Plates & Pints: BabboIn a city replete with Italian options, Mario Batali's Greenwich Village eatery still stands above the rest

An Italian restaurant in New York City isn’t exactly a novel idea. Walking around the sundry neighborhoods of the five boroughs, one can trip and fall over one ristorante and land right in another cucina. So what is it that separates one eatery from another? It comes down to quality – of ingredients, preparation, ambiance, and service. And Mario Batali’s Babbo offers all of these in spades.

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Treat Her Right: Up in the AirAn occasional briefing on the latest goods, getaways and hot spots your lady will love

THE SUN RISES ever so surreptitiously as the air begins to warm. Perfection permeates the sky above, which is where you’ll be shortly. As the wind carries you higher and higher, you feel a nervous excitement in the pit of your stomach. You’re not sure if it’s height-induced or a byproduct of your sweetheart’s company in the cozy basket of the hot air balloon.

Either way, the anxiety is not what you’ll remember most after you land. The image that will linger is the one of sweet surprise that spread across your date’s face when she first saw the balloon. She’ll carry with her the feeling of your favorite sweater on her cheek as she snuggled in close, sipping mimosas and taking in the view.

Summer is upon us, and with it comes a plethora of date options that winter forced into hibernation. Yes, everything from picnics to tandem bike rides are back on the table. You can even hail a horse for a gentlemen’s cab ride at a bearable temperature. But why not try something a bit more unique?

Hot air ballooning is a date that offers the best of both worlds. Not only is it adventurous and a wonderful sight-seeing opportunity at about 2,000 feet in the air, it’s also private, offering a less crowded experience than a park or bike trail. You and your lovely are accompanied by nothing more than a pilot and the changing winds.

Below, a couple of reputable balloon pilots break down all the essentials.

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Moustache Love: April 2012Our monthly round-up of moustache-related paraphernalia and moustachioed gents on the street

Sock It To Me

Mustache Socks

IF YOU’RE PART of the #menswear set these days, then you already know that wearing your dad’s plain black dress socks just doesn’t cut it anymore. Your personal style should be articulated through every inch of your ensemble—hosiery included. And with spring on the horizon, patterns and bright colors are all the rage right now.

But with so many folks opting for bolder options on their feet, it’s getting harder to find socks that truly stand out from the crowd—pairs that are dapper and daring with a healthy sense of humor about them.

That’s where the innovative upstarts at Sock It To Me come into play. Try on a pair of their audacious foot coverings, and you’re sure to have more than a few passersby ogling the area between your shoes and trousers.

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The Famished Gentleman: Grandma’s Carrot Fried RiceA delicious, hearty concoction of stir-fried goodness

IS THERE ANYTHING more evocative, delightful, or comforting than the smell of a beloved home-cooked meal?

Whenever my mum makes her mother’s signature fried rice, a single whiff of its sweet, fragrant scent and suddenly I’m six years old, sitting at the large circular dining table in my grandmother’s house in Singapore. My legs dangle from an ornate wooden chair, my toes barely grazing the cool marble floor below. I can hear my grandmother’s voice coming from the kitchen next door; she’s speaking in Hokkien to my mum, in Malay to the housekeeper helping her cook. I’m hungry from a day of running around in the midsummer humidity, and break into a wide grin when my grandmother emerges with the huge platter of her rice, my favorite dish. It’s difficult for us to communicate—she speaks little English, my Chinese is non-existent—but every bite, every heaping spoonful, is filled with her love and affection.

The farther I get from my childhood, the memory seems to only grow more vivid, and my love for the fried rice remains stronger than ever. It’s simple, hearty and flavorful, packed with an abundance of succulent, tender chicken and thinly sliced carrots. Nostalgia tends to favorably skew one’s judgment, but in this case, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy this dish as much as I did growing up.

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On the Road: Venice BeachThe charisma and colors of the Boardwalk at dusk

ON HOT SUMMER DAYS, the Venice Beach Boardwalk bustles with the frenzied verve of a Moroccan bazaar—the crowds are thick; the sights and performers are peculiar; the energy is palpable.

But on this evening, as a gentle February breeze whistles by, the scene is markedly quieter. The sun yawns in the distance, a hazy blend of honey and soft pink rippling across the sky. The street vendors are packing up their wares and the decibel levels have dropped, but the area’s vivid character remains intact—in fact, it feels more pronounced, focused, tangible. This is Venice stripped of the spectacle, and what’s left behind is vaguely reminiscent of its Italian namesake: raw, moving beauty, full of ripened textures and idiosyncrasies.

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