Category Archives: Drink Reviews

The 10 Best Coffeeshops On The Upper West Side

This is a cross-post with Check out writer Cindy Liu’s original article here!

Long considered the ‘coffee shop desert’ of Manhattan, the Upper West Side now boasts coffee and pastries to rival the Stumptown’s of Flatiron and the Blue Bottles of Brooklyn. The uniting appeal in the coffee shop explosion of recent years lies in owners’ singular commitments to both quality and happiness.

Continue reading The 10 Best Coffeeshops On The Upper West Side


Taste of Mendoza: Sipping on Friendship

Today is officially my last day in Argentina. I’ve said almost all of my good-byes. My bags are packed (somehow I got everything to fit into the exact same bags that I came with; I have no idea how that’s possible, but I’m not going to question it for fear of them bursting right open). My flight leaves in just a few hours, and then tomorrow, after God-knows how many hours of travelling, I’ll land in California, get picked up at the airport by my parents, and start this American life once again. Hello family, old friends, Mexican food, sushi, and English spoken everywhere.

There are a lot of things from home that I’ve missed while abroad, but there’s also so much that I’m sad to leave here. Argentina may be full of economic problems, political corruption, and a frustratingly unreliable bus system (never again will I complain about having to wait eight minutes for the 1 train to arrive at the platform), but it’s also here that I’ve met the nicest, most generous, warm people. I already miss the friends I’ve made here, and I don’t even want to think about how the improvements I’ve made in Spanish are going to plummet into the abyss of invisibility when I stop speaking and hearing the language during most of the day, or how I have no idea when I’ll be having another one of those amazingly flavorful asados. Oh Argentina, what will I do without you?

Manón Cookies

There are a few things (i.e. food) that I will be able to take along with me. One of my carry-ons, for example, is filled with the different types of cookies that my host mom would serve me for breakfast (no fruit of yogurt here in the morning as you will be called a monkey if you’re caught eating a banana for breakfast). Among those many cookie boxes are six of the Manón brand; they carry my name, so I was basically obligated to take a few with me, right? I’ve also got copies of several of my host mom’s recipes and the address of an Argentine grocery store in NYC. So aside from those asados, I’m basically set.

There are also a few of us in the program who might have decided to be one of those pretentious study abroad return-students who show in the most obvious way possible that they’ve lived outside the country. So if you ever see a few people drinking mate on Low Steps, it might be us.

Preparing Mate in the Park

Mate is one of the greatest Argentine customs, and travelling to Argentina without tasting this famous infusion is like going to Italy without eating pizza or to France without enjoying a croissant. Mate is to Argentina as the hamburgers are to the US, and aside from the horrendous Fernet con Coca (which apparently is an acquired taste, but to me just tastes like something you’d take for a bad cough) it’s basically the national drink and its people’s pride and joy. While many Argentines drink it in the morning as Americans would coffee (mateina has a similar energizing effect as caffeine), mate is generally enjoyed in social settings. The tea is passed around to all participants and everyone sips from the same bombilla (metal straw), all the while respecting the protocol that surrounds this friendship ritual. There are a lot of different claims to the correct way to cure the mate cup, how to prepare the tea, which brand of yerba to use, and more, so five months in Argentina and many mates later, I still feel as though I’ve only acquired a very basic understanding of the complex ritual that surrounds this tea. Evidently, it’s much more than just a simple plant infusion.

The first time that a friend and I were offered to share mate with an Argentine that we’d just met, we were sitting in film class listening to the professor’s lecture and were thus unable to communicate our excitement to each other about having just been initiated into the most Argentine tradition that there could be. We passed notes to each other that read, “make an Argentine friend…CHECK!” and “drink mate in class…CHECK!” and did our best to control our exhilaration. I later found out that by taking just a few sips without finishing the whole cup I had totally butchered the protocol, but oh well… A couple weeks later, a few of us from the program went to the park to drink mate, and if only we hadn’t been taking a ton of pictures of ourselves we would have looked totally local. Good thing we’ve gone back since, complete with snacks and a guitar (and without the camera).

