1) The Black Dahlia at Gleason’s
Here’s a perfect balance of flavors: deliciously peppery Redemption Rye shaken with spooky, black Meletti Amaro with its gothic notes of violets and spice. Add a dash of medicinal Angostura bitters, and the result is an adult cocktail jam-packed with “moreishness”—a flavor quality that just keeps you wanting more. Quite an accomplishment for a strong cocktail.
2) Braised Beef Filets in Chili Sauce at Szechuan Gourmet
Isn’t it funny how certain friends develop certain food rituals? Whenever my friend Gordon is in town, we simply must eat Szechuan food. We never wind up drinking together, for some reason—our intoxicant just seems to be volcanically hot food. This Midtown haunt offers a good fix for addicts: In this dish, beef slices arrive swimming in chili oil and mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorns. It’s an outlandishly fiery treatment (and it makes my mouth water just to write about it, because, let’s face it, I’m an addict).
3) Tres Leches Cupcake from Flour & Sun Bakery
On some level, I was over cupcakes as soon as they hit Sex and the City (and all those pathetic “I’m a Miranda with Samantha tendencies” tourists swarmed Magnolia Bakery), but I like Flour & Sun Bakery because, for cupcakes, it’s pretty ambitious. A recent sampling offered Cap’n Crunch peanut butter, chocolate peanut butter, and chocolate salted caramel, but this sweet and dreamy ode to cow and caramel stole my heart—actually, our hearts: We had to split this cupcake into quarters because everyone wanted a bite.
4) Mangalitsa Lardo from Møsefund Farms
Guess what? If you find yourself in rural New Jersey, butchering a Mangalitsa pig at 9 am, you might be lucky and get whipped lardo for breakfast. This year, I hit Pigstock—a hands-on workshop teaching chefs how to cope with a pig from death to dish—and spent a morning with Simon Majumdar and Baron Ambrosia at Møsefund Farms in Branchville, New Jersey. Nothing starts a day off more happily than a bagel with a schmear of heavenly Mangalitsa lardo, salted and studded with golden sautéed onions. Hello, morning!
5) Genmaicha tea at Aoyama
Sometimes, you find little gems in the unlikeliest of places. This restaurant in Wyckoff, New Jersey, had little to recommend it, but then there was this genmaicha tea. Made from carefully roasted brown rice mixed with green tea, it was compelling, fragrant of mushrooms, umami, and toasted hay. There couldn’t be a more perfect sip on a cold, rainy night.