One of my goals is to walk at least five miles at least three times a week – preferably four. Since another goal is to explore New York, I’m working on both at once – sometimes not quite intentionally. Last week, I needed to visit the bank where I keep my super-secret hard-to-get-at emergency stash. For years, I had resisted getting an ATM card for this account so it would always be hard to make withdrawals (deposits can be done by mail). Well, I finally got the card and promptly forgot the password. So, one fine morning last week I took myself of to downtown Brooklyn to get a new password.

I used to work in downtown Brooklyn, so I thought it would be fun to visit some of my old haunts and maybe even have lunch in a particular favorite restaurant. Let’s just say the day was full of surprises. And a seven mile walk. I started at Metrotech Plaza and lingered a few minutes to hear live music on the plaza – part of a weekly summer concert series. Wandered across the street only to discover that I’d forgotten where the bank entrance actually is (it’s a second floor location). Overheard someone else asking for directions, so was able to avoid having to actually ask. Followed the other woman, found bank, got new PIN.

Off to Court Street to check out what was new and what was as I remembered. My favorite discount store was still there. So was the old-fashioned, expensive Italian restaurant and the good pizza place. Good. But what I really want is Middle Eastern, so I head down Atlantic Avenue. Sahadi, a wonderful place for spices, olives, dried fruit and take-out is not only still going strong but has grown into another store. Stopped to inhale deeply, anticipating a one-black walk to The Fountain for some of the best baba ganoush ever. Oh no! It’s gone. And Tripoli seems to have become a coffee shop. Rats! I walked almost all the way down to the river before giving up on a Middle Eastern lunch and having some really nice eggplant parm.

Well, I’m getting my miles in, so maybe I should see what else is new. Walked back up to Court Street and about a dozen blocks down to see what was new there. I discovered two excellent book stores, more coffee places and Blue Marble ice cream. Yum! Mexican chocolate ice cream on a warm afternoon. Maybe this walking thing isn’t so bad after all.

Back across Court, up Atlantic to the subway hub. Avoided UNIQLO and Target, but it’s good to know they’re there. Oh – quick stop at Trader Joe’s on the way to the train. I’m very proud of myself.

Second walk turned out to be much shorter than I’d hoped. I met a friend and we walked around Ditmas Park, an area full of landmarked Victorians, beautiful trees and gardens.

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It was pleasant and peaceful and I discovered a coffee shop and restaurant I’ll be visiting soon. And a new walking partner too.

The final walk was an old favorite with a new twist – Sheepshead Bay. After seeing one too many late night commercials, I decided that I needed to try a Chinese restaurant near the Bay. Fortified by excellent roast duck, I walked the length of the Bay, stopped at a favorite Russian grocery store, a fruit stand and, finally a supermarket. This shopping excursion was engendered by having run out of garlic powder. Who would have thought that it was hard to find garlic powder? (Yes, I mostly use fresh garlic, but sometimes I want both.) The Russian store had fancy stuff for $8. Nope. The fruit stand had garlic salt, garlic condiment blend, garlic and onion powder. No garlic powder. Thank you, Stop & Shop for basic, inexpensive garlic powder!

Next week, I’ll walk the Brooklyn Promenade, wander through part of Central Park and maybe explore new parts of Park Slope. There’s almost always something new or something you’ve forgotten about. My summer vow is to build long walks into my errand agenda.

What walks can you add to your routine?

It’s summertime! (A little musical inspiration.) Every weekend there’s something going on. Or someplace to go. Or something to see. So, after a long absence, the School is back with a few summer adventures.

To celebrate my transformation from computer-bound slug to Outdoors Girl, I walked the boardwalk from Coney Island to Brighton Beach. Because summertime also marks NYC Transit’s annual track repair season for elevated or exposed stations, this journey started with a detour, but eventually, I arrived at Coney Island and discovered that Smorgasburg is apparently looking for world domination – there’s a new branch of this wonderful food fest just blocks from Nathan’s. The vendors operate out of container cars and the area contains lots of seating among panels by local artists.

