New York, NY, USA (Fall 2016)

TL;DR

  • Stay
    • For this trip, we stayed in a friend’s apartment. It’s a rare but nice treat to have the comforts of home while on the road! Shout out to Kristin. ūüôā
  • Eat
    • Dulce Vida Cafe,¬†1219 Lexington Avenue (between 82nd and 83rd), New York, NY 10028
      • Charming Colombian cafe with arepas, empanadas, coffee, and delightful dulce de leche. Also try the pandequeso sandwich (cheesy bread).
    • Balthazar,¬†80 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
      • One of the best restaurants in Manhattan, serving French fare in a loud, vibrant location.
    • Shake Shack,¬†154 East 86th St, New York, NY 10028
      • If your gastronomic vocabulary does not include these two words, you have lived a deprived life. I almost wrote depraved there, but opted not to wade into swampy waters. Seriously though, this is one of the best burgers you can get. Add cheese fries and a frozen custard if you want to go big (like fat).
    • Cannibal,¬†113 E 29th St, New York, NY 10016
      • Meat. Meat. And more meat.
    • Pick a Bagel,¬†1101 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10075
      • You can’t go wrong with a poppyseed bagel, toasted with plain cream cheese. Or go big.¬†Whatever floats your boat!
    • Cask,¬†167 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016
      • Comfort food in Murray Hill is a great way to do Sunday brunch.
    • The Doughnut Project,¬†10 Morton Street, New York, NY 10014
      • Bacon maple bar. That is all.
    • Momosan,¬†342 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016
      • The tonkotsu ramen and the¬†zuke don (soy marinated tuna over rice, served with scallions) are your ticket to a happy night.
    • La Caridad 78,¬†2197 Broadway (b/t 77th St & 78th St), New York, NY 10024
      • Its history (chefs who emigrated from China to Cuba to New York) is the attraction, but the food is mostly unremarkable Chinese and Cuban served side by side. The plantains are okay and the fried chicken will settle your hunger, if you’re here.
  • Drink
    • Jules Bistro,¬†65 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003
      • Live jazz nightly in a tiny, unassuming bar on St. Marks Place.
    • Angel’s Share,¬†8 Stuyvesant St., New York, NY 10003
      • Hidden away inside Village Yokocho on the second level is this delightful speakeasy whose cocktails include the Charlie Brown (American whiskey Alibi, peanut butter, Averna cream, milk, nutmeg) and the Polished Nail (Chivas Regals 12yr, Drambuie 15yr, Strawberry Balsamic). Delightful atmosphere.
    • Lexington Bar and Books,¬†1020 Lexington Avenue (@ 73rd Street), New York, NY 10021
      • A cigar bar. A place to be classy and have a good scotch. #winning.
  • See/Do
    • Central Park
      • If you’re in New York, it’s a fall day, and it’s sunny, get your ass to Central Park. Whether it’s walking by the Met, going for a run around the Jackie Onassis Kennedy reservoir, watching a concert on the great lawn, do whatever it takes to come here. This is by far my favorite urban park in the world, and for good reason.
    • 260 Sample Sale, 260 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10001
      • This organization hosts sample sales fairly frequently and is a great place to pick up name brand clothing, accessories, and much.

Trip Background

This trip took place in September 2016, but unfortunately I had to delay writing this due to the fact that Caitlin and I got married in October 2016 Рkinda makes it hard to write when you have no spare time!

Last summer,¬†I had decided to be on the very first commercial flight from the United States to Cuba, but my cheap flight took me from LaGuardia Airport down to Miami and then onto Cienfuegos. So I thought to myself, why not go to New York before my connecting flight and make a week out of it? And more importantly, shouldn’t my wife come with me? Thankfully she agreed and we decided to spend Labor Day weekend exploring the Big Apple.

It’s also important to understand my love affair with New York. In 1992, my parents and I went to New York¬†on a family trip. I found myself entranced with the skyscrapers, the pace and energy of people on the streets, and the rampant commerce on every block. I forced my Dad to buy me a crappy street watch because it had a shiny, pearl-like face. I was elated. Well…the “alligator” strap broke about a week after we got home. It was both a rip off and the start of my fascination with watches, and it was just one way that New York’s allure stuck with me. I went back in 2004 on my own and explored the city for days, finding doughnut shops, curios, and pastrami sandwiches that would change my perspective on food and travel. And¬†in 2010, I would move there for work, finally achieving one of my life goals to live and work in Manhattan. I have since contemplated moving back to live in New York, but until that happens, I try to get to New York at least once per year to see friends, family, and food.

