4 free street fairs to check out this weekend in New York

As the day turns to night earlier and earlier, we only have a little longer to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather. For those in the New York City area this weekend, enjoy fun in the outdoors by attending some of these street fairs.

Saturday, November 5, 2011:

American Diabetes Association’s World’s Largest Block Party

Explore over 400 exhibitors of art, crafts, collectibles, antiques, fashion, and more, from 10AM-6PM. This free event runs down Madison Avenue from 42nd-57th street, and will also feature free entertainment and over 50 cultural and corporate displays giving information and free samples.

West 4th Street Festival

From 11AM-6PM, stroll down West 4th in between Sixth Avenue and University Place to experience a great outdoor festival in Greenwich Village. Enjoy free music and entertainment while you browse stalls selling arts and crafts, food, housewares, and unique gifts.

Sunday, November 6, 2011:

Bleeker Street Festival

This free street fair will take place from 11AM-4PM along Bleeker Street in between Lafayette Street and Laguardia Place. Explore Soho by perusing the many market stalls and sampling delicious food from local vendors.

Sixth Avenue Autumn Fair

Sixth Avenue will be full of festivity from 10AM-4PM. The free fair will take place in between 34th and 42nd Streets and will feature plenty of great food and vendors as well as fall-inspired music and entertainment.

A guide to America’s most “offal” restaurants

Even when I was a finicky kid subsisting on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, I was intrigued by offal. No way in hell would I have eaten what are politely known in the food industry as “variety meats,” but they sure looked intriguing.

As with most of my weird habits, I blame my dad for my fascination with animal guts. Growing up the daughter of a large animal vet, I spent most of my formative years raising livestock, assisting with surgeries and necropsies, and working cattle brandings, so I’ve never been squeamish when it comes to animal innards.

Not until I began working in restaurants, however, did I learn that offal, properly prepared, is absolutely delicious. Many of us were forced to eat liver cooked to the consistency of jerky as kids because it was “good for us.” When I ate my first tender, caramelized calf’s liver, however, the interior creamy and surprisingly mild, I actually enjoyed it. Ditto fried pig’s brains, calf testicles, smoked cow’s tongue, grilled chicken hearts…

In most of the world–Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America–offal has always been a dietary staple due to poverty, and the need to utilize as much of the animal as possible. Glands, organs, and other bits and pieces fell out of favor in America in the late 19th century due to cheap meat (muscle cut) prices. Today, offal is gaining popularity in the States, thanks in part to the increasing emphasis on sustainable food production and supply. British chef Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating has done just as much to inspire American chefs to get in on the offal revolution this side of the Atlantic.

Following the jump, my picks for some of the best restaurants in the United States to specialize in or honor offal (having the occasional sweetbreads or tongue on a menu doesn’t count). Read on for where to find these temples of, as one chef put it, “offal love.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user The Hamster Factor]

Incanto, and SPQR: San Francisco
It’s hard to turn on the Food Network these days without seeing Incanto chef Chris Cosentino’s mug. The “Iron Chef” contestant also appears on a handful of other shows, but he’s best known for his obsession with offal. At Incanto, you’ll find Italian-rooted local cuisine heavy on variety meats. Lamb fries (testicles) with bacon and capers; kip (veal) heart tartare Puttanesca style; creative endeavors with cockscombs. If you want to discover how good esoteric offal can be, this Noe Valley spot is it.

SPQR–sister restaurant to the wildly popular A16–is a bustling little sweet spot on boutique-and-restaurant heavy Fillmore Street. The name, an acronym for the Latin version of “The People and Senate of Rome,” is a tip-off that rising star chef Matthew Accarrino’s menu is littered with animal parts. Look for delicacies like a delicate fritto misto of offal (liver, tripe, and sweetbreads), and braised pig ears deep-fried, and served with pickled vegetables and chili oil.

