Friday, October 31, 2008

Miscellany - Updates on Starlite, Urban Solace, Jayne's and A.R. Valentien

The Lindbergh at Starlite

Happy Halloween! The radio show yesterday was a lot of fun, and the podcast should be up here soon if you want to listen!

The cocktail pictured above is a "Lindbergh," which I very much enjoyed at the Urban Slow Food Mixer at Starlite on Wednesday night. This was the kickoff event for the new urban offshoot of Slow Food San Diego, which will serve San Diego's urban communities. The organizers of this group are extremely dedicated, and I am impressed with the energetic response they're receiving. I think this is going to be a very good thing.
Dominick and Kate at the Starlite Urban Mixer

Starlite really makes some fabulous cocktails. The Lindbergh is a martini of Plymouth Gin, lemon juice and housemade maraschino cherries, with the juice from the cherries mixed in, and yes, it tasted as good as it sounds. A little bit later I also tried a "Pink Dragon" - a delicious concoction of Plymouth Gin, and pureed dragon fruit with housemade ginger syrup. The Kentucky Colonel is another favorite - made with bourbon and housemade cherry vanilla bitters and served in one of their huge copper mugs.

I've also been loving their food lately - how can you not, when they're committed to supporting local farms and sustainable practices - and nothing on the menu is over $20.00? Preparations of simple dishes like mussels and jidori chicken are creative and well executed, the burger is excellent, the charcuterie plate is one of the best in town, and the fritto misto is always fascinating. Last nights' included fried pickles and "meat stuffed olives" along with the more traditional mushrooms and onions.

I've also had some very good meals recently at Jayne's and Urban Solace. It had been a while since I'd been to either - I stopped in at Urban Solace a few weeks ago for lunch, and had dinner at Jayne's Gastropub just this week. At Urban Solace I had the watermelon salad, which is now probably (sadly) off the menu, since the watermelon and tomato seasons are over, and the duckaroni - their macaroni and cheese with duck confit. The small side portion was perfect for lunch. It was rich and complex and the browned breadcrumbs on top were a nice touch. The pulled pork sandwich my friend ordered was excellent too.
Steak Frites at Jaynes

I went to Jayne's this week with three friends for a girls' night out, and thought the food was better than ever. We started with the Caesar salad and the Gambas a Ajillo. I've tried them before and they were as good as I remembered. For entrees, we ordered the burger, the duck breast, seared albacore, and steak frites. I tried them all, and each dish was wonderful. The albacore and the duck were truly fine dining quality. The balance of flavors on the albacore was especially nice - with the tomato coulis and the cucumber relish. The burger and the steak frites were also perfectly prepared - medium rare for the steak and the burger, and crisp for the frites - which is all you can ask. We split a half bottle of rose champagne four ways - Besserat De Bellefon Brut Rose - which we all absolutely loved, and Jora ordered a glass of Chateau de Pampelonne Rose -which Krista and I liked so much we each ordered one for ourselves.
Jeff Jackson, Chef at A.R. Valentien

Last but not least, Jeff Jackson, the chef at A.R. Valentien at the Torrey Pines Lodge was the guest for the first half of the radio show yesterday, and he had some interesting things to say about changes at A.R. Valentien, and Celebrate the Craft coming up this weekend at the Lodge.

At the restaurant, they have changed the format of the menu to small plates, with nothing over $21.00. Portions are slightly smaller (which probably isn't such a bad thing) but the dishes will still be fully composed, something like what Chris Walsh is doing at Bite.

Celebrate the Craft runs throughout the weekend, with a Plein Air art auction and dinner on Saturday, and a "picnic" on Sunday on the vast lawn behind the hotel. It is a beautiful setting, and there should be some amazing food - chefs of all of the best sustainable restaurants in town will be there, including Jason Knibb of 910, Anthony Friscia of Stingaree, Christian Graves of JSix, and James Foran, the pastry chef at Market who I took classes from at Grossmont. Rather than preparing dishes from the restaurant, Jeff has paired each of these chefs with a producer to come up with a dish they will serve together. It promises to be a unique event and I am sure it will be well worth the $65.00 ticket price. More information and tickets are available on their website. If you go, perhaps I will see you there!

p.s. - Genie over at The Inadvertent Gardener was in San Diego last week, and checked out the Linkery. I'm so glad she liked it!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Before, During and After

I found some old photos of our house from before we bought it, and I thought it would be fun to share a few, starting with before we moved in (with the with the previous owners' furniture,) moving through the early days of bad paint choices and old furniture, and on into the current incarnation.

