Thursday, January 9, 2014

New York Trip 2013

I will preface this post by apologizing for its length and any typos that you see. You might want to take a few days to read on this one. We are coming up on our 5th anniversary, and we'd like to go on a nice trip every five years. Chad booked Mexico (where we honeymooned) months ago, but at the very last minute he changed it to NYC. I was planning on 100 degree weather, not 20. I didn't have any suitable boots or attire, but Santa took care of that.

We left Christmas evening for our week-long trip. Nothing was open on the way to New Orleans, so we had a lovely meal at the Sonic in Oak Grove.

DAY 1 - Thursday, December 26

We woke up at 4:30 to catch our flight but slept really well on the plane, so we were ready to hit it when we arrived. After dropping our bags off at The Waldorf, we walked to Grand Central Terminal to get on a train to Yonkers. Yep. Yonkers. LL Bean was sold out of nearly every single boot online, so how convenient that they have a new store in Yonkers. 

Grand Central was, of course, extremely busy but not at all hard to navigate. We had a really yummy lunch at one of the cafes after determining the Shake Shack line was too long. After filling our bellies with pork belly sandwich, we walked around a bit before buying our MetroCards. And here, within our first hour in New York, is where we made our first mistake. Y'all.... Over 50 million people visit New York each year, and somehow they don't find it beneficial to make the MetroCard kiosks tourist-friendly. (I'm doing a separate blog post on tips for visiting NYC, and there I'll give you advice so you don't waste time).

We easily found our train and boarded with almost no one else (this should have been a sign). Yonkers had a lovely old brick train station, and that's about it. We were supposed to ride a bus to Westchester's Ridge Hill mall, but all of the buses outside the station said "Not in Service." We meandered around before asking someone, and they told us directions to the next bus stop. We finally made it there, and y'all. It was just like you see in the movies. Graffiti, rap music coming from everywhere and nowhere in particular, a guy dribbling a basketball down the street. After about 5 minutes of people-watching and waiting for the bus, we just hailed a cab. 

The Ridge Hill outdoor mall was really nice and clean. It had tons of great shops: LL Bean, Orvis, H&M, Sephora, etc. Chad got the last pair of Bean Boots in his size, then went in search for a bus stop. After our third failed bus attempt, we wrote off the bus system and called a cab. I won't go into all the details, but we spent about 4 hours in Yonkers when it should have been about 2.

We FINALLY made it back to the city and took a quick nap before heading to dinner at Buddakan in the Meatpacking District. It's an Asian Fusion restaurant where the food is served family style so you get to taste everything (this is my FAVORITE kind of restaurant - I love a good smorgasbord). Even though everyone says to get the edamame dumplings for appetizer, everything looked so good that we got the Bo Bo plate (a sampler plate) featuring tuna tartare spring rolls, boneless spare ribs, sesame shrimp toast, lobster eggrolls and carrot and shiitake dumplings. For the meal, we had wild mushroom chow fun, lobster fried rice and the sweet and crispy jumbo shrimp.

Everything was really good, but the mushroom chow fun was my favorite, of course, because I'm a noodle fanatic. I had a Grey Goose martini (extra dirty) for "dessert," and it was right up there with my favorite martini from Ralph's on the Park in NOLA. 

Buddakan Verdict: Excellent food. Decent portions. Fairly overpriced except for the noodles. Great atmosphere for a group dinner (close tables, semi-loud music). I'd go back; not sure Chad would.

Fun Fact: Buddakan is where Carrie & Big's rehearsal dinner was held

Day 2 - Friday, December 27

We had tickets to see the 9/11 Memorial at 10am, so we popped into Panini & Co. for a quick breakfast before our tour. Chad had a BEC sandwich, and I had a muffin. It was fairly busy as it's right across the street, and the Ground Zero construction workers are hungry fellers. After wading through several different lines, security, and a good walk around the block, we were at the site. 

If you've never been, it's quite remarkable. There are two huge square structures with water flowing down into a hole in the center. Around the edge of the memorials are the names of the deceased. I would make comments like "I bet this was the exact size of the building." or "I wonder if these are the names of the people that died in this tower, and those are the names of the people that died in that tower?" and Chad would say things like "I doubt it." But I was right on both.