Animal: Los Angeles
As you will see, this round-up is unwittingly a tribute to Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs, past and present. But a great chef is a great chef, and it just so happens that 2009 F & W winners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo love them some animal parts. At their first restaurant, Animal, the down-to-earth duo–former culinary school classmates and longtime co-workers–serve up fancified down-home, finger-slurpingly good treats like pig tails, “Buffalo-style,” with celery and Ranch; pig ear, chili, lime, and fried egg, and veal brains, vadouvan (a spice mixtures), apple sauce, and carrot.

Clyde Common, Porland (Oregon)
The menu isn’t always bursting with offal, but this lovely communal dining spot in downtown’s Ace Hotel knows its way with variety meats–it’s where I first fell in love with tongue. Savor Euro tavern-style treats like chef Chris DiMinno’s chicken-fried chicken livers with cress, cucumber, and lemon aioli; pig trotters, or hearty charcuterie boards with excellent (heavy on the bourbon, gin, and rye) house cocktails.

Amis, and Osteria: Philadelphia
Arguably one of the nation’s most talented chefs, Marc Vetri trained in Italy, and now runs a three-restaurant (and growing) empire with his partners in Philadelphia. The award-winning chef’s restaurants Amis, and Osteria, are heavy on the offal, in two very divergent ways. At Amis, chef/co-owner Brad Spence turns out earthy, Roman trattoria specialties, including a menu section called “il quinto quarto.” In ancient Rome, this “fifth quarter” refers to the four quarters of an animal that were butchered and split up amongst the noblemen, clergy, and soldiers. Peasants got the fifth quarter (also known as “what falls out of the animal). Expect hearty fare like trippa alla Romana, Roman tripe stew.

Jeff Michaud, chef/co-owner of the industrial-farmhouse-styled Osteria, turns out intensely rich dishes like Genovese ravioli stuffed with veal brain, capon, and liver, served with a braised capon leg sauce; crispy sweetbreads with Parmigiano fonduta and charred treviso, and grilled pork tongue spiedini with fava beans and pancetta.

The Greenhouse Tavern, and Lolita: Cleveland
Chef/owner Jonathon Sawyer of downtown’s The Greenhouse Tavern is more than just a 2010 F & W Best New Chef. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to make “Roasted Ohio pig face” one of his signature dishes. Granted, this is a hog gussied up with Sawyer’s signature Frenchified gastropub style: cola gastrique, petit crudite, and lime. But Sawyer, who lived briefly in Rome, also pays tribute to the eternal city of love by serving a daily-changing il quinto quarto “with tasty bits.”

the Publican: Chicago
Spicy pork rinds; blood sausage; headcheese; neck bone gravy with spaghetti and Parmesan; sweetbreads with pear-celery root remoulade. the Publican executive chef/co-owner/award-winning chef Paul Kahan is innovative with more than just offal. He uses scraps, blood, and bones to create charcuterie, as well as elegant, “beer-focused farmhouse fare (his father owned a deli and smokehouse; no wonder).” Chef de cuisine Brian Huston leads the show, carrying on the tradition.

The Spotted Pig, New York
Having just received its fifth Michelin star means this Greenwich Village hot spot will continue to be nearly impossible to get into. But it’s worth the wait for chef/co-owner April Bloomfield’s (yet another F & W Best New Chef alum) soulful gastropub cuisine. In the never-too-much-of-a-good-thing category: Calf’s liver with crispy pancetta and house-made bacon.

I’ve only tapped the surface of what talented, creative chefs are doing with offal in the United States. Have a favorite restaurant doing something noteworthy with bits and pieces? I’d love to hear about it!

Traveling with Edgar Allan Poe

— “Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

Now those are words to conjure with! They are, of course, from Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven.” Poe casts a uniquely powerful spell among American writers. Even people who have never read him have probably heard bits of his poetry or know the titles of some stories, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Although he is most famous for dark and gloomy tales and verses, Poe was also the inventor of the modern detective story and a pioneer of science fiction.