These three show similar angles on the living room in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (not much has changed since then). Here it is before we moved in, with the previous owners' furniture. We took down those dowels and the half wall in the entryway.
livingroom ii

Here it is after wall paper stripping and re-painting. The yellow color was a last minute choice that I hated from the start, but we lived with it for almost two years.
early 2006 160

Here it is after the new coat of paint, new sofa, recessed lighting and drop down screen tv. Ahhh.... Still need new bookcases though...
8.27.07 012

Here's the fireplace during the intermediate stage...
early 2006 161

and what it looked like after we had it resurfaced...
8.27.07 011

Here's another angle on the room in the beginning and at the end:
livingroom

We had the mantle built, and the tile is Malibu tile from Classic Tile on Kettner.
Living Room and Fireplace 8.25.07

We didn't take very many photos of the kitchen in the early days - these are the only two I have. When we moved in, we wanted to make some cosmetic changes, but didn't want to spend the money for a serious remodel. We stripped the wallpaper (yes, in the kitchen!) and took out the decorative trim, ceiling fan and fluorescent lighting...
kitchen i

We replaced the stained glass lamp with a school house style fixture from Rejuvenation and put in track lighting to replace the fluorescents. It really helped a lot.
Kitchen 2008
Here's another angle:
kitchen ii

We painted the walls charcoal gray (an idea I found in a Kraftmaid cabinet catalog) put in a charcoal gray slate tile floor and installed a new sink faucet, new hinges, and new drawer and cabinet pulls. We bought a new stainless dishwasher and refrigerator, but kept the gas oven and six burner range - they're still plugging along just fine.
June16 049

In the dining area, we painted two walls apple green, and just decorated with the miscellaneous stuff we already had. I'm starting to get tired of the green now, but there aren't too many colors that work with that pinkish tile countertop. One of these days it's going to have to go - but it will have to wait until we have the time and money for a bigger project. I'm thinking marble, or maybe butcherblock... It's gonna be fun!
Kitchen 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunday Supper on the East Coast

The table set for Sunday Supper
I'd never get tired of talking about it, but you might get sick of hearing about it - so I thought I'd take a break from all the trip stuff with this week's Sunday Supper. We enjoyed this meal in Virginia, where it was nice and cool all weekend. Well, actually, it was pretty warm on Sunday - but we pretended it was still Saturday, when it rained so hard two inches of water flooded the cafe at Dean and Deluca in Georgetown.
Brian's Buffalo Braciole
Sunday Supper
October 26, 2008

Antipasti

Buffalo Braciola with Marinara
Creamy Polenta with Gorgonzola Cheese
Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Root Vegetables

Junior's Cheesecake

Roasted Root Veg and Brussel Sprouts
It was a hearty meal, based on one Brian's grandmother cooked for his Italian family. For Braciola, the meat, usually flank steak, is rolled around a stuffing, browned, and then simmered in marinara sauce until tender. Brian used Giada di Laurentiis' recipe as a jumping off point, substituting Buffalo from the local farmers' market. The vegetables are tossed with a simple mix of oil and herbs, and roasted under high heat in the oven until softened and caramelized. With this we enjoyed a phenomenal Malbec from Argentina, and for dessert we had cheesecake I brought down from New York. Antipasti picked up at Whole Foods the day before took the edge off before dinner. Brian is not only a great cook but a terrific mixologist, so we spent much of the rest of the weekend sipping finely made cocktails in front of the fireplace.
The table setting

Braciola with Marinara and Creamy Polenta with Gorgonzola Cheese
This entire dish from start to finish is a lot of work for one day - Brian had made his sauce ahead of time, frozen it in a plastic bag, and thawed it in a pot of water before using it. If anything, this improves the flavor of the sauce, so it's a great idea if you have the time.

