21
Apr 17

NYC Adventures, April 2017: Eats and drinks

060806foodlove

My good friend Ellen was in town for Passover, which happened to be right before my birthday so I took advantage and had a fun-filled pre-birthday weekend, which, as always, involved a lot of eating, drinking, and museum-ing. First up, the eats.

Pennsy

Ellen had spent the day with her dad and was dropping him off at Penn Station so we met at Pennsy, the newish food court that’s in what used to be Borders.

While it’s certainly nicer than anything in Penn Station (although now there’s a Pret a Manger and a Magnolia Bakery), it still leaves a lot to be desired with only half a dozen choices.

I had an overpriced, mediocre cocktail (it should take longer than 30 seconds to mix one) and we shared yummy mac ‘n cheese appetizer from Pat LaFrieda.

Shanghai Mong

Next we walked to nearby Koreatown. Shanghai Mong is one of my favorite places for jajangmyeon. One order will set you back just $8.99, but we ended up spending a lot more than that.

Perhaps we got a bit too much food. We got the grilled jajangmyeon, the sweet and sour pork, and the dukbokki. We probably should have gotten just two out of those three dishes, although the leftover pork made a good snack over the next couple of days.

Tim Ho Wan

We’ve been talking about going to Tim Ho Wan for a while, and we finally made it bright and early the Friday before Easter.

Which seems to have been the right time to go. This dim sum place is the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant there is so there’s always a massive line. But our wait wasn’t bad. It opened at 10 and we got there about 9:40. While the vestibule was packed, we were the first people on line outside (and I was ferocious to anyone who tried to get in front of us). As soon as the doors opened, we were able to get a table.

Tim Ho Wan doesn’t have carts like other dim sum restaurants. You place your order and they bring it to you. Maybe that’s why it feels less chaotic. And the food certainly lives up to the hype. We got the roast pork buns, turnip cakes, shrimp dumplings, sticky rice, and some other dumplings.

My favorites were the roast pork buns:

I loved the savory meat in contrast with the slightly sweet pineapple outside. I also loved the turnip cakes, which were far more turnip than cake. But everything else was excellent too.

I would totally go again, even with the wait.

Brooklyn Ball Factory

By the name of this place, you’d have no idea that it’s Japanese. A find by our friend, Aki, the amateur concierge, it started in Williamsburg and opened a second location more recently in what they call Hell’s Kitchen, but let’s face it is Times Square.

They do a kind of modern take on onigiri, bento boxes, and dora-yaki. What do balls have to do with it? Their specialty are their meatballs, which were delicious.

Momosan Ramen & Sake

The night we came back from a day trip to Beacon (more on that later), we had a late dinner at Momosan (at Aki’s suggestion) near Grand Central.

The decor is very hip, but the prices are reasonable. I got the tonkotsu ramen for $11:

I thought they forgot my egg and without question they brought me one. Then I found my original egg under the seaweed. Oops! Oh well, a free egg with my birthday noodles.

The only downside was that our waitress was pretty snooty (not the one who brought my extra egg). There goes your 20% tip.

Pil Pil

Another Aki find. This tapas place isn’t too far from where I live. Plus! They have $3 beer and sangria during happy hour. We weren’t very hungry so a few tapas plates between the three of us was perfect. We got ham croquettes, a bacon and date thingie, and some kind of tostas, I forget which.

Next up: our trip to Beacon.

[Flickr photo: “060806foodlove” by Dan4th Nicholas, CC BY 2.0]


05
Jan 17

NYC Adventures: 2016 Holiday Edition

While last year I went out of town, this holiday season out-of-towners came to me, which meant I got to see some New York sights I’d never seen before, and a few I hadn’t visited in a while.

The United Nations

United Nations

[Photo by Paul VanDerWerf, CC BY 2.0]

I worked near the United Nations for 10 years but never went inside. Last week was my first time. My friend Motoko from Tokyo and her son wanted a tour, and Ellen, my buddy in Boston, was kind enough to arrange it and to, of course, join in on the fun.

You have to go through quite a bit of security before getting inside. No wonder they ask you to get there an hour before your tour time. You check in at one location, wait in line at the main location, then put your stuff through metal detectors and go through a full body scan, just like at the airport. It was so similar, some people were about to take their shoes off.

Once you get inside, it’s worth it. The lobby is beautiful. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures. That’s what I get for not having much memory on my phone.

The tour was interesting, but because I was sleep deprived, I didn’t retain much of it. What I do remember was the guide was credentialed up the wazoo. She spoke three languages (English, Japanese, and Spanish), had a master’s degree in international relations, and was fluent in English despite having come from Japan just two years ago.

