September 2016

The long days of summer are almost over and we are now seriously looking into our plans for New Year’s week as the final months of 2016 will soon be a memory. By the time we meet for our September events, 30 of us will already be reminiscing about our Montreal trip. The Cuba New Year’s Eve trip is still on, but we need to have a final headcount by September 14th. There are just 3 rooms left at the Nacional Hotel. Please RSVP for this ASAP. Juliane and I are going to Berlin, Budapest, Prague and Munich at the end of September, therefore, there are no events, as of now, the last week of the month.

This coming week, Saturday August 13th our Williamsburg food, history and walking tour has ONE spot left. If you miss out on that spot, join us Sunday, August 14th, as we head to one of the best Brazilian restaurants in Manhattan, IPANEMA. The following weekend join us just around the corner from Ipanema at a new restaurant for the group, KALLARI TAVERNA. NOTE: The last newsletter said this was located between 5th and 6th Street, but it located between 5th and 6th AVENUE This impressively large and beautiful space is gorgeous. Highly recommended by many members of our group and members in the Greek community, we are excited for our first group dinner here. For those going on the Montreal trip and dining here, I will seat you all together. For our final event in August, we head downtown to a very hip, cool and famous music venue to hear live music with brunch at CITY WINERY. This 3- hour show with brunch features an all-female sextet that has been playing together since 1998. Join us in Tribeca for an afternoon of brunch and great live music!

September starts off on a high note on September 4th, as we return to our second best turnout for dinner last year, OBICA. You may recognize Obica as one of our stops on the Flatiron walking tour, where I discovered it. This internationally known Italian is famous for their fresh mozz and burrata which is “protected designation of origin (PDO),” and gets flown in from the Campania region of Italy twice a week. Come very hungry, as they once again provided us with a very filling 4-course meal. The following Saturday, September 10th, we head to the sister restaurant of what was actually our largest dinner turnout last year, SARABETH’s. This time we will be at their Park Avenue South, Murray Hill location. Our menu is fantastic, the space is gorgeous, and the restaurant very well know. If you thought Sarabeth’s was just a brunch place, you are in for a great surprise! The following Wednesday, September 14th, join us for an incredible French meal at a place I was asked to return to a half dozen times, BISTRO VENDOME. This hidden gem tucked away on the East Side in a beautiful townhouse was our Bastille Day dinner last year and it was incredible. Some of our members belong to a French Group which dines here all the time, and if they choose to dine here often, then we know it is a great French meal. The following Saturday, September 17th, we dine for the first time at STELLA 34. Don’t let “inside Macy’s” scare you, this is a top rated 4-star YELP, Zagat and Michelin Guide recommended, Patina Group restaurant. Finally, on Friday, September 23rd we have a wine and cheese pairing at the newly opened Le Grand Triage. Join sommelier and owner Eric Ryder as he takes you through the art of pairing wine and cheese. This is not just a tasting of wine with cheese, it is an education on what matches with what and why. Become the wine aficionado you dreamed of becoming as a little kid at this 5-star (YELP) wine tasting event.

The following August events are still available for Single Gourmet Members and their guests:

1. Ipanema- 43 West 46th (5th and 6th AVENUE), Sunday, August 14th, 5:45 pm optional drinks, 6:30 pm dinner. 3-course Brazilian, glass of wine, tax and tip.- $73
2. Kellari Taverna- 9 West 44th (5th and 6th AVENUE), Saturday, August 20th, 7:00 pm optional drinks, 8:00 pm dinner. Greek feast, glass of wine, tax and tip- $76
3. City Winery- Brunch and live music- 155 Varick Street (This is just 7th Ave a few blocks south of Houston) Sunday, August 21st 10:30 brunch. Includes: show, entrée, 1 mimosa/bloody Mary/prosecco coffee, tax/tip – $67

The following September events are available for Single Gourmet Members and their guests:

Obicà- 24-Zagat, 4-Star Yelp
928 Broadway @21st Street across from The Flatiron
Sunday, September 4th
5:45pm optional drinks; 6:45pm dinner
$71- 4-courses, glass wine, coffee, tax, tip

