of consideration. They have the potential to become one of those epic nights you talk about for years to come. Don’t wait to the last minute, get in on one of these now.


Merchant’s House Museum is holding their yearly Spirited Events. This intact nineteenth-century family home in Noho is a must-visit on any day, however Halloween makes this home extra chilling. You will get a front row seat to a 19th Century Death and Mourning reenactment, funeral included. In our humble opinion it is one of the most educational and morbid choices, realizing Halloween is about more than just costumes.

Merchant’s House Museum, 29 e 4th St (betw Bowery/Lafayette St)


Mr. Purple’s Temple of Horror promises a week long (24th to 31st) spookily transformed rooftop where you can enjoy specialty cocktails and a lounge-like atmosphere. The views alone are worth your visit to Mr. Purple, however a DJ spinning tunes from Thursday to Saturday makes this venue the funnest and lightest draw for your Halloween fun.

Mr. Purple, 180 Orchard St (betw Houston/Stanton), 15th Fl


Taco Electrico is hosting their annual bingo contest on October 30th, prizes and specialty cocktail, Spooky Glitter Lips, included. The Drag Bingo party will be hosted by a fellow bingo lover, Linda Loves Bingo. Expect a color environment, filled with screams, laughs and lots of competition.

Taco Electrico, 201 Park Ave S (entrance on 17th St, betw Park/ Irving), downstairs


Coco J’Adore’s Libertine Halloween is serving up A Devilish Dinner Party. For anything-could-happen type of vibe, visit Coco’s salon of well-executed happenings for both dinner and brunch. October 30th Royal Libertine Soiree gives you access to surprising live performances, DJ, seances and bewitching cocktails.

Coco J’Adore, 1 Little West 12th (betw Greenwich St/9th Ave)

Welcome to #TheHobnob: What’s Your Favorite Hidden Secret of New York?

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

The first party was a glowing success. Guests were hand-picked and invited to this new-take-on-a -salon in order to mingle and exchange ideas with other tastemakers from a variety of industries. Ellen Swandiak is not only the Editor-in-Chief  of Hobnob Magazine, but also the author of “500 Hidden Secrets of New York.” Like all her other parties, she assigned a theme—hidden secrets—thus influencing the menu which featured a bevy of secret ingredients. Guests were also served specialty cocktails by Hendrick’s Gin Ambassador, Erik Andersson (see the recipe for a fab punch) and when the guests got nice and warmed up, she asked them to share their favorite secret and or hidden spot in New York. Watch the video to get all the details, and see the links for each place below.

First the host, Ellen Swandiak, shared her own favorite place for indulging in Eastern European treats, such as kielbasa. The East Village Meat Market (also known as J. Baczynsky) was opened by Julian Baczynsky in 1970. It was his slice of the American dream, and remains an East Village institution (see the recipe of Kielbasa canapes that were served at the party at this link)

Melody Mudd is a photographer specializing in covering the world of burlesque. Melody loves the Grand Central Terminal. What makes it special for her is the timeless atmosphere, and it is where her husband proposed. Grand Central Terminal holds a New York secret in its architecture. When you stand near the dining concourse arches there is a “whispering wall”. To test it out stand at the tunnel’s arched entry way, face the corner and whisper a secret. Have a friend stand at the other corner of the arch. They should be able to hear your secret loud and clear.

Tijana Ibrahimovic is a Journalist and TV Personality, who founded Tijana Style. Her secret place is a hidden bar called Please Don’t Tell. It is a speak easy located in an unassuming hot dog shop on St. Mark’s Place. The way to enter PDT is by locating a phone booth and talking to the host. Crif Dog itself is an excellent place to spend your time while you are waiting. Besides delicious hot dog options, they have games and a see-and-be-seen type of atmosphere.

Dean Holdiman, Interior & Garden Designer has a special affection for a place called Turk’s Inn, in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This spot, unbelievably, was transported from Wisconsen, and now graces Brooklyn’s streets. Be amazed by its colorful and whimsical 1930s ode to foreign lands.

Jade Dressler owns a creative agency and is the author of “Immortal Beloved”, an illustration book for adults. She shared information on a place located in New York’s Upper East Side, right on the Museum Mile. While not necessarily secret, Cafe Sabarsky is worth a special trip. It is located inside the Neue Galerie, so you won’t find it off the street. It is named after the Galerie’s co-founder, Serge Sabarsky. What makes it unique is its old fashioned Austrian atmosphere and excellent food. You must try their Viennese pastries.

The expert perfumer and owner of Aroma M Perfumes, Maria McElroy, shared a place in Staten Island called the Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. What makes it hidden and special is the location. It is one of the lesser known places to visit in New York, and therefore not as crowded. Inside you will find a Chinese Scholar Garden, of which there are only two in United States.