She was also nice enough to translate for Motoko’s son, although that wouldn’t have happened if Motoko hadn’t noticed her Japanese name, or if Ellen hadn’t asked her to translate in the first place.

Grand Central Oyster Bar

I’ve been to the Grand Central Oyster Bar a couple of times before, but it’s been several years since my last visit.

The Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, New York City

[Photo by Jazz Guy, CC BY 2.0]

That’s not my picture of the bar although we sat at the bar.

What I love about the place is that it’s a mixed crowd. You have tourists but you also have working stiffs who want to get away from their desks for 40 minutes and enjoy some delicious clam chowder.

Which is what I had. Tasty and filling and only $7.

The Met

Of course I’ve been to the Met a hundred times, but what I’d never seen before was a line that long. How long? It went out the door, down the stairs, and onto the sidewalk. It was a perfect storm of the early afternoon, the holidays and a chilly, steady rain.

Little do the hoi polloi know, there’s a semi-secret side entrance which is a million times less crowded. Another friend showed it to me and Ellen long ago, and it’s the only entrance I’ve used ever since.

Still, that didn’t keep the rest of the museum from being mobbed, especially the Impressionist wing. Our guests lasted half a dozen Monets, Degas, and Seurats before we took refuge in the cafeteria.

Peter Luger Steak House

A great thing about out-of-town visitors, besides the company of course, is that I end up doing things I never would have on my own. Such as dinner at Peter Luger.

If you want an old school New York experience and don’t mind spending a little dough, you’ll love Peter Luger. Perhaps its Brooklyn location has something to do with it, but I felt like everyone — the managers, the waiters, even the other diners — had walked straight out of some movie about NYC.

And the food was good too. We started with sliced tomatoes and onions, which is literally just that. What makes the dish is their sauce, similar to cocktail sauce but not tomato-y. We also got a single (massive) slab of bacon.

Unfortunately by the time our 16 ounce steaks came, I wasn’t that hungry, and could barely make a dent, although I had no problem finishing off our sides of creamed spinach and German fried potatoes, which were similar to hash browns.

It came out to about $80 per person including tax and tip, which may seem steep, but with all the leftovers and the experience itself, it was worth it.

Corner Cafe & Bakery

I’ve been wanting to try this place since I moved into my neighborhood little more than a year ago. New Year’s Eve morning, I finally did, and it didn’t disappoint.

I got the Southern breakfast.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

That’s three eggs, bacon, potatoes, a corn muffin, and fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce. A delectable way to finish out 2016.

InterContinental Barclay Hotel

Something else I don’t usually do is go out on New Year’s Eve. To me NYE is basically SantaCon without the Santa suits. But this year I found myself out and about, and I have to admit, it was a nice change of pace.

After helping Motoko pick up some provisions for her feverish son, Ellen and I ended up spending a relaxing afternoon at Motoko’s beautiful hotel.

While we charged our phones at the bar, we each got an old fashioned.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

It was very well made, and I got sufficiently tipsy. Plus the bartender was very nice and didn’t make us feel rushed.

I’d definitely return to the InterContinental Barclay bar just to have a drink and hang out.

Times Square on New Year’s Eve

Our relaxing afternoon came to an end when we headed out to meet our friend Aki. She and her boyfriend had a party later and were staying at a hotel for the night. Unfortunately that hotel was right near Times Square.

Getting from Midtown East to Midtown West on New Year’s Eve was like trying to climb over the Berlin Wall. But climb over it we did, mostly due to Ellen’s persistence. Like Aki said, I was about to call it a night when Ellen finally found a cop who let us through the barricades.

The hotel itself was pretty relaxing. We ended up eating discounted happy hour snacks in the lounge instead of trying to find a restaurant. The food hit the spot. Wings, pita and hummus, quesadillas, and a pizza-like flatbread.

At about 8:30 I made Ellen leave. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck in that part of town close to midnight. We walked Aki and her boyfriend partway to their party and grabbed a cab at Columbus Circle. By nine, we were in PJs and watching Orange Is the New Black, my kind of NYE. I was happy that Ellen was so accommodating.

Pure Thai Cookhouse

The next day we headed back to the west side and had our first lunch of 2017. Pure Thai Cookhouse was an Aki find. It was packed but didn’t seem touristy, an excellent combination.

I got the special, a beef dish in a mildly spicy curry paste with a fried egg.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A yummy start to the new year.

Here’s hoping that every day of 2017 is as delicious.


25
Jun 16

A molten day on Mohonk

Hiking is something I enjoy but don’t have the opportunity to do that often. So when my friend Aki invited me to go for a trek on the Mohonk Preserve, I jumped at the chance.

