Sotto Happy Hour: Drinks That Rival Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino

Though it is no replacement for the Annex, Sotto happy hour is still the best deal in town. House wine and mixed drinks are only two fifty; cocktails like the Bellinitini (peach, prosecco, mint) and the Lemon Drop Martini (lemon, sours) are only five dollars; beer is incredibly cheap. The crowd was mixed; a woman was having a baby shower overflowing with “It’s a girl” balloons and presents wrapped in pink ribbon; families with children filed in and out; a few singles in suits chatted at the bar. We were the only twenty somethings there. On the wall are clocks with the times in major cities: Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Princeton.

While I was thrilled to be ordering a drink for my twenty first birthday, our formally-dressed ponytail wearing waiter just looked at me and asked: “is this your first place today?” By the end of happy hour, our waiter said he couldn’t serve us a new drink if there were more than two unfinished drinks in front of us, and then winked and walked away.

The cocktails come in cone-shaped cups held in a larger cup full of ice (which, although it looks really cool, does not do a very good job of keeping your cocktail cold) and the mixed drinks are garnished with fruit on tooth-pick swords. You can also order snacks; particularly good are the extremely cheesy mozzarella sticks.

Considering the scarcity of bars in Princeton (there are only thirteen liquor licenses in the borough), Sotto happy hour is not to be missed.

– Sadye Teiser

Public: Starbucks’ Best-Kept Secret

It was fucking freezing at 10 last Friday night when I looked up above a loading dock into a chic restaurant that, though designed in dismal hues, looked so, so warm. A man and a woman were gazing into each other’s eyes over a votive candle (like the one in which, after two martinis, my friend decided to burn her receipt) amidst a bar-gathering of New York’s artsy and urbane in carefully-crafted, black “slobby” evening-wear or suits with $300 tennis shoes. The fact that its loading dock was adjacent to its entrance was not surprising, for Public’s industrial aesthetic is completely intentional. At the maitre d’s desk, Public offers boxes of matches with its name–like other restaurants–but also classic yellow pencils with its name. Its menus look like work slips (?) and its walls look like they’ve braved the city’s smoggy test of time. But Public isn’t a converted abandoned warehouse. Its walls’ paint has been seared punctiliously, with the same attention to detail applied to its foods’ selection and preparation. Public serves kangaroo. Kangaroo. And this is just a starter.

I ordered butternut squash soup to start, with fried chickpeas buried inside and a melted marshmallow slowly dissolving on top. This was a weird combination, but somehow, it was amazing. It was these odd little marriages that gave Public its flair. The door leading to the women’s restroom reminded me of the formalist decor of the 1950s classrooms and offices I’ve seen in the movies, as stern in its design as the principal or private investigator reclining inside. The font in which “WOMEN” was printed easily could have said “PHILIP MARLOWE”. I opened the door and instead of a fog of cigarette smoke enshrouding the interior, I saw darkness penetrated only by a clan of votive candles. The intimacy Public offered through these creative choices stood in stark contrast both with its name and its theme; it made as much sense as the laissez-faire arithmetic used to create the women’s couture.

I really enjoyed Public at first. Those little touches kept me entertained throughout the evening. After a while though, I started to feel nauseated. I appreciated its craft, but Public eventually seemed contrived. I felt guilty that I felt at home in that warm refuge, keeping out the cold with cushy intellectual walls. Public wasn’t actually a rundown warehouse–but I guess I wouldn’t have felt much better if it actually had been. It is an intriguing concept, to serve such fine food in rooms that pair pseudo-grime with vanilla candles, but for some reason I just can’t stand it for very long. It’s like a Woody Allen joke; Allen makes fun of intellectuals, but through allusions that only intellectuals would get. In the process, Allen isn’t separating himself from them; if anything, he’s tying himself more closely to them with that tongue-in-cheek wink of the eye. Inside Public, I loved it. I loved the concept, I loved the look, I loved the color-scheme, the food was superb… but I can’t seem to let myself wallow in it for too long. It’s too carefully-crafted. It feels superficial.

Self-referentiality is lovely in small doses, but when you are not only what you eat, but where you eat, and the contrived dish you eat from, it becomes entirely too much. Public is relentless in its self-involvement; so much so that its plates, trembling under pounds of kanga meat, become personal referendums. Guilty dinners are best served by your mother in the suff ocating privacy of your own home, for a night out I’ll take the 24-hour diners where the mirrors are on the walls and not on my plate.

– Justine Chaney

La Mezzaluna: Starbuck’s Pick For Valentine’s Day

The best dish in Princeton is the flambé at La Mezzaluna. Although the main dishes (hazelnut and walnut encrusted rack of lamb, pappardelle with artichokes) are elegantly prepared, nothing compares to the plate of strawberries, blueberries, sugar, and triple sec that the waiter brings to your table and later proceeds to light on fire. The sauce from the flambé is artfully drizzled over chocolate chip gelato creating a perfect mixture of hot and cold. The Rigatoni with Italian eggplant, served in a hot, soupy tomato sauce, with warm mozzarella cheese and caramelized shallots is a standard and satisfying entrée. La Mezzaluna also has a selection of comforting, seasonal risottos, including fresh mushroom and seafood. The space is intimate and the crowd is typical: students sitting stiffly with their parents and friends, couples chewing silently on awkward dates, and people celebrating birthdays. La Mezzaluna, like most Princeton restaurants, is BYOB, but the waiters will still be happy to explain the difference to you between corked and uncorked wine. With heart-shaped decorations already set up at its tables, La Mezzaluna would be the perfect Valentine’s Day choice.

– Sadye Teiser