Bradley Spinelli is the author of the novels “The Painted Gun” and “Killing Williamsburg” (if you are a fan or long-term resident of Williamsburg, you will love how Bradley has captured it in it’s pre-heyday glory in this novel). Bradley was a bit cagey in his recommendation, but if you know secret bars you have probably already guessed where this cool spot is in the East Village. Check out his other ode to NYC, as writer/director of the film #AnnieHall, which the Village Voice called “fascinating.”

Prasida Newman is a writer whose passion for scents led her to Fueguia 1833 Soho. It is a high quality perfume shop that sells naturally-derived scents in engraved crystal bottles. Fueguia 1833 pride themselves on being pioneers in sustainable fragrance production.

Bob Hennessy is a retired L’Oreal executive, and current bon vivant. He shared his latest New York discovery, which occurred while entertaining relatives from out of town. Bob experienced the New York Media Boat Tour. What makes it unique is the type of boat you board, meant for photographers and other media—which is more like a raft than boat. The military style boat makes this tour a high-speed adventure, with an added bonus of seeing New York’s unique vantage points.

Joseph Heidecker is an accomplished New York artist known for his unique eye and a sense of humor in his embellished pieces. Joseph has works in the permanent collections of the George Eastman Kodak House Museum, Cindy Sherman, Joel Peter-Witkin, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Kyle Harding DeWoody, Uma Thurman, Benicio Del Toro and other private collections. As an artist he sees New York in a way that others might ignore and that is how he found the Mmuseumm on Cortland Alley. The show is always a surprise. It is open on weekends only and by appointment during the week. If you happen to be walking by, take a peek in the window and see if its something that strikes your fancy.

VIDEO by Danny Bellini, a Writer & Content Producer in Brooklyn, New York with experience on all sides of the camera. dannybellini.com

Some photos from #TheHobnob: Hidden Secrets of New York:

Party guests pose in front of Hobnob Magazine's photo op area.

Party guests pose in front of Hobnob Magazine's photo op area.

Party guests pose in front of Hobnob Magazine's photo op area.

Party guests pose in front of Hobnob Magazine's photo op area.

Party guests pose in front of Hobnob Magazine's photo op area.

Party guests pose in front of Hobnob Magazine's photo op area.

Gotta Have Friends Party Music Mix

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

This playlist was put together as a group effort. When guests rsvp’d yes to the party invitation, I asked them to send me their favorite song, which got mixed into a selection of Brazilian dance numbers. The selections reflect the eclectic, yet typical, NYC crowd, who come from all walks of life, from all around the globe. We tied this mix to our Hidden Secrets party theme. The secret: guess whose song is who’s favorite. (The giveaway would be that person on the dance floor or singing along loudly!) With this inspiration in mind, I encourage you to set up your own playlist with all your personal friends’ favorite tunes to unite the your guests.

The mood: It’s a lively, upbeat party mix, with lots of opportunities for dancing. See more of Hobnob’s playlists on Spotify at this link, that go with our other party themes (scroll down to see all the party themes).


Holiday Punch Recipe with Hendricks: Chronic Munrosis no.3

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Punch should be made on the day of the event. This recipe is a variation of Chronic Munrosis No.2, which was invented in Byblos, Brisbane by Samuel Tripet. This variation is by Erik Andersson (you can see more of his fantastic cocktails at this link).

Chronic Munrosis no.3

makes about 2.5 quarts, roughly 16 five oz. glasses

750ml bottle Hendrick’s Gin
15 oz apple juice
15 oz mandarin juice
25 oz rooibos tea, brewed and cooled
5 oz lemon juice
6 oz hibiscus syrup
2 apples, cut into wedges
6 cinnamon sticks
4 star anise
4 rosemary sprigs
10 oz water

Add all ingredients but the gin in a pot. Let marinate for 1 hour.

If heating, remove apples, and save for garnish.

To serve: Pour 3.5 oz of this mix into a glass and add 1.5 oz of Hendrick’s Gin. Garnish with an apple wedge.

Lure Guests to a Hidden Secret Party

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Hidden secrets: revealed. Here’s a party theme that focuses on hidden secrets—we asked everyone who came along to reveal the spot in the city that they love. (see the video from our party here) You know the place—the spot you almost don’t want everyone to know about, so it does not get overrun. Or, that leftover, old-school business that makes you smile whenever you walk by.

Here is some sample text to add to the invitation:


add date / time / address


Prepare your taste buds for something

new and exciting.