My Mendocinian Family (with my host mom in the middle of the first row)

Most of all, I’m going to miss the daily mate and charla (chatting) that I’d enjoy with my host mom after waking up from the siesta. She’d set up a beautiful table of toast, homemade jams, cookies, and cake, and then we’d sit down and talk about whatever was on our minds at that moment: class, politics, friends, the repairs that needed to be made in the apartment upstairs, food, the neighbors, family, or life. Over these past five months in Argentina, I’ve gotten to be pretty close to my host mom—she’s made me feel at home in a foreign country, she’s taken me into her family even though we’d never known each other before my arrival, and she’s taught me so many valuable lessons, whether about the Spanish language, cooking, or life. My host mom is one of the most generous and genuinely good people that I’ve ever met in my life, and she will be the hardest person to say good-bye to when I leave. I’m really going to miss her, as well as our daily mate and charla, when I’m gone.

Mate is something very special, and it is a custom that I will dearly miss when I go back home. More than just a tea, it’s about friendship and the people it’s shared with. While my time in Argentina is now coming to a close, the national traditions I’ve learned about, the people I’ve met, and the people who have taken me into the their hearts will stay with me forever. There are many reasons to come back, so I hope it won’t be too long before the next time I set foot in this country once again. Un beso grande, Argentina.

Moroccan Tea


Sweet and minty, a glass of Moroccan tea hits just the right spot after a long morning of labor and construction under the scorching sun. Often served with biscuits and nuts at the end of lunch, it was something I look forward to every day that not only satisfies my sweet tooth but also reenergizes me for the afternoon work. 

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to work on an Engineers Without Borders project—building a bridge in a rural village in Morocco. I can’t help but smile every time I say I’m building a bridge, but I’ll be honest here, it’s no big stone bridge like the Golden Gate in San Francisco or the George Washington in New York. In fact, it is a polymer rope suspension pedestrian bridge that is designed for the villagers of Ait Bayoud in an effort to bridge two villages and offer easy access to the market, schools, and the hospital.

But enough about the project, I’m here to share my Moroccan tea experience. 

Local Moroccans may live a simple life, but they do take pride in their tea—the quality, preparation, and custom. It’s almost like a show they put on. In comes the platter with a silver kettle surrounded by many colorfully patterned glasses. Then enters the mint, blocks of sugar cubes, and tea leaves. The kettle with water and tea leaves is placed on top of the buta-gas tank and allowed to boil to let out the natural fragrance; perhaps it’s their opening line to let the audience know that the show is about to begin. At this point, the eldest and most respected member of the family (the grandfather) would perform his duty; he pours the tea out a few feet from the rim of the glass and creates a lot of bubbles in the tea. But he only pours out two glasses… hmm, are we suppose to share these among a group of ten? Be patient, the show has barely started. Next, he pours the tea from the glass back into the kettle and adds in the fresh mint leaves and generously drops six to seven large sugar cubes. Our eyes open and our jaws drop; is that going to be too sweet? My answer is: no. At this point, he returns the kettle back on the gas tank and waits. He sits there with a smile on his face as if he thinks we can’t handle the sweetness or that he’s satisfied with the tea he’s about to serve. He takes the kettle off the heat and distributes the tea among all the glasses, effortlessly creating a waterfall from the mouth of the kettle to the bottom of the glass. Tea is served; the show is over.

The show may be over, but the tasting is yet to begin. A good quality tea is one that is well aerated and is layered with bubbles on the top. It is strong yet sweet with a touch of minty aftertaste. With its unique recipe, every household claims to make the best tea—whether it be stronger or sweeter or less mint flavored. I try to judge and make a preference, but at the end of the day, I know I just want to have a glass of the Moroccan tea and chew on a biscuit before heading back to work.


Taste of Mendoza: The Perks of Living in a Wine Capital

Wine tasting at Tempus Alba

In case I haven’t mentioned so already, Mendoza’s slogan is “the land of sun and of good wine.” We’ve had so few days of rain or clouds that I can total them up on just one hand, and even though we’re already less than two weeks away from the shortest day of the year and are entering what are supposed to be Argentina’s coldest months (Southern hemisphere here), we’re still hanging out after class in café patios and walking around town wearing nothing more than fall jackets. Either winter isn’t coming, or we’re reaping the benefits of Mendoza’s abnormal microclimate. Whichever it might be, I’m thinking it’s just that Mendoza has perfect weather: moderate temperatures without the annoyance of humidity taking over my hair.

