interview: megan blocker of queenie takes manhattan

yes, it’s been a few weeks since i’ve run any interviews and i think i’m now back on track for this weekly feature.  i’ve been a little preoccupied these days, but soon, soon i think that things will calm down and i’m really looking forward to our 2-week vacation at the end of march both because it signals the end of my very least favorite month, and i’ll get some down time to both catch up here and in the rest of my life. 

i was thrilled when megan blocker, who is behind the incredible queenie takes manhattan, agreed to sort out her favorite shops and food haunts for cherrypatter.  meg really knows her food scene (she used to be an editor for that very fancy egullet), and i’m especially fond of the queenie’s treasury, where meg uses her curatorial genius to sort out the best tidbits of the week.   as an added bonus, i got to meet meg in person when we had some very tasty mille crêpes at my beloved lady m a few weeks ago.  it was to share blogging tips and tricks, and just hear what she’s been up to and of course have an excuse to enjoy that great cake.   meg has a great set of recommendations below which i cannot wait to try, and i am already a little obsessed with her etsy finds.   thanks so much meg.  your ideas are super and thanks too for all the beautiful photographs of the flowers, and all the food shots below!

shops:

top places for clothes?

i tend to wear fairly basic clothes; a lot of solids, dark or neutral colors, and knits, knits, knits.  the excitement in my wardrobe comes almost entirely from accessories – and jewelry in particular.  i haunt the sales racks at saks, where i’ve picked up some of my all-time favorite pieces, including a pair of fabulous four-inch cole haan black patent leather heels that i wear almost every day at the office.  i’m a bit of a sweater hound, so uniqlo is a big destination for me.  after years of drab, department store underthings, i recently discovered linda’s bra salon, a teeny shop just north of bloomingdale’s.  they have gorgeous things in every size – it’s a miniature underwear wonderland!  

go-to place for house warming gifts?

when i’m not shopping on etsy (to which i am shamefully addicted), i love to pick up gifts at the cooper-hewitt gift shop.  i know it sounds kind of cheezy to do one’s shopping in a museum shop, but their store is a wonderland of design objects, most of which are less ubiquitous than the ones your find at moma.  it’s also a beautiful place to spend an hour (or two).  the museum occupies an old fifth avenue mansion, and the store itself is all polished mahogany and giant, sparkly windows.

favorite place for stationery?

when i feel like looking at shelves upon shelves of gorgeous paper, i visit kate’s paperie.  lately, though, i’ve been buying more and more of my stationery on etsy, where my favorite seller is the paper apartment (image of their work below).  their unabashedly feminine ruffle card set makes every thank you note an event.

for flowers?

my absolute favorite spot for flowers is the union square greenmarket.  the flowers are local (as is everything at the greenmarkets), so you know for sure that they come with a lighter footprint.  in the spring, summer and fall i visit the market early every saturday morning, and i almost always buy armfuls of whatever’s in season, be it cherry blossoms, peonies (my favorite), dahlias or ranunculus.  the prices at the market are pretty reasonable overall, but my favorite vendor is typically located on the south side of the square, across the street from the mud truck.

kids’ gifts?

as a kid, i always loved getting books as gifts (i emerged from the womb a bookworm.), so i tend to gravitate toward books as gifts for my friends’ children.  my absolute favorite bookshop for children is books of wonder on west 18th street.  the staff there know everything about kids’ books, from picture books through young adult.

favorite spot for your mum, aunt, partner, or other important women in your life?  

recently, the women in my family (including my best friend louisa) have been collecting charms from helen ficalora.  helen works mostly in gold, and all of the charms are handmade.  my helen ficalora necklace was one of the first pieces of “real” jewelry i ever bought for myself, and even though they’ve been a bit done to death as a trend, i still love mine.  this christmas, my mom gave me the “vote” charm (just in time for the midterm elections) and louisa and her husband nick gave me a spatula!

what about the males in your life?