The party’s theme is SECRETS

and will feature tasty bites and drinks,

all incorporating a secret ingredient.

Please come with an

answer to this question:

What’s your favorite

hidden secret spot in NYC?


Roasted Delicata Squash Rings

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Sliced delicata makes a great presentation, with its flowery silhouette and striped edge. It also cooks a little more quickly than other squashes, and the fact that you can keep the skin on is a prep time-saver. The taste is delicately sweet, which works nicely with a nutty topping, and the tangy sweetness of the balsamic-honey-lime syrup. This is the first of the secret ingredients in Hobnob’s Hidden Secrets party menu.

The secret topping: shiso leaves which add a mint-basil burst and a great texture. They come in green and a dark purple for added vivid color to the dish.

The pearl couscous pulls the dish together and gives it weight, perfect for serving at a party—it will soak up the imbibing well. Tip: do not make the couscous the night before, it will be a sticky mess. I tried to get ahead of things, but had to make a fresh second batch the day of the party.


recipe step: cut delicata squash into rings


5 med delicata squash
3 TB grapeseed oil
1/4 tsp salt
pinch cayenne pepper

Slice each squash in half horizontally and scoop out seeds with a spoon, then cut into 1/2-inch slices, discarding the ends. In a large bowl, toss squash slices in oil, s + p.

On 3 parchment-lined baking sheets arrange slices in a single layer. Roast until lightly golden, about 40 min. (Flip slices around 20 min).

Depending on your oven size, switch order of trays from top to bottom during cooking. You’ll notice the top tray getting browner faster, so you might need to pull out one tray before the others.


3 CUPS water
2 CUPS pearl cous cous

Bring water to a boil, add couscous. Lower heat, simmer covered about 10 min. Let stand covered 2-3 min. Fluff with fork. Add a touch of olive oil to keep it from sticking together.


3 TB honey
1/2 CUP white balsamic vinegar
1 large lime, zested and juiced

In a small saucepan combine ingredients, bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for about 12 min till the mix becomes syrupy.

recipe step: roast delicata squash rings till brown on the edges, then slice into bite-size pieces.


roasted squash rings, cut into bite-size pieces
Balsamic-Honey-Lime syrup
1/3 CUP hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
shiso leaves, cut into ribbons

In a large bowl, drizzle squash with syrup, but don’t drown, then sprinkle with nuts, toss together. Top with shiso ribbons last, and mix again. Add a few more shiso leaves on the top for garnish.

Put out the big bowl for guests to serve themselves on a buffet, or to accommodate roving guests, supply small bowls (we used bamboo recycled bowls and spoons) and portion out for guests to grab and go.

recipe step: place roasted delicata squash into small eco-bowls for a grab and go party buffet.

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s party #22 Hidden Secrets at this link.

Roasted Grapes Crostini

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

If you love raisins, you will especially love this softer, fresh version. These roasted grapes would also work well with on the side of main courses: think duck, or pork. I even put them on the party buffet by themselves, for sweet snacking near the cheese board.

I included the ribbons of shiso as garnish, which add a nice look and mint-basil zing. I already had a bunch to make another recipe for this party: Roasted Delicata Squash.  And it worked in this recipe too, especially since it had flowered adding a sweet suggestion. 



1 LB seedless red grapes, removed from stem
1 TB olive oil
sprigs of thyme

In a large bowl, toss together. Spread out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for about 22 min, on the top shelf, or until grapes just begin to burst.


baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 containers (16 oz) fresh ricotta
garnish with red shiso leaves (optional)

With a small knife, spread about a 1 TB of ricotta over each slice, add 2 grapes, smashing them into the bread. Top with ribbons of red shiso if you are using.

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s party #22 Hidden Secrets at this link.

Kielbasa Canape With Mustard & Cornichon

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Since I grew up in a New York-Slovakian household, I developed a love for this pork product. If fresh bacon could have added garlic in it, this would be it.

If you have a local Eastern European market near you, then you must seek this out. In Manhattan, there is an East Village holdout which has exceptional varieties, some more smoked than others (and they ship). It’s your party hosting best friend in that it can be boiled, roasted, fried, or just sliced as is. Once you try, you will be hooked. If so, you can try Hobnob’s other recipe: Kielbasa & Tortellini Bites with Smoky Paprika Oil, which pairs the kielbasa with pasta and a smoky blast.

(Tip: Do not substitute the product called kielbasa that you may find in your local supermarket, it is nothing like the real thing.)

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s Hidden Secrets party menu.



1 ring of thick kielbasa


dijon mustard


Cut the kielbasa into 1/4-inch slices. Top a slice of baguette of roughly the same size. With a small spoon, add a dollop of mustard. Cut cornichon in half lengthwise so it sits flat atop the mustard.

