There’s nothing like discovering a hidden gem and ROKC located in NYC’s Harlem neighborhood is just that.  Wedged between a couple of local storefronts, the building’s exterior is unassuming and unless specifically looking for it, you surely could miss it walking on by. But once inside, talk about ambiance. You feel like you’ve been transported to a cool bar somewhere in Tokyo!  I couldn’t wait to experience this as the latest food adventure with my Cocktails Before Love crew.

ROKC, a Japanese bar and restaurant, is actually a clever little acronym which stands for Ramen, Oyster, Kitchen and Cocktail. The extra special treat is the creative presentation and unique preparation of the excellent cocktails. They not only taste good, but they look amazing as well!

pineapple-ROKC
Photo courtesy of Rokc nyc

Upon arrival, we chose to sit at the bar.  I actually think these are the best seats in the cozy restaurant as we were able to get the perfect view of Shige, the highly skilled mixologist, bringing all these unique drinks to life. He effortlessly prepared all the cocktails during our visit and with such attention to detail, added every house-made ingredient. It was certainly a treat to watch as he whipped up all the special concoctions. Nope, these aren’t your typical, ‘let’s meet for happy hour’ drinks. ROKC does not take reservations and can get crowded as it is a small space, so I suggest going toward the beginning of the week if you would like to secure a table or just get there early and post up at the bar like we did!

Topping Berries Frozen with sparkling wine rokc
Photo by N. Salter

The menu is quite impressive, boasting over 40 sophisticated and fun cocktails ranging from the classics to ROKC signatures, as well as a selection of beers, wines and sake. The menu doesn’t hint at what kind of container your drink will come in. So it was fun to order and then see the unexpected presentation Shige would place in front of you. It ranged from really beautiful antiques and/or elaborate glasses to some amazing looking works of art. My Lychee cocktail, for example – which consisted of lychee fruit, ginger vodka, house lychee juice and lime – was served inside a lightbulb perched on top of a pile of ice in an etched ceramic mug. The Berries frozen drink looked like an ice sculpture on a pedestal and my fellow foodie’s bourbon based drink, the Final Word – mixed with maraschino, Chartreuse and lime came in an ornate, ruby red goblet. Someone next to us had the Tomato Clam that arrived in a huge conch shell in a wooden box, while someone else’s drink was displayed in a bird’s nest within an eggshell! Every drink we sampled was amazing and well-balanced and even traditionally robust, warm liquors like bourbon and cognac which were favored by my Cocktails Before Love crew, had a nice spin and were surprisingly light, refreshing  and full of unexpected blends.

Hijiki-cocktail-rokc
Photo by N. Salter
Drinks-buns-ROKC
Photo by N. Salter

ROKC’s small plates consist of  favorites like its assortment of steamed buns and ramen bowls. The staff was very attentive and helped with our food selections. We started out with the oysters, which were $1.50 during the happy hour special. We ordered all the varieties, from the small and salty Sweet Petites to the larger and meatier Blue Points – they were tasty and fresh served with lemons, cocktail sauce and mignonette sauce. We sampled the pork bun which featured tender and flavorful chunks of pork belly; the shrimp bun which was doused in a spicy mayo and for our ramen, we opted for the Kyoto, a chicken and fish based broth, topped with pork belly, garlic, soft-boiled seasoned egg and scallions, deemed by our server as the most traditional choice. The melding of the spices in the broth was just right without being too heavy. Everything was delicious and enjoyable.

Honestly we could have sat and watched Shige create these killer cocktails and happily eat and drink for hours. You must visit ROKC!  I know I will absolutely return for a seat at the bar and explore more of the menu.

If you want to join in on our next food adventure, be sure to RSVP for an upcoming meet up.

Cheers!

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Shareable Rum Bucket

I love a good rooftop bar! There’s something about gazing out over an awesome skyline view combined with great drinks and food, that always gets me. Luckily for me, there’s quite a few to choose from in NYC and I’m always down to go to a new one I haven’t visited yet. So when I found out about this beach themed pop up bar at the Arlo Soho hotel’s Good Story rooftop, I couldn’t wait to check it out for this month’s Cocktails Before Love  NYC meet up.