Cafe Mio

First though, some pre-hike sustenance. We had lunch at this place in Gardiner, New York. I got the eggs over corned beef hash:

Yum!

Mohonk Preserve

Turns out I really need that fuel because the hike turned out to be pretty grueling, especially in the heat.

First, a little about the preserve. It’s 8,000 acres in the Shawagunk Ridge (nicknamed the Gunks), which is part of the Appalachians. Nearby is the Mohonk Mountain House, an amazing looking spa and resort.

Back to the hike. At least two other times Aki has said we were going hiking, and we ended up not hiking. So I thought this was one of those times, and as a result, I dressed completely inappropriately: dress, Keds, purse. The only right thing I did was wear a hat and sunglasses.

We hiked about three miles, much of it uphill. Despite my non-hiking gear, I did okay (all that running, I suppose), although Aki left everyone in the dust.

Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery

After our strenuous excursion, we were rewarded with a trip to this distillery. Along with a couple of the guys, I tried a flight of their spirits, one of which was basically making your own mini Old Fashioned with their yummy Basement Bitters. Needless to say, I got pretty tipsy.

Saigon Kitchen

Our last stop was this pho restaurant in Fort Lee. Exhausted, hot, starving, and slightly drunk, it was the perfect way to end the day. I had the seafood noodle soup:

It was sooo good, especially the broth, which was positively delectable. Even Aki the picky eater liked it and in fact finished what I couldn’t.

Check out all my New York adventures.


07
Feb 16

NYC Adventures: The Lunar New Year Edition

I don’t usually do much for the Lunar New Year, but this year a weekend visit from my friend Aki happened to coincide with the festivities.

Friday night

First thing: noodles! This time at Mew Men in the Village.

Eating long noodles during the New Year and on birthdays is important in Chinese culture since long noodles symbolize longevity. But mostly we had them because we’re ramen fiends.

The pork was kind of tough, but the broth and noodles were excellent. Plus each was only $5 with a coupon Aki had.

Afterward we walked up to Union Square and stopped in Korean beauty product store Nature Republic. We both ended up buying this Korean version of Baby Feet, that feet peeling kit. I’m kind of scared to try it since the results, while effective, are supposed to be disgusting.

Saturday

We had a very packed day ahead and needed to start it with some sustenance. Blue Stone Lane to the rescue.

While overpriced, I do think their food and coffee is really good. Usually I get the avocado toast, but I felt like changing things up and had the soup instead – lentil Italian wedding. It was so good, as was the toasted bread that came with it. And when we left, I couldn’t resist a $5 vegan apple cinnamon donut for a snack later (that was delicious too).

Our next stop was The Met, where there was lion dancing:

Like most things you do on the New Year, lion dancing is supposed to bring luck and chase away evil spirits. Plus it just looks and sounds really cool. The lobby was packed to the gills, but we had a pretty good view.

Besides lion dancing, we checked out the Temple of Dendur, then went upstairs to see it from the Asian art wing.

Next up: lunch! Aki had heard that the best xiao long bao in the city were at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao in Flushing. So out to Queens we went.

There were tons of people waiting. They told us about 20 minutes, and that’s what it was. We got dou jiang, one youtiao to split, and pork and crab and pork buns.

Pork and crab soup dumplings #nanxianglongbao @bangbangcloud @joeboy369 #flushing #queens

A post shared by Dave Brue (@davidbrue) on

The verdict? I don’t know if they’re the best in the city since I haven’t had all the little juicy buns in New York, but they were damned good and well worth the schlep and the wait.

After lunch we went to New World Mall. It was a tad overwhelming, and since neither of us were hungry, it was kind of a waste on us. I’ll have to go back on an empty stomach.

Our last stop of the night was, you guessed it, food! We hit another ramen place, Nakamura, this one on the Lower East Side.

I wasn’t too thrilled about it at first, to be honest. Although there were a ton of empty seats, we were told we had to wait 30 minutes (I guess there were reservations?). And the fact that the waiter was wearing a fedora didn’t help matters. I wanted to leave, but Aki convinced me not to.

In the end, I’m glad we stayed because the food was really good. Aki, who’s super picky, pronounced it one of the best bowls of ramen she’s ever had.

I absolutely loved my Japanese curried spice ramen.

It also had something a little different: cilantro, which Japanese food never has.

Sunday

Aki was all set to leave that morning when she said, “I want bagels.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

We went to a place not too far from my apartment, H&H Bagels (which doesn’t have a website, weirdly enough). There was a line, but it wasn’t too crazy. I got my usual sesame bagel with lox spread.