The bici tour bikes

As for the good wine, Mendoza is South America’s biggest wine producer. The province’s most important holiday of the year (featuring fireworks, parades, and more) celebrates the annual grape harvest, and it’s usually less expensive to share a bottle of malbec than to order a glass of mineral water in the average restaurant or café. There are lots of opportunities for free and fancy wine tastings, gourmet dinners with wine pairings, and tours of nearby vineyards. Música y vino en las alturas (Music and wine in the heights), for example, is an open-air concert on the rooftop of a municipal building where a free glass of wine if offered to enjoy while admiring the amazing view of the city in front of the Andes cordillera. A few months ago, there was also the inaugural Semana del vino (Week of wine), which celebrated Mendoza’s recognition as the International wine capital with plein air wine tastings, concerts, and lectures. If you don’t already like wine before coming, you’re pretty much obligated to love it by the time you leave.

So last Friday, a couple of friends and I decided to go on a bodega bici tour (vineyard tour by bike) in nearby Maipú, a popular destination for wannabe samplers of Mendoza’s famous malbec. The bikes had semi-functional breaks (I’m pretty sure I developed a significant amount of hand-muscle by the end of the day after having had to exert so much force to avoid crashing into my friends), but aside from that, riding from bodega to bodega was an awesome way to visit the wineries, even for someone who’s not a huge fan of biking.

Sampling the olive products at Laur Olivícula

We stared the day at Laur Olivícula, a small olive oil production (I know I just said that we went on a wine tour, but olive oil production is a big thing here too). After a guided tour of the grove and of the production center, we were offered to taste the different olive oils and pastes, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Let’s just say that we did a little more than just a sampling of their products—by the time we left, the huge pile of bread that accompanied the tasting had completely disappeared. We ate so many samples that we never got hungry enough to stop for lunch.

First wine tasting at Familia Di Tommaso

Next up we visited two small boutique wineries, Familia Di Tommaso, and Tempus Alba. The guided tasting of four different wines (white, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and a sweet desert wine) at Familia Di Tommaso was a perfect introduction to the proper method of wine degustation: first examine the color, then analyze the viscosity of the liquid and smell its aromas, and finally taste the wine, looking for the particular flavors that it might have. We then set out for Tempus Alba where we enjoyed an unaccompanied tasting of six different wines: rosé, merlot, tempranillo, syrah, malbec, and cabernet sauvignon. Having the six varieties available to taste at our leisure was incredibly helpful in learning to differentiate between each type, and our impromptu blind tasting proved that even as novice wine-connoisseurs we were beginning to get a feel for particularities between each variety. To accompany the tasting we ordered a delicious apple and chocolate tart with a malbec coulis and a beautiful, layered chocolate and candied orange peel cookie, jelly, and ganache cake—a perfect indulgence before saddling up for the last leg of the trip.

Tempus Alba's apple and chocolate tart with a malbec coulis

At Productores y Sabores, an artisanal liquor, jam, and olive-product producer, we tasted a few chocolate and spiced liquors, an olive and bell pepper spread, a hot pepper paste, and malbec jam. I was particularly intrigued by the malbec jam, because after many of my own failed attempts at making red wine jelly, I had the experience the successful version of what I’d been hoping to make. I bought a jar from Productores y Sabores and am now anxiously awaiting to enjoy it drizzled onto broiled goat cheese or Brie croustades as a sweet-and-savory appetizer. Delicious.

While the Maipú bike tour had to come to an end, there are still plenty of opportunities for wine tastings in Mendoza, including something I am incredibly excited about: a two-hour long wine tasting class where I’ll be sampling 5 different wines from within the Mendoza region and learning more precisely the proper way to taste and enjoy them. Looks like I’m going to have to find a way to keep up this wine rhythm when I get back to New York.

Savoring the (impromptu) Slow Life

Salt-baked Branzino

Kelcey returns for her first summer post to describe one of her impromptu dinners with fellow Culinarians. Keep an eye out for Kelcey’s future posts as our French foreign correspondent in the fall!

