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Food Hopping Around 'The Downtowns'

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By The Gremotraveler

A few weeks ago we shared with you some of our favorite places in the posh and polished Upper East Side. Well, it is time to head downtown baby. Grab your killer shades, some $300.00 jeans, and a T-Shirt, it is time to hang out with the “downtown crowd”.

First, we need a crash pad. The newest and most chic of the downtown hotels these days is certainly the new Thompson LES (or Lower East Side). It also holds a bit of controversy for those from say, a city north of the border. When Susur Lee fled Toronto, he headed to the Thompson Lower East Side. Shang is the result. Considered to be the coolest in fine Asian cuisine, the restaurant is certainly beautiful and the reservation list is growing steadily. But even if you don't have time to enjoy dinner with Susur, the lounge is certainly worth a visit and a great place to start an evening on the town in New York's famous Lower East Side. For dinner or simply drinks, it is certainly a great place for people watching. For this, we like to make the Thompson LES our pick for accommodations.

The rooms here are minimalist and chic. Comfortable beds, floor to ceiling windows, and balconies with awesome views of Downtown and Midtown. All these attributes make this a great place for a weekend of trekking through Chinatown for rare ingredients and the perfect handbag from nearby Soho. It was so new that when we first crashed here, some of the highly anticipated features had yet to open. What are we returning for? All eyes are waiting for the new outdoor pool, rumored to have a classic Andy Warhol image on the bottom of it. But from what we have seen, this place is certainly going to become a new standard for New York. This is not for the Midtown crowd. Rather, the dark corridors and easy lighting is better suited for the rock star foodies - you know who you are.

With accommodations checked off, it is time for some exploring. We love hanging out with the “city farmers” and a stroll along Houston then a sharp right onto Bowery will take you up to Union Square, home to one of the best farmers’ markets in the city. The Union Square Greenmarket is open year-round every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. in Union Square Park. The Greenmarket ensures a continuing supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other farm products from producers within a 100-mile radius of Manhattan and has become an incredible success and a major source of inspiration for similar markets sprouting up across North America. Here, busy New Yorkers pick up artisan cheeses, meats, vegetables, fresh herbs, and preserves. Chefs can be seen touring the stalls and catching up with their suppliers. In a city with so many challenges managing people, traffic, and storage, the Union Square Greenmarket proves that it is not impossible to bring quality food to the centre of a flourishing metropolis.

Bags in hand, it is time for a little noche and there is a special place a few blocks west in the heart of the village. If little pink fairies, little orphan Annie, the Easter Bunny, and Mother Goose wanted to find a place to celebrate Cinderella's birthday it would be at Sweetiepie's on Greenwich Avenue. This place is simply adorable. When you walk in, you would expect to see a stream of pretty little girls from a Norman Rockwell Painting in white lace dresses enjoying ice cream at the counter while their mother's sat in the booths sipping Chardonnay and discussing the latest fashions from the Spring collection.

This place is truly over the top and could only happen here in New York. We dare everyone to sit in the big gold birdcage in the front window and order lunch. Whether it be the delicious homemade macaroni and cheese or their delightful recreation of the Claridge's Club Sandwich, you will be hard pressed not to giggle and squeal with delight. Still have a bit of squealing left in you? Why not order the Sweetie Pig, a monstrous parfait of over $75 worth of every type of ice cream you can imagine. Oink Oink! Of course, a more lady-like trio of miniature ice cream cones is equally decadent.

Filled with ice cream and decadent sandwiches, a trip down the street for a glass of wine is a great plan. At Gottino, everybody is welcome and it is certainly one of our favorite picks! First off, it has a great selection of Italian vintages. Seriously, you will be very much impressed. Secondly, it is incredibly down to earth and the staff are fun to hang out with. This is a great place to meet real New Yorkers (make that people from Manhattan) especially after work. When the whistle blows on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, they converge here to enjoy some Vino alongside artists, actors, musicians, and activists. Everyone is welcome here, just love wine.

At this point, it is time to crawl back to the hotel. Of course, a stroll through Chinatown on the way is our preferred pastime. It is a little out of the way, but such a great experience to see so many great fish, vegetables, meats, and specialty foods just aching to be cooked! Alas, we have little time and will have to return. Today, we have to focus on drinks and dinner! A quick wardrobe change back at The Thompson LES, a cocktail for courage at Shang, and we are out the door. First stop, a great classic bar way over in the West Village.

In a city full of legendary bars, the White Horse Tavern manages to keep its authenticity while packing West Villagers and tourists alike, thirsty for a cold beer or something stronger. This bar's bar is famous as the site of poet Dylan Thomas' death. He collapsed at the beautiful old bar after downing 38 whiskies, never to rise or write again. The big windows make it the perfect pit stop during an afternoon stroll through the West Village, and it's easy to imagine Jack Kerouac at one of the corner tables, just returned from a trip across the country. Lately the White Horse is frequented by gastronomes waiting for a table at The Spotted Pig gastro-pub around the corner. But we are not sticking around for any spotted pig tonight. Instead, we have some plans over at another new hot spot on the Lower East Side.

Marco Canora and Paul Greico's Hearth was created around the meaning of its name: every detail is meant above all to be hospitable. This landmark of the Lower East Side renaissance manages to be both relaxed and casual and full of buzz and excitement. The level of service is five star and consummately professional - Greico is a disciple of Danny Meyer and virtually grew up in a restaurant. The menu ranges from sophisticated appetizers like Snapper Crudo to the homey (and extraordinarily value-priced) 'Cucina Povera' prix fixe specials. The wine list is a treat to read, interspersed with notes, arguments and observations - there is always something interesting being featured at every price point. Couples vie for seats at the long bar that runs the length of the very open kitchen. Groups dine by candlelight and exposed brick in the main room.

A nice thing about ending the evening at Hearth is that you can always crawl back to The Thompson LES and burn off dinner. It is a mere 12 blocks north on 1st Avenue from the hotel. At a block a minute, a pretty good pace, you will have burned off all of the calories from the day’s meals. But not to worry, being a portly gourmand is actually back in fashion these days so you will fit in perfectly with the downtown crowd. The Kate Moss days are long gone here, thank God.


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