Aki got a sesame bagel with nothing on it, figuring I’d have more than enough cream cheese, which was true.

The bagel was really good. I ate mine in about five minutes, Aki said, which is a bit of an exaggeration. But I did eat it quickly.

Interested in more of my New York adventures? Check them all out.


13
Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Ramen

Only second to my obsession with museums is my obsession with ramen (as evinced by the many noodle photos in my Instagram feed). Since moving back to New York, I’ve had the chance to sample a lot.

Zutto Japanese American Pub

I welcomed myself back to New York with some spicy miso ramen at this Asian-fusion place in Tribeca.

ramen_zutto

While the flavors were good, the broth was only warm instead of piping hot — maybe because it was a sweltering August day. But even in the heat and humidity, I like my noodle soup to be hot hot hot. Plus at $14 it was a little overpriced.

However, my dessert, a mochi tempura (with red bean mochi and green tea ice cream) was delicious.

ramen_zutto_greenteaicecream

Recently, I went back a second time and asked for my tonkatsu ramen to be “extra hot,” and it came out much better.

Ramen Setagaya

I used to go to Setagaya regularly when I lived on the Lower East Side, and it’s still one of my favorites. This past summer I paid it a visit and had the spicy miso.

ramen_setagaya

It had a lot more flavor than the spicy miso at Zutto, but it was a lot saltier than I remember. Or maybe I’m just older and can’t handle so much sodium anymore.

Ramen-Ya

A find by my friend Aki, who’s a whiz at sifting through Yelp reviews to unearth good restaurants. We tried the West Village branch, where I had the shoyu ramen in pork broth.

ramen_ramenya

I don’t know if it was because I was starving, but it was one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had. The soup was very rich and flavorful without being crazy salty, and the pork was melt-in-your-mouth.

Naruto Ramen

After I moved into my new place on the Upper East Side, I noticed that there was always a line outside this place. Partly that’s because there’s only counter seating, but I suspected that wasn’t the only reason.

Finally, one day I decided the wait would be worth it. However, luckily for me, a seat for one opened up just as I got there.

I knew I should have probably tried the classic Naruto Ramen, but the Tan Tan, ground pork in a spicy sesame broth, sounded really good.

ramen_naruta_tantan

And it was. So good that I had it again the next time I went.

The third time I was with Aki, my partner in ramen. I decided to change things up and got the curry ramen. Again, delish!

ramen_naruta_curry

Naruto also has a spicy ramen which you can get mildly spicy (1) all the way to burn-your-face-off spicy (5). My first visit, the large Korean man next to me got the level 5. He had no problem scarfing down the whole bowl although he was sniffling and sweating the whole time. My second visit, a skinny white dude tried to order the same thing.

“It’s really spicy,” the waitress (who was Asian) warned him.

“I know,” the guy said.

“I mean, REALLY spicy.”

“I know,” the guy said, more weakly this time. “I eat spicy things all the time.”

I felt kind of bad for him, but I knew what she meant: this was not white person spicy. It was Asian person spicy. It was make-a-large-Korean-man-sweat spicy.

In the end, he relented and got the level 3. I didn’t see how that turned out.

Jin Ramen

Another Aki find. I thought the ramen at this spacious Upper West Side restaurant was quite good, and we liked that they offered a “less salty” option, which we both got.

The only downside was that the place felt crowded and super-busy. I guess I prefer counter-only seating, like Setagaya or Naruto, or just a few tables, like Ramen-Ya.

Totto Ramen

The chicken logo should have been a dead giveaway.

My friend Ellen and I had just finished seeing An American in Paris on a chilly night so we thought this popular Hell’s Kitchen joint would be the ticket. I was dismayed to see the broth was chicken only, but thought I’d give it a go. After all, I love chicken soup.

We had a short wait, but the restaurant utilized our waiting time efficiently by taking our orders while we were still in line. I got the chicken paitan with pork.

ramen_totto

Looks amazing right? Well, it was only so-so. First of all, it wasn’t just not-hot, it was lukewarm. In fact, the middle of the egg was cold, and the yolk was hard instead of soft-boiled. And while the pulled char siu was yummy, the slices were dry and, again, almost cold.

The skinny? I would go to any of these places again, except for Totto unless I were desperate, in which case I’d go out of my way to ask for “extra hot.”

 


05
Jan 16

NYC Adventures: Museums

As you might know, I’m pretty much addicted to museums, and so after moving back to New York, I was especially excited to revisit some of my old haunts.

The Frick

An old favorite, I love the Frick because it’s small and easy to handle. Comparable to Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris, in my opinion.

The former residence of rich guy and union-buster Henry Clay Frick, the building houses Frick’s extensive collection of European paintings and sculptures, 18th-century French porcelain and furniture, and much more.

