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!