Obicà, 24-Zagat, combines Italy’s finest artisanal ingredients with innovative presentations. Founded in Rome in 2004, Obicà means “Here we are” for their open kitchen concept. Obicà has expanded worldwide with locations in Italy, England, Dubai, Japan, and the United States. The restaurant has partnered with “Slow Food Association” to commit to food linked with pleasure, culture, tradition and a style of life. Obicà uses mozzarella only made from the creamy and nutritious milk of the water buffalo, hand made by artisan producers in the Denominazione di Origine Protetta of Campania in Southern Italy (thus meaning it is a protected product.) Our Italian 4-course meal will include: shared starters of prosciutto crudo di parma, salame felino, mozzarella di bufala, burrata, pomodorini datterini e Pesto and carciofini. Then a choice of grilled eggplant with mozzarella di bufala, tomato sauce, basil parmigiana reggiano & soncino or mache, wild arugula, radicchio, avocado & almonds. Entrees will be homemade rosemary pasta with Hudson Valley duck ragu and orange zest, or Nebraska Grass-fed beef filet with almonds, smashed potatoes, fresh rosemary, or Italian risotto with baby fava beans, black summer truffle and then a choice of tiramisu or flourless chocolate and almond cake

Sarabeth’s Park Avenue South Location
381 Park Avenue South @ 28th
Saturday, September 10th
6:45pm optional drinks, 7:45pm dinner
$67- 3-course, glass wine, coffee, soda, tax, tip

We have dined at Sarabeth’s on CPS multiple times and Docks (same owner) multiple times and each time is a raving success with between 40 to 55 Single Gourmet Members, we expect this Saturday in September to be no different. Zagat say’s, this “long time favorite, charming all-day eatery that draws devotees with hearty American comfort food while at night there’s a quieter grown-up vibe.” Join us for a fantastic menu including: Maine day boat scallops, sautéed gnocchi and bacon, baby gem salad to start, with main courses including choices of all natural farm chicken, Skuna Bay salmon or steak frites. We end our dinner with chocolate truffle cake, caramelized banana split or gelato. The atmosphere is cavernous, beautiful and modern, the food delicious and the location very central.

Bistro Vendôme
405 East 58th Street (East of 1st Ave)
Wednesday, September 14th
5:30pm optional drinks; 6:15pm dinner
$69- 3-course, glass wine, coffee, tax, tip

The New York Times says, “Bistro Vendôme is an unapologetic, undemanding French bistro that seeks to please its affluent neighbors on the Upper East Side and largely succeeds.” After 15 years at Bistro Jubilee, husband and wife team owners, Pascal and Virginie Petiteau opened up the wildly successful Bistro Vendôme. Michelin Guide recommended stating, “Bistro Vendôme brings a breath of fresh air to Sutton Place with this sunny and quaint multi-level townhouse…bright and airy (with outdoor terrace) this classic New York restaurant nails the European bistro in its look and feel. While neighborhood denizens with their dashing beaus may crowd the place…the kitchen delivers classics exactly as they were conceived.” Zagat (22 rated) state’s,” the locals gather at this upscale bistro for French fare dispatched by Gallic-accented staffers who are as charming as the tri-level townhouse setting, it’s a neighborhood jewel.” At “Bistro Vendôme, their goal is to offer classic French recipes, some original, some with a modern twist so their guests fall in love with French cuisine all over again!” We start with a choice of chilled green pea soup, endive salad with blue cheese, apples & walnuts or escargot, then we choose cold poached salmon with ratatouille, asparagus, cucumber-dill sauce or chicken ballotine with orzo and porcini sauce or crispy duck confit with Lyonnaise potatoes & truffle jus. We finish our meal with profiteroles with hot chocolate sauce and toasted almonds or crème brulée with Grand Marnier.

