Spotlight New York City – The Smith Restaurant NYC

In my early 20s, I lived in NYC with my sister Lauren while I interned for a few summers. During that time, we pretty much lived the dream–went to cool parties, dined at the trendiest restaurants, and spent our weekends at the beach. Some of my best memories are from those summers!

When I visit NYC now, my priority is spending the most amount of time possible with my sister, her hubby, and my two sweet nieces, Emma Jean (2 1/2 years) and Jules (9 months). But since my friend Callie moved there in October, I like to meet up for brunch or to grab a drink if we can.

Last time I met up with Cal, we went to Cafe Lalo, a neighborhood favorite on the Upper West Side and an important setting in the movie You Got Mail. This time, I got a glimpse at my old 20-something life during brunch at The Smith.

When you walk into The Smith, located in the East Village, you instantly feel the coolness factor go up a few notches. Imagine white subway tile everywhere, black and white photographs, chic light fixtures, and tons of natural light. The patrons are pretty much all 20-somethings, probably rehashing the good times (or horror stories) that they have from the night before. (I felt like a true Midwesterner with my North Face puffy jacket on in a sea of hip-clothed diners.)

We were seated quickly (a plus!), and they brought these adorable wine bottles filled with still and sparking water, along with some of the tastiest bread and butter (I swear, what they say about bread being better in NYC because of the water is very true) I’ve had. Side note: must find wine bottles to use for water!

Because I’m on antibiotics again (wha whaaaa), I ordered one of our waiter’s favorite housemade sodas: agave lemonade. This tasted so delicious without being overly sweet. The mint leaves were a good touch. Cal ordered the other, cucumber ginger ale, and my sip was especially refreshing.

On to meals: I opted for the Simple Scrambled with scrambled egg whites, home fries, and apple smoked bacon. Even though the food was a little pricy (heck, it’s NYC), the portion was good and everything tasted delicious. Cal ordered the Avocado Sandwich with goat cheese, cucumber, sprouts, tomato, and red onion on multigrain bread with a side of spinach (damn Callie and her healthy ordering!).

One thing I noticed the restaurant had was a photo booth on the lower level. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see a photo booth, I must take photos–this is kind of a golden rule of mine. I have precious strips of photos from the mall, college bars, adult bars, and weddings, so this visit was not going to be the exception. After plenty of giggles and ridiculous faces, we had our photos, and the perfect memento from a perfect brunch date. Can’t wait to see where we’ll end up next time!

The Smith Restaurant NYC
55 3rd Avenue
East Village

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Week #16 – Growing Power’s Iron Street Farm

How much do you give back to your local community? If you’re like me, not enough. Nate and I are big supporters of local farming (Nate’s family owns farmland in west central Illinois)—we even went on a local tour of O’O Farms on our honeymoon in Maui. So when I saw a Groupon for this tour, I really wanted to check out how farmers are growing food in an urban area not far from my apartment!

Growing Power is a great example of a local organization that brings all walks of life together in efforts to provide safe, affordable, and healthy food to communities in Chicago, Madison, and its headquarters in Milwaukee. Nate and I enjoyed touring Growing Power’s facility in Bridgeport over the weekend, to see how their growing local and sustainable food.

The farm facility lives on a seven-acre property that was transformed from an abandoned trucking depot space in 2002. Since then, the building has received a facelift with murals painted by local area kids. Growing Power’s Chicago Iron Street Farm has been using alternative ways to grow food and raise animals and fish year-round, which they sell to local restaurants, at farmers markets around the city, and at their Iron Street location. They also have a food CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) you can participate in over the summer. And they couldn’t do it without the many volunteers the farm has throughout the week. (We saw lots of young people helping out and others preparing food for composting.) When we went on our tour, we saw the following operations:

  • Hoop-houses that grow fresh produce (we saw lots of lettuces, spinach, swiss chard, and mushroom chandeliers)
  • Aquaponics systems, which each produce hundreds of Yellow Perch (they were also growing watercress in these systems when we visited)
  • Vermicomposting (composting using worms to create rich soil that they sell too)
  • Young goats being raised as pets
  • We also learned about the bee hives that Growing Power has in the summer to make products like honey, candles, and lip balm.

It’s important to note all of the awesome compost partnerships that Growing Power has with Chicago-area restaurants. They include:

The most exciting part about this visit was to see how people are making a difference not far from where we live. Sometimes you get caught up in the daily woes of your life and don’t really see the big picture. Nate and I are considering the CSA for the summer, and Nate even mentioned wanting to get more involved.  As I get older (and hopefully wiser), it’s important for me to be aware of what’s going on in my community and my city. I’m proud of where I’m from, and I want to be a part of what makes it great. This year is also a quest to find ways that I can make a difference, and to be more aware of where I live and what’s going on around me. I’ve always thought that if you can change one life, your life is worth living.

3333 S. Iron Street
Bridgeport
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Week #15 – Balena

I had pretty high expectations for Balena, which has been named one of the top 10 new restaurants IN THE COUNTRY. I met up with my friends Lauren, Bridget, and Tara there for a night that was sure to bring lots of delicious food, tasty drinks, and even better conversation.

When you walk into Balena, it’s a large restaurant with tall ceilings (used to be Landmark), but somehow they’ve managed to make it feel cozy. The dim lighting, the warm neutral tones, the luxurious seating—can your interior designer come to my apartment?

I had a really rough day at work that day (we’re getting into our busy season, so my apologies if my posts feel few and far between!), so I was ready for a glass of Prosecco stat. I sat down and within minutes I had water at my table setting and my drink was ordered. I have to note that our waiter was not only good looking (a cross between the lead singer of the All American Rejects and Cillian Murphy), but he gave great recommendations and service. Definitely starting off on the right foot.

The menu at Balena is best for sharing, which I am a fan of. I was one of those kids who didn’t like my food to touch, and I ate everything in a specific order (OCD, anyone?). It’s so nice to share with people who push you a little outside your comfort zone.

We started with the Herbed Focaccia, Ricotta, Cracked Black Pepper, and Olive Oil. The focaccia was delicious (dind’t try the fresh ricotta), and I loved the presentation. We followed that with Spicy Lamb & Pork Sausage, White Beans, and Pickled Red Onion. Now, I had to slice the sausage immediately because I didn’t care for the presentation, but it was perfectly paired with the white beans. And I’m not really one for frisee salad, but this lettuce was insanely flavorful. Then came the Brussels Sprout, Pancetta, Pecorino, and Red Onion Pizza, which was surprisingly light and fresh. Their pizzas are big, so we each had two pieces. Next came the Orecchiette, Kale, Lemon, Bread Crumbs, and Chili Pasta, which tasted to me like the richest, most decadent pasta on the planet. I could have eaten bowls full of this. Our order from the Grill/Oven/Rotisserie portion of the menu was Roast Porchetta, Creamy Polenta, and Parsley Red Onion Salad. By this time, we were all hitting our limits because we knew we wanted dessert, but it was divine. The ends of the meat were crisp and full of flavor, and the creamy polenta melted in my mouth.

Lastly, we shared the Affogato, Vanilla Gelato, Espresso, and Cinnamon Sugar Donuts (these donuts are heavenly), and the Vanilla Gelato, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Malt Chocolate Sauce, and “Toasted Milk” (I didn’t try this one, but the girls said it was amazing).

Whether you need a night out with your girls, or want to take your special someone out for a romantic date night for two, Balena is the place to go. Need to take Nate here!

Balena Chicago
1633 N. Halsted Street
Lincoln Park

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