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A Weekend of Restaurant Reviews

Happy Presidents Day! It’s a gorgeous day in NYC to have off!  My gym  happens to closed for the annual cleaning, which provides good impetus to run outside at some point this morning!

This weekend I have the opportunity to try several new restaurants, so I thought I would share my reviews!

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera on Saturday night (bullocks), so I don’t have pictures from Little Branch or Babbo, but I will search google images and do my best to describe!

Little Branch (20 Seventh Ave)

I have been wanting to try Little Branch for a while, and Saturday night I had my opportunity!  Little Branch is part of the Milk and Honey franchise, but unlike M+H, it’s fairly easy to get into.  Interestingly enough, I spent last valentine’s day at the Milk and Honey in London. Last night, we arrived a little after 8, entered an unassuming door and the junction of 7th ave and Leroy and walked down a fairly steep staircase—at least when you are wearing 4 inch heels.

While I had envisioned the old boys club, speak-easy feel with jazz filling the air, I didn’t expect it to be PACKED.  It was a young crowd in an old-school, boozy bar.  It did clear out after about 10 minutes, but when we left, there was a line out the door.  Tip: it opens at 7PM, arrive on the early side and you can avoid lines!

While the bar area was packed, there are several tables if you are willing to wait.  However, the real action happens at the bar.   Watching the bartenders craft your drink is a show in itself.  Each drink is created with no consideration taken for granted.  For the adventurous, you can order the bartender’s choice and be surprised.  Our bartender’s choice was two kinds of rum with pineapple and ginger served with a stirrer straw and lots of ice. I was kind of boring just got a glass of champagne, but I marveled at all the drinks being shaken and served around me.

Little Branch definitely made me want to try Dutch Kills, which is by the same owners but in Long Island City.  It is the same idea, but the drinks are about $4 less.

Babbo

Babbo is Mario Batali’s signature restaurant in NY.  It is notorious for being tight with reservations and fairly exorbitant for italian, but also worth it for many.

I was pretty excited to try it.  I had been for a glass of wine years ago, but never had a chance to try the Batali creations that are known to melt my heart for chubby red-headed men in orange clogs  everywhere.

The restaurant is simple, but elegant.  We were ushered up a grand center staircase to the top floor, where we greeted by a gracious and gregarious waiter, who we instantly decided was fabulous.  Service is definitely what sets good restaurants apart from great ones in NYC.  The better restaurants I have been to always have several people orchestrating the meal, attentive service, lots of knowledge without pretension, and a grace and ease that creates a seamless flow to the evening from first pour of water to the last bite of dessert.

All right, on to the food.  I am so mad for not remembering my camera! But managed to find google images for almost everything!

We started with a quartino of Freisa d’Asti (red wine)and the Winter Vegetable Salad with Goat’s Milk Ricotta and Pumpkin Seed Oil.

It was very yummy, small but intensely flavorful. The mix had potatoes, squashes, and micro greens and was topped with a piece of crostini with warm ricotta and lightly dressed with pumpkin seed oil and a divine balsamic reduction.

Between courses we received a crostini with marinated chickpeas.  They were covered in herbs and had a nice kick to them.

We decided to create our own pasta tasting menu and split four pastas.   Yes, we order 4 entrees.  It was a bit ridiculous, but Babbo reservations are hard to come by.  I was pretty happy that I had managed to eat lightly, but sensibly throughout the day, so that by our 9PM reservation, I was hungry, but not hangry.

First up was the dish I had been most curious about:

Pumpkin “Lune” with Sage and Amaretti (recipe here)

It was pumkin ravioli with sage and then a grating of amaretti cookie done tableside. It was very sweet, but yet hearty in a savory way.  I very much enjoyed the small serving, but do not know if I would have wanted a full plate of such a sweet pasta.  That being said, the ravioli portion was much smaller than the other pasta, obviously with that in mind.

Next we tried the

Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Spicy Salami Calabrese and Green Chiles

I hadn’t been paying enough attention when we were deciding on dishes because otherwise I would have noticed this had red meat in it.