If you’re a true Poe aficionado, you owe it to yourself to make pilgrimages to some of the important places in his short, strange life. And when you do, get a sense of the author by reading works that he wrote in those places. Castle Books’ Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe is a handy volume to travel with. Or you can use your laptop to access all of Poe’s writings at The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore’s website.

What follows are some suggestions for visiting the important spots in his life, and some corresponding reading…Born in Boston in 1809, Poe was abandoned by his actor father in 1810. After his mother died in 1811, he became the foster son of John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum is one of the finest shrines to his life and career. Although Poe never lived in the museum building, it is the oldest structure in Richmond, so it’ll give you a feeling of what life was like back then. There, you will find Poe’s actual furniture and a model of how Richmond looked in that time. While visiting, start dipping into Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, which he wrote in Richmond. You’ll have trouble putting down this bizarre and seldom-read fantasy that influenced Herman Melville’s much more famous Moby-Dick.
Poe spent a short time studying at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The university’s Raven Society has preserved Poe’s student living quarters at 13 West Range (contact the society about visiting this room). While there, read “Song,” a short poem written in Poe’s youth.

Poe also lived in Baltimore, Maryland, where his home at 203 Amity street is now the Baltimore Poe House and Museum. It features videos, Poe memorabilia, a portrait of his wife Virginia, and a lock of his hair. During your visit, read Poe’s delightful science fiction story about a moon voyage, “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,” which he wrote while living there.

Poe spent some of his happiest and most productive years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At 532 North Seventh Street, you’ll find his only surviving Philadelphia home. Maintained as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, the house has been left eerily empty and unpreserved. But in neighboring houses, you can view a film about Poe and visit a reading room furnished in a style advocated by Poe himself. It was here in Philadelphia that Poe created the modern detective story. Indeed, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — the creator of Sherlock Holmes — called Poe’s mysteries “a model for all time.” So while roaming Poe’s empty home, read his detective story “The Purloined Letter.”

In 1844, Poe moved with his sickly young wife, Virginia, and her mother, Maria Clemm, to New York City’s Greenwich Village. His first Manhattan residence no longer exists; it is now the site of O’Hara’s Pub at the corner of Greenwich Street and Cedar Street. Stop in, buy a drink, and read “The Balloon-Hoax,” a playful work that Poe wrote while he was living at that very spot. First published in the New York newspaper The Sun in 1844, it describes the first-ever crossing of the Atlantic in a powered balloon. Thousands of readers believed the tale, even though Poe made the whole thing up!

While in Greenwich Village, Poe and his wife and mother-in-law also lived at 85 Amity Street. The facade of this house has been moved about a half a block to 85 West 3rd Street. While standing in front of it, be sure to read a stanza or two of “The Raven,” which he wrote while living there.

Poe’s last residence was a charming and cozy cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx in New York. Although it has been moved to its current location at Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse, it is excellently preserved. Unfortunately, the house is closed for renovations during 2010-2011. Check its website for news about when it will reopen. When you are able to visit, you’ll be able to see Poe’s own rocking chair and the bed where his wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis at 24 in January 1847. Have a handkerchief handy as you read Poe’s great poems of love, loss, and mourning, “Annabel Lee” and “Ulalume,” which were written after her death. Poe himself outlived Virginia by only two years. He died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore in 1849 at the age of 40.

Wim Coleman is a poet, playwright, and novelist, who recently edited a unique collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, The Poe You Don’t Know: Humor and Speculation. Read his blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | chucka_nc; RTLibrary; RTLibrary; Gruenemann]

20 great destinations for shopping

Shoppers of all kinds will fall in love with the places that made this list of the top 20 cities for shopping. Whether you live nearby or are planning a trip, this list offers places ideal for anyone in need of some retail therapy.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The French Quarter and Bourbon Street are only the starting point in the unique shopping destinations you’ll find in New Orleans. Stroll the French Market and pick up vibrant art from street vendors, or dash down a side street and discover one of the many galleries and specialty shops that sell one-of-a-kind items. This is also where you’ll find all manner of New Orleans themed clothing, voodoo dolls, postcards, and other tourist finds.