Impromptu meals are something that the Culinary Society does very well. It is not uncommon for us to text each other about our evening plans and to finally decide to congregate at someone’s apartment for a potluck-style evening of great food and even better company. So when my plans with Matt and Helenka to go to the beach last weekend fell through due to inclement weather, we knew exactly what to do: EAT!

Typically, we do these impromptu get-togethers at Matt’s — our fabulous, former President’s — place, but given the fact that my apartment was empty save for myself, I invited everyone to come over to my place. And it’s the perfect apartment for entertaining: a professionally stocked and equipped kitchen, a giant couch and flat-screen TV and last but not least, panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. Continue reading Savoring the (impromptu) Slow Life

The Aspiring Oenophile: Making Your Own Wine

After a big dinner with some friends a couple months ago, I realized that I had about 3 lbs. of grapes left over from the dinner. (The grapes were more decorative than for eating.) I stashed them away in the fridge, and I struggled to figure out what to do with them. My mind immediately went to wine. How cool would it be to make my own wine? So I hopped on the internet and started to look up instructions. However, there were many flaws in my plan. First, I didn’t have the right equipment–for example, a giant tub to hold the mixture. The bathtub would be big enough, but that would just be gross and I doubted my suite-mates would be ok with that. Second, I reazlied that I didn’t have the right type of grapes. Table grapes are fine for eating, but they would fail to make a proper glass of wine. I would end up with a sour Welch’s-like drink. I ended up giving away 2 lbs. of grapes and roasting the rest in a dessert.

Soon after this ordeal, I came into my internship. It was about the middle of January and a giant box had arrived for my department. You can imagine my surprise and delight when I opened the box to find a wine making kit! This was the latest product by the Artful Winemaker, and I had the opportunity to test it out! However, making wine tastes a lot of time and patience. I had to make sure that I would be available to tend to my wine mixture daily.

I began the process in early February. The first day, I poured ingredients such as grape mush, water, yeast, and oak sachets into a large basin. The mixture first smelled like Welch’s grape juice. After that first day, the wine maker became a prominent fixture in my corner of the lab. It bubbled and foamed, and on some days, it had a very particular smell. I went through the several steps such as stabilization and trapping the sediment. I performed all of my steps dutifully, with the end goal in mind: 12 whole bottles of Cabernet/Shiraz red wine.

Finally, bottling day came after a long wait of 28 days. I was excited to taste my wine, but then I detected a little side note in the instructions. The company advises the at-home winemaker to wait an additional 2 weeks after bottling before drinking, allowing the flavors to develop and the aroma to mature. I sadly packed the bottles into a box and waited until the end of spring break.

Yesterday was the day of truth. I gathered with the people from my department, and I eagerly poured the wine. Although I was kind when I wrote the review for the company, here I can be completely honest. The wine was terrible. It looked like wine, but that’s where the similarities ended. The smell had transformed from the sweet Welch’s juice into a dank wet basement odor. This did not bode well for the taste. After our first sips, we all pushed the glasses away. We jokingly came up with descriptions such as “with a hint of wet wool” or “rainy basement.” What a huge disappointment, and after so many weeks!

This was truly unfortunate. Now, I have 11 1/2 bottles of wine-like substance that isn’t even fit for cooking. I was thinking that I had finally found a way around the legal drinking age, but alas, even two-buck chuck is better than this.

The Aspiring Oenophile: Pinot-Chardonnay Prieure

I only have 3 days left until I have my homemade wine from Good Housekeeping (I’ve been working on it for a month), but until then, here’s a worthwhile chardonnay. Thanks to Sarah.

I’m getting better at pairing wines with dishes. I like a spicy Garnacha or Syrah with my red meats, a glass of Riesling with my dessert, and I tend to drink chardonnay or pinot grigio or gris with my white meats. However, we all need pointers every once in a while.

This is what Chardonnay looks like before its wine
Last night, Sarah (Claire’s friend… and my friend too, but Claire’s first) showed up to our feast with a bottle of Pinot-Chardonnay by the Prieure d’Amilhac estate. Sarah knew her wines enough (or Claire told her) to know that fish should naturally be paired with a white wine.