Day 1: A Stroke of Good Luck

We decided to take a red eye to JFK and arrived at the airport around 7 PM for our 9 PM flight. After a couple cocktails in the Admirals Club lounge, we headed to our gate in anticipation of boarding. A few minutes later, those magical words that I always love hearing came out over the PA:

“This flight is oversold. We’re looking for a couple volunteers…”

I didn’t even let her finish. I beelined to the counter, cutting off a man in the process and then looked back at my wife as if I were a contestant on The Price is Right looking for a price quote on what it would take for us to surrender our tickets. The agent told me they were offering $300 a person.

“When would we be able to get out?”

“You’d be on the 11 PM flight.”

So let me get this straight. $300 in credit in exchange for getting in two hours later, during which we’re heading back to the lounge for more drinks, and we still get in around 7 AM? Done.

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$300 in transportation vouchers that we got for delaying our flight for two hours

So back to the lounge we went for another gin and soda (or two) and then we took our red-eye flight to JFK.

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How we passed the time in the lounge

Day 2: Exploring Central Park and Getting our Art On

Landing in New York City on a sunny September morning is quite possibly one of the best things in the world. There’s sunshine as far as the eye can see and you’re perfectly nestled between stifling summer and frigid winter. We ordered an Uber and dropped our stuff off at a friend’s apartment on the Upper East side before finding our way to the¬†Dulce Vida Cafe, where we gorged ourselves on Colombian breakfast sandwiches, cheese-filled bread, and strong coffee. We decided to soak up the sunshine and warm weather by walking to Central Park and looping around the Met and many of the buildings on the east side of the park.

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Central Park on a beautiful fall afternoon

Our afternoon took us to Brooklyn to my Uncle Arlan’s studio. I call him Uncle Arlan since he is basically like family – though in reality he was my late mother’s best friend growing up. He’s a phenomenal artist and after my wife commented on several of his pieces, he decided to make the top two on the right pic below our wedding gift!

That evening, with our artistic sides satiated, Caitlin and I went to the famed French brasserie Balthazar with Arlan and his wife Lilian, where our palates were treated to a lovely dance of stunning flavors. Fresh oysters, homemade pasta, duck, puff pastry desserts covered in chocolate syrup and fresh strawberries were just some of the tasty experiences we had.

 

With our bellies full, we decided to walk a bit before getting onto the subway and came upon a group of artists using the pavement as their canvases near Washington Square.

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Talent artists in Washington Square Park

You might think that¬†this kind of experience doesn’t happen that often, but that would be incorrect. New York’s best moments usually take you by surprise and involve hole in the wall food, a hidden gallery in a brick warehouse that looks like it’s been there for 100 years, and, of course,¬†street art.

Day 3: Meats, Alcohol, and Music

A trip to New York would not be complete without a Shake Shack run, and this trip was no exception.

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Happiness, courtesy of Shake Shack

While some fools might insist on going to the original location at Madison Square Park, we have discovered the location on 86th Street to be quick with good service and has plenty of seating (both inside and outside! After a lazy afternoon, we proceeded downtown and met my cousin and her boyfriend and my friend from high school and his wife at Cannibal. As you can imagine, the name of the place implies there’s a lot of meat here. A charcuterie plate with cheese, jams, and nuts, a plate of greens (to counteract all the meat), and bone marrow were just a few of the waist-expanding, high fat and protein items that we enjoyed that night.

To work off some of the calories we devoured, we went for a long walk from the Flatiron District down towards St. Mark’s Place. We stumbled upon¬†Jules Bistro¬†and in spite of its location on one a busy¬†block with lots of young folks getting hammered, it was a charming retreat from the¬†busy street with a live band and good wines. At the end of the night, we moved over to Angel’s Share, which was my gem of the trip. This place is¬†a speakeasy-style bar located within a Japanese restaurant and serves up a roster of first rate cocktails. Example of the fine drinks include the Charlie Brown (American whiskey Alibi, peanut butter, Averna cream, milk, nutmeg) and the Polished Nail (Chivas Regals 12yr, Drambuie 15yr, Strawberry Balsamic).¬†I would come back to this place in a heartbeat!