For the Braciola:

2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/3 cup grated Provolone cheese
1/2 cup dried Italian style bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove minced
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 flank steak
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground bkac pepper
1 cup dry white wine
3 1/4 cups Marinara Sauce

Directions:
Stir the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season mixture with salt and pepper and set aside.

Lay the flank steak flat on the work surface. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the steak to cover the top evenly. Starting at 1 short end, roll up the steak as for a jelly roll to enclose the filling completely. Using butcher's twine, tie the steak roll to secure. Sprinkle the braciole with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the braciole and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the marinara sauce. Cover partially with foil and bake until the meat is almost tender, turning the braciole and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes. After 1 hour, uncover and continue baking until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes longer. The total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the braciole from the sauce. Using a large sharp knife, cut the braciole crosswise and diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to plates. Spoon the sauce over and serve.

Marinara Sauce

1/2 Cup Extra-virgin olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
2 (32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
2 dried bay leaves

Directions:In a large pot, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste. (The sauce can be made a day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat before using.)

Basic Polenta

6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.

Gorgonzola Polenta

Basic Polenta Recipe (above) freshly made
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 ounces Gorgonzola Cheese, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Directions:
Add the cream, Gorgonzola and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and pepper to the freshly made polenta while it is still in the saucepan and stir. Add more salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. (Polenta sets up if allowed to sit - leftovers are great fried in a skillet with a little oil.)

Some Favorite Photos from the Trip Back East

Not much time to post today, so thought I'd share some of my favorite photos from the trip last week to New York, Baltimore and DC. Stay tuned though, more posts are on the way!
View of Empire State Building from Madison Square
At the MOMA

MOMA Courtyard - NYC
Veniero's - NYC
Outside The Modern at the NYC MOMA
In the Martha Stewart Everyday Test Kitchens
Crab Feast - Before
At Harpers' Ferry, West Virginia

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Best and Worst of The Trip

This past week, I traveled to the East Coast (New York, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.) to visit friends and family and attend the Gourmet Institute in NYC. These were some of the highlights and lowlights:
Highs:
  1. Cracking and eating crabs with the family in Baltimore - and sitting around the firepit and shooting off fireworks afterwards.
  2. Junior's Cheesecake. Just creamy enough and just cakey enough - and I love the light spongecake base.
  3. Discovering how good Italian cookies can be (especially the rainbow ones) at Veniero's in NYC.
  4. Eating New York pizza with Amanda and Randy at John's in the West Village.
  5. Enjoying the Tasting Menu at Cafe Boulud with Luis on his birthday.
  6. Going behind the scenes at Gourmet with Ruth Reichl, including a visit to her office.
  7. Seeing the art at the MOMA - especially the Pollacks and Rothkos, which are truly more interesting in person.
  8. The International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. V. cool.
  9. The cheese session at the Gourmet Institute with Ihsan Gurdal of Formaggio Kitchen.
  10. Eating fried oysters twice in one week - in a Po' Boy at Mama's on the Half Shell in Baltimore, and at Hank's Oyster Bar in DC.
  11. The super creepy, ultra campy John Brown Wax Museum at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
  12. Watching the kayakers shoot the rapids (including waterfalls!) at Great Falls National Park.
  13. Sazeracs and Manhattans in front of the fire at the Reston Homestead.
  14. Lunch at the Modern Bar Room with some fellow bloggers (Hi Deb, Lisa and Amy!) and Ian Knauer.
  15. Meeting Carol at Michel Richard's Central in NYC (the gougeres are pretty amazing too...)
Lows: let me think... there were a few...
  1. The two and a half hour ride from JFK to the Millenium Broadway Hotel. (NEVER AGAIN SUPER SHUTTLE.)
  2. Getting the shaft at the Millenium Broadway Hotel at 11 PM after eight hours of traveling. (Though it worked to my advantage in the end because I found a better, cheaper hotel - the Roommate Grace)
  3. The very mediocre "dining experience" at Picholine on Saturday night as part of the Gourmet Institute.
  4. A not-so-great lunch at Esca. (I think Amy liked it better than I did, but we both agreed it was sub-par.)
  5. A downright inedible deli sandwich at the Stage Deli.
  6. An even worse lunch at the cafe at the Baltimore National Aquarium (We should have gone to Chipotle or Potbelly across the street)
  7. The insane numbers of people on the street and in every business (including the MOMA) in Midtown Manhattan. Next time, I think I'll stay downtown and take the subway.
  8. I had a lot of mediocre coffee on the East Coast, even in some good restaurants. Espresso was generally very good though.
  9. Acclimating to the time change - which I never really did.
  10. The fact that though I spent a fortune on a hotel in order to have extra time in NYC I still wasn't able to see a play or go to any of the shops I wanted to visit. (I know, I know, waah waah waah.)
I didn't mention meeting and/or seeing Tony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Tom Colicchio, Grant Achatz, Gavin Kaysen, Daniel Boulud, or any of those other famous people, because I wouldn't want you to think I was bragging, you know?