nothing goes over better with the men in my life than a well-chosen bottle of booze.  i like to buy mine at astor wines & spirits, where the staff are extremely knowledgeable and not even a smidge snobby.  they’re a fantastic store for everyday wines, too, and they offer next-day delivery – for free – anywhere in manhattan, which makes it completely reasonable for me to buy wine 80 blocks from my apartment.

wedding presents?

i tend to put off buying wedding gifts, which means the registry for any given couple is typically down to a whisk and assorted hand towels by the time i get around to looking at it.  this means i get to be a bit creative; two of my favorite go-tos are actually online; i love the ceramics from rust designs and up in the air somewhere.  the white-and-gold palettes work well with pretty much every china pattern in existence, and they’re just so gosh-darn pretty.

and treats for you?

when i need a little splurge of something tasty, i head a few blocks east and south to my favorite neighborhood cheese shop, the big cheese.  they opened last year and sell a perfectly curated assortment of american and imported cheese.  as someone who came to cheese loving later in life, i appreciate being guided by an expert.  for a girlier pick-me-up, i visit by boe, a jewelry shop that moved from the upper east side down to soho last year.  the designer, annika salame, creates affordable pieces that are both glamorous and rustic.  i can’t get enough!

all-around favorite shop?

i cannot say enough good things about kitchen arts & letters.  it’s a bookstore dedicated to cookbooks and food writing, and it’s amazing.  you can find some incredibly cool things there – books that are rare, or just not typically available in the states.  i’m a huge nerd, and the food history section is my favorite.  want to know what people ate for dinner in medieval france?  ka&l is where you go to find out.

for the basics?

zitomer’s is a classic new york pharmacy, the kind of place you can’t quite believe still exists.  it’s on my walk home from work (i like to walk up madison and windowshop along the way), and so it’s a great place to stop for nail polish or a pair of stockings.  i also love the cleaning products section at bed, bath and beyond; i prefer to avoid big box stores as a general rule, but their assortment of environmentally friendly products is the best and cheapest in the city.  i take my everyday dry cleaning to a teeny shop, mama cleaners, but when i have to have something special cleaned (a gown, or my beloved hermes scarf) i take it to madame paulette.  they’re expensive, but they’re also miracle workers.  they’re also fantastic for any tricky alterations and have made many too-big-in-the-waist bridesmaid’s dresses fit me like a glove.

food:

favorite date-night restaurant? 

well, it depends on the kind of date, for sure.  for a first date, i don’t think you can beat joseph leonard, down in the west village.  it has a fantastic atmosphere; it’s kind of like walking into your yankee grandmother’s parlor, but with less dust and a sprinkling of small tables.  the bar is the heart of the room, and it shows in the cocktails, which are fantastic (booze is, as you know, important to me!).  the food is equally delicious (the chef, james mcduffy, used to work for thomas keller.), and pretty affordable.  best of all, it has that great cozy-but-buzzy vibe you want for an early-relationship evening out.

for a special occasion sort of night, i would say eleven madison park.  it’s one of the most beautiful rooms in the city, the service is impeccable without being too fussy or formal, and daniel humm’s food is just plain remarkable.  i wish i could eat there more often, even if just to drink in the art deco ornamentation and soaring ceilings.

with friends?

mostly, i love to have people over for dinner.  i get a special thrill out of feeding and watering my friends, and i find people really relax and linger at a dinner party in a way they never do out in public.  i tend to go a bit over the top with my dinners, but since i’m single, they’re pretty much the only time i cook for other people, and not just for me.  as a result, people tend to assume i make four- or five-course meals every night.  i definitely don’t!

all that said, my friend cristin and i do tend to haunt the bar at ouest quite often.  it’s a halfway point between our two apartments, so it’s a perfect meeting spot for us.  the food there is fantastic and comforting (if a bit pricey), and the bartenders are highly entertaining – not to mention generous with a pour.

for drinks? 

on the upper east side, my favorite spot for a cocktail is, hands-down, bemelmans bar.  named for the artist ludwig bemelmans (the author of the madeline books, and whose murals still decorate the walls), it’s just…classic.  they make an delicious (if pricey) manhattan, and stopping in for a cocktail never fails to make me feel hopelessly sophisticated.  for something a bit less chi-chi, i head to pdt, where the cocktail menu is ever-changing and always awesome.  you can also order a hot dog from crif dogs next door to help soak up the booze.

