Little Black Book

The Sommelier's Favorite Lamb Noodles, Killer Wine Lists, and Low-Key Haunts in NYC

by Sarah Thomas
"Me, gazing lovingly at the crab dish that made me cry at Semma: Kanyakumari Nandu masala." Photo courtesy of Sarah Thomas.

Though Sarah Thomas became known in New York as a sommelier at acclaimed New York City restaurant Le Bernardin, we got to learn about her passions for flavor and storytelling through Kalamata's Kitchen, a fun series of food adventure picture books, travel guides, and cute stuffies for kids that she co-founded with Derek Wallace. Thomas stokes a love of new tastes and an appreciation of global cultures through the young protagonist (Kalamata) and her adorable alligator sidekick (Aldente) while also making introductions to chefs and sharing some of her South Indian heritage. Like Kalamata, Thomas has great taste and a sense of adventure — so we asked her to share some of her favorite spots and routine stops around the city.

NEW YORK CITY – I moved to NYC in 2014 to accept a sommelier position with Le Bernardin’s beverage director, Aldo Sohm. Before that job offer, I never imagined myself living here. Now I’m one of those “I could never imagine myself anywhere else” people. I found an incredible community in the city, both professionally and personally, and currently live in my dream neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I love that it has a proper neighborhood feel, as well as so many incredible restaurants and bars — most of which completely embrace the family/neighborly vibe. Now that most of my friends have kids, it’s ideal for enticing them to come visit. Speaking of, in my list of favorite spots below, I included links to the Taste Bud Travel Guide from Kalamata's Kitchen, which leads families to food experiences that kids will love.

Photo courtesy of Franks.

Franks Wine Bar

465 Court St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; +1-718-254-0327
When we were searching for our apartment, one of the criteria was proximity to Franks. Seriously. The food is consistently great, and I love the entire team, particularly the wine team, who keep me in the loop of what the cool kids are drinking these days. The Lady Perenelle cocktail on the menu is named for my dog because she is the most popular member of my family — and we all accept that.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: Frankies 457 Group

Photo courtesy of Semma.


60 Greenwich Ave., West Village, Manhattan; +1-212-373-8900
The first time I ate here, I had tears in my eyes. This is one of the only restaurants that focuses solely on cuisine from Southern India, which is where my family is from. I tasted flavors that I’ve only had at home or at the homes of family members. The team behind Semma are also the brilliant minds behind Dhamaka and Adda, and these three places are bringing real regional Indian cuisine to a broader audience. I’m thrilled that they are opening minds to the absolutely enormous breadth of Indian cuisine. Their motto is “Unapologetically Indian,” which I enthusiastically endorse.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: Adda Indian Canteen

Photo courtesy of Malai.


268 Smith St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; +1-347-889-5789
I live very close to Malai, and the proximity is dangerous, but deliciously so. I was absolutely floored by how creamy and the eggless ice cream base is, and I continue to be dazzled by the array of flavors that Pooja Bavishi and her team concoct. The ice creams and sorbets are all based on flavors from Pooja’s childhood and from her favorite Indian sweets. For me it’s pure nostalgia and delight on a spoon, but I get just as much joy from watching kids try these spices and new flavors in such a universally beloved medium as ice cream.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: Malai

Photo courtesy of One White Street.

One White Street

1 White St., Tribeca, Manhattan
While the upstairs dining rooms are reserved for the tasting menu (which I highly recommend!), I’m particularly drawn to the walk-ins-welcome wine bar on the first floor. The room is cozy and gorgeous, the food is creative and delicious but unpretentious, and the beverage team is incredibly hospitable and great at making everybody feel welcome, no matter your experience or lack thereof with a wine list.

Behold, N1. Photo courtesy of Xi'an Famous Noodles.