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s party #22 Hidden Secrets at this link.

Unusual Flavored Cheeses For Cheese Board

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

As part of the menu for Hobnob’s Hidden Secrets party, I thought that a bevy of secret ingredients should be included. Truth be told, I discovered two of these cheeses at a neighbor’s gathering—it’s so nice to have foodie neighbors, we share meals on a regular basis, and there’s often a discovery in the mix.

Trader Joe’s cheddar with caramelized onions is a unique taste sensation, with extra tang and a creamy consistency. I got the Moliterno black truffle pecorino at Fairway, and it too adds a heady truffle punch, to a strong pecorino. Heaven. The onion and chive double gloucester fit right in with the crowd.

By the way, when putting cheese out, I like to slice half the slab to encourage guests to pick. I find if you don’t cut into it, people are reluctant to cut on their own. This makes it easier to partake.



2 Trader Joe’s Cheddar Cheese with Caramelized Onions

2 Cotswald Double Gloucester with Onion and Chives

2 Moliterno Black Truffle Pecorino

Set cheeses out on two separate boards, and fill with your choice of accompaniments:

-sprigs of grapes, cut into smaller clusters

-small bowl of olives (include a discard dish for pits nearby)

-small bowl of nuts

-fig jam

-crackers or slices of baguette

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s party #22 Hidden Secrets at this link.

Vegan Meat: Instant Plant-Based Party Bites

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

For The Hobnob Party launch (Hidden Secrets), we offered the collection of Fry Family Foods varieties, and got feedback from every guest. The secret: What people thought were burgers, chicken nuggets, mini schnitzels, breaded prawns, and falafel were not. It was a party hit, and most were surprised that these imposters were plant-based.

You must watch the heartwarming video, which tells the story of the brand. The Fry Family goal: to create high protein foods with great texture and consistency, and most importantly, to be enjoyable.

Vegan Meat Fry Family Foods at a party

Chickpea and Roasted Butternut Balls

Seasoned with fresh sage and cumin, and rolled in a light crumb, these golden bites could be served with your favorite dip. Ball-shaped bites are always welcome at a party. (see more ideas for serving various bites in Hobnob’s HAVE A BALL party menu)

Quinoa and Brown Rice Protein Burgers

Seasoned with rosemary, marjoram and sage, and rolled in a light gluten free crumb, just bake for 15 min, and serve. We got some potato buns, and cut the patties into four, to create the slider version of these, and topped with a True Made Foods Vegetable Ketchup.

Vegan Meat Fry Family Foods at a party

Soy and Flaxseed Schnitzels

Flavored with fresh cilantro, and lightly coated in a flax & sunflower seed crumb, we served these schnitzels on a dark-brown rye bread, on a swath of The Good Spoon Curry Vegan Mayo. (see other vegan mayo recipes here)

Rice Protein & Chia Nuggets

Resembling chicken nuggets, these little bites had a satisfying texture and taste.

Battered Prawn-Style Pieces

Somehow this item did not make it into Hobnob’s party photos (we were having too much fun!), but were passed around with a cocktail sauce dip, and did feel like a shrimp alternative. 

Every year, the Fry Family put up a chart on the website to show how many animal lives would be saved if someone had chosen a Fry’s Product instead of a meat product. Last year that number was 10,055 pigs, 647,737 chickens, 11,354 cows, and 3 million prawns. fryfamilyfood.com

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s party #22 Hidden Secrets at this link.

Cookies for Dessert

Posted on: October 23rd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

When throwing a party there are certain shortcuts that save time, yet still have maximum impact. When I plan a menu, aesthetics is one of the factors and portion size another. These cookies fit both requirements, and allow guests to have a little sampling of sweetness without over doing it. Cookie choices:

Hint-O-Mint Newman-O’s

Paul Newman’s founded company gives all its profits to charity, so that’s reason enough to support the brand, but the taste of these cookies shine, and are curiously addictive. newmansown.com

Loacker Quadratini

These wafer cookies were a childhood favorite, they literally melt in your mouth. What’s lovely about these is the mini portion. I chose my two go-to flavors for the Hobnob Hidden Secret party (Hazelnut and Coconut) but the line also includes: Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Vanilla, Lemon, Capuccino, Tiramisu, Espresso, Raspberry Yogurt, Blueberry Yogurt, Cocoa and Milk, and Matcha.