After exploring The Quarter, head to Magazine Street, where many of the city’s college students and young professionals flock. If treasures for the home are what you are looking for, then trek to Aux Belles Choses, a “shabby-chic” shop where the owners hand-pick each addition to their store. For the hottest fashions, try Buffalo Exchange and Funky Monkey, where hip fashionistas trade in their old clothes for new outfits and accessories. Be on the lookout for the latest trends and vintage frocks and accessories.Toronto, Canada
I love the the Distillery District, a pedestrian mall and historical district where a number of Toronto’s emerging artists and designers have shops. Tour the works of art at one of Thomas Landry Gallery’s two locations or browse rack after rack of denim masterpieces at Lileo. Peruse the collections of artists like Wendy Walgate, who create pieces with deep meaning out of familiar materials.

Established in 1975, Courage My Love is a Bohemian shopping mecca and is where Hollywood stylists and starlets flock to accessorize. It’s like looking through a friend’s closet, if the closet just happened to take up an entire store. If luxury is more your style, then make tracks to Zenobia, where a personal shopper will compile a perfect wardrobe for you. Your Zenobia representative will help you craft your style months in advance then have your pieces tailored in season.

Tokyo, Japan
The pomp and ceremony at Mitsukoshi is incredible. Founded in the 17th Century, this Japanese department store chain has the most outstanding customer service I have ever seen. Here you can find everything from traditional Japanese garb to gardening tools. Visit the main store in the Nihombashi District or one of the other buildings placed conveniently throughout the city. Another historical and traditional store is Kyukyodo, which sells stationary and writing supplies. Here, even sheets of paper can be works of art.

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston is a city of American prestige and history. While you are here, take in the sights and enjoy the city’s luxuries. At Firestone and Parson, you can find fine exquisite antique estate jewelry and silver as as well as new baubles. Louis Boston is one of the world’s premier sellers of fine clothing. The staff is second to none, and they go the extra mile to get to know their customers. They will work with you to ensure your new wardrobe matches the current fashion climate and your own personal style. While you are in town, design a custom handbag at Lill Studio or, if you don’t have the time, browse their ready-made collection. This innovative store makes shopping an affair to remember.

Marrakesh, Morocco
For Western travelers, Morocco is an exotic and exciting shopping destination. This is why the winding streets around Marrakesh’s Djamaa El Fna Square, with its labyrinth of treasures, plus its hustlers and haggling shopkeepers, is a must see. For a dizzying array of local and international herbs and spices, visit Herboriste du Paradis.

Beijing, China
Beijing is a flourishing shopping city set in the shadow of the iconic Great Wall. You can visit the traditional night market and pick up the usual tourist trinkets, but it’s the quiet cultural revolution taking place here that really gets me excited. China’s art scene is exploding, and I’ve found that it’s easier than ever to find works by contemporary Chinese artists. Formerly a state owned factory district, the 798 Art District is an amazing collection of designer boutiques and galleries, where you can find everything from pop art to chic designer clothing. It is breathtaking to see how the artists-in-residence have transformed and divided their space.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi is a land of luxury and excess for travelers. Enjoy the modern feel and energetic nightlife, but I would suggest visiting shops with a more local feel. Al Motahajiba sells traditional head scarves and Muslim dress, but you can also find glamorous party dresses and formal wear. Some of these dresses will leave you breathless (but so might the price tags). And, if you truly want to experience Middle Eastern luxury at its best, shop at The Paris Gallery, where you will find traditional perfumes and exclusive luxury products.