We took the subway back up to the Upper East Side when our adventurous side kicked back in. A half mile from our apartment was a place that’s been on my New York bucket list for awhile: Lexington Bar and Books. This place is epic – a Czech import that started in Prague that blends the look and feel of a James Bond bar with a Frank Sinatra lounge. Fancy leather couches, beautifully dark interiors and a clientele that may or may not have been engaging in some seedy behavior.

Anyways, back to why we were so happy. My wife’s ideal place is a big comfortable leather chair with a book in hand and a whiskey neat on the table nearby. Add in cigars and you’ve got a deal for me. We sat here for a couple hours sipping our neat scotch while I read Hemingway at 1 AM. It was a warm night, and with the windows open, it was one of those magical fall nights in New York that cannot be adequately described in words. And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we walked by Pick a Bagel on the way home and treated ourselves to two bagel sandwiches.

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Pick A Bagel

Day 4: Lazy Sunday in New York 

After our late night out, we opted to sleep in and then meet friends for a lazy Sunday brunch. But before brunch we opted to stop by the 260 Sample Sale¬†(located at 260 Fifth Avenue). Their products tend to vary, but this time they were selling Swell water bottles, which tend to be super expensive. If you’re around and they have an event, check them out.

We walked a few blocks to Cask for brunch as comfort food is always a great way to recover from a late night out. The pork nachos, the sliders, and the truffle mac and cheese cannot be missed here.

After brunch, we walked to¬†The Morgan Library¬†for our cultural fix of the day. The former personal library of John Pierpont Morgan (ahem…J.P. Morgan), the Morgan Library is remarkable on both the outside and inside. Housing a collection of books, manuscripts, and artwork, the library is anchored by Mr. Morgan’s Library room, which is a multi-level open room with a ceiling that would rival some European museums.

Caitlin could have stayed in there for days, but we decided to walk to Grand Central where we split up for a few hours – she went off to browse more museums while I attended to my fantasy football draft. … I know I know. Please don’t remind me that I wasted several hours of New York time to pick my team that eventually got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.

Day 5: Donuts, Ramen, and a Farewell

The day began with walking around Greenwich Village and then donuts down in the West Village at The Doughnut Project. I mean, how can you go wrong with a piece of bacon on a donut or some stormtrooper-themed artwork?

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking throughout the West Village and back through Flatirom before Caitlin had to fly back to San Francisco. After she left, I met up with my friend for dinner at Momosan. We enjoyed peking duck served in mini taco shells (gyoza skins), tonkotsu ramen, and zuke don (soy marinated tuna over rice, served with scallions).

The food was all delicious and we both got out of here for $60 total (without drinks).

Day 6: Ugh…work

For my last day in Manhattan, I had to do some work, so I spent most of the day in my friend’s apartment on conference calls. But since I was heading to Cuba later that week, I opted to take my friend Kristin (the one who generously let us stay in her apartment) to dinner at¬†La Caridad 78, which is a Chinese-Cuban restaurant located on the Upper West Side. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the place, as I was more enamored with the story of Chinese and Cuban food served side by side. Many Chinese lived in Havana after fleeing both China and the United States throughout the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, although the Chinese population dramatically decreased under the Castro era.

The food was unremarkable as it’s not actually a fusion. The plantains are tasty and the fried chicken wings are classically Chinese (and decent) but the stew and yellow beans and rice were just…meh. The upside? It was $30 for two of us, proving that New York still has some affordable eats to be found.

Final Thoughts

New York is a magical city and of the many times I’ve been there on vacation, I’ve never had a bad experience. I mean, sure…

  • The summer is sticky and stifling.
  • Winter is cold and snowy.
  • Taxis cut you off all the time.
  • Tourists wander aimlessly into your path virtually hourly.

But in spite of all of this, you still cannot beat Manhattan for an urban vacation. There’s so much to do that you could live here a lifetime and still be woefully short of accomplishing it all. We left this city full, happy, and well aware that we’d be back here eventually!

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The artwork as you arrive at JFK

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