Loacker makes its cookies where air and water are pure and fresh, and nature is still intact: in the heart of the Dolomites. Now in its third family generation, the best natural ingredients continue the tradition founder Alfons Loacker started in his little patisserie in Bozen in 1925. loacker.com

photo right: For a easy party lighting trick, add a string of led blue lights to a counter. I got these at my local lighting store (which are dotted around Manhattan) who carry the longer lengths. Lighting and Beyond, 35 W 14th St (betw 5/6)

See more recipes with secret, surprise ingredients in Hobnob’s party #22 Hidden Secrets at this link.

Fashion Week NYC 2019: Best Places to Feast & Toast

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

It is that time of the year again. New York Fashion Week descends upon the city and we know you will need a few pitstops in between all the action. Here are Hobnob’s top three places to eat and drink. While they do have an undeniable french influence or roots, they happen to be all-New-York and all equally fabulous. See more details and our inside views at each link.

(photo at the top of this post) Visit Hôtel Plaza Athénée for the perfect hideaway. This luxurious and historic hotel provides you with solitude or opportunity for a private conversation. That makes it a rare gem on the long list of luxury places to dine. The food and cocktails are worthy of savoring for a lazy getaway-from-it-all lunch. Princess Diana was a frequent guest and when you visit, you will see exactly why. (see more)

hobnobmag Fashion Week NYC 2019 L'avenue

For last minute shopping and place to see-and-be-seen type of vibe, head to L’Avenue. L’Avenue has opened its only location outside of Paris and it has drawn quite the stylish crowd of fashionistas, Gigi Hadid had her birthday here, and power lunchers alike. The art-deco interior was designed by none other than architect Philippe Starck. (see more)

hobnobmag Fashion Week NYC 2019 Coco J'adore

One of the newest places you might find models and fashion week goers alike is Coco J’adore. Located in the meatpacking district makes it the ideal place to find yourself in the middle of it all. You never know who will stop by, or perform, at this in-style and fun place to have your delicious brunch or dinner. (see more)

Hôtel Plaza Athénée: A Refuge For Elegance

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Who To Take: Impress your in-laws with a brunch that allows for conversation or get away from it all and stop in for a solo cocktail.

Hôtel Plaza Athénée is one of the most well-known hotels in the world, but unless you are looking for it or taking a walk on 64th street, you might not be aware of its exact location. The quiet upper east side area allows for the hotel’s privacy and this makes it the ideal hideaway. The remarkable hotel has a rich history, serving visitors since 1984. One of their most frequent and notable guests was Diana, Princess of Wales. Famous for their tasteful interiors and boutique feel, this upscale location has longevity that never goes out of style.

Our editors attended an exclusive event that allowed for a tour of all the hotel offerings, including the esteemed Valmont Spa. The event served as a reveal to their hotel rooms and restaurant re-design and upgrades. Arabelle Restaurant’s surreal sky ceiling will have you mesmerized, while bites of food from a menu created by Chef Oliver Keegan will keep you coming back. In addition, we were treated to a variety of cocktails, made by a number of guest mixologists. Hendrick’s Gin offered up a taste of their limited-edition gin, the Midsummer Solstice in a trio of cocktails. (see our review and the recipes at this link)

When it comes to personal attention and warm hospitality, Hôtel Plaza Athénée makes the cut. The upscale experience starts at the red-domed awnings outside and continues throughout your entire visit. Whether you are a traveller staying the night or New Yorker visiting Bar Seine, your visit is sure to be extraordinary and never ever rushed.

(photo at the top of this post) Afternoon Tea has never looked so good, especially when served in a plush interior, filled with velvet and leather arm chairs in Bar Seine. The red theme throughout the hotel adds a nice punch.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Ellen Swandiak

New York’s Hôtel Plaza Athénée has a distinguishable vintage style and logo, as seen in the vintage telephone. Right, our Editorial Director, Ellen Swandiak, poses in front of the glitzy hotel entrance.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Taittinger Champagne

The front part of the lounge, outside the bar. Right, a 9-liter bottle of Taittinger champagne, a salmanazar, is being poured by a strapping, practiced expert in the hotel’s Bar Seine. I dare say that bottle was nearly done when we left.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Bar Seine lounge area

Comfortable red armchairs, classic art and a romantic atmosphere are Bar Seine‘s staple.

hobnobmag Paulina Kajankova at Plaza Athanee NYC cocktails

We did enjoy a couple of cocktails here. The Ginger Sparkler: Taittinger Champagne & Domaine de Canton Liquor, candied ginger and the Basil Lime Gimlet: Reyka Vodka, fresh basil & lime, simple syrup. Right, the doors to Bar Seine, being opened by our style editor Paulina Kajankova, lead to a private and opulent dining room where we enjoyed our lunch.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC cocktails watermelon salad