Mumbai, India
Mumbai is a bustling, busy, and sometimes dirty city. My favorite shopping destination was Mangadalas Market, where there are plenty of bargains on everything from textiles to clothing, both modern and traditional. This is a great place to find accent pieces (and fabrics to make your own) for your home. Women should definitely check out Naina’s, where you can order customized saris. And, Cottage Industries Emporium has an unbelievable selection of crafts made by skilled Indian artisans.

Tahiti, French Polynesia
For me, Tahiti is THE place to buy pearls. You can find the natural marvels in every shape, color, and size. At Te Tevake Creations, carved mother of pearl and natural pearls are used in exquisite jewelry combinations. Robert Wan offers pearl jewelry in distinctive designs. If you’re looking for more traditional arts and crafts to prove you were here, try the market Le Marche.

Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is full of fascinating bazaars and traditional retailers. I loved navigating the stalls at The Grand Bazaar, even though I only got to experience a handful of the loud, bustling marketplace. It has more than 4,000 shops and was established in the 15th Century. The Spice Bazaar is much smaller, but the selection of edible treasures in the form of spices, teas, and more is dizzying. And, at Melda Silverware, the traditional silver is simply stunning.

— The above was written by Wendy Withers, Seed contributor

Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii

I stumbled upon the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, while searching for a place to buy sandals and I ended up spending hours there. Besides having almost 300 popular stores, the indoor/outdoor setup of the Ala Moana Center provides the ideal environment for both enjoying the Hawaiian heat and cooling off.

Chinatown in Seattle, Washington
Having visited the Chinatown districts of many cities, it’s safe to say that Seattle’s International District beats them all. Besides the shopping, it offers numerous art galleries, restaurants and bars. The Venus Karaoke bar is a must for experiencing karaoke the traditional Asian way, in a private room without strangers watching as you belt out a tune.

Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, Arizona
As I strolled around the Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was walking in a stunning desert park. It’s a place where you can easily spend an entire day. After visiting the shops, I enjoyed an outdoor dinner as I watched the sun set. After the meal I relaxed and painted pottery at the As You Wish Pottery Painting Place, and played video games at Dave & Buster’s while waiting for it to be finished.

Georgetown Flea Market in Washington, DC
The Georgetown Flea Market is perfect for bargain hunters searching for vintage items. Perusing the market is half the fun, rummaging through the antique pieces wondering what you will find. I was lucky enough to come across 3 vintage 1950’s dresses, all for a discounted price significantly lower than anyplace else I have purchased them in the past.

Greenwich Village, New York City
The Greenwich Village shopping experience is unlike any other and is what landed it on this list of the 20 best cities for shopping. Every trip made to Strand Bookstore results in a rare find, and I still love the bright pink fishnets purchased at Ricky’s. The best find of all time? An authentic vintage Chinese wedding gown for the low price of $100, found amongst other unique items at Stella Dallas.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster, Pennsylvania offers diverse shopping. I scored an Amish rocking chair then enjoyed a family-style Pennsylvania-Dutch home cooked meal. The city’s multiple outlet centers prompt return trips every year, and is especially beneficial for school shopping. Extensive sales often bring the prices down to less than $10 an item, and on my last trip to the Lancaster outlets, I left with 12 items for less than $100.

Siena, Italy
The shopping in Siena, Italy provides a noteworthy alternative to the shops found in Rome or Milan. In addition to the many boutiques, Siena offers a variety of weekend markets. I purchased handmade bowls at a tremendous discount as well as several homemade bottles of olive oil that incidentally were selling for $10 more in Rome.

Piccadilly Circus in London, England
A major intersection in London, at first glance Piccadilly Circus doesn’t seem to have much to offer for shopping. However once the weekend comes, Piccadilly springs to life. The weekend market is the perfect place to purchase small trinkets and inexpensive souvenirs. I was able to score postcards, small purse and handmade paper, all on a student budget.