Apparently there was a tree found in the rubble. It was replanted, and it thrived. It has been named "The Survival Tree." I didn't get a photo, but we bought an ornament with the tree on it. There is a museum opening in 2014 that is sure to be amazing.

Does that not just get you? I got a little emotional.

After the memorial, we walked leisurely through the Financial District. We saw the Charging Bull, then we happened upon a beautiful park with a museum at the end called the National Museum of the American Indian. We walked down to the river and through Battery Park looking at monuments and memorials. We admired Lady Liberty from afar (too dang cold to get on a ferry). We passed the old Staten Island Ferry Terminal (gorgeous... why would you ever build a new, modern one??).

National Museum of the American Indian

Battery Park

Old Staten Island Ferry Terminal

We walked until we could see the Brooklyn Bridge, then we turned around and headed back through the Financial District once more. We went inside Tiffany & Co. simply to admire the Christmas decorations and get warm. We saw the New York Stock Exchange.

Inside Tiffany

New York Stock Exchange

We visited Trinity Church on Wall Street, where I fell in love with the pedestrian bridge. The architecture was beautiful inside and out, and we walked all the way around looking at gravestones.

We were hungry, so we headed to the Lower East Side to Katz's Delicatessen. The line looked a little something like this, so we went next door to one of the million different Ray's Pizzas in New York. For $8.95 each, we got 2 HUGE slices of pizza and a drink. Can't beat that with a stick, y'all. And it was delicious to boot. I bet ole Ray is loving the Katz's rejects he attracts.

We walked off our lunch and window-shopped for a long while, then we walked around Rockefeller Center before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Dinner was at Dos Caminos, an upscale Mexican restaurant and tequila lounge with several locations in NYC. We started with the guacamole, which might have been the best I've ever had (table-side in Mexico was pretty darn good). We had ceviche three ways: tuna chino-latino, lobster yucateco and crab campechana coctel. It didn't live up to the ceviche in Mexico for Chad, but I loved the crab campechana coctel. The tuna chino-latino was very good but spicy. 

Dos Caminos

Chad had the asadas tacos (grilled chipotle-marinated sirloin steak, caramelized onions, cotija cheese and guac on handmade corn tortillas), and I had the hongos tacos (grilled wild mushrooms, goat cheese and black kale on handmade corn tortillas). Mine were amazing but surprisingly spicy.

Dos Caminos Verdict: Food was very good. Prices were fair. Everything was excellent, but the guacamole was my favorite. And we had a really nice waiter.

After dinner, we strolled the Madison Avenue shops. All of the shops had lights covering the outside of the building, but Bergdorf Goodman was the most gorgeous on the inside. It looked like a Winter Wonderland.

Bergdorf Goodman

Harry Winston

See-through Apple store

We, of course, HAD to go in FAO Schwarz. I'm so glad MaryCollis wasn't with us. She would have had a fit. They had a HUGE dress up section with rows of dresses, a nursery where you could "adopt" a baby, and a candy section with giant boxes of whatever your heart desires (we're talking 8 ounce Reese's cups).

We bought a Christmas ornament to remember our trip, then Chad fulfilled a childhood dream of meeting Zoltar. We walked down toward Central Park and saw the zoo entrance lit with green lights and admired the multi-million dollar homes across the street, then we walked back through Rockefeller Center and headed to our temporary home on Park Avenue.

Day 3 - Saturday, December 28

We slept in Saturday, then set out for the Museum of Natural History. On our way, we stopped at Tory Burch, which led to our my first NYC purchase: the Amanda Tote. We continued down Madison Avenue until we reached Central Park. We hadn't had breakfast, and it was 11am, so we had our minds set on Shake Shack since it's right beside the museum. We walked through the park, which is surprisingly hilly and very peaceful, to get to the tiny burger joint.

The park is so huge it's impossible to see every little detail, but I really loved seeing the skyline through the bare winter trees. I'd love to go back during fall to see the beautiful leaves. We crossed a bridge and came out on the Upper West Side. Here we saw tons of bikers and runners just like you would in the movies. Don't you always find it refreshing to visit a particular spot to find it's EXACTLY how you thought it would be?