However, I somehow missed this, and was surprised when a large plate of black spaghetti adorned with a bit pile of chopped meat was set in front of me.  It was fortunate that it was pretty easy to remove the said meat pile from the top and enjoy the pasta and shrimp.  I definitely consumed a bit of bacon here and there, but I wasn’t about to make a scene and I made 2-3 meat exceptions a year, so this will be one of them. I am glad I did because that was actually my favorite pasta of the night.  The spaghetti was so rich and grainy, almost like soba noodles, it was delicious.  So delicious in fact that I forgot to save room for the remaining two dishes and nearly cleaned my plate.

Next up was the second dish I chose:

Spaghettini with Spicy Budding Chives and a One Pound Lobster

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This was a simple dish.  Cleanly prepared with a subtle marinara sauce.  The lobster was sweet but ever so slightly overcooked.  I ate the lobster but left the pasta because I was stuffed by this point.

The final dish I hadn’t planned on trying as it was

Chianti Stained Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu

I was assured it was phenomenal, but most of it was taken home because sharing 3 plates of pasta is no easy feat, let alone four.

And yet we weren’t done.  Our waiter had recommended the special of brussels sprouts, and B sprouts have always been one of my very favorite foods.  Growing up my brother and I would fight for the last of the brussels sprouts. However, I literally couldn’t even try one without popping a seam in my dress, so we took them to go.

The evening ended most deliciously.  While we passed on dessert, we appreciated the small plate of meringues and biscotti arrived with our check. Next time, I will have to save room!

On a side note, we were fascinated by the soundtrack at Babbo.  We listened to Nirvana and the entire Phoenix album!

Brunch at Cookshop

Somehow my appetite had returned by 12:30 on Sunday, and I was excited to try brunch at a new place: Cookshop.   I had walked by it on the way to Chelsea Piers a few times and found myself intrigued by the understated ambiance and the seasonally, locally inspired menu.  The menu changes very frequently, so the menu online was very different than the menu yesterday, but delicious options abounded nonetheless.

The brunch was hopping, but I had a reservation and we were seated immediately.  While there were several things I considered ordering, a lighter meal was in order and I decided on the (and I had my camera!)

Mixed Grain Porridge with almonds, golden raisins and brown sugarvday 002

and a seasonal fruit salad

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Delicious, it may have been the best grapefruit I have ever had.

I also got to taste something that was hard to resist ordering myself:

Semolina Raisin French Toast with vanilla mascarpone, poached pears and almonds.vday 001

I often find french toast far too eggy, but this was sweet and delicious! If you are a french toast fan, you have to try this one!

Another thing I loved about Cookshop was that the coffee can with steamed milk on the side.  I hate when milk makes my coffee cold!

I definitely like Cookshop more than Five Points, which is by the same owner.  Although it is a bit of a hike, it happened to be right next to the following item on our agenda, ice skating at Chelsea Piers.

I was happy to get some informal exercise in and managed to leave the rink unscathed for the most part.

Later that night, I went to see Valentine’s Day.

I was VERY skeptical, but apparently reading bad reviews set the bar really low, and I actually enjoyed the movie for what it was.  It was not complex or thought provoking, it did not have me rolling out of my seat, but it had a few chuckles, some relateable scenes, and a very likable cast of characters. The NYTimes was right about Taylor Swift–”Country-music lovers might be happy to know that Taylor Swift makes her first and quite possibly last big-screen appearance here.” Horrendous performance, painful to watch.  What happened since SNL?  All in all, I found the movie amusing enough. Not to mention that the cast was certainly gentle on the eyes all around!  Although I did see some guys in the theater literally covering their eyes in disgust. haha

BARBOUNIA

After the movie, we made one last stop for a light dinner at Barbounia.  I have passed Barbounia at least a thousand times and always take a second to glance in at the open, opulent decor.  Despite how sexy it looks and the interesting menu, I had never heard enough about it to actually commit to going.  I am glad we did because everything was great. It’s a great date place if you like greek mezze!

We just had the hummus which came with olives and the richest flatbread ever.

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And the tuna tartare which had blackened tahini, beets, cilantro and avocadovday 009

The dessert menu sounded insane, and was hard to resist, but I had no room left!  In the end I was content to sip some chamomile—my new obsession!

I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Long Island City Love

I am not going to lie, I fall easily, for places that is.  While I haven’t yet fallen in love with a person, I find I am a softy for countries, cities, islands, parks, mountains, bodies of water, etc.  I could probably find myself pretty happy just about anywhere.  Invite me to your town, and my romance will quickly blossom.