Stella 34- Patina Group
151 W 35th 6th floor of Macy’s (elevator 35th)
Saturday, September 17th
7:00pm optional drinks, 8:00pm dinner
$83- 3-course, glass of wine, coffee/soda,t&t

Zagat (22) says, “you will forget you are in Macy’s while dining in this stylish midtown respite from The Patina Group offering upscale Italian fare, in airy modern, digs with the gorgeous panoramic views of Herald Square adding to the charm.” New York Magazine says, “The Italian trattoria takes the stark, bright decor of its home base and softens it with just the right dose of panache, with a backlit wine bar, high-backed leather chairs, and a marble-tiled floor coupled with the Neapolitan menu and you forget what country you’re in.” Michelin Guide recommended, with a menu developed by Jonathan Benno, executive chef at Lincoln Ristorante and a restaurant group that owns Brasserie, Brasserie 8 ½, State Grill and 60 other restaurants, this is a sure hit. 4-stars on YELP, 4.5 on Opentable, Tripadvisor top 4% restaurant in NYC. We start with wood-oven-roasted brussels sprouts with cauliflower, golden raisins & pine nuts or veal meatballs with sheep’s milk and ricotta, then we choose paccheri napolitana with beef ragu, caramelized onions, parmigiano-reggiano or wood-oven grilled dorade, spicy puttanesca, caper, yukon potato, or rotisserie chicken, spring vegetable farrotto, mint and we end with warm chocolate cake, candied almonds, cherry gelato or lemon genovese, cornmeal pastafrolla, toasted meringue, lemon curd gelato. There are 2 express elevators on 35th off Broadway that go up to the 6th floor and the restaurant entrance will be there

Le Grand Triage- Wine and Cheese Event
1657 First Avenue (86th/87th)
Friday, September 23rd- RSVP EARLY PLEASE
7:30 SHARP- 917-475-1212 (store number)
$55- wine and cheese pairing

Wine and cheese seem destined for each other as the classic combinations flirt with experiences close to nirvana. At Le Grand Triage, they are all about wine education. Join us for a taste-gasm of stellar wine and cheese pairings that will give you a greater appreciation for how these two delicacies go together. The owner and sommelier, Eric Rydin, will guide you through five separate wine and cheese pairings that will make your mouth water. Learn how to pair wines with hard cheeses, soft cheese, and stinky cheeses. Recommended by a member of the group and taking over the spot where Vino-Versity used to be (and where we held many tastings), this 5 stars on YELP event will leave you way more knowledgeable and tipsy than before you join. Please note: I will be in Europe September 19th to October 2nd. I will have limited access to email; please rsvp early so I know you are coming and DO NOT SEND A CHECK for this event after September 14th. Please call or email for reservations.