Good Story Roof Top Bar overlooking the East River in lower Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, is known for its craft beer, well-mixed cocktails and in the warmer months, grilled snacks and small plates. As a twist, various ‘pop-up’ concepts take over Good Story from time to time, as the bar transforms into any given theme. This summer it’s a beach theme pop up called Harry’s Surf Shack and we all agreed they did a great job with its execution. Such a fun and lively spot to bond with my fellow foodies!

Frozen Margaritas and Pina Coladas
Photo by N. Salter

The hotel itself  is clearly chic as you first step through the doors. The lobby is very inviting and I couldn’t help but wander a bit before heading to the roof and take a peak at the nice mix of common spaces complete with sky-lighting and exposed brick giving it a modern city feel, vibe. The hotel also houses the fairly new, Harold’s Meat + Three, a modern restaurant conjuring up Southern flavor,  which I will need to make a return visit to sample the tasty looking  menu items.

On to the roof – stepping off the elevator you are in the indoor portion and transported to…insert name of your favorite island or beach getaway! The walls are done up in graphic, tropical floral prints and the seating arrangements, throw pillows and end tables all have a relaxed beachy vibe – super cute. I zeroed in on the frozen drink machines at the bar and couldn’t wait to find out what the Frozen Cocktails for the day were. There were two to choose from – a margarita and a piña colada. I went with the piña colada while others in the Cocktail Before Love crew sipped on the margarita. We all agreed that the alcohol was definitely present, something that sometimes is lacking in frozen drinks – but not these, they were icy AND still boozy.

Guacamole with cotija cheese and chorizo
Photo by N. Salter

I was all prepared to have my favorite drink this summer the frozen rosé, or frosé as it’s been called, but the bartender informed us that they didn’t have it that particular evening. Apparently they rotate the frozen drink offerings through out the week. I was disappointed but got over it once I started in on my piña colada! The drink menu featured all the traditional choices associated with the beach – a tropical sangria with Pinot Grigio, mango and pineapple and classics such as the Mai Tai (Appleton Rum, lime and orgeat) and Painkiller (rum, pineapple, cream of coconut and nutmeg) The sharable rum buckets, good for up to four people and served in cool sand buckets, were a hit with everyone. Our crew ordered the Rum Punch bucket, a mixture of light, dark and spiced rums infused with fresh guava juice and the Coco Loco bucket, perfect for must of us who loved coconut – coconut rum, light rum, coconut cream and coconut water. Honestly, all the drinks were on point here – balanced, refreshing and potent.

We paired our drinks with small plates straight from the on premises grill. Of course, I had to try the guacamole and chips,  which came in a small and large size with the option to add a mix-in. Mix-ins included roasted red pepper, red onion, jalapeno, bacon bits, chorizo and cotija cheese. It was a tough decision, since all the choices sounded great, but I finally opted for the chorizo and cotija cheese – and I was so glad that I did; it really was delicious! This guacamole wasn’t chunky, instead it had a smooth and creamy consistency, almost dip-like and with the addition of the zesty, mildly spicy chorizo and the cotija cheese, I easily almost ate the whole portion myself! The rest of the group ordered steak and chicken tacos, which were served as sort of a make your own taco station. The taco ‘smorgasbord’ included tortillas, sliced jalapeno, onion, salsa, cilantro and lime and the well seasoned, grilled steak and chicken. Thumbs up all around! Other food offerings such as burgers, hot dogs, Mexican street corn and lobster rolls are sure to please for the next visit.

Shareable Rum Bucket
Photo by N. Salter

If you haven’t been to the beach all summer, Harry’s Surf Shack at Arlo Soho hotel’s Good Story roof top, gets you in the mood without stepping near the ocean. I wonder what the next pop up theme will be? I certainly plan on returning to find out!