Plus who doesn’t love an indoor garden court?

The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is practically in my backyard, and because of that and its enormity, it seemed like the right museum to join.

met_egypt_1115

In recent years, the Met’s most popular draw has been its costume exhibits. Last year I saw Death Becomes Her, and in September, China Through the Looking Glass.

met_china_0915

I loved both although both times were complete madhouses, especially the latter since my friend and I saw it on the last weekend, which happened to be the Friday night of Labor Day weekend.

But membership has its benefits. In the future, I’ll be able to see all special exhibits during off hours, ie, without the hoi polloi. One I’m really looking forward to is the opening of The Met Breuer, which will house modern and contemporary art, and is located in the Whitney’s old space.

But the permanent exhibits are nothing to sneeze at. Although I’ve been visiting the Met for years, recently I saw two exhibits that I’ve never seen before, one on late Baroque interior design and one on medieval Spanish art. I also revisited Arms and Armor while listening to the (free) audio guide app.

I feel like the Met is a place you can visit a million times and see something new every time.

The Cloisters

While I’ve lived in close proximity to New York for most of my life, I somehow never visited the Cloisters until late last year.

Whenever I think of the medieval art museum, I think of my brother’s school trip there when he was a kid and his coming home with a print of its arguably most famous work, The Unicorn in Captivity, which hung on his bedroom wall for years. Seeing the tapestry in person was a little like seeing a celebrity.

The surrounding area, Fort Tyron Park, is also lovely.

cloisters_1115

Getting out there is a bit of a schlep. At first my friend and I balked at paying $6 for the bus ride, but it turned out to be worth it. The seats were super-comfy and the ride was pretty quick at less than 20 minutes. If we had taken a regular local bus, it would have taken more than an hour.

The Whitney

When I was living on the Upper East Side before I moved to San Francisco (otherwise known as “New York, Take 1”), the Whitney was my favorite museum. It was very close to my apartment, and my work ID at the time got me in for free. On hot summer days, I’d just go there and hang out.

Now the Whitney is in the Meatpacking District right near the High Line. It’s a beautiful space with an amazing view:

whitney_view_1115

I thought it was going to be insane with people when I visited over Thanksgiving week, but it actually wasn’t too bad.

While I still love the Whitney, because of its new location I unfortunately probably won’t be visiting it very much.

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum

Another museum that’s close to where I live. I always enjoy it although I found the recent Pixar exhibit somewhat disappointing. I liked the How Posters Work exhibit better.

And the rest…

Since moving back, I’ve also had the chance to visit the Museum of Arts and Design (love the jewelry); the Museum of Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn (at least the store and a weird movie about old health films); the Morgan Library (specifically, Alice: 150 years of Wonderland); and the Princeton University Art Museum, which by the way is always free.

But the NYC adventures don’t end here. Next up, food glorious food.


16
Nov 15

NYC Adventures: Cider, museums, an albino peacock

One of my friends came into town this weekend, and of course it was chock-full of activities.

Cider Week

It was Cider Week so there were a bunch of free tastings throughout the city. We focused on the Upper West Side, where we passed Lincoln Center, always so pretty at night.

We imbibed much free wine and cider, but we did each buy a bottle of delicious cinnamon hard cider from one place. Then we capped off an evening of drinking in the perfect way: yummy ramen at Jin Ramen.

The Cloisters

The next day we went to the Cloisters, which, even after all my years in New York, I’ve never been to before. It took a while to get there. At first we thought we had made a mistake paying over six dollars for a fancy bus instead of a local city one. But the six dollar bus took less than 20 minutes while the regular one would have taken an hour.

Before we went to the museum, we got sandwiches at this old school deli nearby. “Old school” meaning you pick all the ingredients for your sandwich. My friend was at a complete loss. I guess she’s only been to places where they have a limited selection of sandwiches with clever names.

Although it was chilly out, we ate on a bench outside. I got mortadella, which is basically high-quality bologna. My friend got some kind of roast pork. She asked to try mine and I said sure, and then tried to take a quarter.

“That’s not a bite!” I said.

“But I’ll give you some of mine.”

No thanks. I’ll stick with my chichi bologna.

After we finished eating, we headed up to the museum. Around it is a lovely park with a beautiful view of the Hudson River.

The museum was lovely too. I splurged on the audio tour, which was well worth it, although I did get pooped out after about an hour.

Cooper Hewitt

It was a two-museum day! Later that night we went to the Cooper Hewitt, which is pay what you wish after six on Saturdays. The main exhibit was on Pixar, which was just okay to be honest. I think it was designed primarily for kids. We really enjoyed their permanent exhibit however.