If you're curious, here are the photos from the Gourmet Institute
More NYC photos can be viewed here, and Baltimore/DC here.
As great as it was, it's still really good to be home. I missed my dogs.


And the other places we stayed weren't bad either...

You may have seen my post a few days ago about the hotel in New York I liked so much. Well, lucky for us, (James met me in Baltimore) the other two places we stayed were were pretty darn cool too. Our hotel there, The Inn at 2920, was a dream - private and out of the way, but close enough to be central. We had the only accommodation on the bottom floor, a two room suite called the Gato Casa - complete with kitchen and goldfish. It was nicely decorated and I hear the breakfast is good too, though we didn't get to try it. (Damn jet lag.) As if that weren't enough, at $200. per night it was a bargain compared to the mega hotels at the Inner Harbor (the weekend rate is $225.)
Inn at 2920 in Baltimore
Inn at 2920 in Baltimore
Inn at 2920 in Baltimore
The hotel is in Canton, an old industrial area of Baltimore now gentrified - and is just a block away from O'Donnell Square, a great little spot with lots of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed a meal at Mama's on the Half Shell, a seafood restaurant on the corner. I can't recommend the Italian bakery across the street as highly though. You can read more about Mama's and the square here.
Stowe Road in Reston, VA
In the D.C. area we stayed with friends in this house - which was just as lovely on the inside as it was on the outside. The firewood was stacked, the liquor cabinet was stocked, and the larder was brimming with the ingredients for Sunday suppers and gourmet breakfasts. Normally at the end of a vacation I'm all ready to go home, but I really think I could get used to the spoiling we got here. Guess we'll just have to make it up to them when they come to visit next year!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lunch at the Modern Bar Room - NYC

The entry to The Modern at the MOMA - NYC

When I researched restaurants for this trip, recommendations for The Modern at the MOMA popped up over and over again. After viewing the lunch menu, I decided that I couldn't swing the fine dining room - but the Bar Room definitely seemed doable. The menu is still fine dining, but the prices are a little more moderate - in the high teens and twenties, where The Modern's prices are twenties to forties. On Monday, when the festivities of the Gourmet Institute were over, I met fellow bloggers Lisa of Homesick Texan, Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and Amy of Cooking With Amy there for lunch with Ian Knauer - a Food Editor at Gourmet who I've become friendly with since last year's event.
Chicken Liver Pate at the Modern Bar Room

We started with a couple of items to share, the Modern Liverwurst with pickled vegetables, and the Alsatian Tart Flambee - essentially a flatbread pizza. The liverwurst was very mild, and the Alsatian pizza was crisp and rich. We then moved on to two dishes per person - a starter and a main course. The scallops for me, salads for Deb and Ian, a housemade sausage for Amy, and a veal terrine for Lisa. These were good - but the real showstopper was the duck confit.
Duck Confit at the Modern Bar Room