If you want to be down with our next foodie adventure, be sure to RSVP for the next meet up.

Cheers!

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Secret Summer NYC Cocktail Glass

Pssst…can you keep a secret?

Well some secrets aren’t meant to keep!

Secret Summer NYC is back for another exciting installment as the first and only farm-to-bar immersive food and cocktail festival combined with music, fashion, art and performance.

Only days away, this one-of-a-kind event takes place on Sunday, August 6th, from 4pm – 10pm at the The Foundry, an event space located in Long Island City, Queens that will be transformed into a lush, garden-like setting befitting for this summer time soirée that attracts NYC’s hottest crowd. What better way to spend your Sunday Funday than sipping on creative cocktails and noshing on gourmet bites in a beautiful urban oasis!

Secret Summer NYC Bartender
Shot by Dee Williams

The MVP of the day – the drinks – will be curated by bespoke catering and hospitality company, RAPT New York, who specializes in farm-to-bar mixology sourcing the best ingredients from locally owned farms and urban hydroponic gardens. A glimpse into the cocktail menu showcases intriguing creations with clever names, such as the “Resting Birch Face”, with Woodford Reserve bourbon, foraged black birch, Wilklow Orchard cherries and Farm One mints and the “Figgedaboudit”, a concoction of Zacapa 23 rum, mission figs from Murray Farm, Harmless Harvest coconut water, honey and thyme.

Secret Summer NYC Cocktail Menu
Shot by Dee Williams

After getting your drinks on, you’ll definitely want to sample some food to accompany them. This year’s featured food trucks include Luke’s Lobster, La Pulperia, Big D’s Grub Truck and Wafels & Dinges. Offering a variety of flavors and cuisines to satisfy multiple palates, from savory to sweet – these trucks will have you covered whether you want a light bite or something heartier.

Secret Summer NYC Cocktail
Shot by Dee Williams

What’s a good summer party without entertainment? Secret Summer will present a live band, drumming performance group and a DJ to set the musical mood. Plus, for extra fun factor, a photo booth, gold flash tattoo stations, nail art stations and face painting and mehdni body art will all be featured.

Secret Summer NYC Cocktail Glass
Shot by Dee Williams

General Admission tickets include complimentary cocktails and drinks; food is for purchase. And luckily, tickets are still available here. Be sure to use the promo code ‘SecretFoodies‘ to receive 20% off.

If indicative of summers’ past, this year will sure to be an experience like no other. Hope to see you there!

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GRACE JAMAICA JERK NEW YORK 2016-558

Delicious food hailing from the Caribbean, musical performances, cooking exhibitions and demos, giveaways, contests and more. Did we get your attention? The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival is back for its 7th year and we want you there! It’s touted as being “New York’s Biggest Caribbean Food Festival” and rightfully so. This annual fête held at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens, New York on Sunday, July 23rd from noon – 8pm, attracts a mix of over 20,000 foodies, reggae and soca music lovers and cultural enthusiasts from all over the city.

NYC Jerk Fest Logo

Imagine being surrounded by all your favorite Caribbean dishes cooked up in flavorful jerk spice, of course. This jerk themed festival gives you a chance to sample and indulge in it all with several food vendors present! Patrons will also be able to witness and cheer on their favorite chefs competing and showcasing their talents in the Jerk Cook-Off where one deserving chef will be declared the festival’s Jerk Champion.

GRACE JAMAICA JERK NEW YORK 2016-558

Plus, this year special guests such as Morgan Heritage, Alison Hinds, Konshens and Barrington Levy will be hitting the Main Stage with exciting, explosive performances that are sure to please and get you winding your waist!

Visit the Cultural Stage and connect with Caribbean heritage while enjoying dance performances, poetry, story telling and comedy.It really is a win, win situation so round up your crew of friends and family and spend the day enjoying the cool vibes and celebrating the Caribbean’s vibrant culture and distinctive cuisine.