This apple martini was made with fresh squeezed apple juice. Right, the lunch menu allows you to chose from smaller plates of refreshing options, such as a Chilled Watermelon Salad, to more hearty choices, such as a Black Angus Burger.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Ellen Swandiak and a cauliflower appetizer

Editorial Director, Ellen Swandiak, enjoying Hôtel Plaza Athénée’s french-inspired dining area. Right, a delicious cauliflower appetizer served atop hummus with a curry mayo.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC desserts: cheesecake and saffron panna cotta

The deserts, the saffron panna cotta and a cheesecake with a lively berry topping and  were both welcomed and equally delicious.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC mixoklogist Erik Andersson

Erik Andersson created some stunning and tasty cocktails with Hendricks limited-edition gin, Midsummer Solstice. The cocktail, Ernest Bouquet, had a lively mix of Maraschino Liqueur, grapefruit and lime juice. (see the recipe at this link)

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Hendriks Midsummer Solstice

Edible flowers add beauty and taste to elevate the cocktails. Right, the Floral Impulse, a cool purple-y blue and refreshing concoction. (see the recipe at this link)

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Paulina Kajankova

Style editor Paulina Kajankova gets a lesson in whiskey from upstate New York: Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Arabelle Restaurant

Arabelle Restaurant is where breakfast is served and private events can be held. Right, a detail of the ethereal ceiling and embellished woodwork.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC Arabelle Restauratn

Heading into Arabelle Restaurant, so elegant.

hobnobmag Plaza Athanee NYC chocolates and fruit desserts

Intricate chocolates and fruity sweets at the event.

Hôtel Plaza Athénée, 37 East 64th St (betw Park & Madison Ave);

L’Avenue: A Must For Gastronomes and French Aficionados

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

Who To Take: Take your business partners for a power lunch or impress your girlfriend with your knowledge of food and design.

If you have a real affinity for all things french – the opening of L’Avenue’s second location in New York will fill you with glee. The owners of L’Avenue, Jean-Louis Costes and Alex Denis, have a knack for drawing in fashion and celebrity clientele—this location is no different. We visited in the spring, while shopping for a black-tie wedding, and were treated to a multi-sensory experience. At the start, the curtain-filled walkway leading to the restaurant promises something special awaits you at the end. Once you walk in, expect Philipe Starck’s welcoming art-deco interiors, plenty of light, a grand staircase going down towards a cocktail lounge and a see-and-be-seen atmosphere.

A real Parisian dining experience means the food is fresh and all dishes are equally delicious. We ordered a small lunch, sliced avocado with light citrusy dressing and tuna tartare. Both came fresh and were exactly what we needed after our morning of gown shopping. Our table was situated right near a window, looking out onto the rooftops, including 620 Fifth Avenue’s Loft & Garden party space.

After our lunch, we decided to descent downstairs for a quick peek at Starck’s Le Chalet. The stunning staircase ties the two floors together with art-deco stairs and railing, and the stone walls and books give you just hint of what to expect a just a few steps further. Le Chalet is vast but cozy, bar included, and makes you feel as if you stepped into a rustic ski lodge. The space overlooks Rockefeller Plaza, with a door leading to a small outdoor terrace. Once you are in, you forget that this gem is in one of the busiest areas in New York.

(photo at the top of this post) Our lunch consisted of light dishes, the Tuna Tartare, with a side of mid-century meets art-deco interiors.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue lunch sliced avocado

The sliced avocado, simply beautiful. Right, across the street, 620 Loft & Gardens makes for a unique dining view.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue Ellen Swandiak having lunch

Our Editorial Director, Ellen Swandiak, waiting for our table while enjoying the comfortable atmosphere.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue cool design Phillipe Starck

L’Avenue has unexpected details, such as the facing on the bar and whimsical plate design—each was unique.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue long entryway

The bar might be the most ideal place for a quick lunch alone. Right, The long walkway leading to the restaurant creates a sense of drama.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue design by Phillipe Starck

L’Avenue’s roomy table setup and wall décor help visitors feel at home.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue by Phillipe Starck

Philipe Stack ensures that all the details are polished and give the space a sense of charm.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue grand staircase

A grand staircase takes you down to Le Chalet, a lounge filled with rustic and unexpected details.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue Le Chalet by Phillipe Starck

Depicting a ski lodge, Le Chalet is a comfortable place to have a specialty cocktail.

hobnobmag l'avenue saks fifth avenue Le Chalet terrace

Before you head out onto the busy street again, there is a variety of relaxing spaces to enjoy at L’Avenue, like the outdoor terrace. Right, in front of Rockerfeller Center a Jaume Plensa sculpture greets you as you exit Saks.