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If you look carefully, you can see the artist working on the mural at the upper right. Behind that is one of those rides that I can’t even fathom. Yes! Let’s get strapped into an open car and twirled around, sometimes upside down, at high speed. There’s also a sort of bungee jump ride a little further up the boardwalk if this doesn’t cause you to lose your lunch. I enjoyed the art, a tasty lunch and the screams.

It was a beautiful afternoon to enjoy a nearly deserted beach. Perhaps one to many predictions of bad weather?

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Luna Park has been spiffed up a bit and there are still a few tame amusements like bumper cars and the Wonder Wheel amidst the new attractions for those who want a bit more adventure.

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Oh, yes – and the Cyclone, an early wooden roller coaster, survives. There’s even a piano on the boardwalk, should you want to create your own music!

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If you’re nearby or visiting, enjoy the walk. Take a group of friends or a late afternoon stroll and end the day by enjoying a sunset dinner overlooking the ocean from one of the Russian restaurants in Brighton Beach – you’ll have worked it off by the time you get there.

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Oh – and Tatiana’s is also a nightclub, so you might even party late into the night. Not a bad way to spend a summer evening.

 

Got tired of working and spent a quiet Sunday evening walking along Sheepshead Bay. Whenever I wonder why I live in Brooklyn, a short bus ride to the waterfront reminds me. Today, the swans were out in all their glory. A few  sea gulls tried to pass, but they weren’t fooling anyone except maybe one couple who pointed out the “ducks” to their child. Maybe they were fixated on the Ugly Duckling.

I walked the length of the Bay and saw tired, sunburned passengers disembarking from a day of fishing. Couldn’t tell if they’d caught anything. A huge wedding party filled Baku Palace, an enormous Russian catering hall. Diners sat outside along Emmons Avenue enjoying Greek seafood, sushi, Thai and Chinese food. The tables outside Dessert Palace were filled with couples sipping slurppies or enjoying gelato and espresso.

I made my way to Roll N Roaster, still the best roast beef sandwich anywhere. Exciting new item – sweet potato fries! 

Ambled back along the Bay and stopped for gelato. Six loud, loud, loud wild parrots (no picture – they move too fast!) flew overhead. 

Yeah, Brooklyn has it’s great moments.

There’s music all over the place in New York City this summer – and much of it is free.

Check out the River to River Festival for everything from drumming circles and folk to movies and dancing.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors provides a wide range of musical events in August including a tribute to James Brown, Noche Flamenca and the 25th Annual Roots of American Music.

About.com has a pretty complete list of free music here, although you’ll need to go here if you want to see what’s happening in Brooklyn. You’ve missed Frankie Valle, but Liza Minelli arrives in August, along with Caribbean music and an evening of Motown.

Want free theater or movies instead? The Parks Department has a schedule. 

It’s summer – get out there!

My Restaurant Week adventure is over for this summer and I’m overjoyed with all my choices. Each of the three restaurants treated us like valued guests. Each provided a menu that didn’t look like a list of second-rate choices. And each, in its own way, was exceptional.

Park Avenue Summer was beautiful. The menu was inventive. The serviced was attentive. And the portions were large. My salmon tartar was an enormous log of the freshest salmon and tomatoes over a creamy foam. The herb grilled chicken was tender, juicy and also huge. The accompanying pasta formed mysterious closed loops. What made the experience extraordinary for me was that, even though I had mistakenly given my companion the wrong time, the maitre d’ assured me that we would be seated no matter how late she arrived. And, since by the nest Restaurant Week, this will be Park Avenue Winter – a whole new restaurant – I can go back without breaking my “no repeats” rule.

My dinner at Butter was also wonderful. The service was cheerful but uneven. The excellence of the food more than compensated for any service lapses, though. Zucchini blossoms were greaseless, crisp, filled with wonderfully sharp cheese, and accompanied by two beautifully grilled slices of summer squash and a puree of curried winter squash. The cavatappi pasta with spicy lamb sausage and yellow tomato sauce had a flavor so intense – and delicious – that I came very close to licking the plate. My companion’s cod was moist and flaky and nestled in a bed of an equally incredible sauce. We both sat there grinning. 