CUBA- NEW YEAR’S EVE 2017
December 27-January 3rd

Hola Chiquitos and Chiquitas!! We hope you have polished your Spanish speaking skills because we are going to Cuba over New Year’s Eve! The doors have finally opened between Cuba and the United States, and it is a privilege to be able to go now while Cuba is still in its own jus. We can easily predict that things are going to change rapidly as more and more Americans go down to visit. You could be one of those who say “I got to go while it was still, well, Cuba!” Before we dive into our itineraries and quotes, it is important to understand the U.S.-Cuba historical and political relationship over the last 80 years, because it really gives us a true appreciation for the fabulous opportunity we are given.
The tumultuous U.S.-Cuba relationship has its roots in the Cold War. In 1959, Fidel Castro and a group of revolutionaries seized power in Havana. Despite misgivings about Castro’s communist political ideology, the United States recognized his government. However, as Castro’s regime increased trade with the Soviet Union, nationalized U.S.-owned properties, and hiked taxes on American imports, the United States responded with escalating economic retaliation. After slashing Cuban sugar imports, Washington instituted a ban on nearly all exports to Cuba, which President John F. Kennedy expanded into a full economic embargo that included stringent travel restrictions. In 1961 the United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba and began pursuing covert operations to overthrow the Castro regime. The 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, a botched CIA-backed attempt to topple the government, fueled Cuban mistrust and nationalism, leading to a secret agreement allowing the Soviet Union to build a missile base on the island. The United States discovered those plans in October of 1962, setting off a fourteen-day standoff. U.S. ships imposed a naval quarantine around the island, and Kennedy demanded the destruction of the missile sites. The Cuban Missile Crisis ended with an agreement that the sites would be dismantled if the United States pledged not to invade Cuba; the United States also agreed to remove nuclear missiles from Turkey.
Following the events of 1961–62, economic and diplomatic isolation became the major prongs of U.S. policy toward Cuba. This continued even after the Soviet Union’s collapse. However, recently, U.S. President Barack Obama came into office seeking greater engagement with Cuba and during his first term, permitted U.S. telecommunications companies to provide cellular and satellite service in Cuba and allowed U.S. citizens to travel there under license for educational or religious purposes.
On December 17th, 2014, Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced that the United States and Cuba would restore full diplomatic ties for the first time in more than fifty years. The announcement followed a prisoner swap and the United States agreed to further ease restrictions on remittances, travel, and banking. The United States and Cuba reopened their embassies in each other’s capitals on July 20, 2015, effectively restoring full diplomatic ties. In January 2015, the United States enacted new travel and trade regulations allowing U.S. travelers to visit Cuba for specific purposes without first obtaining a government license, and to spend money there. Airlines were also permitted to provide regular commercial service to the country. The new rules also chipped away at economic sanctions by allowing, among other things: U.S. insurance companies to cover health, life, and travel insurance for individuals living in or visiting Cuba; banks to facilitate authorized transactions; U.S. companies to invest in some small businesses; and shipment of building materials to private Cuban companies. The United States eased trade and travel restrictions a second time in January 2016, and again in March 2016 ahead of Obama’s visit. Finally, in March 2016, Obama arrived in Havana for the first visit by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge visited the island in 1928, a span of almost 90 years. This truly was a historic moment for us all!

We are sure we will learn a lot more being in Cuba ourselves!! But, with that in mind… know that while the fabulous trip we had the agency plan for us is going to be amazing, Cuba is not a luxury destination. It is still very much left as it was, stuck in time. There are no chain stores, no ads, few signs and it is basically a commercial-free zone. Cuba is culturally, historically, and politically rich, but not in wealth. There is little internet connection, and international cell phone service is tough. As of now, US credit cards are not working in Cuba, hence converting cash at the airport is necessary. So much is happening now, but Cuba is still very much frozen in time and it is a going to be one of these trips where you’ll tell yourself “wow, so close and yet, so far…” OK? So, now that this is out of the way, go get yourself a Cuba Libre and read on the fabulous itineraries we have for you!!

IMPORTANT NOTES ON FLIGHTS AND TRAVELING TO CUBA:
• We have spoken to numerous recommended travel agents of members in our group, they have ALL confirmed that hotels in Cuba are basically SOLD OUT for the New Year’s Eve time period. Our tour company is holding onto a block of rooms, but they MUST have a headcount as soon as possible or they will release these rooms. This is not a trip where you can decide you want to join in November. We need an accurate exact headcount ASAP.
• As of this writing, DIRECT flights to Havana from NEW YORK are very rare. Contrary to what you may heard or read, most tour companies fly tourists to Miami and then fly direct from Miami (counting this as a day on their trip). You cannot just call up Jet Blue and make a direct flight to Havana. We have found a charter company offering 2 direct flights per week between New York and Havana. This could change, but as of now it is very difficult to find direct flights. We cannot book these ourselves and we cannot book flights until 3 months prior to departure. When this time comes, we will guide you through it, but flights will sellout immediately. The process is fairly easy. We will have you fill out 3 paper forms: a travel affidavit (where you will check the box that says people-to-people-this is simple), a reservation form and a visa application form (which is your tourist card). We send the information to the charter company, and they send you your ticket and your tourist card. As of now, there is a flat round-trip fee of $850, plus $85 for the tourist card, plus $20 for handling. If this price goes down, it will be a savings for you. We suspect as more carriers join this venture, prices will go down. Also: “you need to pay the Cuban departure tax that will be collected at the airport at the departure time = $25.00 USD.”- this is separate from the tour package as well.
• We hired a legal tour company who was able to put together a marvelous adventure for us. We stretch the word “legal” because they have to be authorized agents of Cuba and the US to take US citizens and residents on an approved trip. We fall under the “people-to-people” category of approved travelers, making us official students of the Cuban culture. Our trip and tours were designed with the Single Gourmet members in mind, meaning that we will always be on private tours, with our own chauffeur and guides, and our learning experiences are much broader than the “daily talks” other tours offer.
• About insurance. This information is taken from the company dealing with the flights and the paperwork: “when purchasing your air ticket to Cuba, Cuban Medical Insurance is automatically included in the cost of your ticket, covering many emergencies, except pre-existing conditions. We do advise that you purchase travel interruption and cancellation insurance to cover you for other non-medical related emergencies. On the back of your ticket you will find the medical insurance stamp: Asistur.”
• About $$$: “The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. Note that there is a 13% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars cash, so, you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one USA dollar when changing the money, allowing for the 13% interest.