L’Avenue Saks, 8 East 50th St (betw 5th/ Madison Ave)

Meatpacking’s Artsy and Plush World of Coco J’adore

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak


Fashion Week is your ideal excuse for a fashionable pilgrimage to one of the newest and stylish places in New York City right now. The restaurant and cocktail bar had a soft opening in July, inviting in-the-know guests to few palatable events.

Grab your friends and make your way to Coco J’adore for their European cuisine, Parisian party ambiance and surprise performance artists. You never know who might show up. Hobnob editors were treated to a pre-opening event and what can only be described as unique dinner theatre performance. We watched “Verbal Burlesque” performed by actors and spoken word artists. Among them were the famous avant-garde artist Lydia Lunch and Michael Imperioli from the Sopranos, reading from his book, The Perfume Burned His Eyes, a novel in which 16-year-old narrator Matthew becomes enmeshed with the late rock legend Lou Reed and his trans muse Rachel. The literary evening was nothing short of a refreshing experience. There is always something going on at Coco J’adore. It might be the kind of place art aficionados and cafe society types needed.

While the décor is luxurious and artsy, it is well-thought out and speaks with a kind of welcoming energy that says sit, laugh, taste and enjoy. As soon as you walk in, you just know you entered a place where anything could happen. The eclectic dinner menu goes beyond a french cuisine, and serves up dishes such as; a braised rabbit gnocchi, rich risotto, Russian caviar and frog legs. The vast space has plenty of seating for large parties and the word around town is that their brunch menu is just as delectable.

(photo at the top of this post) Coco J’adore’s entrance is très élégante and so Instagram ready. Ellen Swandiak could not resist the photo-op.  Right, the interior is equally photogenic.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC bar

Upon entering Coco J’adore you will notice a well-lit bar and plenty of seating options.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC great design

Plush seating, generous variety of mixed medium design and unique contemporary art help make Coco J’adore stand out from the rest. Right, the audience awaits the Verbal Burlesque performance.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC verbal burlesque with Michael Imperioli

The Soprano’s Michael Imperioli collaborated with actress Nomi Ruiz. They mesmerized us with their reading from Michael’s book, “The Perfume Burned His Eyes”.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC style editor Paulina Kajankova

Hobnob’s style editor enjoying Verbal Burlesque with a side of the most creamy burrata served with black bread.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC Lydia Lunch performing Verbal Burlesque

Artist Lydia Lunch and her backup sound musicians, Tim Dahl and Matt Nelson, giving us their all.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC mid century modern design

The mid-century details, yummy dishes and a polished aesthetic were right up our alley, making is feel right at home.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC endive salad

We followed up our investigation with a petit dinner in August. Loved the faux fur addition in the seating in the front lounge. Right, the endive salad with walnuts and blue cheese.

hobnobmag Coco Jadore NYC cool art and tuna tartare

A pretty face greets you at the top of the staircase. Right, the tuna tartare appetizer arrived with a sprinkling of black-breadcrumbs. We were hoping it was caviar!

Coco J’adore, 1 Little W 12th St (betw 9th Ave/Gansevoort St)

Limited Edition Gin: Hendricks Midsummer Solstice

Posted on: September 6th, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak

In a handsome purple bottle, this limited edition is brought to you by world-famous gin-maker Hendricks. They’ve taken a proprietary assortment of blossoms and infused their classic formula with an intensely floral hit—almost like capturing summer in a bottle. The light and crisp result works nicely in cocktails, as seen in these beauties (photo at the top of this post). See the recipes below, including party-friendly versions for 20 cocktails. Hendricks Midsummer Solstice tasting notes: The nose has notes of juniper mingling with delicate floral aromas, orange blossoms, and zesty lemon. On the palate: summer flowers complement the classic cucumber notes that Hendricks is known for.

Here’s a trio of recipes that taste as good as they look. As for the garnish of edible flowers, a great place to order online is The Chef’s Garden, who specialize in all sorts of botanical and vegetable goodies, especially nice for parties. The Mini Sorbet Mix will get you about 50 blossoms for $34.38.

hobnobmag Limited Edition Gin Hendricks Midsummer Solstice Erik Andersson mixologist shakes

Floral Impulse


1.5 oz Hendricks Midsummer Solstice
.5 oz Crème De Violette
.25 oz Maraschino Liqueur
.25 oz simple syrup
.5 oz lemon juice

Club Soda
garnish: colorful edible flowers and lemon twist

Shake all ingredients, pour into highball glass with ice, then top with Club Soda.