An Upper West Side Sunday

My friend had wanted to take a day trip somewhere, but she had a bit of an upset stomach and wasn’t wearing the most comfortable shoes. However, she did manage to walk across Central Park to Absolute Bagels.

There was a line all the way down the sidewalk, but it moved pretty quickly, and I felt in the mood for the whole experience.

And it was totally worth it. The bagels were fresh and hot. I got my favorite: sesame with lox spread.

As per New York design, it had a shit ton of cream cheese. I gave my friend almost half (she had gotten no cream cheese). I managed to eat my entire bagel and a bit of her cinnamon raisin. Yum.

Our next stop was Saint John the Divine. Since half the cathedral was roped off for a service, the outside grounds were more interesting. There was this huge crazy statue —

— and, randomly, an albino peacock.

After that we stopped in the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a place I frequented often during my college days. Even after so much bagel, I wanted something sweet, and got this chocolate hazelnut ganache thing. It was delicious.

Speaking of my college days, next we visited Columbia and Barnard. At Low Library, I showed my friend the secret owl hidden in the robes of the Alma Mater statue. At that time, a woman was looking for it and couldn’t find it. She was happy to know where it was.

It’s been a long time since I visited Barnard, and I was surprised to find the student center was completely fancy and redone. We used the free wifi and filled our water bottles from the bottle filling station. It all made me wish I was back in college.

It was kind of an exhausting weekend, but a very nice way to spend a few beautiful, late fall days.


07
Oct 15

NYC Adventures: Gyms

Exercising with Good Housekeeping

Now that I’ve been back for almost two months, I’ve started to develop a new routine. I’ve found my go-to morning coffee spot, my favorite lunch places, and decent take-out. But not all of my routine is about stuffing my face.

Since August I’ve been trying different gyms, partly because I wanted to join one, but also partly because I wanted to see how long I could work out for free. (The answer: about a month.) Here’s what I found.

24 Hour Fitness (SoHo)

This was the first place I tried since there’s one very close to work, and I used to go to the one in San Francisco. They offered a free one-day pass, but of course you can’t just go in and work out. You have to meet with a manager who’ll give you a tour and the whole spiel.

I was prepared for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was waiting. And waiting, and waiting. At the time I thought I had to suck it up to get a free workout, but when I visited other gyms, I found that wasn’t the case.

Finally, after about 40 minutes, the manager — or rather, manager-in-training — came out. She was nice enough, but asked some strange questions. I had mentioned that I had belonged to a 24 Hour Fitness in San Francisco, but that was a few years ago. Later she asked, “So when was the last time you worked out?”

“Sunday,” I said. It was Tuesday.

She looked utterly perplexed.

Did I look that out of shape? “Sometimes I use the gym in my parents’ retirement complex,” I explained.

Still looking confused, she smiled. “Oh, okay. It’s good to change things up.”

Number one, what are you talking about? Number two, there are other gyms besides 24 Hour Fitness, and even other ways to work out besides the gym.

Then came the spiel. The price wasn’t too bad. They were waiving the initiation fee (as a “special,” but I soon found that most gyms were running the same “special”) and offered different levels from about $79 to $99 a month.

“Which package would you like?” the woman asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I’d like to think about it.”

“What is it that you need to think about?”

Uhhh. “I just don’t know right now.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand. What is it about this gym that’s not meeting your needs?”

Maybe you?

Eventually, her boss showed up, and she give me the hard sell too. And again she asked, “What is it that’s keeping you from making a decision?”

Then I said, “I don’t want to feel pressured. I’d like a little time to think about it.”

At that point they finally backed off.

The skinny

While the gym is pretty nice with lots of equipment (even a punching bag!) and classes, and a decent good locker room (I didn’t get to shower since I hadn’t brought a lock), they were such a hard sell I was completely turned off.

On top of that, they had kept me waiting for so long, and never followed up. They were supposed to contact me about a three-day pass after I returned from Paris but never did. Not even an email.

In addition, the location isn’t the best. While there’s a club near work, there isn’t one near my apartment.

Equinox (SoHo)

Equinox is my all-time favorite gym. I was lucky enough to belong to the one in San Mateo because we got a group discount through work. It was beautiful. Very clean, especially the locker rooms. Plus the showers had Kiehl’s products. Kiehl’s! And they have these amazing cold eucalyptus towels which are so refreshing post-workout.

The Equinox here offered a one-day free pass, and I was prepared for a long wait and a hard sell. I got neither. The manager came out right away, and although of course he tried to get me to sign up, when I said I’d like to think about it, he backed off right away.