GRACE JAMAICA JERK FEST 2015

Wait, did you get your tickets yet? If not, don’t worry, go to Jerk Festival NY  to purchase yours and check out the full itinerary of fun-filled festival events and happenings.

Don’t wait too long though, ’cause the countdown is on and Sunday is almost here!

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National Mojito Day

Attention all you Mojito lovers! National Mojito Day is Today, Tuesday,  July 11th and we’ve got you covered on where to celebrate and enjoy some of the best mojitos in NYC!

This popular cocktail originating from Cuba, is a delicious way to beat the heat with its mix of refreshing flavors. Traditionally, a mojito consists of five ingredients: white rum, sugar (typically sugar cane juice), lime, soda water and mint.

Here are our picks of where to sip on your favorite drink or if you’re a mojito newbie – try for the first time.

Havana Central

In the heart of Times Square is a bustling restaurant featuring Cuban cuisine, cocktails and live music in a retro Havana style atmosphere. Their mojitos are stellar and offered in a wide range of flavors – each served with a sugar cane stick. Stop in on National Mojito Day for $6 mojitos all day ($1 extra for flavors) and food specials featuring $1 empanadas. 151 West 46th Street, New York, NY

National Mojito Day
Photo By Neha Deshmukh

Guantanamera 

This friendly, fun and vibrant with magnificent mojitos and complimentary hand-rolled cigars (Friday – Saturday only after 7pm) and live Cuban music. Come enjoy $6 mojitos all day on Mojito Tuesdays and during happy hour Sunday – Thursday from 4pm – 7pm.  939 8th Avenue, New York, NY

Corner Social 

Harlem’s hotspot offers killer cocktails which never disappoint. Check out their version of your favorite mojito on their rotating daily specials menu. The last time I visited I had an amazing coconut one as I took in the bustling happy hour scene inside this cozy, brick exposed bar. If weather permits, enjoy the lively sidewalk seating and all the action in the center of Harlem on National Mojito Day.  321 Lenox Avenue, New York, NY

Habana Outpost

National Mojito Day
Photographed by N. Salter

Located in the fashionably cultural Fort Greene section of Brooklyn is a diverse, cool hangout spot offering up Mexican-Cuban food and refreshing frozen drinks such as the Morita, a great mojito/margarita combo and individual fruit flavored mojitos.  Place your food and drink order at the counter upon entering and then wander on out to the outdoor patio area complete with picnic style tables and umbrellas.  Do strike up a convo with someone at the next table or just enjoy people watching as you sip on your mojito. Don’t forgot to try some of the yummy food options like the popular grilled Mexican street corn with cotija cheese and fish tacos. 757 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY (between South Oxford Street and Portland Avenue) 

Havana Alma de Cuba

Courtesy Havana Alma de Cuba
Courtesy Havana Alma de Cuba

Known for Cuban comfort food, great mojitos and outdoor garden seating. On National Mojito Day classic mojitos are $6 during happy hour Monday – Wednesday from 4pm – 7pm and customers can receive complimentary cigars Tuesday – Wednesday, 7pm – 11pm  94 Christopher Street, New York, NY

Amor Cubano

Located in East Harlem offers a large selection of mojitos – at least ten! – to choose from including peach, passion fruit and even a champagne topped mojito!  Try out a few flavors during daily happy hour from 4pm – 7pm and late nights on the weekend from 11pm – closing.  2018 3rd Avenue, New York, NY

Brooklyn Beso

National Mojito Day BK BEso
Courtesy of Brooklyn Beso

Located in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where you can enjoy delicious mojitos by the glass or pitcher in flavors such as guavo and ginger to complement their Latin-inspired menu.  Even better, stop by during happy hour, Tuesday-Friday from 3pm – 8pm and all day Monday for the 2 for 1 special and $2 off all frozen drinks. 370 Lewis Avenue, Brooklyn, NY

