Real Girl Lifestyle

Archive for the ‘Gems of NY’ Category

An old New York gem and the best smelling place in the city.

Visiting McNulty’s is a treat even for those who don’t drink tea or coffee–so just imagine what kind of pilgrimage awaits for serious connoisseurs of a fine hot beverage.

Conveniently just steps from the Christopher Street subway station, McNulty’s still remains a century behind its neighbors. What you notice first is the aroma: Freshly ground coffee of every kind mingling together to create a coffee scent’s Platonic ideal. And the grinding is always as fresh as can be, right there in front of you, measured out on the kind of old-fashioned scales you imagine McNulty’s has used for ages.

I discovered McNulty’s years ago while looking for a gift to give the woman who has everything. Considering her love for tea, I figured I’d head to Chinatown and find some exotic blend she’d never had before. But then I happened by this charming looking gingerbread house of a tea and coffee shop, and I knew I’d found my tea-lover’s gift. I’m sure the boxes and tins of teas that line the wooden shelves are all worthwhile, but the big glass jars at the heart of the store are irresistible. From black teas to green and white teas to the most colorful, potion-esque flavored teas, McNulty’s selection will be like none you’ve ever seen before. One can easily imagine this shop along Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, indiscriminately hanging out between the cauldron and the wand shop. My gift’s recipient was delighted with her simple brown paper bag filled with colorful, leafy tea seemingly straight out of 1895, when the store first opened its doors.

The experienced staff will advise you on your coffee needs should you seek their advice. Ask for a dark blend, a medium or light one, perhaps by region. The selection is endless, even including organic and flavored decaffeinated. I never stray far from my favorite (caffeinated) flavored option, coconut. McNulty’s coconut coffee is by far the best I’ve ever tasted. As soon as they pour the beans onto that big metal scale you can see why–actual shreds of toasted coconut intertwine throughout the beans, just waiting to be ground together into a silky, aromatic blend. Make sure to inhale. The fragrance  absolutely intoxicates.

The store itself manages to stay remarkably true to its turn-of-the-last-century origins without feeling overly quaint or fey. This is no Disney recreation of 1895. Instead, the atmosphere conjures a time when products were sold free of marketing or media or (self-conscious wink) blog recommendations. Of course that would be an illusion–advertising and marketing go back as far as merchants have been selling–but rather than conjuring a touristy version of charm, McNulty’s instead feels like it’s giving you the essence of coffee and tea. In a city sometimes skimming dangerously along the surface, here you find a bastion of authenticity.

I admit I have a coffee addiction. But oh–oh, McNulty’s sure turns what may be a vice into an emporium of delight.

I would love New York less without it.


Or rather taking a milkshake. From Stand. Because it’s amazing.

You don’t even know. Unless you’ve been there, and then perhaps you do. And then aren’t you a lucky one.

Real Girl lives startlingly close to New York’s Stand, a burger joint west of Union Square. The burgers may be great–I can’t say because I’ve never sat down to have one. Instead, I find myself walking over to Stand when I’m in need of a guilty pleasure. And oh, such a pleasure: The Toasted Marshmallow milkshake. I’m not sure I’ll be able to write about it without strolling across the park afterward to suck down that rich, marshmallowy sweet, decadent cup of creamy ambrosia. Stand delivers, but I always drop by myself. I’m not sure how the milkshake would travel, and I’m not sure I can wait the extra 20 minutes it would take the delivery man to bring it to me. A toasted marshmallow milkshake craving is not like any other craving. It must be satisfied quickly or the taste bud Gods get very angry.

Here’s how you might see Real Girl in the Union Square area someday, perhaps walking east on 14th Street. First I remove the cup’s lid and eat the actual toasted marshmallows. I can’t save them ’til the end–they call out too loudly, flirting with that toasty golden wink. Then I plunge in the oversized straw, close my eyes, and inhale. What bliss. More than a hint of fine vanilla ice cream hits the senses first (Stand uses Laboratorio del Gelato), but then the notes of marshmallow meander on in. It’s like the highest quality marshmallow fluff zapped into milkshake form. My mouth remains glued to that straw until all too soon it’s over. So I’m that girl on 14th Street making slurpy sounds with her straw to lap up the final stubborn drops. And then I’m that girl on 14th Street taking out the straw and tipping the cup back to make sure I don’t miss anything. Wasting a drop of this elixir would be criminal, and I don’t know if I could handle toasted marshmallow jail.