While clearly, I declare my love for all things NYC quite regularly on this blog, today I thought I would refine my make out session to my actual neighborhood: long island city

I moved from Manhattan to Astoria in May 2005 and moved to Long Island City in May 2008.  While there are many things I miss about living in Manhattan and Astoria, I  have embraced Long Island City with my whole heart and am happier here than I ever expected.  Initially, I had some reservations…I mean, I was pretty sold on our building, the roof deck and the gym were the most amazing  that I had ever seen in an apartment.  And the view from my bedroom ain’t bad either.night view 015

But the neighborhood was/is pretty industrial; I didn’t know anyone except my roommates, and there wasn’t even a proper grocery store or drugstore.  Luckily less than a year later, that changed and now we have a great whole foods-esque store and a duane reade right in our building, and a gorgeous park opened that runs all along the water.  I find Long Island City young and fun, but also a very meditative place to live. I can relax and have relative quiet and have sky and water.  The 7 is great when it’s great, but of course, every few months it can be a nightmare when it decides to misbehave, but you have to take that in stride. 

For as much as I love LIC, I have to say, I don’t hang out in my hood nearly as much as I should.  Or many I am just in a rut, I am certainly a repeat sushi offender at Shi and doggedly loyal to my local to my wine shop Blue  Streak, and I have had many a brunch at Cafe Henri.  At this point, I am on a first name basis with the duane reade manager and the clerks at many of the delis, but there are so many places I am dying to explore!  Over the last month or so, many new places opened or merely came to my attention for the first time.

Let’s have a look.

FOOD:

Testaccio.  I walked by this sexy looking trattoria many times before I found out it was a roman-style Italian restuarant that opened in late October.  I have yet to go, but the reviews from Foodista and Joey in Astoria look very promising.

El Ay Si.  A comfort food place that just opened.  While I am not into rich cuisine, the chefs have several notable places, so I at least owe it a visit.  Again reviews are decent. I walk by it everyday and it looks like a great place for a glass of wine with a cute date.

Manducatis Rustica-the sister of the famous Manducatis a bit further into LIC, the outpost is just a few blocks from me and I am embarrassed that I have yet to go.  It’s supposed to be a hidden gem serving Italian food from my beloved Napoli.  Plus, they just starting serving brunch again, swoon. Check out the raves on Foodista and LIQ City and Serious Eats

SAGE GENERAL STORE

A casual country store serving breakfast, lunch and brunch.  All the food is local, naturally grown and many dishes are organic.  It looks cute, casual and cozy—like a healthy cracker barrel, lol.  Full scoop at grub street and foodista.

DRINK

Penthouse 808 at RAVEL A roof top bar at a Boutique Hotel.  I meant to check it out during the summer, but apparently I am not too late.  Time Out featured Ravel in this week’s issue and apparently the roof deck is enclosed and open for the winter, replete with fireplaces. Good thing because my roof deck is closed :(

Dutch Kills  Another place I can’t believe I haven’t tried.  Owned by the mixologist masters behind Milk and Honey and Little Branch, the drinks are sure to be amazing.  I wonder what kind of scene it will be since, Milk and Honey is by referral only and Little Branch has an unmarked door, I don’t think Long Island City is cool enough to be that pretentious, but I plan to find out. NY Mag and Eater seems to think it is.

See

The Secret Theater  A secret to me until today.  Cyrano De Bergerac is playing now.

Queens Film Festival-this weekend!  Thanks to Joey in Astoria for calling this to my attention. 

The Chocolate Factory.  While the name indicates otherwise, this is home to dance, music, art  and theatre.

Socrates Sculpture Park.  You know it’s my fav.  Free art, yoga, pilates and film!

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PS 1 MoMa Known for the summer warm up series.

Noguchi Museum I haven’t been but it is well respected for its sculpture collections.

Silver Cup Studios.  Unfortunately, the home of 30 Rock and Gossip Girl does not do tours, but the website says nothing about stalking…jk  In any event, during filming seasons, you are bound to spot some shooting around town.

DO

Yoga Room-Yoga, Pilates and Bikram Classes in a serene studio space.

City View Raquet-Remember the infamous Ramona/Jill tennis match? This is where it when down.  If you can afford it, it looks like quite the place.

Crossfit LIC.  I have reviewed this. It hurts.  In a good way. I love it.