Mad  Dog & Beans Mexican Cantina

Mad Dog will offer half off all mojitos all day on National Mojito Day. Stop by either of their two locations and toast the day away! Even more special, on National Mojito Day, the Financial District location  is also participating in the Stone Street Streetfest along with other restaurants in the area for a night of celebration and networking to support Self Help Africa. 20% of all purchases will go to supporting Self Help Africa’s work in empowering rural entrepreneurs in Africa. 83 Pearl Street, New York, NY and 5 East 38th Street, New York, NY

Blend on the Water 

National Mojito Day Blend on the Water
Courtesy of Blend on the Water

In Long Island City in Queens, Blend on the Water offers modern Latin fusion cuisine with a beautiful waterfront view and tasty cocktails and sharable drinks. The coconut mojitos are a favorite. Get one during happy hour Monday – Friday, 11am – 7pm 4540 Center Boulevard, Long Island City, NY 
 

 

 

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Cauliflower Tacos Cienfuegos NYC

Eat, drink and be merry…and that’s exactly what we did at Cienfuegos! I hosted my first Cocktails Before Love NYC meet up this week and oh what an awesome time we had.

Three fellow foodies and I, joined by our very own Food Before Love founder Casandra, met at Cienfuegos, located in Manhattan’s East Village. This hidden gem of a restaurant serves up specialty rum cocktails and its famous punch bowls which are paired with Latin inspired small plates.

Ciengfuegos NYC
Courtesy of Cienfuegos

First off, the ambiance and decor was on point. Upon entering you ascend a long flight of stairs and once at the top, you feel like you’ve  been transported into someone’s chic Cuban apartment. Cool blues, ivory and pastel colors, plush furnishings and distressed, wrought iron gates create an intimate, but well spaced atmosphere. On our particular visit we were treated to live music playing urban Latin jazz. After chatting for a bit about ourselves and well, you know, our love of food, we learned that we all had a few favorites in common. We all lust after mac and cheese and we all live for seafood! After that we got right down to it; what should we order??

Guacamole Cienfuegos NYC

Cienfuegos recently revamped their menu to vegan, however we were all excited to try some of the delicious sounding options. Our server, Josh, helped us select some flavorful dishes that we all shared – guacamole with fried plantain chips, cauliflower tacos, black beans and coconut rice and yucca fries with a sweet corn purée sauce – and everything was tasty and the ingredients fresh. Half of us were on the fence about the corn dipping sauce that accompanied the yucca fries though – it tasted familiar, but hmmm we couldn’t quite figure it out. Josh informed us that it was made with corn and almond milk. I actually thought the fries were great on their own, no sauce needed! Overall, we enjoyed our light bites and it kind of slipped my mind that we were eating vegan – except maybe when it came to the cauliflower tacos. Yes, they were good – with spiced, chunks of cauliflower covered in sweet mango salsa, but the carnivore in me couldn’t help but miss a nice dose of marinated ground beef!

Cauliflower Tacos Cienfuegos NYC

On to the cocktails! We gladly took advantage of happy hour, which features a choice between two specialty cocktails for $7 and two half priced sharable rum punch bowls which vary daily. We each started with a round of Cuba Libres and daiquiris on the rocks. We all agreed that these were smooth going down, while still very potent…perfect!

Cocktails Before Love Meet up

For our punch bowl, the MVP of the evening, we  went with the Intro to Awesome – and the name of this drink couldn’t have been more befitting! We were scooping out the bottom of the bowl to make sure we got every drop. Yes, it was that good! The bowls are available in three different sizes, accommodating small parties of two or larger groups like ours. In addition, there is an extensive menu of individual cocktails to satisfy a variety of palates. Containing extra dry rum and Aperol mixed with cucumber, lime, soda and salt, the Intro to Awesome was very well-balanced between sweet and bitter and was so refreshing to enjoy amongst good company on a lovely NYC summer evening!

I can’t wait to return to Cienfuegos and indulge in more of the food and drink choices. Trust me;  if you haven’t checked it out yet, please gather up your crew and go!

Cheers!

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