If you’re able to let Stand offer you this marshmallowy goodness, I urge you to hightail it over there tout de suite. But if perhaps this delicacy is denied you for some reason, never fear. The recipe is listed online. And I’ll re-post it for you here. If you make this at a dinner party you will be the most popular host that ever sent out an invite. Trust.

Stand’s Marshmallow Shakes

3 scoops vanilla ice cream (they use Laboratorio del Gelato)

1 tablespoon whole milk

I large dollop, er, Wookstock Water Buffalo Milk yogurt (For the 300 million of you that can’t pick water buffalo milk yogurt up at your corner store, feel free to use a substitute yogurt—it’s just there to add a little more liquid and balance out the sweetness of the ice cream a bit)

5 Kraft Jumbo Jef-Puffed marshmallows

Whipped cream

1) Toast marshamllows under a broiler, or, if you’re frisky, over a flame until they just start to blacken evenly (the trick is to make sure it’s evenly toasted and dark, but not turned to charcoal).

2) Put the milk, yogurt, and then ice cream in the blender. Blend carefully, just until you get a “donut”—when you see the shake holding to the sides of the blender with a hollow core.

3) Add three of the toasted marshmallows to the blender, and whirl it just until they’re all broken up and distributed evenly. Be careful not to overblend it, making it too melty.

4) Pour shake into a glass, top with a dollop of whipped cream, break the last two marshmallows on top, and serve with an extra-wide straw.

5) Repeat if necessary. And it will probably be necessary.

Real Girl will not be nearly the first to talk about what many have christened the “best burger in NYC.” The Minetta Tavern has become known for its two burgers, although really the regular Minetta burger is overshadowed by its beauty queen sister, the decadent Black Label. A shame for the delightful regular. She’s pretty and charming, and she only wears designer cheese. But her sister’s a stone cold knock-out. The Black Label doesn’t just turn heads–it captivates them.

I owe my trip to Minetta Tavern to the Blogfather, who had been preaching the merits of its burgers for weeks before we got there. He did not oversell their tender virtues. I let him order, both the regular and the Black Label for us to share, and he advised “it has to be medium rare.” I did not argue. I bit into the regular burger first, and I literally exhaled “oh my God” at first bite. How could the Black Label be better than this? Steak-quality meat, exquisite cheese, spongy, shiny Balthazar bun, that perfect fried tang of recently sizzling, premium meat.

But after my first bite of the Black Label, I knew there was no going back. This burger drips onto your tongue, like falling silk. She will seduce you, and oh, it’ll be good.

The Black Label burger is remarkably juicy, but “juicy” is too mundane an adjective for her. Plenty of burgers are juicy–The Black Label is, as A Hamburger Today called it in their excellent “Secrets of Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger” profile, “simply ethereal” and “succulent.” Picture meat as velvet–smooth and soft to the palette, luxe and sensually decadent. The Blogfather’s insistence that we order medium rare was spot on. The airy, velvety burger flushed a beautiful pink, more sexy than coy. This flavor does not wink coquettishly–it melts on the tongue, expanding on the palette like the notes of a fine wine. First there’s the buttery richness, robust yet not overwhelming, somehow both sweet and gently sharp at once. You experience the tang of caramelized onion, the mingled flavors and textures of the aged meat blend, the firm but giving, noble countenance of the bun. No flavor overpowers another; somehow the vast number of ingredients and textures that make up the Black Label Burger have combined to form ecclesiastical harmony.

In truth, the Minetta Black Label is an utterly sensory experience. You don’t go to Minetta to “grab a burger.” It grabs you. Leave the ketchup and mustard on the side, abandon the cheese however good it may be, and close your eyes. Now this is purity.