The skinny

Sigh. I loved it. The workout floor was noisier than the the one in San Mateo, but it was tolerable. The showers of course were amazing. And the Kiehl’s products and eucalyptus towels! Double sigh.

However, while there’s a gym right near work, there isn’t really one near home. The closest one is 10 blocks away.

But most of all the price. At $225 a month, even without the $500(!) initiation fee, it was just too rich for my blood.

Crunch (Bowery)

Like the other gyms, you can get a free one-day pass from Crunch off their website, and like at Equinox, the manager met with me right away and didn’t give me a hard sell. In fact he gave me a three-day pass. The only sort of irritating thing was that he kept upselling their personal trainers and this “flying yoga” class although I said a couple of times that I had done krav maga and was into boxing.

The skinny

I really liked the gym. It’s kind of small, but it seemed like it was in good condition. The locker room was a little cramped, but the showers were nice. They had wood floors and Bliss products, which I love. I also liked the vibe. I went there on a Sunday afternoon, and it was almost empty and very peaceful.

However, the location isn’t the best. It’s more than a 10-minute walk from work and 10 blocks from home, which is fine in good weather but not bad. Moreover, the cost was a little out of my range: $104 a month, plus a $69 initiation fee.

Blink Fitness (NoHo)

The staff was super-nice and friendly. They even let you work out right away without a spiel, and although the spiel was super-short anyway.

The skinny

At $25 a month, Blink is by far the cheapest gym, and it’s fine if you want something very basic and don’t mind bringing your own towel (or buying one for $5, which is what I did). However, while there are plenty of machines, they don’t offer classes, and the locker room was REALLY small. Like, have-to-move-near-the-bathroom-stalls-to-rearrange-your-bag small. On top of that, there’s no location near my apartment.

David Barton Gym (Astor Place)

To be honest, I was a little scared of this gym because of the website, but they offered a free one-day pass so I sucked it up. AGAIN and unlike 24 Hour Fitness, the manager came out almost immediately and did not give me a hard sell. He gave me a tour of the gym (which was like if a goth club kid designed a gym) and that was that.

The skinny

It was pretty nice. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and a punching bag (which I worked on for about five minutes and was completely sore the next day). The locker room is huge and the showers decent (although not as nice as Crunch’s). However, it’s a little walk from work and about 10 blocks from my apartment. More importantly, at $127 a month, it was out of my price range.

New York Sports Club (Upper East Side)

Every manager I talked to at the other gyms scrunched up their faces at NYSC, and so before I even tried it, I was kind of against it. However, I still thought I should try it. They offer a 5-day guest pass for $5. I thought I’d get one for the one near work, but one day I popped in and saw how basic it was. So that’s why it’s just $19.99 a month.

I knew there was one near my new place, but I didn’t know how near until one night I was eating at Korean place one block from my apartment, looked up, and saw the gym across the street.

I popped in Monday night, and yet again, and I know sound like a broken record at this point, the manager came out right away, gave me a tour, and not too hard of a sell. While my guest pass had expired (turns out you need to start using it the day you purchase it), she let me work out for free that night.

The skinny

A decent gym. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and even a pool (although I don’t really swim). The locker rooms weren’t too cramped, and the showers are fine, although the water pressure is ridiculously strong. The whole place could be cleaner and newer, but the location is fantastic. It’s one block from apartment, and two from work.

And the price: it’s $69 a month for month-to-month or $59 a month if you sign a year-long contract. If you cancel the contract, there’s a $100 one-time fee. Also there’s no initiation fee right now. I don’t know if there’s always no initiation fee, but when I asked about any specials, the manager waived the $99. She also said the rest of October would be free for me.

The verdict

I’m going with New York Sports Club. The price and location are right, they didn’t do a hard sell, and the facilities are decent.

If I were rich, I’d clearly pick Equinox, with Crunch being my third choice. David Barton would be next, and then Blink. I have to say I’d put 24 Hour Fitness dead last because of my negative experience with the manager, although the gym itself seems perfectly fine.


12
Sep 15

Eating and shopping and eating

The weather was cooler for a change, and my friend Aki decided to come in for a day of eating, walking around, shopping, and more eating.

En Japanese Brasserie

We started the day with traditional Japanese breakfast for lunch at this pretty place on Hudson Street. I had the shake teishoku:

Pretty right? And tasty too, but afterward I realized I had paid $19 for a glorified bento box that didn’t really fill me up.

I-CE NY

For dessert we got Thai rolled ice cream, which neither of us had had before.

Again, it was just okay. The flavor was good — I got the strawberry cheesecake — but I didn’t like the crumbly consistency. However, that didn’t stop me from eating half.