When Sarah first handed me the bottle, I was a bit confounded. The label was covered in French words–“Mis en bouteille au domaine,” “Vin de pays des Cotes de Thongue,” “Maitres Vignerons a Servian…” These words were scary to me, a simple English speaker who dabbles in Spanish. The only words I recognized were “France,” “wine,” and “alcohol.” After reading these, I was a bit more comforted–I figured that if it had these three words, it should be fine, right? Pinot-Chardonnay–I rarely dislike a white wine. Continue reading The Aspiring Oenophile: Pinot-Chardonnay Prieure

The Aspiring Oenophile: Matchbook Chardonnay 2009

It was late afternoon on a Friday at Good Housekeeping, and I was beginning to feel it. I was dragging, fact checking for a mixer story that was going up on the web soon. I received a call from Paul who works down the hall, telling me to go down to the Test Kitchen. Thankful to pull myself from the computer screen, I wandered over to the kitchen. There were a couple people gathered around the tasting table, but I didn’t see any food. There were plates and tasting spoons, but no food. Confused, I looked a little closer, only to realize that every plate had little dabs of red all over it.

Taking a seat, Sherry explained that we had to do a condiment testing for the June issue. We were going to be tasting 10 different ketchups, 15 different mustards, and 7 relishes. My stomach began to churn with just the thought of it. We had a little bread and plenty of water, but tasting and evaluating that many condiments is kind of a grueling task. Just when you thought you were done, Sherry would come over a replace your plate of mustard with another. Some condiments were down right repulsive, and one mustard really caught me off guard with a heavy dose of horseradish–not exactly my cup of tea. I was craving a hot dog, a burger, anything to complement all of the sauces. Instead, I ended up downing about 10 cups of water.

At the end of the tasting, I turned in my ballot, and I finally received some good news. Sherry told me that since I helped out, I got to pick something from a cart full of extra supplies. I spied wine bottles, and I quickly asked Sherry for a recommendation. She pointed me to a wide bottle of Matchbook Chardonnay 2009.

Now, I’m sure most of you know that I typically prefer white wines. This chardonnay hails from California, and it received the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Silver Medal. Unlike most Chardonnays, it wasn’t too heavy on the oak, and it was supposed to have a more pleasant and soothing taste. Everything seemed to indicate that I would like it–it was a white wine, from California, award-winning, and light.

Late in the night, I opened the bottle and poured a glass. It was a very light color and the smell was hinting at the apple orchard up in the mountains that my family used to visit. I took my first sip, and to put it lightly, I was not satisfied. The chardonnay was much too light. The dominant flavor was apple with touches of tropical fruit, but the other complexities that characterize chardonnays were not present. No notes of cinnamon, no hints of cream, and where was my favorite brown sugar flavor profile? Plus, at the end, the wine tended to have a strong bite in the back of the throat. What the wine lacked in flavor, it made up in sting. And that is not something I prefer in the slightest. Although I will give it this–it was a ton better than the ketchup, mustard, and relishes.

But remember, I am not the final authority. If you’re still interested in this California chardonnay, it retails for about $15.

The Aspiring Oenophile: Can Blau 2008

With the introduction of the Aspiring Beer Enthusiast, the Oenophile would like to counter the Chokolat with a bottle of Can Blau from Spain. With several flavor profiles, this wine introduces a bit of complexity. Luxurious, as a wine should be, it has more going on than simply chocolate.

Coming back from Argentina is such an unfortunate thing. It’s not because I’m going to miss the weather, or the location, or the vacation full of free time. No, I’m going to miss the drinking age. In Argentina, the legal drinking age is 18. However, this age limit is rarely enforced. My 16 year-old sister had no problem getting into the bars in Buenos Aires (but this may be due to the fact that she looks as old as me if not older). It’s so nice not to have to worry about being carded at liquor stores, ordering wine at a restaurant, purchasing liqueurs for cooking. I realized one thing though–once I reach the legal age of 21, I’m going to need to start budgeting for alcohol. Otherwise, my money will be slipping through my fingers. It’s not that I’m an alcoholic, not even close… It’s just that there are so many different types to try and so many different combinations.