It was the best I've ever had - perfectly crisp and rich, in a wonderful sauce dotted with passionfruit seeds. The potatoes were a "hash" of perfect cubes fried in duck fat with onions and shishito peppers, with a bundle of arugula to balance the richness. Three of us at the table had this dish, Deb had a mushroom soup, and Ian ordered the paprika laced foie gras torchon, which was rich and delicious.
Beignets with Maple Ice Cream, Caramel and Mango Marmalade

For dessert we shared an order of beignets, which worked perfectly because there were five of them and five of us, and they were rather large. The little ramekins held maple ice cream, caramel sauce and a mango compote with vanilla. They were all good, but the maple ice cream was amazingly creamy with a flavor like complex caramel - not as overly sweet as some maple confections I've tried.
Dessert menu at the Modern Bar Room

The Modern has an exterior entrance so you can dine without going to the museum. Inside the museum is another option, the Cafe 2, which serves Italian style cafe food. I didn't get a chance to eat there, but it's very artful and interesting looking, and the food is a bit higher level than your ordinary museum cafe. I posted a couple of photos over here.
The MOMA was fabulous as well, of course - I especially enjoyed the Kirchner exhibit "Kirchner and the Berlin Street." Did you know you can view these exhibits online? It's not the same as seeing it in person, but it's still pretty cool. You can check it out here.

The Modern Bar Room
at the MOMA
9 W. 53rd Street
New York, New York
212.333.1220
reservations on Open Table.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pizza and Beer in the Big City - John's of Bleecker Street

John's Pizza in the W. Village -  NYC
Growing up in San Diego I babysat for a number of families, but I always had a special bond with the next door neighbor kids, Amanda and Noah. They're all grown up now - they've both graduated from Cornell and have big fancy jobs - Noah is in Washington D.C. and Amanda lives in New York City with her lawyer husband Randy. Conveniently, Amanda and Randy love food and know the City well - so whenever I come to town, we always get together and eat.

Last year, we went to The Tasting Room, a great little restaurant in SOHO that has since (sadly) closed. It closed before I even had a chance to write about it - but to be fair I was very behind at that point. I've vowed not to let that happen this time, so while I'm working on my post about lunch at The Modern I thought I'd talk a little bit about the pizza we ate later that night.
John's Pizza in the W. Village
When we made plans to meet up, I didn't know that I'd be fine dining on Sunday night and Monday for lunch, and again on Thursday - so Amanda made a reservation for us at Balthazar. I love Balthazar, don't get me wrong, but so many French meals in one week just seemed like a bad idea. Plus - I had never tried New York Pizza - the coal-fired thin-crust type the City is so famous for. I was dying to try it and a little burned out on the fine dining, so when our dinner date drew closer, I called Amanda and I begged her to go to John's instead.
The wall at John's Pizza in the W. Village - NYC
John's is one of those institutions that derives almost as much of it's appeal from the atmosphere as the food. I loved the scribble-etched wooden booths and the murals of Italy on the walls. The menu was ridiculously convoluted, with pizzas with almost every conceivable combination of ingredients listed individually instead of just a list of toppings. After puzzling over it for a while, we ordered a pitcher of beer and a large pepperoni and mushroom pizza - ironically not one of the options on the list.
John's Pizza - Mushroom and Pepperoni
The pizza is extremely thin, and was so fresh out of the oven that when it was set on the table, the topping was literally molten, liquid cheese. After letting it cool down for a few minutes, we dug in. It was cooked at a high enough temperature that the pepperoni did that thing where it cups and turns crisp at the edges, and the edges of the crust were light, chewy and crisp. It had dollops of a mild tomato sauce or paste on top as well as underneath the cheese, and a shake or two of hot pepper flakes gave it just the right amount of zing.
John's Pizza in the W. Village - NYC
You'll eat more slices than you might otherwise just because it's so thin - three of us had no trouble at all polishing off a large, and some cannolis afterwards. The only other item offered on the menu is a salad - which sounded good, but we decided lettuce would just get in the way. Perhaps the best part is that a pitcher of beer and large pizza only set us back around $35. - a bargain by any standard, and not just in New York!