Flying Tiger Copenhagen

We met up with a couple of Aki’s friends, one of whom had just moved into her own apartment. So a few home decor stops were on the agenda.

I had never heard of this Danish chain, but of course Aki had. The stuff was super-cute — almost Asian in style — pretty inexpensive and seemed sturdy. I may have to go back there for myself for bowls, plates, and the like.

Fishs Eddy

I hadn’t been to this place in years, and I was glad to see it was still around. The stuff is even cuter now, at least from what I remember, but it also seems more expensive. However, they did have a sale room, where I picked up an adorable dog mug for 50% off.

ABC Carpet & Home

Our last home decor stop was this fancy shop where none of us could afford anything. It was more for fun and to gawp at the ridiculous prices, like a tiny cup that was $90 and a bed that was $30,000 (it was really comfortable though). There was also this couch that was basically a couch-shaped. We all flopped on it, and afterward apparently a store employee plumped the couch back up with an annoyed look on his face.

Satega-Ya Ramen

We capped off the evening with a hearty ramen dinner. Not to be confused with Ramen Setagaya, Satega-Ya Ramen is actually better.

The broth is much richer, and the flavors seem more complex. However you want to describe it, it was damned good.


06
Dec 14

Thanksgiving 2014: Noodles, wine, and biscuits

Sure, there was the Thanksgiving feast (read: Mongolian hot pot) at home, but there was also much ingesting and imbibing with friends in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

Xi’An Famous Foods

I met up with my college roommate Sandy for lunch in the city. Besides an alma mater, we also share a love for Chinese good. So I was thrilled to learn a Xi’An Famous Foods had opened in her neighborhood on the Upper East Side.

I first heard about the restaurant from Anthony Bourdain, which is almost always a guarantee of good food. I got the oxtail noodle soup.

Looks great right? Well, unfortunately looks was all it had. No, that’s not entirely true. The flavor was good, but it was lukewarm. Maybe the servers, who were all white, didn’t know that noodle soup has to be burn-your-mouth-hot. Then again, doesn’t any soup? So I was pretty disappointed. At least the company was good.

ChikaLicious

I also had the chance to see and stay with my friend Yiannis. One night, craving something sweet, we stopped in ChikaLicious.

While it might sound like a chicken place, it’s actually a dessert bar — New York’s first, according to the website. Also according to their site, the line sometimes goes out the door, but that Saturday before Thanksgiving, there was no wait.

I noticed a dough’ssant in the wild —

— before settling on the banana custard pie.

Banana-custard-licious!

Sweet Science

One morning Yiannis and I met up with his sister and her friends for her birthday breakfast. One of her favorite places is Sweet Science in Brooklyn, and with good reason.

I got the biscuits with sausage gravy and bacon:

Decadent and delicious!

Amalthea Cellars and Sharrott Wineries

Good times were also to be had in my home state. My friend Ellen was also visiting for Thanksgiving, and we met up with our other friend Aki, who lives in New Jersey. She and her fiance had to drive one of their friends to Philadelphia so she suggested a couple of wineries along the way.

I’ve never been to a wine tasting before and thought I wouldn’t be that into it since I’m not a fan of wine. But it was actually really fun. The combination of the small amounts with a wide variety was perfect for me. Plus! I never knew wine could be sweet. All I knew about were the very dry ones. Turns out I love sweet wine.

Our first stop, Amalthea Cellars, offered 11 different tastings for $6, plus a little tour of the place. I thought the Leda, a “dry ‘travel style’ rose” with “notes of strawberry,” according to the info sheet, was so pretty:

Although for some reason the tour guide looked right at me when he said it “goes well with Chinese food.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ My favorite was the Callisto Gris, a “bright red apple and strawberry notes.” Of course it was sweet.

The second place was Sharrott Winery, which offered six tastings for $12 plus snacks. By that time I was pretty tipsy, as was this big group of loud ladies who were traveling by bus from winery to winery. (We had a designated driver in Aki’s very kind and patient fiance.)

Hiro Ramen House

Our next stop was Philadelphia and a ramen dinner. Hiro Ramen House is apparently the place to be. We had a 20-minute wait, but it was totally worth it. For appetizers we got the karaage, or fried chicken, and takoyaki, octopus balls:

I got the spicy ramen, which really hit the spot post-wine tastings.

Lotus Garden

All good things must come to an end. To close out my visit, my mom and I had a goodbye lunch at one of our local favorites, Lotus Garden. It’s not bad for central Jersey, and seems authentic, if only because it’s usually packed with Chinese people. I got the beef noodle soup:

Not as good as Mom’s but better than Xi’An Famous Foods, I have to say.

Until next time!