We waited in a short line at Shake Shack (It was only 11:30; by 12:30, I'm sure it's insane) and waited for a small table to become available. It's a tiny place - probably only 10-15 tables altogether - but we didn't have to wait long. Burgers are a quick meal, so tables are constantly turning over. We woofed down a ShackBurger, a SmokeShack, a Shack-cago dog, an order of fries, and a chocolate shake in record time.

Shake Shack Verdict: Amazing burgers. Delicious, crispy fries. Fast. Cheap. Skip the hot dogs - leave those for the street vendors.

With full tummies, we walked across the street and hopped in the seemingly long line in front of the Museum of Natural History. Before we knew it, we were inside staring at an enormous dinosaur.

I couldn't think of anything else but "Night at the Museum" and "The Nanny Diaries" the entire time we were there. It was really neat to see the dinosaur bones, and Chad loved the Teddy Roosevelt room (this is where I heard a father say, "Look kids! Something you'll never see..... DEER!"). After a quick tour of the museum, we went to the hotel to change clothes for dinner.

On our honeymoon, we ate at the Waldorf Astoria's restaurant Bull & Bear. To this day we compare every other meal to that one. The New York Waldorf has the same restaurant. Since we were seeing the 7:30pm showing of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular and didn't have much time to eat, we opted for the prix fixe theater menu at Bull & Bear

Y'all. It was even better than Orlando, I think. I'm not a huge meat-eater. That is to say I don't just crave meat. If I had one meal left on earth, it'd probably be pasta or a baked potato or something warm and comforting.... definitely not meat. The steak I had that night was last meal worthy. A perfectly medium rare filet topped with bleu cheese and roasted garlic on the side. I didn't even need a knife. It was like butter. I don't care how uncouth our perfectly trained waiter thought I was... I didn't leave a crumb.

Bull & Bear Verdict: Best steak I've ever eaten. Truly religious.

We were cutting it close, so we rushed to Radio City and arrived just before the show began. Everything was exactly as I remember it from 1996.

Fun Fact: Chad saw the installation of this chandelier on TV and said they placed each crystal one at a time.

Day 4 - Sunday, December 29

Sunday morning we waited 45 minutes at Ess-a-Bagel. I had a BEC on everything bagel; Chad had BEC on plain bagel.

Ess-a-Bagel Verdict: Out of this world bagels. I think ordering a sandwich was a mistake. The best way to go would be a plain bagel (any kind you want - cinnamon raising, everything, plain, etc.) with whatever cream cheese you want (scallion, plain, sundried tomato, strawberry, etc.).


It started raining while we were eating our bagels. Even rain seems magical in New York. We walked across the street to buy an umbrella then went to Times Square. The line was super long at Madame Tussaud's, so we just snapped a quick photo with Morgan Freeman.

We contemplated seeing a movie since it was raining but thought better of it. The ticket office opened at noon, so we walked to the Gershwin to get our "Wicked" tickets at will-call. Afterward, we went set out to do some shopping. And right there on the corner of Madison Avenue, we had our first street vendor hot dog. It was really good. And cheap.

After our snack, we visited Sak's to look for a pair of nice black flats that I could wear in lieu of the heels I brought for our theater/fine dining outings. I decided on this pair after discovering that they were THE most comfortable flats I've ever put on my feet. I also found a Vera Wang flat in cream that was on sale, but they couldn't find it's mate. :( 

We browsed watches and handbags before heading back out into the rain and onto the subway toward the Lower East Side. We figured we might get into Katz's without a wait if we went around 4pm, and we were right. It was still SUPER crowded but not around the block crowded. We waited about 20 minutes (inside) for waiter service. 

Chad had already decided on the brisket sandwich before we arrived, and I opted for the pastrami on rye at the last minute. I totally won the food battle at Katz's. Again, I'm not a big meat eater. I prefer a little sandwich meat with all the trimmings... but that big wad of tender pastrami on plain bread with tons of spicy mustard really did it for me.