Kayak.  Free kayak through the LIC Boathouse. weather dependent.

A big thanks to all the blogs that helped provide the information for this post–great resources for anyone living in LIC or astoria:

foodista

joey in astoria

LiqCity

Where for Art Thou?

Coming up tomorrow, my fitness plan for November and bloggie dates recap. :)

But for tonight, let’s talk art, shall we?  There are so many amazing exhibits on display or coming up, I feel more cultured just thinking about it!

So here is my hit list of must see art this fall/winter:

A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy
November 6, 2009, through March 14, 2010

at the gorgeous Morgan Library (entrance free on Fridays 7-9PM)

EAF 09 (Emerging Artists Fellowship 2009) at the Socrates Sculpture Park  Exhibit runs through April

Open 365 days a year 10am-sunset.  FREE

(featured below: Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain, Assisted Boardwalk, and many others)

Aaron King, Untitled, (Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain), 2009Brina Thurston Untitled, 2009 photo: Bilyana Dimitrova

David Brooks, Assisted Boardwalk, 2009, photo: Bilyana Dimitrova

Tim Burton Career Retrospective at the Moma

November 22, 2009–April 26, 2010 (Sneak peak)

Free Fridays 4-8PM

Also worthy noting, the restaurants at the MoMa are first class, ranging from the moderately priced and casual Cafe 2 to the more opulent and splurge worthy Modern. The MoMa store has some interesting gifts and you are just blocks away from Bloomies and Dylan’s Candy Bar.

Queens Museum of Art

Suggested Donation

Named the essential New York Museum.  I haven’t been but I have read about all kinds of secrets and curiosities at the this museum.  It’s noted for the panorama of NY and it’s ties to the 1939 World’s Fair.

Kandinsky at the Guggenheim

Through January 13th

Pay What You Wish: Saturdays from 5:45 pm to 7:45 pm

Nearby place to reflect with pumpkin and chocolate scone and a cup of tea: Alice’s Tea Cup Chapter 3

A lotta random

I have to say, last week flew by! I can’t believe it’s the weekend.  I am working tomorrow, so I have a lot I would like to knock off the to-do list tomorrow.  Blogging was one of the more fun things, so that was moved to the top section of the list :)

This post is kind of mishmash of different things that didn’t really fit into one theme.

Let’s start with something fun, Skinny Girl Margaritas. A few weeks ago, I received an email about Bethenny Frankel doing a signing of her new Skinny Girl Margarita at Astor Wines.  I happen to work a few blocks from there and it came with a free t-shirt, so I was sold.  Unfortunately, I had a few meetings I couldn’t miss at the 4PM start time.  So I enlisted Margarita Liz to help me out.  Actually she volunteered, even though she doesn’t give a hoot about Bethenny, she is just that awesome.  It ended up that my meeting ended a little early, and I rushed over just a little after 4.  There was Liz, 5th in line, with Skinny Girl Margarita in hand.  I love her.  I traded places, so she could get back to work and continued to wait wondering why we weren’t being let inside.  It was cold out!  blog 003    

Apparently, Bethenny was running late, but they finally let us inside to wait.  We had to chat it up with the liquor guy. I was probably the only NYC person in the room, everyone else was from Alabama or somewhere and couldn’t stop talking about their hotels in Times Square and how much walking they had done that day.  God bless, that was me not too long ago.  Anyways, while I have not drank tequila in years, I am not sure I intend to ever again, the ingredients in the Skinnygirl Margarita could not be more natural: blue agave clear tequila and agave nectar. Oh, and it only cost like $13.

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Anyways, Bethenny rushed in and Alex McCord stopped by to offer some support.  Let me just say, my mouth dropped to the floor when I say these women in person.  Skinny doesn’t begin to describe them.  They are SO RIDICULOUSLY THIN. I mean model thin and then some.  Bethenny’s waist is maybe 20 inches.  Just an observation, and no judgment, power to them.  But man, TV does add pounds.

Bethenny was exactly the same as she is on the show. Funny, sarcastic, perfectionist.  Not only that she was extremely personable and intelligent.  In just the few minutes she interacted with each person, she took the time to grab a common thread and make you feel like she was happy to meet you and appreciated your support.  I happened to mention that I grew in Saratoga, where she also spent a lot of time, and she asked me about 3 or 4 restaurants and how I ended up in the city.  The t-shirt is really cute and super soft, but I can’t imagine wearing a shirt that says skinny girl, maybe to bed. :) blog 001blog 002

I actually didn’t look at my bottle until days later, but somehow she even caught my name, which I thought was pretty incredible. In any case, it was an eventful way to spend my lunch hour.

