NEW YORK CITY, July 26, 2011— Longing for a European vacation this summer but don’t have the euros for those astronomical airfares? You can get a taste of the continent without ever leaving the U.S. — in fact, you don’t even need to go beyond New York City limits. Here are four of our favorite European “destinations.”
Edi & the Wolf
If all you know of Austria is “The Sound of Music” and schnitzel, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Edi & the Wolf, modeled after a traditional Viennese wine bar known as a heuriger.
At first glance, the décor isn’t far off from what you’d find in a cozy, rustic neighborhood tavern in the Austrian capital — lots of distressed wood, exposed brick, low lighting, a distressed copper bar, and a long communal table. But there are plenty quirky touches that make this spot uniquely Alphabet City, like chairs haphazardly hung on the walls, old boots refashioned as vases, and a thick rope “chandelier” coiling across the beamed ceiling.
The menu slightly updates the country’s comfort food — Alsatian flatbreads are presented like super-thin pizzas, topped with holzhofer (a type of Swiss cheese) and speck; spatzle is dotted with hen of the woods mushrooms and fava beans; ravioli is stuffed with Austrian mountain cheese and accompanied by baby beets.
The wine is the true discovery here: along with well known varietals like Riesling, you’ll find Gemischter Satz, which are white blends that have been grown for centuries within Vienna’s city limits. The restaurant’s recently opened back garden offers the perfect spot for savoring a glass of Zweigelt among the hanging plants.
Edi & the Wolf, 102 Avenue C, 212-598-1040
A quick check of Menupages.com pulls up exactly two Czech spots in Manhattan, and only one is a true restaurant. Fortunately, it’s also an excellent one, and the only place in the whole of the city to have a champion draft master (yes, there are international awards for pouring beer).
Lest you think Lukas Svoboda is just your average barkeep, then you haven’t seen suds done the Czech way. Though there’s only one brand of beer on tap — Pilsner Urquell — Svoboda artfully draws it four different ways, producing four completely different flavors.
Start with the “sweet,” which is all suds (and to American eyes, looks like a very poorly poured beer) and requires that you down it quickly before the froth dissipates. From there, you can sample the “slice” (snyt, in Czech) which has, according to the menu, a “refined bitterness and velvety mouth-feel.” The classic Czech draught is the “creme,” which has a thick, creamy head, while Americans might prefer the “neat,” a clean-tasting, bitter pour. (Try a flight for $19.)
They pair nicely with the beer plates — ham, horseradish and egg yolk; potato soup with mushrooms — or with the Central European-inspired dinner menu (a melange of Bohemian specialties, along with Austrian and German influences, and lots and lots of foamed sauces).
Afterwards, head next door to the Bohemian National Hall, where you can take in everything from Czech art to Czech film (through September, there are free rooftop flicks every Tuesday night).
Hospoda, 321 E. 73rd St., 212-861-1038
There are plenty of places that serve tapas or “tapas-style” dishes, but few are as close to the real thing as Boqueria. Both locations (in the Flatiron and Soho) conjure the spirit of the tapas bars found in Barcelona’s famous Boqueria market, serving up tasty regional dishes (and all-Spanish wines) to crowds of diners morning, noon and night — thankfully, minus the napkins littering the floor.
The kitchen expertly turns out traditional small plates — crispy patatas bravas; creamy croquetas stuffed with cheese, ham, and mushrooms; succulent pintxos morunos (skewers of lamb marinated in lemon and cumin, seared, and topped with salsa verde). But the Barcelona-born chef Marc Vidal also looks to the local greenmarket for inspiration; a recent appetizer featured ripe summer peaches, carmelized and set atop a foie gras torchon.
Watch all the action from your perch at the bar in front of the open kitchen — one of our favorite spots.
Boqueria, 53 W. 19th St., 212-255-4160;and 171 Spring St. 212-343-4255. And look for Boqueria to open in Washington, DC, this fall at 1837 M Street NW.
Italian eateries, especially pizza joints, can be found on just about every New York City block. But few offer all the essential Italian specialties — pizza, panini and an enoteca — all in one place.
At Ovest Pizzoteca, you can get a Neapolitan-style pie, with a nicely charred thin crust and fresh imported ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and prosciutto, or you can order the square, Roman-style pizza. There’s a long list of panini as well, but they are prepared more like sandwiches than the usual pressed bread (try the Goloso, with speck, goat cheese, eggplant, and olive pâte). And the wine list is naturally, all Italian.
But our favorite nod to Italy is the “Apertivo Italiano,” something customary in that country but rarely seen here. Every weekday, from 5 to 8 pm, everything from pizza to bruschetta to salads are set out along the bar, and are yours for the sampling. To make the free spread even tastier, there are drink specials, too.
Ovest Pizzoteca, 513 West 27th St., 212-967-4392
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