Katz's Verdict: Loved the pastrami. Didn't love the brisket. We need to share when we go back.


As we finished our meal, it was nearing 5:30. "Wicked" was at 7, and we still had to change clothes. We booked it back to the hotel and put on our theater best. 

Fancy dress, fancy shoes, fleece-lined tights.

We rushed down the sidewalks (in the rain) toward the Gershwin, getting frustrated by the tourists (how dare they walk so leisurely like they're on vacation or something?!). By the time we arrived, I'm sure I looked like a drowned rat. We were seated on the second row just in time for the show to begin. 

I glanced around the theater to see blue jeans, short sleeve polo shirts, even a CAMOFLAUGE jacket. Suddenly I was extremely saddened by the fact that people don't dress up for the theater anymore. Since when is going to the theater nothing special? It's supposed to be a treat. A cultural experience. A luxury. So there we were.... in cocktail attire amid hundreds in resort casual. And you know what? Instead of feeling silly for being "overdressed," I just felt sorry for them for not knowing any better.

"It's good to see me, isn't it?

The show was absolutely fantastic. Tom McGowan was the wizard (you know, the guy from "Heavyweights). Elphaba was phenomenal... she was played by the standby Christine Dwyer. When she sang "Defying Gravity," I had tears in my eyes. Can you imagine being there for the original cast with Idina Menzel as Elphaba and Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda? I die.

After the show, we walked through Times Square and saw them preparing for New Year's Eve. Despite the rain, people were visiting "The Center of the Universe." We made our way to Junior's Cheesecake for a late night snack, then walked back to the hotel to enjoy it in our PJs.

Day 5 - Monday, December 30

We slept in again on Monday. We never get to sleep, so that was a real luxury. We caught a subway all the way downtown and got off at the Brooklyn Bridge, then walked the mile-long landmark with Grimaldi's Pizzeria on our minds.

That such things exist is kind of mind-boggling, isn't it? Can't you just imagine how people might have laughed when John Augustus Roebling shared his idea about a road that would connect two cities?

When we reached Brooklyn, we turned back under the bridge for Grimaldi's. People were already piling in at 11:30AM (New Yorkers eat later than we do, so this is early), but we managed to walk right in and get a table. By the time we left, there was a line down the block.

We ordered a small pie with pepperoni, mushrooms, olives and onions. And that is where we made mistake #2. While it was exceedingly delicious, we learned that you don't order toppings on a Grimaldi's pizza.

Grimaldi's Verdict: Had we ordered a plain pie, it might have been the best pizza I've had. The crust was great.

We caught a Subway back to Greenwich Village to do some exploring. First stop: the Huxtables townhouse from "The Cosby Show" (10 Leroy Street, GV). The actual townhouse had scaffolding outside and didn't allow for a great photo, so Chad posed with the twin house next door.

The actual townhouse

We walked around a bit then happened upon Pasticceria Rocco, where we popped in for a cannoli. They had case after case of sweets. Cakes, pies, tarts, eclairs, cookies, you name it.

I've never had a cannoli, but I think it's safe to say they make a pretty darn good one. Chad had the plain cannoli, and I had the chocolate dipped. Both were delicious. By this point we had decided that Greenwich Village is totally our jam. It boasts designer boutiques as well as quirky, bohemian shops, and there are plenty of great restaurants. It has the best parts of city life, but it's quiet. We wandered all over - visiting a hat shop, Jonathan Adler, Greenwich Letterpress, and a pet shop - before heading back to the hotel to change for the theater.

We walked to the Walter Kerr Theater to see "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder." It's a new musical comedy featuring one man who plays an entire family (8 people, including men and women). He was incredible. I've never seen such quick costume changes. One minute he was a man in a 3-piece suit, the next he was a woman in a ballgown. It was really funny, plus they served wine in adult sippy cups. Who wouldn't be down for that?


They said not to photograph the stage, so of course we did.

We hadn't eaten since our cannoli at 2PM, so we were hungry and desperate. We walked across the street to Hurley's, which looked well-decorated and had photos of Scarlett Johannson and other celebrities at an Emmy party they hosted. Despite my knowledge that you don't eat in the Theater District, we walked inside and ate what is probably the worst meal I've ever had. Then we went home and ate cookies in bed.