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New Scenes

So I tend to go to my favorite places over and over.  But this week, I actually tried some good new city bars and restaurants.  8th Street Wine Cellar. Cute, affordable, not too loud or crowded.  It would actually be great for a first date because it is on the romantic, intimate side, but not too sexy, there is a hint of masculinity.  The menu has a lot of good options, and the food was good, but not great. I had the butternut squash and goat cheese brushetta and the beet and goat cheese salad.  While Bar Jamon, which has the best beet salad in existence, is still my fav wine bar, 8th Street is a good alternative, if your not ready for super intimate.

Next up, Paladar.  A cuban place in the lower east side.  It was more spacious, than my typically cuban go-to Cafe Habana. The menu was very good and the food clean, light, spicy and delicious—I had a butternut squash and walnut salad and two tiny swordfish tacos with avocado and mango salad.  The portions were modest, which was actually nice, so you could try a few things without feeling stuffed. I am not a huge cuban fan, but definitely fun once in a while.

Finally, I ended the night at Sunita. It was shockingly empty for such a sexy little space.  I typically don’t drink martinis, but I was convinced that I had to try one. So I debated between a ginger, lime, lychee and vodka martini and a passionfruit martini and went with the passionfruit.  I also had a sip of the signature passion fruit jalapeño vodka martini. It was good, but I am not sure I would want a full glass of it! 

While we are talking city, I am kind of in love with these MUJI city in a bag kits!  So cute!

City in a Bag - New YorkCity in a Bag - London

Injury update:

I had my final appointment with Dr. MetzDreamy yesterday—high fives and all.  He cleared my to run the marthon and told me it would rock my world and I would love every second.  In fact, his only concern was my lack of enthusiasm.  I am pretty sure he would run the NYC marathon every day if he could.  I guess, I need to accept that a lot of runners deal with pain and discomfort, and it is not going to kill me.  His confidence and enthusiasm was definitely beneficial.  He also suggested I get not only a pedicure (lol) , but also a MELT treatment next door to help ease the plantar’s fascilitas, but I just didn’t have the money to drop.  The appointments, bandages, insoles, etc. have been expensive, so I am going to see if I can get a golf and tennis ball to help roll the tissue out a bit.  I am nervous and sad that all the weird pain I have been feeling might take away from the experience.  But I am not looking back now, I have the option of deferring until 10/28, but I am going to hope “the course is with me.”

Tapering Update:

So my actually running schedule called for a 10-K today or 6.2 miles, which is weird since almost everyone else does 13 miles two weeks out.  I did an easy 4.3 miles over the 59th Street Bridge and down to Grand Central this morning.  I saw at least 100 Nike Town runners on the bridge, preparing for race day.  I plan to do the 10K tonight on the treadmill and push myself a bit more toward faster pacing.  I was hoping to get to a hot vinyasa class at the Yoga Room today, but I am probably going to just do a little online class to loosen up a bit.  Just couldn’t get it together for the 130 class, on the bright side, I have done laundry, sheets and pulled all my sundresses out of the closet to make room for sweaters, so I haven’t been completely unproductive, especially considering I had a glass of wine and a martini last night :). 

CONGRATULATIONS AND GOOD LUCK!

Have the best marathon ever CHANDRA!  We love you! And don’t forget to partake in some shenanigans along the way!

Fall In Love with New York

***Just realized this can really be added to my Fit Recessionista series, all of the ideas will are targeted toward affordable health and fitness for fall!**

Most people say fall is their favorite season.  I am not one of those people, but I definitely understand appreciate for crisp, fresh air and an escape from the humidity that only Manhattan and Miami can provide. I will say that fall is a wonderful time to get in as many fun city activities as possible before the bitterness of 17 mile an hour winds howling through skyscraper tunnels makes you reluctant to go outside to do anything more than get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Fall displays the marvels of nature releasing and cleansing and preparing to rest and renew.  Even though most NYCers don’t seem to realize that they are missing the beautiful foliage offered elsewhere in the vast part of the state that doesn’t get nearly enough credit—ahem ahem, nyers are more than willing to pitch in and do their part to help create a sustainable future for the city and beyond. 

