“I hate hazelnuts,” I said to Chef Kyle McLelland as my boyfriend Andy and I prepared to tuck into the tasting menu at Prospect in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. He smiled and asked, “Can I change your mind?” Feeling gutsy, I said “Sure, why not?” Though I wasn’t born one, my extensive travels have made me a daring, even adventurous eater. But hazelnuts and raw red onions have remained on my loathe-list.
We sat overlooking the kitchen, sampling delicious fried oysters and Nantucket Bay scallops with pork jowl and pumpkin puree. “The food says I should be wearing a tie, but then there’s Lil Wayne pumping through the restaurant and rows of whisky bottles behind the bar,” Andy said. “I like the juxtaposition.”
The chef presented his butternut squash soup with espresso marshmallows, hazelnuts, and root beer cream, then left us alone to sample the beautiful concoction. A hint of hazelnut was discernible, to be sure, but it didn’t overwhelm. When he came back, I showed him my empty bowl and confessed that no other nut would have worked. “We wanted a place where people could come back and always have something new to try,” he said. Amen to that.
Prospect has only been open for a few months, and reflects what Brooklyn now is: a hyper-hotbed of creativity and the reshaping of neighborhoods. The bar-restaurant is just two blocks from the Barclays Center, has a wall made of reclaimed wood from the original Coney Island boardwalk, and offers a cooking class series, including butchery and pasta.
When we left after several hours of good food and good conversation, I thought of how cozy the entire night had been. To me, cozy doesn’t mean wearing pajamas and Uggs. It’s a place without pretense, somewhere to escape the harshness of wind and cold noses — a place where you don’t feel rushed.
Here’s my list of some of the best places to cozy up in New York City this winter:
Marc Forgione, TriBeCa
With red-brick walls, candles hanging down and a farmhouse feel suited for the Hudson Valley, this is your neighborhood restaurant turned up a notch, and where you’ll find restaurateur Marc Forgione’s envelope-pushing take on bagels, Doritos, and bread pudding, along with to-die-for steak, fish, and pork dishes.
Isola Trattoria & Crudo Bar, SoHo
Set inside a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse at the Mondrian Hotel, Isola isn’t exactly your standard cozy restaurant. But it is a lovely downtown space inspired by lushly landscaped Italian estates. While they specialize in crudo (raw fish, Italian-style), they also serve up delicious pastas and pizza. Over bites of burrata at dinner on a cold night, my friend remarked that it felt like we were in a secret garden. The glowing space gives the sense of dining under the stars in Manhattan, an appealing concept indeed.
The Back Room, Lower East Side
You have to take two flights of stairs and go through a back alley before arriving at a dimly lit, red-toned room where drinks are served in teacups, a throwback to the Prohibition era. I like to take my teacup and settle into one of the Victorian-style armchairs in front of the fireplace for the ultimate cozy feel. Come during the week; this place gets super crowded on the weekends.
Baked, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Red Hook, a fascinating, constantly-changing part of Brooklyn, needs visitors and love now more than ever, as it was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Baked on Van Brunt Street is one of the establishments that is responsible for the Red Hook revival, and people come from all over for the famous Sweet and Salty brownies, bars, cakes, granola, and pies. The Sweet and Salty Cake is a perennial favorite, with layers of salted caramel and chocolate frosting.
The Rose Bar, Gramercy Park
To gain access to the private Gramercy Park, you must be a resident around the park and pay for a key. But booking a room at the Gramercy Park Hotel is the next best thing, as keys are standard issue for guests. I pay regular visits to the hotel for Danny Meyer’s Maialino restaurant on the ground floor and for the two bars, Rose and Jade. The Rose Bar is one of the most romantic bars in the city, candlelit with velvet couches and eclectic artwork. Make a reservation if you are going after 10:00 p.m.
Tea & Sympathy, West Village
I’ve written about my love of tea and London before. But, lucky for me, there is a place that takes me to England right in my neighborhood, and it is supremely cozy spot to enjoy classic dishes like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding or shepherd’s pie. Afternoon tea includes a hot pot of tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and cakes.
The Corner Bookstore, Carnegie Hill
I’m always happy to while away an hour at this tiny gem of a bookshop on the Upper East Side, especially when it’s cold out. Carrying a small but richly curated selection of books, there is something for everyone here. I often buy biographies, cookbooks, and children’s books for gifts to support one of the city’s loveliest small businesses.
The Neue Galerie, Upper East Side
Though it’s nearly neighbors with the Met, many bypass this gallery dedicated to early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design. Its most famous piece is arguably Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” bought by Ronald Lauder for a reported $135 million in 2006. I love to cozy up in the museum’s Cafe Sabarsky, which is in the style of a grand Viennese cafe and even serves sachertorte (though nothing beats the Original Sacher-Torte, obsessively chronicled here).
Black Mountain Winehouse, Brooklyn
When I’m trying to plan an evening out, and a wine bar sounds good, Black Mountain is my go-to. Settling into this snug, neighborhoody spot is well worth the 40-minute subway ride it takes to get there (for me at least). Adirondack chairs beckon from the front deck so it’s almost like you’ve traveled far beyond the city limits instead of being a block away from busy Smith Street.
Du Jour Bakery, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Located on one of Park Slope’s main thoroughfares, Fifth Avenue, Du Jour Bakery is a friendly spot for a cup of coffee or, if you’re hungry, sandwiches, quiches, and sweet and savory treats. There’s plenty of seating, and it will warm you up for a snowy walk in Prospect Park or a whimsical romp along the shops of Fifth and Seventh Avenues.