John's Pizza
278 Bleecker St
New York, NY 10014
(347) 706-3336

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cafe 2 at the MOMA - NYC

Cafe 2 at the NYC MOMA
Don't you just love museum cafes? I sure do. So much so that even though I didn't eat here, I just had to check this one out while I was at the MOMA on Monday. I thought the front kitchen and these display cases were beautifully designed and worthy of a few photos. You can read more about the food and view the menu here.
Cafe 2 at the NYC MOMA

Cafe 2
Second Floor
The Museum of Modern Art
9 West 53rd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
NYC

I heart my New York hotel...

Grace Hotel - NYC
It's no secret that hotels in New York City are expensive, but when I started looking in the Spring for a place to stay for this year's Gourmet Institute in October, I was shocked by what I found. Even modest boutique hotels were charging $400. per night and the budget accommodations in the City either required sharing a bathroom or a long commute to the Mid-town area. If it had been inexpensive enough, I would have considered it (the commute, not the bathroom sharing) but I just couldn't find anything that made sense. Ultimately I settled for the conference hotel, reasoning that although it was expensive at $349. per night, it would at least be convenient.
Grace Hotel - NYC
When I arrived though, the Millennium Broadway was overbooked, with nothing left but (very stinky) smoking rooms. They told me the only other option was another hotel a block away, which had rooms available for $400. - meaning I'd have to pay the difference, and I'd have to move the next day. I had spent six hours on a plane and two and a half hours getting to the City from the airport, (NEVER AGAIN SUPER SHUTTLE!) so I really wasn't in the mood for a hassle.
Lobby of the Room Mate Grace Hotel
Still, I recognized it was pointless to argue and I remembered seeing a very cool little boutique hotel next door on my last trip - so I decided to run over there to see if THEY had anything available. They didn't - but they pointed me across the street to the Room Mate Grace Hotel.
Lobby of the Room Mate Grace Hotel
When I walked in, I immediately knew I'd be happy here. the place just had sort of a hip but comfortable vibe and the staff was incredibly friendly. They didn't have a room that night either - but they offered me a rate of $300. night for the rest of my trip - which I booked. I spent that first night at the Hotel Mela (which was also quite nice, by the way - and matched the $349 rate of the Millennium unprompted) and moved over here on Friday.
room at the Room Mate Grace in NYC
It turns out Room Mate is a Spanish company with only two hotels in the U.S. - one in Miami and this one here. They cater to a young-ish European clientele - the only English I have heard is heavily accented. It doesn't feel snooty though, and I've had no "hipper than thou" attitude thrown my way. The hotel was actually built by Andre Balazs as a hip budget option called the QT, and taken over by Room Mate sometime within the past year I believe.

The $300. per night rate included continental breakfast, round the clock coffee, wi-fi and local calls. They have a small swimming pool that is visible at eye level from the lobby, a unisex shower, sauna and steamroom, a bar, and an exercise facility (though it's a little weak.) The rooms feature a comfortable platform bed with feather pillows and cotton sheets, a long counter, closet and sink - and at the end there's a toilet and shower with a large mirrored door that rolls back and forth to conceal one or the other - whichever you happen to be using. There is a clear glass refrigerator in the room, and the front desk is set up as as a store, so you can essentially stock your own minibar.

It's utilitarian, friendly and chic - and incredibly convenient to the Times Square/Midtown area. I'd especially recommend it for a single traveler - but it's also fine for a couple who doesn't mind sharing a small space. (Then again I am in their smallest room - some of their other options may be more spacious.)

The Night Hotel across the street was the original hotel I considered:
Night Hotel - NYC
It's more expensive and a little more aggressively hip - though the desk clerk who sent me to the Grace was quite friendly and helpful.

Room Mate Grace Hotel
125 W. 45th Street
New York, New York

Some other "budget" options to explore that appear to have at least a modicum of style (book early - they go fast!):
East Village Bed and Coffee
Rooms to Let Guesthouse
The Gershwin Hotel
Second Home on Second Avenue
The Washington Square Hotel

If I had a little more money to spend (around $400. per night) I'd also consider The Maritime Hotel.