My job involves a lot of programming and event planning and this month we dedicated a week to focusing on sustainability and green living. I really feel in love with some of our activities, and I wanted to share them with you, so that you could take advantage of all the green knowledge going around on our urban archipelago. If being green is not your thing, don’t worry, I have lots of fun ideas for your too and some fitness finds as well!

Check out Design for a Living World at Cooper Hewitt Museum, which features fashion designers from all over the world using sustainably grown and harvested materials to create conservation focused designs.

Round up the gang or plan a meet up with sustainability-minded strangers at a sustainable, organic restaurant for a night full of green conversation and yummy food.  We are checking out Gusto Organics.

Get the behind the scenes scoop on bargain shopping at Whole Foods.  Whole Foods offers free “value” group tours of the store, showing shoppers where to find the best buys in the store and simple ways to economize.  I was actually wondering if people would be interested in attending if I organized a blogger bargain tour.  Takers?

Go apple picking.  Time from tree to apartment doesn’t get any shorter than if you go a pickin’ yourself.  We are heading to Stuart’s Farm, but here are 6 places that are public transportation accessible, some involve a little more effort than others. For ambitious folks here are 25 orchards that only require a day trip. Don’t forget to throw in a hayride for good measure.

Foliage Run!  We are heading to the tree lined Van Cortland Park for a fun 5K!

Green Market Tour, if you have been holding out on the Union Square Green Market, don’t miss it in its most bountiful season, it’s open M, W, F, and Saturday.

Those are just a couple ideas.  A couple practices I am trying to implement in my own life are never taking plastic bags and reducing the amount of bottles and cups I purchase. 

I also do my best to eat at the sustainable, mostly organic and locally grown dining hall.   There are many great green dining initiatives at NYU.  All of our to-go containers, cups and utensils are biodegradable. And many of the dining halls are Tray Free Zones:

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We also like to feature local produce—yum-o

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Okay for those who only do Green on St. Patrick’s Day, Time Out  New York has an excellent list of fall diversities. Here are 101 Fun Fall Ideas.

My favs from the Time Out list:

  • visiting the cloisters
  • watching the NYC marathon
  • Go to the Gugg for free
  • Checking out the Tim Burton Exhibit at the MoMa (can’t wait for that)
  • Renting a weekend cabin with friends
  • learn to knit
  • checking out the botanical gardens (never been)
  • Getting spooked in sleepy hollow cemetery
  • Brooklyn Brewery Tour—never been heard only great things

If I had to create my own list, I would add:

Finally, just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t break a sweat! If you are bored with your gym routine, shake it up with Time Out’s latest reviews of 50 city-based workouts!  And, even better, take advantage of TONY’s workout deals, discounts and freebies!

Shopping, Eating, and Celeb Spotting in Soho

I know this isn’t the first time I have declared my love for Soho. I think the fact that it was the first neighborhood I explored when I moved to the city will always keep it near and dear to my heart.  While I don’t claim to be an authority on exploring Soho or any other neighborhood, I would like to share a very abbreviated list my favorite places with you. I wouldn’t say this is a list of hidden finds, as these are well known spots, but I am saving my favorite hole in the walls and secret stores for another post. :)

One rule of thumb to really seeing the special charm of Soho is to stick to the cobblestone streets.  Skip Broadway as you can find old navy and forever 21 anywhere—although Top Shop did just open, but there will be an hour wait to get in for months. 

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The smaller streets–Wooster, Mercer, Greene–are home to the cute boutiques and designer stores. In general, on the west side (of bway) has lots of designer and upscale stores, La Perla, Prada, Jill Stuart, whereas to the east side has more of the funky little shops and vintage stores like Sweet Tater.

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I love the design aesthetic of the stores in Soho, for example, Marni.(Mercer and Prince)

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Catherine Malandrino’s gorgeous store in all its gilded glory. (Broome and Greene)

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And just a few blocks up from the counterfeits of Canal, you can get the real Kate Spade. (Broome and Mercer)

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Sabon–probably the biggest store explosion I have seen in the last couple years.  A great place for an affordable gift with charm. (Prince and Wooster)

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Fanelli’s.  Every one loves this place, perhaps for its institution status, perhaps because its burger is consistently rated one of the best, perhaps because it manages to keep its checker clothed tables amid a neighborhood that craves coolness and trends.