most amazing dinner dish?

this time of year, my ideal meal is a bowl of momofuku ssam’s deep-fried brussels sprouts with crisped rice, topped with a generous glug of sriracha.  i’m drooling just thinking about it.

best place for desserts?

i’m going to sound like a momofuku shill, but i have to say milk bar.  their creations have a sort of retro comfort to them that calls to me.  and i love the way they combine textures (cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookies, anyone?) and how every dessert combines salty and sweet flavors.

for brunch?

ooooh, definitely the brunch at five points.  i’m about the millionth person to recommend it, but you really can’t go wrong.  if you’re a savory brunch lover, go for anything with eggs baked in the pizza oven.  swoon.  and if you like a sweet breakfast, the french toast is the best i’ve had in the city.  double swoon.

favorite asian resto?  latin american?  middle eastern?

my absolute favorite middle eastern spot is pasha, a turkish restaurant on the upper west side.  everything they make is delicious, but their manti (teeny dumplings filled with lamb and served in yogurt) are to die for.  i could eat them at every. single. meal.

i have yet to find truly excellent mexican in new york, but my favorite fix is from the taco truck at 86th and lexington.  i figure if mobile taquerias are good enough for californians, they’re good enough for me.  a single chorizo taco is cheap ($2.50) and guaranteed to hit the spot.

favorite neighborhood spot?

sadly, my absolute favorite neighborhood restaurant shut down late last year – i’m still in mourning.  since then, i’ve been filling the void mainly with mezze at beyoglu, a great turkish place a couple blocks from me.   i also enjoy grabbing a bowl of mussels (with frites, of course) at jacques, a cute little brasserie around the corner from me.

my favorite neighborhood italian is paola’s, which used to be – quite literally – twenty-five steps from my door, moved recently a bit uptown.  luckily, the move hasn’t changed the fact that they have the best bucatini all’amatriciana above 59th street.

the best coffee?  pastry?  prepared foods?

 in my neighborhood, the best cup of coffee can be had at café sabarsky, kurt gutenbrunner’s tribute to viennese cafe life.  the coffee is pricey and can’t be had to go, but that’s half the point.  the room is stunning, too, filled with reproductions of early 20th century austrian furniture and boasting views of central park.  it can get crowded there on the weekends, but any time i have a free weekday morning or afternoon, i make a point of stopping in.  for the best coffee + ability to get work done instead of gaping at a perfect replica of fin-de-siecle vienna, my vote goes to joe the art of coffee on the upper west side.  i camp out there on a regular basis with my laptop and a cappuccino.

if you love viennese pastry, then café sabarsky is all you need.  for a cheesecake, lemon bar or cherry pie fix, though, you simply must head to two little red hens.  i’m not a big participant in the cupcake trend – i find most cupcakes to be cloyingly sweet and crumbly, dry.  i make (somewhat frequent) exceptions for the hens’ cupcakes, which are rich, buttery and topped with flavorful (not saccharine) buttercream.  my favorite treats, though, are the scones, the cinnamon rolls and the caramel date bars.

for prepared foods, i highly recommend agata & valentina.  i often pick up a slice of their pate de campagne, a few pickles and a baguette for a quick dinner.  nothing goes better with a big glass of red wine.

comfort food?

my favorite comfort food right now is a vietnamese noodle soup called la sa ga.  it’s a curry soup with coconut milk, rice vermicelli and tender slices of chicken.  it’s served topped with bean sprouts and basil, and i can’t get enough of it, especially when i have a cold or a sore throat.  i either order it from spice noodle (the only vietnamese place in delivery range) or go pick it up from saigon grill across town (far better, but less convenient.).  yum.

One Response to “interview: megan blocker of queenie takes manhattan”

  1. Wendy says:

    great interview with Meg! she always has fabulous ideas!!

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