ITINERARIES:

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 27 2016- TUESDAY, JANUARY 3 2017
PRICES: Airfare is separate and is currently $849 direct + $85 tourist card +$20 handling + $25 airport fee- Airfare Subject to change and must be booked by September 27th however all paperwork must be in prior to this.

Not Including Direct Air- Staying at the historic Nacional Hotel for 1 week – $4100 double occupancy $4900 Single occupancy standard rooms. We have 1 hotel only, and 3 rooms left in it.

The Nacional Hotel: is a historical landmark in Havana! Built in 1930, by the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, which features a mix of styles. It opened when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans, long before the United States embargo against Cuba. In its 80+ years of existence, the hotel has had many important guests. The Nacional is considered a symbol of history, culture and Cuban identity. The Hotel was declared a National Monument and it was inscribed in the World Memory Register. With its privileged location in the middle of Vedado, the center of Havana, it stands on a hill just a few meters from the sea, and offers a great view of the Havana Harbor; the seawall and the city. The Hotel stands out due to its refined elegance and its ancient splendor, which since 1930 has attracted a large number of personalities! Pretty cool! Keep in mind that the hotel was last renovated in 1992. It is ranked #6 on Trip Advisor. The rooms have old-world decor, and include minibars and TVs. Room service is available 24/7. The hotel has air conditioning, 3 restaurants, a casual cafe and 3 bars. Other amenities include 2 outdoor pools, a tennis court and a fitness room with a sauna.