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I love that they sell soup right out the window on the street.  Eva Longoria was recently seen enjoying some.

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Okay, you can not talk about cool in relation to Soho without mentioning the Mercer Hotel. It is right across the street from Fanelli’s (prince and mercer). You would think this place would get old, but no, it remains one of the hottest celebrity haunts in town.  Whether you need a romantic getaway or just a weeknight tryst, this is the place to do it.  I have seen quite a few famous faces here, but my favorite was Hugh Grant. He was having an altercation with the paparazzi, and hearing him say fuck off in his brit accent was bloody sexy.  Sorry I don’t have a better pic, it was one of the first nice days in March and the streets were flooded with city folk seeking sun.

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Just as famous as the Mercer Hotel is the Mercer Kitchen.  If you aren’t planning a sexcapade, don’t book a room, just book a table.  This is a pretty foolproof place for an impressive first date (my friend actually just married a guy who took her here for their first date) or just showing off a great pair of skinny jeans and FMHs over drinks with your girlfriends.   The place underneath, Lure, looks kind of cool too, but I haven’t been.

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  Remember my no Broadway rule?  This is my exception: The Pearl River Mart. This place is two waterfall-adorned floors of Asian glory.  They have everything: clothes, dishes, stationery, snacks and much more. And everything is so cheap!  It’s a great place to pick up cute bowls and dishes!

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Cutting a bit east, one of my favorite stationery stores is Kate’s Paperie, a chain, but a good one.  Its competitor, Papyrus, is right across the street, but Kate will always be my pen pal. (Spring near Crosby)

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Are you hungry from all that shopping?  Balthazar is another institution that just never seems to get old. ( Gwen still loves it.) Rich in decor and in buttery croissants, it’s great for a special brunch or just a great baguette on the go. Pastis may be its competitor for most Parisian spot in the city, but Balthazar wins for me because it has a relaxed downtown vibe, while Pastis favors a hectic, elbow-bumping atmosphere reflective of its meatpacking local.

(Spring near Crosby)

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Another perk of staying on the cobblestone, is that every so often you run into some unexpectedly splendid hidden architecture, like this building on Kenmare and Lafayette.

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And just at the juncture of Kenmare and Cleveland, we come to my favorite place for Mexican in the city, La Esquina.  From the outside it looks like a random taco stand with a small cafe.  However, the hidden gem—in my opinion—is the full restaurant underground. 

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The take out and cafe on this random crazy corner are fine for a lunch time snack, but their full restaurant, which entails going into the take out  stand, through the heavily guarded door, down stairs and through the kitchen into what I refer to as “the grotto,” is where you find the amazing food! 

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Be sure to make a reservation, the “bouncer” is beyond obnoxious if you don’t, but if your name is on the list, the door will slide open and you will be radioed down to a waiting hostess.  John M. and Jen A.  ate here a few months ago, it may have been one of their last suppers. 

If you need a night cap, I suggest a vodka infusion from Pravda…divine.

My NYC: 10 Fun, Affordable Activities!

I haven’t had the time to do the real post I have been wanting to do in my NYC series, but this will have to do for now.  This is based on a list of event ideas I submitted to the director at my internship.  The organization serves international scholars and international students studying in New York, so it might be slightly different than what I would recommend to a friend from “the states.” But they are all fun and affordable ideas IMO!

WINTER IDEAS

1.) Ice skating Bryant Park

 Free ice skating in the heart of the city with great shopping stall during the holidays.

Cost: free admission, $9 lock (bring your own), $9 rental

or

 Ice skating Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers

Cost: $15 group party package covers admission pizza, soda, rentals, locker fee .75  (Definitely have an impromtu party and save $$.)

Tortilla Flats

Tortilla Flats

 

2.) Bingo Night at Tortilla Flats

 

 

 

Activity: Team bingo and Mexican food

 Mexican food+maragaritas+team bingo=fun

Cost: food and drinks-approx. $10-15

 

3.) Improv Comedy Night: Upright Citizens Brigade

Cost: $0-10

Great deal for a low key evening.