750ml bottle Hendricks Midsummer Solstice
10 oz Crème De Violette
5 oz Maraschino Liqueur
5 oz simple syrup
10 oz lemon juice

40 oz Club Soda

—cocktail by Erik Andersson, seen in the photo above shaking a duet. 

hobnobmag Limited Edition Gin Hendricks Midsummer Solstice cocktail

Ernest Bouquet


1.5 oz Hendricks Midsummer Solstice
.5 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1 oz grapefruit juice
.75 oz lime juice
.25 oz simple syrup

Shake all ingredients and strain into a coupe glass.


750ml bottle Hendricks Midsummer Solstice
10 oz Maraschino Liqueur
20 oz grapefruit juice
15 oz lime juice
5 oz simple syrup

garnish: dark purple edible flower

—cocktail by Mattias Horseman

hobnobmag Limited Edition Gin Hendricks Midsummer Solstice cocktail with edible flowers

Cherry Forest


1.5 oz Midsummer Solstice
.75 oz Tart Cherry Liqueur
grapefruit bitters

garnish: white edible flower

Stir together all ingredients in a pitcher.

For a crowd (makes 20 cocktails)

750ml bottle Hendricks Midsummer Solstice
15 oz Tart Cherry Liqueur
grapefruit bitters

—cocktail by Sebastien Derbomez

Shuraku NYC: Intimate Japanese Small Plates

Posted on: September 2nd, 2019 by Ellen Swandiak


Shuraku, which means “a fun place to gather” in Japanese is, indeed, an intimate izakaya in the West Village that specializes in grilling. We ended up here after having an appetizer in a noisy, Meatpacking-area restaurant nearby and had to leave. Thankfully, we were immediately lulled as soon as we entered by the soft music and zen atmophere. What a welcome relief!

But the surprises were yet to come. We sat at the sushi bar and were privileged to watch the owner/chef and staff work their magic. They truly focus on the most simple preparation of seasonal ingredients, and yet their uncomplicated bites were mouthwatering nonetheless. It was truly impressive what could be accomplished in this tiny, open kitchen. We talked to Chef Joseph Conti, who told us he lived in Japan, and developed a love for the cuisine. His dishes are artful in a graphic, minimalist sort of way.

(photo at the top of this post) In addition to the food we ordered, we had a eyeful of what was being prepared for the other guests, who were doing the tasting menu. I believe this dish is the Third (Zensai) and featured Grilled Baby Ayu (Sweetfish),  Spring Vegetable Gelée In Sakura Leaf, and Seared Sakura Masu (Cherry Trout) Sashimi. The sous chef is seen topping the dish with a mini crab, an imported delicacy. I would love to go back and try the 8-course tasting menu, seems like a great way to spend an extended evening with a small group.

hobnobmag Shuraku Restaurant NYC, organic wine Les Rocher de Violettes Chenin, Xavier Weisskopf

The wine list here had some interesting items, including the Les Rocher de Violettes Chenin, Xavier Weisskopf. Certified organic, Xavier Weisskopf is one of the new generation of young producers buying appellations in the Loire that are less developed. Right, the salmon was marinated in white miso glaze, and the pickled accompaniments looked and added so much to the total.

hobnobmag Shuraku Restaurant NYC: The Yakitori 3 Skewer Set

This trio of bites might not look like much, but the meat was so tender and juicy, not an easy feat with chicken. The Yakitori 3 Skewer Set featured a Chicken Oyster with lemon, a Magret Duck & Scallion wtih Yuzu Kosho, and a Chicken Filet wtih Black Shichimi. The oyster is the ball of the chicken thigh, seen in the front. Right, Chef Joseph Conti adding a flaming-touch to a special marbled Wagyu beef.

hobnobmag Shuraku Restaurant NYC. side dishes: a fantastically-spiced and grilled corn on the cob. Grilled Seasoned Rice Balls.

Some of the side dishes: a fantastically-spiced and grilled corn on the cob was a special of the day. Right, we tried an order of Yaki Onigiri­: two types of Grilled Seasoned Rice Balls, one a spicy miso and the red shiso. This had the texture of a very sticky rice, and the red shiso version was spectacular (as I am a big fan of shiso).

hobnobmag Shuraku Restaurant NYC. Chef Joseph Conti designed the ice cream to be set between two wafers.

hobnobmag Shuraku Restaurant NYC house-made ice cream

Although everything here was fantastic, I am saving my top credits for the house-made ice cream, which was to die for. I prefer more savory-leaning desserts and these fell into that category. Set between two wafers, it was meant to be formed into a sandwich and enjoyed that way. Both flavors were excellent.

Shuraku, 47 8th Ave (betw Horatio/Jane St)