Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bits & Morsels: September socializing

A class at Bija Yoga.
by Erin Frankel

Ah, September in the city. As the summer-long exodus to the beach has come to an end, herds of city dwellers are falling right back into the the beauty and energy of September in New York. The air may be a bit chillier (at last!), but New York City's restaurant scene has never been hotter. So, here we begin with a newbie and an oldie, revitalized.

Comodo. Comodo's entry into New York City's media-frenzied dining scene was mellow and hushed (well, they did open right in the middle of the summer). This B.Y.O.B. restaurant is situated in a small space on SoHo's private stretch of Macdougal street between Houston and Prince. On warm evenings, the doors and windows remain open while the neighborhood regulars filter in and spill out, converging at communal wooden tables.

Comodo's airy interior. Inset: Chef Felipe Donnelly.
Each evening, you will see chef Felipe Donnelly behind the stove in the open kitchen while his wife Tamy makes the rounds. The quiet and warm charm to the space and the utilitarian ambience effectively recreates a traditional Spanish dining room ... right on Macdougal.

Chef Donnelly, who has been running the Worth Kitchen Supper Club with Tamy, has opened his first Latin American restaurant to echo the natural flavors and ingredients of the region, pulling from Donnelly's Colombian background and his wife's Mexican roots.

Begin your meal with tapas-styled apps like Donnelly's signature lamb sliders on Brazilian cheese bread with chipotle cream. Or opt for a lighter dish, like the pollock ceviche with citrus juice, peach, cilantro and bacadillo; the kale salad with fresh kale chips and chickpeas drizzled with an avocado vinaigrette; and the Tomatillo Salad, a mixture of diced cucumber, tomatillos, and feta cheese, served with a honey citrus vinaigrette.

The entrees lean on the heartier side. You can't go wrong with either Donnelly's favorite pan-seared duck with caramelized sauce and quinoa, smoked mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes or the traditional Picanha, Pino's top sirloin on top of rice, farofa, and greens. For something lighter on the palate, Donnelly's line-caught wild white tuna filet with agridulce blueberry sauce served with red rice is an excellent choice.
Clockwise from above: Comodo's quinoa salad; Comodo's ceviche; Comodo's scallops.
Clockwise from top left: Comodo's Tomatillo salad; Comodo's kale salad; Comodo's sirloin; Comodo's lamb sliders.
Comodo's wild white tuna filet. Comodo's duck.
Bagatelle. So you want to return to the city with a bang. Well, you're in luck because this summer the renowned Bagatelle NY has reopened in the former Collective space at One Little West 12th, in the heart of the Meatpacking District. The new Bagatelle may be packed with the perennial globetrotters, bankers, and rail-thin models jarringly dressed, but things have improved. Bagatelle traded in its brash vibe for a more elegant and understated look, the cuisine has improved, and the service is pretty outstanding.
Bagatelle's bar (above) and corner tables (below).
Chef Romauld Jung's menu is an impressive concoction of French Mediterranean flavors, all seasonally inspired. Start with the popular ahi tuna tartare on top of an avocado salad, dressed with lime soy vinaigrette and bits of taro chips; or the refreshing cold poached shrimp dipped in a creamy avocado french cocktail sauce. For the carb hunter, try the homemade gnocchi with an innovative black truffle pesto filling mixed with an elegant truffle sauce.

As for entrees, the crowdpleaser is the fresh roasted filet of seabass with eggplant caviar and crispy artichoke under a harissa bouillabaisse jus dressing. Jung has done a great job rekindling the high-end French fine-dining genre downtown. Remember though, towards the end of the evening, the DJs will appear, tables will be moved the the sides, and the beautiful patrons will start dancing.
Clockwise from top left: Bagatelle's poached shrimp; Bagatelle's tuna tartare; Bagatelle's seabass; Bagatelle's gnocchi.
Stretch your muscles, not your waistline. It's almost fall and it's time to get back in shape! We've all been there. Clearly, I love to eat and drink more then the average individual, but really ... how many more lunch dates, dinners, brunches, pre-dinner drinks, and post-dinner drinks can your schedule and your waistline handle?

Vanessa and me at Physique57.
Why not find some healthy alternatives for socializing and peel away those calories? In fact, what's even trendier than eating out at a new restaurant is working out in one of the many new boutique, high energy group fitness classes that are seemingly popping up everything. And, these days, you're more likely to run into a hot celebrity getting her sweet on vs. chowing down. Here are some of my suggestions for the newest and most innovative workouts in NYC:

Physique57. Easily my favorite (and most consistent) workout in New York City, Physique 57 is a ballet-infused routine that truly raises the barre (pun intended). Physique has pioneered the intense fitness regimen at the ballet barre, which has generated quite a trend all over New York, combining ballet, yoga, pilates, and old-school isometrics to sculpt and tone every muscle in your body.

Physique has definitely spearheaded the city girl's target towards a long, lean contour and more importantly, a community of women who come with friends to help support one another through the hyperintense (but fun) workout. The class is simultaneously addictive and agonizing, which is why it's so much more fun to do it with a friend! Plus, the instructor's high energy level combined with the upbeat tunes make the hour go by in a flash.
Uplift. Uplift is the newest boutique fitness studio to hit the scene. And, what makes Uplift unique is it's solely for women. Sorry guys, but you shoot hoops and drink beers with your friends, so we need a space where women can do both as well. And that's exactly where Uplift comes into play. The many Uplift classes — 30 minute resistance-training and muscle-forming exercises to 60 and 90 minute cardio blasts — are combined with what the three female founders call a "social and lifestyle element tailor-made for women."

According to founder Leanne Shear, Uplift's "Raise the Bar" series of classes (with Workout & Wine being the most popular in the series, clearly) is definitely the BEST to work out with friends. Leanne and her two co-founders "did a lot of research and study after study shows that two things make happy, well-adjusted, healthy women: being physically fit and having an active social life filled with friends." So now I know I'm definitely onto something when I say that working out and socializing is a great combination.
Before an Uplift workout.
Class in session at Uplift.
Bija Yoga. If you are someone who needs a place of serenity and peace in this aggressive, over-stimulated, fast-paced city we live in, Union Square's newest yoga studio, Bija Yoga, will become your new home for respite. Founder and yoga instructor Veronica Perretti has created a sacred space with her 50-mat studio purely to focus on a community feel.

A Bija Yoga class.
"When I first moved to NYC out of college some of the best friends I made were in yoga and spin class. Fitness creates instant community," Veronica explained. "One of my favorite things about owning a yoga studio is the sense of community and friendship that develops organically among women that come together regularly to sweat it out." Some people come to yoga to stretch and many others come to find an inner peace.

Veronica and I both share the sentiment that the person on the mat next to you is probably experiencing life from a similar perspective, experiencing the same things, and is ultimately energetically supporting you.

Veronica also lures top yoga instructors like Isaac Pena, sometimes referred to as the Hispanic "Buddha" of yogis. With a martial arts background and a deep practice of Zen meditation, which began at the age of 9, students travel all across the city just to get into Isaac's class, which was the most hands-on yoga class I've ever taken. Why not work on your asanas and pranayamas with a friend?
One on one at Bija.