Hurley's Verdict: Horrible. Don't go. You CAN find bad food in New York, and this is it.

Day 6 - Tuesday, December 31

Once again, we slept in. We had reservations at Babbo at 11:30, so we made our way back to the West Village around 10:30. We walked down Perry Street and found Carrie Bradshaw's famous stoop (66 Perry Street), then made our way to lunch.

For the antipasti course, Chad had the prosciutto san daniele "riserva," and I had the warm grilled lobster with wild mushrooms. For the primi course, Chad had beef cheek ravioli, and I had the pappardelle bolognese. We shared the warm cranberry and pear "sottosopra" with cranberry gelato for dessert. Everything was delicious. It was a really leisurely lunch that lasted about 2 hours, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. Usually restaurants push you in. It was refreshing to sit and take our time.

Babbo Verdict: Solid Italian. Knowledgable staff. Nice atmosphere. Perfect portions. Would definitely go back.

We walked across the street to Washington Square Park, where a nice-looking gentleman asked us if we wanted some "smoke." We politely said no, and he said, "Okay then. Happy New Year!" So there's that.

We left the village for Midtown, where we visited Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. Bryant Park was a really neat area. Kids were iceskating while their parents sipped coffee, and there were little pop-up shops all around. 

Right next door was the library, which was a welcomed respite from the cold. 

The library was really beautiful with painted ceilings and lion-mouthed drinking fountains. The study rooms were exactly like you see in the movies: rows and rows of tables with tiny lamps. We weren't supposed to take pictures in the quiet rooms, but I'm a rule breaker.... so I did. We walked around and stopped in several stores, then we stumbled upon Penn Station, and it made me ache for my little man.

We both needed new jeans desperately, so we found the nearest GAP. Chad miraculously found a pair of standard fit jeans (Why do men's jeans keep getting skinnier? Yuck!), but they didn't have any always skinny jeans in my size. While we were inside GAP, it started snowing, which is always magical for a person who rarely sees snow. We walked back to the hotel while flurries floated down, and all I could think about was how MaryCollis has never seen snow.

I took a nap while Chad watched the MSU bowl game (victory!), then we fancied ourselves up for dinner at Delmonico's. As we were checking our coats, a hip young girl said, "Your hair is to die for. I just love it! It's so chic and now. That might just be my next cut. I just..... wow." I'm not even exaggerating.... she was THAT over-the-top about it. I said, "Well, thank you very much. I'm from Mississippi, so that means a lot to me." She replied, "I would've taken you for a real New Yorker! But really, I'm in makeup by day so I know what's in. Your hair is it." So there you have it, Nikki Dill.... a compliment all the way from New York City.

We were seated next to a little family - mother, father, two girls (about 7 and 2 years old, I would say). The girls were in sweet little dresses and were well-behaved throughout the meal. I can't imagine taking my children to a nice restaurant on New Year's Eve without wanting to commit murder or suicide.... or both. We started with the foie gras, which was amazing, then we both had the Delmonico steak with Delmonico potatoes and brussel sprouts. The surprise winner for me was the brussel sprouts. I could've eaten my weight in them.

Delmonico's Verdict: Excellent service. Great food. Nice atmosphere. I think the steak at Bull & Bear was far better; however, it's hard to compare since I had a ribeye at Delmonico's and a filet at B&B.

The fireworks in Central Park weren't supposed to start until midnight, so we went back to the hotel after dinner, where they were having their own New Year's Eve party. Around the clock in the lobby was an all-you-can-eat buffet and an open bar.

I ended up taking a nap and really didn't want to get up when Chad poked me at 11PM, but I made myself. We dressed as warmly as we could and made out for Central Park. Hardly anyone was on the subway because, of course, they had been out celebrating for a while. It was us and a bunch of people in spandex. Apparently there is a 4-mile Midnight Run in Central Park on New Year's Eve. It worked out great because we didn't have to think about which way to go from the subway... we just followed the spandex.

We found a spot with large rocks to sit on just before the fireworks began. At midnight, the fireworks and the runners started simultaneously.