 

4.) Day Ski Trip

NYC Ski and Board leaves from Union Square or Time Square

Cost: $117-$82 bus and lift ticket, $35 ski rental-group discounts may be available

 

 SPRING

5.) Day trip to Cold Spring

Break Neck Ridge

Costs: train $20

           *trolley .10 cents

           *Bosobel Historic Federal Museum, Home and Gardens tour $15

           *hike Breakneck Ridge for gorgeous view of West Point-free

             (I posted about my August hike here)

            *swimming and kayaking around Hudson Highland Park-free

            *afternoon in Cold Spring town center: free plus food and  

              souveniers

Cold Spring Main Street  

Cold Spring Main Street

 

                                                        

Boscobel

 Boscobel

6.) Brooklyn BridgeWalk and Grimaldi’s Pizza

 

Grimaldi's Pizza

Grimaldi's Pizza

Activities:

walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, tour of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights Promenade 

Dinner at pizza at the infamous Grimaldi’s(coal fueled brick ovens that cook the pizza in just minutes!)

 Cost: Metrocard and pizza (cash only)

family-vacations-brooklyn-bridge

7.) Chelsea Art Gallery and Chelsea Market Tour

Chelsea Market-Birth place of the Oreo, home of Food Network

Chelsea Market-Birth place of the Oreo, home of Food Network

Activity: Stroll through the hundreds of tiny art galleries in Chelsea, tour of Chelsea Market. Check out the amazing specialty food shops and stunning architecture of the Chelsea Market.  (History fact: When the American Biscuit Company merged with the National Biscuit Companyin 1898, Nabisco was formed. The Chelsea Market building was constructed in the1890′s and the first OREO was born in 1912). Don’t forget to stop at one of the many bakeries for coffee and pastries!

Cost: Coffee and snack-$7ish

Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market

One of hundreds of Chelsea Galleries

8.) Bronx Zoo Trip

Cost:$15 (free on Wednesday), Metrocard

9.) PS 1 Warm Up Concert followed by drinks at Harry’s Water Taxi Beach

PS 1 Warm Up

PS 1 Warm Up

Great art and great music at the weekend summer tradition at the Queens branch of the MoMa followed by Turn Tables summer party at Harry’s Water Taxi Beach.  Harry had a moment of genius when he decided to build an outdoor beach bar right on the water with great views of the skyline. The area is filled covered with sand, picnic tables, volley ball courts and dance tents! It is like the cool kid version of the beloved Astoria Beer Garden. Bloody beachy brillant

 

Cost: depends on how much you drink

Water Taxi Beach

Water Taxi Beach

10.) Bryant Park Movie Night and potluck picnic
Activity: free movie at summer film series, bring food to share with group. 
Great way to catch up on classic films and have a delicious tapas and wine night for way less than an evening at Boqueria!
Cost: FreeTime: 6 hours (must arrive by 5:30 to get a spot.)
Movies start at 8-9ish.
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BTW, I was so right about Victorla!  From NYMAG’s recap (which you have to read if you don’t, sometimes they are better than the show):
Faker Than a Historic Women’s Club Fighting to Get a High Schooler’s Approval•
On that roof, they’re far too close to the Citi Building in Long Island City to be at Victrola/the Box on the Lower East Side. We understand production limitations, but we’d have loved to see that bottle of Johnnie Walker smash down on the crowd in line outside the Box. Minus 3.
My fav quote from the last recap:• “I carried the garment bag.” Aw. It’s the new, “I carried a watermelon.” Plus 1.xoxo 

 

Healthy Bites-NYC

Here is installment #3 of My NYC.  It’s the second to last food/drink segment before I more on to shopping, entertainment and more.

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NYC has a lot of healthiness to offer, so I will list my favorite places, and then places I hear are great but haven’t gotten a chance to try…yet.  Of coures, I really believe you can make a healthy choice in any restaurant (and I kind of like the challenge), but these places are so innately healthful that they make it difficult to make a poor choice.

Restaurants (my favs)

Other really good places

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Health Food Stores–my favs

Most has large prepared food section

Amazing and affordable organic produce delivery

Urban Organic

Green Markets

Other places that I hear are good, health and rejuvenating:

There are other “health food” places I have tried, but didn’t include on the list because I didn’t really have a great experience.  There are also places that are popular I left off the list because I have heard mixed reviews.But feel free to ask me if there is a place you are interested in, but you don’t see listed or if there is one that is a crime not to be on the list :0, I’ll add it!