Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Visiting NYC's Best, with Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad came to NYC for their annual visit recently, which was filled with sunshine, walking, drinking, and tennis. September is a perfect month to travel, particularly to NYC and it opened the door to all's kinds of activities we've haven't had the chance to experience together (at least without sweating or freezing).

Since I knew we were running out of sunny days and warm nights in NY, I wanted to take advantage of the time we were outside to enjoy some great outdoor features and venues the city offers such as the US Open, the MET's rooftop bar, and movies with wine under the Brooklyn Bridge. And, yes, there were a few non-drinking activities I threw in, such as a visit to the High Line Park. Here are some of the sights, sounds and landmarks we toured during their recent stay:

We took one sunny day on at the Frying Pan, located on Pier 66 (W. 26 St. at 12 Ave.) in the Hudson River. The ship, originally built in 1928 was used as a lightship by the coastguard - which works like a floating lighthouse - and was stationed at several spots along the east coast shore. During it's heyday fifteen men lived aboard the ship and worked to keep the light on the mast burning and foghorn sounding year-round, regardless of weather, season or time of day. It sounds like it could be an extremely boring job, peppered in with some bouts of serious fear.

Anyhow, the boat eventually sank and lay at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay for three years before it was dredged up and brought to NYC in 1989 to serve as a historical reference point, landmark and bar for NYC residents and tourists. The top of the deck is somewhat restored and covered with tables for patrons, while the inside retains the barnacle-encrusted motif that reminds you of the boat's amazing past. If you'd ever like to visit, which I strongly suggest check out NY Magazine's review for more information (). Some photos of the inside and out of the ship...

Below the hull, mom and I set up a shot amid the dusty old couches and rusted portholes:

Dad looking up from below a random walkway:

Headed back into town from the ship:

Another warm evening we dropped by Sasha Petraske's White Star for some absinthe and like sprits on the Lower East Side. Although Jerome and I have been caught up in mixology craze that seems to have taken over all major US cities, I couldn't think of the right spot to take my parents where my parents wouldn't feel uncomfortable after being out for a full day (my parents are smart folks, and like to be dressed well in well-dressed places). White Star on a Sunday night, with their windows flung open and empty bar offered us just the right spot to strike up a conversation with the bartender and find the perfect cocktail for our various moods. White Star (along with East Side Co. just down the street with equally delicious cocktails) offers an under publicized happy hour weeknights till 10 pm .

From there we wandered over to my favorite Chinese restaurant in Chinatown, Nice Green Bo on Bayard Street(). The sparse decor, harsh wait staff, and grease stained entrance would turn me off for most restaurants, but I simply love this place. The large round tables, which range from 10-12 tops are covered with light green table clothes and "decorated" with stellar reviews from such publications as The New York Times, Let's Go Travel Guides, and New York Magazine. I keep going back for their pork soup dumplings and ordered two rounds for my parents, Jerome and I. The entrees and beer are standard and above standard but the soup dumplings simply make me smile just thinking about them. So, after our $45 bill we happily wandered over to SOHO/Little Italy.

Jerome and my favorite little karaoke bar, Baby Grand (located on Grand at Lafayette), was well below its maximum capacity of 25 people when we dragged my parents inside. One of the owners , Mike - whose wife/bar partner Raylene had the night off - welcomed us with some tasty cocktails and a songbook. Although mom and dad were initially hesitant we got both of them on stage and took on some Abba, Beach Boys, and even Bob Marley. Baby Grand is a perfect place to start or end a night, check out my friend Alex's 30 day stint there ().. Some photo proof of the mother-daughter-singing-duo above.

En route to our good friend's house for a BBQ in Williamsburg on Saturday we dropped by one of my favorite outdoor/indoor spots in NYC. Radegast Hall & Biergarten () has enough room to stretch his arms and give each of his patrons a jovial, solid embrace. The beer garden is a male entity by default, since all the waitresses are in skirts and only meat products are served to tide over any potential hungry drinkers. The range and unique list of beers available always amazes me. I tend to go for the Lambic beers when I've had too much to drink the night before (which was the case on this fine Saturday) and loved my pear-flavored beer next to Jerome's pint-o-beer. Our long, wooden table and pints pictured above.

We also took some time to take in some art and culture, and headed over to the MET to see a complex exhibit, Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul. The exhibit was easy to get caught up in, with maps of ancient trading trails including the Silk Road, and stylistic materials such as nomadic gold found in this great civilization. The exhibit gave a good sense of the rich, diverse and troubled past of Afghanistan.