I thought leaving the park would be a nightmare, but it was really very painless. We were some of the only old geezers leaving at 12:05! As we walked back to the train station, we admired the window displays along the way. Ralph Lauren had window after window of smart young children dressed in their equestrian gear for the country and their Sunday best for an evening at the ballet. With each passing display, we made comments like "Look at MaryCollis in her cardigan and tutu" and "Penn looks dashing in his riding gear." Behind us a girl said as she was passing, "Yeah, Ralph Lauren. Cause everybody buys equestrian pants. That's real practical." It tickled me. 

Despite having two naps that day, I was worn out and it was WAY past my bedtime... so home we went.

Day 7 - Wednesday, January 1

New Year's Day was our last day in the city, so we had big plans to visit the MET and the Empire State Building and stop in any shops we had missed (like Barbour). A surprising amount of things are closed in New York on New Year's Day... like the MET.... and Barbour. So we had to alter our plans.

We had brunch at Balthazar in SoHo. The eggs benedict and french toast were equally delicious. (Verdict: Delicious. I'd love to go back and try lunch/dinner). We spent a few hours just meandering around SoHo, walking into shops that were open: J.Crew, Kate Spade, a weird clothing shop with hundreds of old sewing machines on display, Top Shop, Bloomingdale's, and a Women's GAP (where I scored 3 different washes of always skinny jeans).

We happened upon an old police department building that has been turned into fabulous apartments. We visited Little Italy and Chinatown, which are strangely intertwined in some parts, then it got real at the Chinese markets. Fish heads, fresh vegetables, Chinese lanterns all right there on the sidewalks.

And right there in the middle of these two cultures was a gun shop. It was closed, but Chad had to peek inside.

While we were in Little Italy, Chad mentioned wanting to go to Eataly so off we went to the Flatiron District. We admired the Flatiron Building and statues in Madison Square Park before making a b-line for the Eataly entrance.

Eataly is what heaven must be like for us cheese-lovers. Case after case of cheeses, meats, breads, pastas, sauces, oils, and cheese. Did I already say cheese? I love cheese. Cheese.

We stood at a high-top table and ordered a selection of artisanal cheeses, proscuitto with pears, and wine. Now prepare yourself. This is an extreme statement. It was my favorite meal in New York. If I had ordered the cheese plate for dessert at Babbo, then I'm sure that would've been my favorite meal, but I didn't.... so this wins.

We walked several blocks to the Empire State Building, but the line was out of control (it's one of the few things open New Year's Day). My knees were killing me after walking what must have been a million miles that week, so we headed back to the hotel for some rest. On the way to the subway we passed Macy's but didn't go inside, then we walked by Rockefeller Center and Radio City for the thirteenth time that week. 

Sak's Fifth Avenue had been my familiar marker all week. Every time we reached Sak's, I knew we weren't far from the Waldorf. I spotted it once last time and knew I wouldn't see it again for a while. Back at the hotel, I poured myself into bed and took two Advil for my knee pain. I took a good nap then got up to pack. We decided to just order room service and rent a movie on our last night since we had to wake up at 4:30. We rented "Gatsby," in which I was completely disappointed. If you're going to be in keeping with the clothing and cars from the 20s, you should do so with the music. Don't put Jay-Z and Beyonce music in a movie about the roaring 20s! Sheesh.

Day 8 - Thursday, January 2

We woke up super early to falling snow. The high that day was 17, and they were expected to get 5-6 inches of snow. We hailed a cab and drove out of the city looking at all of the Christmas lights one last time.

On the flight, I sat next to a lady from New York who was headed to New Orleans for vacation. I told her all our favorite spots in NOLA, and she shared her favorites in New York (for next time we visit). Breakfast had been at 5AM, so we were starving when we landed. We went to Drago's in Metairie, where a 12-inch po-boy with a huge helping of fries was only $11.95. Hallelujah.

When we got back home, Penn's hair had grown an inch, he had another tooth, he was waving hello and goodbye and was nearly walking. It was so nice to get away from it all, but we missed our babies. It's good to be home!

PS. Click here for my tips on visiting NYC.

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