My final choice for the week was Centro Vinoteca. Every inch of this tiny restaurant is used in such a way that the space seems much larger than it is. Although we lingered well after all the other lunch guests were gone, no one rushed us in any way. We both started with a selection of piccolini. The zucchini fritters melted in my mouth. The conversation was so intense that all I can remember about the main course is that it was delicious. When both of us indicated that we didn’t want the remaining desert selection on the Restaurant Week menu, our server found an excellent alternative for us. I finished lunch with some of the best coffee I’ve ever had – and it was accompanied by warm milk – a touch appreciated by even me (I never touch the stuff).

What all three restaurants had in common was the ability to impress us. Coach Thomas Leonard often said, “Under-promise and over-deliver.” That’s exactly what I experienced this week.

Twice a year many of New York City’s great restaurants have a window of opportunity for those of us whose dining dreams may be larger than our dining budget. Restaurant Week, now actually two weeks long, is a marvelous way to work your way through your favorite 100 Best Restaurants list.

This year, I went straight to Open Table and booked three great meals. For me, this is a way to connect with friends, treat someone to a special meal, and test drive really incredible places.

This year, for my first adventure, I’m having a joint birthday lunch at Park Avenue Summer, recognized by the New York TimesNew York Magazine and New York Observer as one of the best new restaurants. The decor and the menu change four times a year. 

Next, I’ll be meeting a good friend for dinner at Butter. I’ve been intrigued by Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli ever since I saw her on the Food Network. Besides, she’s a CUNY graduate!

Finally, I’m taking a former student to lunch to celebrate her recent doctorate. We’re exploring a recent addition to the Batali-Bastianich empire – CentroVinoteca.

Restaurant Weeks past have sometimes been mixed blessings. Portions were smaller than usual, the menu was boring, or staff ignored us. Most of the time, though, we’ve been treated as valued guests and I’ve added several finds to my special occasion full price list (but that’s another post). 

If you’re in Manhattan or can get there, there are still tables left. Treat yourself!

Oh – and a bonus recommendation for foodies – or at least Food Network fans. Turns out there’s a blog for addicts – Food Network Addict.

 It’s summer and heirloom tomatoes are beginning to show up in the Greenmarket. As I make my Saturday morning pilgrimage, there is, of course, a Gershwin tune running through my head.

 At a meeting this week, I was delighted to discover that I’m not the only one who sings “You say tomato and I say tomato,” rather than I say tomahto.” Even better, the whole group burst into song!

Whatever you call them, just add salt and pepper, maybe a drizzle of olive oil or a bit of vinegar, and enjoy the season.

I wanted a nice pre-theater dinner so I wandered into Le Rivage Saturday night. That they actually found a table for me was miraculous. Within 20 minutes of my arrival, there wasn’t a single empty table.

I was instantly transported back to the 60’s and my very first theater district experience. There were a number of inexpensive French restaurants back then. The two I remember best – Pierre au Tunnel and Rene Pujol – are gone now; one perhaps decades ago, the other just last year. It doesn’t seem like there’s much demand for the sort of formal and perhaps formulaic meals they served. That Le Rivage has survived is testament to both a good chef and a tremendous amount of front-of-the-house attention to detail.

I felt welcomed from the moment I walked in. The maitre d’, who, I assume, is also the owner, treated me beautifully, suggesting a wine he thought I would enjoy and stopping by to chat a few times. The food was excellent. In my nostalgia, I ordered a classic duck l’orange. It was prepared perfectly – crisp skin, not a drop of fat beneath, and moist interior.

I watched other guests greeted as old friends and careful attention paid to each diner. Yes, it cost more that the $5 or so of my past, but then, so does everything. The meal was a great value and the feeling of comfort, warmth and care was priceless.

A spokeswoman for the chain’s Southwest region said select restaurants in the region will get McCafé coffee shops prior to the national roll-out, which is expected in the first half of 2009. McDonald’s is also testing McCafé kiosks in airports and other locations outside the U.S., said its spokeswoman.

Ahhh… that special blended aroma of grease and espresso. How could we have lived this long without it? Check www.mymccafe.com to see when one is coming to your neighborhood.

This story comes to you courtesy of New Mexico Business Weekly, via www.bizjournals.com.

And to think that Starbuck’s is cutting back on franchises ….