South Congress Street in Austin, Texas

South Congress Street in Austin, Texas, better known as “SoCo,” epitomizes the Austin experience. With a motto of “Keep Austin Weird”, the city boasts several unique and odd places to shop. Staying at the famous Austin Motel on SoCo allowed me to feel like a local, drinking coffee at the trendy Austin Java while taking in the shopping on a daily basis. I came home with loads of fun accessories, one-of-a-kind clothing items and handmade soaps all made by local Austin folks.

The Grove in Los Angeles, California
If you enjoy shopping at a traditional mall, you will love the last of the 20 best cities for shopping, The Grove in L.A. Instead of housing the shops in one building, The Grove spreads the stores across an outdoor pavilion riddled with water fountains. The atmosphere is ideal for taking in the beautiful Los Angeles weather, and I was able to meet several local people who recommended night spots.

— The above was written by Rebecca Reinstein, Seed contributor

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Budget meets Boutique: The Jane in NYC

At some point in our lives, hostelling begins to lose its appeal. Sure, it’s cheap, the community is great and often times the locations are unbeatable, but sooner or later the needs for some personal space and some quiet time begin to outweigh the need for low budget accommodation. But the desires to stay somewhere unique and somewhat social and maybe even save a few bucks are still there.

The Jane hotel in New York City mixes these two worlds perfectly. As a boutique hotel in Greenwich Village (lower west side,) the Jane offers the quiet and comfort of single, private rooms while mixing in a communal washroom, a jaw dropping bar and plenty of community activities. The result? A clean, chic hotel in one of the best corners of the city that you can book for under a hundred bucks a night.

So what’s it like? Is sharing a washroom that big of a deal when you’re paying half the rate of another Manhattan hotel? Does extra foot traffic in the hallway make the rooms noisier? Lets take a look around.


The Rooms

When you check into the Jane, you’re given a large, metal keyring with your magnetic door key and a long metal rod. As the elevator attendant will show you when you reach your room, you insert this rod into a slot in the room to turn on your electricity.

It’s just one way that the Jane conserves money and makes your stay less expensive. Among other efficiencies they’ve implemented are shared liquid soap in the showers and no desks or tables in the rooms.

Conversely, each room has a robe, towels, an iPod dock and a bottle of water for purchase.

Rooms are small and cozy. As a former sailor’s housing unit, much of the architecture and style have been historically preserved. Wood detailing surrounds each room, and with the bed built into the wall, the feeling of being in a ship’s cabin is strong. Each room is designed for one person with a single bed, though rooms with bunk beds and even rooms with queen beds and bathrooms are on tap for later this year.

Despite the heavier hall traffic, rooms are quiet and cozy, though if you’re particularly sensitive to this, ask for a room that isn’t near the hallway doors.

The Washrooms

Although it’s a little unnerving passing a stranger wearing a bath robe in the hall, community washrooms are a perfectly logical concept. Each is well maintained, with classic tiling on the walls and private stalls for toilets and showers. It’s true that you’ll have to (or you should) put pants on to walk to the end of the halls, but this shouldn’t bother most people. The fact of the matter is, much of your savings on this hotel booking are because of the shared washrooms, and if they’re an important part of your experience you should either book another hotel or wait for the larger rooms to open up.

Can we tell you about the bar?

One of the Jane’s biggest strengths is their amazing bar. Comprised of one main bar just outside of the lobby, an adjoining, high ceilinged lounge in the next room and a balcony above, the massive Jane Bar is a great place to sit back on a soft, comfortable couch, stare at your surroundings and drink in the opulence. Many people come to the bar whether or not they’re staying at the hotel, and if you come home late in the evening you’ll have tell the bouncer your room number.

Outside of drinking hours, the Jane Bar also hosts movie nights, private parties and other fun activities. You can check the local schedule when you arrive.

In Summary,

The Jane Hotel fits into the perfect niche between hostel and hotel, giving residents a taste of both worlds at a damn good price. If you’re all about being pampered, numerous amenities and vast personal space, this place isn’t for you — but for those of you who are looking for a clean, chic place to stay with a bumping nightlife, you can’t go wrong.