DAY 1: TUESDAY DECEMBER 27 -Hello Cuba: arrival at Havana’s José Martí International airport, change money into Cuban Convertible Pesos while waiting for your luggage, meet your guide and bus driver after you exit Cuban customs, enjoy a group welcome dinner with your guide at private restaurant. EVENING SPECIAL ACTIVITY: “¡Noche de fiesta cubana!” party and dancing class with live music at Club Chévere.
DAY 2: WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 28 -EXPLORING OLD HAVANA, OUR COMMON HERITAGE: Breakfast in hotel, followed by a walking tour of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll visit four of the five historic plazas that make Havana unique in the western hemisphere. We will see: Cathedral Square, Square of Arms, Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Museo de Artesanía at Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the oldest remaining fortress built by the Spaniards in the West Indies, San Francisco Square, and Plaza Vieja to only name a few! We will then have lunch at a bayside fish joint (it is the latest newcomer to the city’s list of upscale eateries). After lunch, we visit Callejón de Hamel (Hamel Alley) to see the artwork of famed Afro-Cuban Artist Salvador González and we will return to our respective hotels. We will have dinner at a private restaurant and our EVENING HIGHTLIGHT is a performance by Buena Vista social Club at Café Taberna!
DAY 3: THURSDAY DECEMBER 29 -HEMINGWAY: Breakfast in hotel, followed by a visit to Finca La Vigía (House and farm of Ernest Hemingway Museum). Then we are going to Cojímar, a small fishing village -one of Hemingway’s favorite’s places. For lunch, we have a cooking class and lunch prepared by private restaurant El Ajiaco (#1 in Cojimar). After lunch, we will visit Hotel Ambos Mundos’ room 511 where Hemingway used to stay and then we will return to the hotel. After dinner at a private restaurant, we will go to la Zorra y el Cuervo (The Fox and the Crow) where top jazz players perform on a nightly basis. It’s the place to hear Cuba’s best jazz musicians!
DAY 4: FRIDAY DECEMBER 30 -VIÑALES VALLEY / PINAR DEL RÍO PROVINCE: Breakfast in hotel, and morning departure to the western agricultural province of Pinar del Río! Morning tour of Viñales Valley: Viñales village is a picturesque town in the heart of Cuba’s prime tobacco growing region. The town itself sits in the center of a flat valley surrounded by stunning karst hills formations known locally as mogotes. Mogotes are irregularly shaped steep-sided hills that can rise as high as 985 ft. and have bases ranging from just a few hundred yards in diameter to as much as a couple of kilometers in length. Many consider this the most beautiful nature spot in Cuba. We will visit: Cueva del Indio [Indian caves], mural de la Prehistoria followed by lunch at El Balcon del Valle restaurant (with view on the mountains). After lunch, we will visit tobacco farmers and tour the town square of Viñales village before returning to Havana. Tonight’s dinner and evening are free time for you to explore the city!
DAY 5: SATURDAY DECEMBER 31 -HAVANA/ DAY EXCURSION THE ART OF RUM AND THE AFRO-CUBAN RELIGION: Breakfast in hotel, followed by a day excursion about the art of Rum! We will learn everything about the origin and development of the rum production in the island. We will visit to the Rum Museum, we will have a tasting of the Havana Club Rum, we will have a cocktail-making lesson where the barman will teach us how to prepare our own Cuban cocktail. Then, we will tour of the most famous bars of the old town: the Floridita and the Bodeguita del Medio including the tasting of a cocktail at the Ambos Mundos or the Beltrán de Santa Cruz hotels. After our boozy morning, we will have lunch, followed by a visit at the Afro-Cuban Church of Regla Municipality. We will then return to our hotels and get ready for our special night!!! We will enjoy a ride in old American classic cars to our New Year’s Eve dinner and show!
DAY 6: SUNDAY JANUARY 1ST -VARADERO: Breakfast in hotel and morning departure to Varadero! Varadero is an uninterrupted 20km stretch of blonde sand that is undoubtedly one of Caribbean’s best!! It is a gorgeous beach resort with a lot of shopping! En route we will stop at Puente de Bacunayagua, the highest bridge in Cuba, with a spectacular view of the landscape over the Yumurí Valley and the Atlantic Ocean. We will do a panoramic tour of Matanzas city and then visit “Botica Triolet” Museum Pharmaceutical of Matanzas, the oldest drugstore that remains in Cuba! Then continue to Varadero, visit the city and have lunch. We will have some free time (sight-seeing and shopping!) before returning to Havana. Dinner tonight is not planned, meaning, more free time to explore beautiful Havana!
DAY 7: MONDAY JANUARY 2 -LAS TERRAZAS: Breakfast in hotel and morning departure to Las Terrazas, a small community and nature reserve. It is located in the Sierra del Rosario mountains, which was designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984. We will visit a rural village called Rancho Curule and Cafetal Buena Vista, the ruins of an ancient coffee plantation run by African slaves. Our lunch is going to be exclusively vegetarian at the #1 restaurant in town: El Romero! We then have some free time to explore before returning to Havana. We are having dinner at a top rated private restaurant. This evening is free to explore the sights and sounds of the city. Your guide will keep you posted on evening entertainment options.
DAY 8: TUESDAY JANUARY 3 HAVANA—- GOODBYE CUBA- Breakfast in hotel, check-out of hotel, and transfer to José Martí International Airport for flights home!
To reserve at any or all the events please go to our website and view your dashboard event calendar or call us at (646-825-0268), email us at singourmetny@aol.com or mail checks to:
The Single Gourmet, c/o Aaron Lefkowitz, 69 west 9th Street Apartment #6A, New York, NY 10011

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