All good things must come to an end. I returned to the States, and I returned to being underage. Luckily, I still have my friend over at Vino Fino. He happily welcomed me back, offering me two delicious samples for the day.

In Argentina, I finally began to cultivate a better appreciation for good red wines. At every meal, we were served mineral water and Malbec, the Argentine standard from Mendoza. I told my friend that I was interested in developing my new-found appreciation. I wanted a full-bodied, complicated red with lots of flavors. He pointed me to a bottle of Can Blau 2008 from the Montsant region of Spain. He likes to take credit for teaching me to appreciate reds. Why is it that reds are a sign of maturity when it comes to wine?

Anyways, I headed back to East Campus to share the bottle of red with my friends. Taking the bottle out of the bag, I realized that perhaps it wasn’t a growing wine maturity that informed my decision. The Can Blau bottle is truly stunning, an intricate cross pattern with metallic accents and a royal blue background. Pouring it into the glasses, light danced on the bottle. (I suppose just as I often judge books by their covers, I sometimes judge wines by their bottles.) The first striking feature of the wine is the color. It is a deep purple color, much less red than most red wines. Swirling the liquid in our glasses, the aroma was reminiscent of a forest after a morning rain. (Wow, that sounded pretentious… but it’s really true!) It was a thoroughly enjoyable smell, and it accompanied the cold winter day well.

The wine is composed of Mazuelo, Syrah, and Garnacha. Taking the first sip, flavors of blueberries, blackberries, and plums dominate the palate, flavors that can almost be described as thoroughly “purple.” The spicy cinnamon notes are then introduced by the Syrah. This gives way to accents of vanilla and a hint of cocoa. However, this sweetness is fleeting and the wine finishes with a mineral aftertaste, which is perfect for cleansing the palate for the subsequent sip. It is the perfect cycle with several layers of flavor interacting and forming a truly complex and delicious wine.

Vino Fino sells this bottle for $20 a bottle, well worth it for such a rich and elegant wine.

The Aspiring Oenophile: Indaba Chardonnay 2009

It’s a beautiful thing when wine just appears at your door. It’s a rare occasion, but just when we need it, wine can serendipitously and spontaneously show up.

This is what happened last Friday. I preparing to head into the trenches of finals. Starting tha evening, I was prepping for a big paper the following morning and I had three finals approaching in the coming week. I had just finished watching “The China Syndrome” for an in-depth analysis when my friend Hannah showed up at my door. But she wasn’t alone. She walked into my suite bearing gifts–2 bottles of wine and a 6-pack of beer. Merry Christmas to me!

Hannah and I are striving to gain wine literacy by the time we both turn 21 next year. Whenever I find an interesting wine or one that I think she would enjoy, I always make sure to stop by her place to share. However, I never expected to be repaid with such generosity. Hannah explained to me that all of the alcohol had been a gift. This seemed a little suspicious, but who was I to ask questions? We sat down, planning to watch “The China Syndrome” again for my class… That didn’t happen.

We started out with the bottle of white, since Hannah and I both prefer white. It was a bottle of Indaba Chardonnay from South Africa, my first from this region. Just for entertainment’s sake, we read the back label. “Citrus and tropical fruit aromas… mouth-filling flavors of apple, pear, honey, and pineapple. A gentle kiss of oak.” We scoffed at this elaborate description as poured our glasses, but as we tasted the wine, we were astounded. Not only did the wine smell delicious, but it did in fact taste of apple, pear, and honey–in that order! Neither of us tasted the final piece of pineapple, but the fact that the three separate flavors of apple, pear, and honey were distinguishable in the wine made up for this fact. The wine was sweet and creamy, and we quickly poured ourselves another glass.

The chardonnay was the highlight of the night. The beer from the Brooklyn Brewery (we each had two) was satisfying, but we returned again to the white. The red, a mixture of Merlot and Malbec from Argentina (the label was Falling Star), was absolutely terrible. Even the scent was repulsive, and the taste was so jumbled that we once again turned to the white to cleanse our palates. By the end, we had each indulged with 2 glasses of white, 1 red, and 2 bottles of beer. Who said anything about finals?

At only $10 a bottle, the Indaba Chardonnay is more than worth it.