Make sure you have it at least once in your life. You’ll always remember your first time.

Meet Real Girl’s favorite bar. Better yet, get yourself on over for a divine cocktail.

Welcome to Real Girl’s happy place.

White Star is an oasis of peace, beauty, and delight nestled among the gritty storefronts of Essex Street on the Lower East Side. Its devotees are mostly wedded to the staff and the owner, Sasha Petraske, and with good reason. Years ago, Sasha taught Real Girl what an excellent cocktail is supposed to taste like–a revelation that has never gotten old.

Real Girl was among the first regulars at Sasha’s debut bar, Milk & Honey, when she was a young early-twenty-something. Instead of dancing on tabletops or getting embarrassingly drunk, I would be ensconced in a cozy nook of the railroad-length bar gently sipping exquisitely engineered cocktails and meeting fascinating people in all industries, particularly the arts, journalism, and entertainment. Sasha’s gang of regulars all knew each other, and a choice spot at the bar meant getting to watch the bartenders in motion, dutifully measuring spirits and manipulating fresh ingredients with charm and grace. Everything from the tin ceilings to the oil-burning candles, to the stainless steel stirrers, to the ideal-sized ice had been thoughtfully chosen by Sasha, our barfather and our friend.

Located at 21 Essex St between Hester and Canal, White Star is the progeny of that original Milk & Honey, and I confess I love it even more. Sasha’s initial concept was for an absinthe bar; he saw White Star as the Peter Luger of then newly legal absinthe and a destination spot for people to discover and love the potent liquor at its best. Indeed, I tried absinthe for the first time during White Star’s early days, and I’ve never enjoyed it as much since. If you are looking for the definitive spot to find absinthe done right, you need look no further. But a bar cannot survive on absinthe alone, and White Star’s menu soon expanded to include some of the cocktails that Milk & Honey made famous. I admit I never look at the drink menu, and in truth you don’t have to. Put yourself in your bartender’s hands. Once he or she asks what spirits and flavors you enjoy–sweet? tangy? ginger? mint? honey?–you will be transported on a cocktail journey unlike no other, spirited away (literally!) by fine ingredients mixed expertly and presented impeccably. You will be in cocktail heaven.

Real Girl’s two favorite cocktails inhabit two vastly different taste realms: the tangy kick of ginger on the one hand, and sweet lime and icy mint on the other. I urge you not to order a dark and stormy anywhere other than at White Star or Milk & Honey. Sasha has trained his bartenders well, and nowhere will you find the drink as infused with fresh ginger to complement the dark rum. Garnished with a tangy ginger candy, the tall refreshing drink is as enjoyable sipped in summer as it is in winter, fall, or spring. Real Girl’s other go-to White Star cocktail would be the ivy gimlet, a vodka gimlet shaken with crushed mint. Sugar syrup and lime work in tandem to achieve the perfect sweet-tart combination, and the invigorating kick of mint transports the delicate cocktail to an elevated level of flavor. Rarely will you want just one.

Aesthetically, Real Girl never quite makes it past the marble bar. It’s just so pretty. Longer than the bar at M&H, there are plenty of seats for patrons to enjoy watching the bartenders display their craft. Unlike at Milk & Honey, you will not need to call in advance or make a reservation. On Friday through Monday, look for TJ, your dapper, bespectacled red-headed bartender and Sasha’s right-hand man and long-time chum. Tell him Real Girl sent you (and next time I see TJ I’ll let him know what that means :-)). TJ has partnered with Sasha from the start, and you are assured fine service in his hands. Beyond the bar, the space gets darker and more isolated, but Real Girl has heard it makes the perfect spot for a hot date. You’ll find people here who enjoy quality, but in an unpretentious, un-self-conscious manner. Here you will find clientele looking not for a scene, but for character and standards.

Character, high standards, and delicious, classic, timeless cocktails. Now isn’t that an amalgamation to make Real Girl smile.


Delicious, finely crafted cocktails

Fresh, unique, high quality ingredients

Specialized, trained bartenders

Elegant, unpretentious atmosphere

21 Essex Street, Lower East Side


October 2019
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