Xi’an Famous Foods

Various locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens
I think N1, the spicy cumin lamb noodle, is my favorite plate of noodles in the city. I was introduced to these glistening beauties in my first week of moving to NYC in 2014 and, except for the very sad times when none of the locations were open due to the pandemic, I think I’ve eaten N1 more consistently than anything else in my edible repertoire. Does this count as an obsession? Maybe. I probably should be embarrassed by how many plates of cumin lamb noodles I’ve eaten — but I’m not.

Photo courtesy of Kopitiam.


151 E. Broadway, Lower East Side, Manhattan; +1-646-609-3785
This all-day Malaysian cafe helmed by Kalamata’s Kitchen Ambassador Chef Kyo Pang is such a delight any time you drop in. The first time I tried nasi lemak, I was both immediately enraptured and extremely jealous of anyone who got to eat this for breakfast regularly. Everything, from the sweets and the savory snacks to the noodles and main dishes, is extremely addictive and somehow feels like a hug from the inside.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: Kopitiam

Photo courtesy of Red Hook Tavern.

Red Hook Tavern

329 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, Brooklyn; +1-917-966-6094
I think the tavern room might be one of the coziest, most welcoming rooms in the city. In addition to a really stellar beverage list, there are no misses on this menu. They’re known for the cheeseburger, which Billy Durney (another of our amazing ambassadors!) has certainly perfected, but I also find myself craving chef Bun’s amazing take on clam pasta, as well as the only shrimp cocktail I’ve ever loved. It’s the perfect bar to chill and read or journal or just enjoy the classic vibes.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: Red Hook Tavern

Photo courtesy of Socrates Sculpture Park.
Photo courtesy of Chateau le Woof.

Socrates Sculpture Park + Ferry Ride

32-01 Vernon Blvd., Astoria, Queens
3-10 Astoria Blvd., Astoria, Queens
I used to live in Astoria, very close to the sculpture park and the Astoria Landing ferry stop. The park was one of my favorite places to hang out in nice weather, taking in the unique rotating art installations and enjoying the spillover from Chateau le Woof*, the dog cafe across the street from the park. I also love riding the ferry and regularly hang out on the top deck with a book and a glass of wine (pre-Covid, and hopefully again soon), taking in the skyline up and down the East River. It’s one of the cheapest and most enjoyable things you can do on a beautiful day in the city.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: Chateau le Woof

Photo courtesy of The Modern.

MoMA + The Modern

9 W 53rd St., Midtown, Manhattan; +1-212-333-1220
My husband and I celebrated our engagement with dinner in the gorgeous dining room, so it’s a super special place for us. We almost always sit at the bar, though, which is slightly more casual and just as delightful. We definitely go to the MoMA more than other museums because we know that a sojourn at The Modern Bar, a great bottle of wine, and tarte flambé will follow.
See: Taste Bud Travel Guide: The Bar Room at The Modern

Photo courtesy of Greenlight Bookstore.

Greenlight Bookstore

686 Fulton St., Fort Greene, Brooklyn; +1-718-246-0200
I have always been obsessed with bookstores. I could be happy perusing pretty much any bookstore, anywhere — but there’s something incredibly special about stores where you feel the love and enthusiasm radiating from the staff in a completely non-invasive way — a comforting and welcoming feeling that I cherish and applaud. Greenlight is one of those stores. I stop in regularly to buy more books than my apartment shelves can really fit and also to sign copies of Kalamata’s Kitchen, which they keep in their extremely joyful kids department.

Photo courtesy of La Vara.

La Vara

268 Clinton St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; +1-718-422-0065
I think chef Alex Raij is ridiculously talented. Every single thing I’ve ever tasted here has been outstanding, and I think that speaks to another of her skills — curation. It feels like each glass of sherry, each bottle of wine, and each plate of food has been thoughtfully narrated, but not overly contrived, to make your visit feel like you’re casually hanging out with that person you know with the best taste in everything who never is never ever ostentatious about it but can’t wait to share with you. We all know that person, right?

Kalamata, Sarah Thomas, and Malai ice cream. Photo courtesy of Malai.
This book will make you hunrgy. Photo courtesy of Kalamata's Kitchen.

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