We also visited the museum's rooftop garden and bar, which offers unique treetop views over the park, unique sculptural art and good (pricey) cocktails. We had a great time catching up with my parent's friends from home, Bryce and Gary, coincidentally my grade 7 English teacher and her husband. They were a wonderful ray of light on the sunny afternoon and were doing an amazing job of taking in the city on their own terms, a task that most tourists don't seem to manage. The 2009 rooftop sculpture pictured here:

The best part of living in NYC, aside from all the amazing opportunities available to us at anytime of day, is the free summer activities. One of my personal favorites is the movies under the Brooklyn Bridge, technically DUMBO's Brooklyn Bridge Park. We grabbed some goodies from Chelsea Market and headed over to the Park to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Jerome and Emily one warm evening.

And, my newest favorite visitor spot, The High Line - a 1.5 mile park built on an elevated rail structure that runs down Manhattan's west side - was heavily photographed by my dad, but somehow missed my camera lens that day. The only photo I have of our venture there is the Park's turn over 10 Avenue:

And finally, some subway fun:

The US Open

My parents love tennis, which they tried their best to pass along to me. Sadly, I failed them in that area and as my understanding for tennis grew, my love decreased. Alas, my father loves to tell the story about how he tried his best to teach me a backhand and ended up dealing with a tennis racket flying across the net at him (unfortunately, this was not an accident).

But, over the years my love for the game has grown and I appreciate a good tennis match. The US Open put me over the top. I felt a love for the game, settled in to the Arthur Ash stadium with my parents, Jerome and Dee. I'm looking forward to attending next year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Apartment NYC

Everyone has heard the stories about apartment hunting in NYC, particularly the horror and humor of finding a proper living space in Manhattan. But, despite our 4 moves since Jerome and I arrived in this great city....i've never written about it. Why start now? Well, my feet are aching and my day is fuzzzy and somehow I'm going to try to relay all the highlights to Jerome when he gets home. In the meantime, I'll share it with you.

Five years, and four moves around this town and I finally know what I'm looking for in this city - and exactally how much it should cost. A one bedroom apartment, a living room with windows, an outdoor space, a cookable kitchen (please note: 4 burner stove, full sized fridge and at least 4 feet of coner space) and subway station close by. My expectations are not easily meet but are not over the top, and my price range is very resonable. Does this mean my apartment searches have become seamless and easy? Nope.

I use Craigslist as my primary search method in the hopes to avoid brooker fees (another part of NYC apartment hunting I truely despise) but I found brookers to be unavoidable this time around. So, I trecked through the city with two diffrent brookers in the hopes of finding the perfect new apartment. I laid out my perameters with both, taking on their challenge to see other apartments they thought suited my search. Sadly, they were wrong.

Once I told the brookers what I wanted -- limiting it to specific areas and the details I mentioned above and offering them to use their creativity on some of the other basics (luxury building vs. pre-war, elevator vs. walk-up, doorman vs. homeless person on my doorstep, etc.) -- I gave them open reign to take me where ever they wanted. I saw several studios (no, I do not want to put up a wall in my new apartment), hiked more than 10 blocks away from a subway station, hiked up hundreds of stairs, laughed at a few loft-style spaces that were obviously built for midgets or a group of children living on their own and lastly I saw some of the world's worst kitchens.

Despite their best efforts, I did not find my dream apartment through the brookers I worked with. I still love my Harlem apartment and adore our amazing landlord. I'm happy to stay and will need a pedicure after this experiece....but feel happy to have gained some great knowlege and views over the last two weeks.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Headed to SF, via subway, train, and plane

Getting to the airport in Queens by 6 am was an adventure of its own. Managing subway schedules, LIRR schedules and air train departure times is something I’m not used to dealing with. Normally, I fly out later in the day, when the frequency of the trains allows me to hop on a train headed in my direction every few minutes. But, alas I made it to my 7 am flight, passing through a sweaty Harlem subway platform, an eerie empty Penn Station and finally an over crowded airport with ridiculous long security lines.

Virgin America flew me in to the city by the bay on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Although they got me there safely and my ticket was fairly cheap they did not live up to my expectations of making flying more fun. My personal TV -- full of news and sports stations -- seemed to “loose the signal” every 20 minutes or so, which happens to be the same amount of time for me to really get involved in a program. The seats were comfortable but the seat back did not recline as far as they do on other planes and no one was handling the row of children behind me (who seemed to be immune to my laser-like stares and stern tone). I don’t think I’ll shell out an extra 50 bucks in the future to fly them and still rate Jet Blue as my domestic airline of choice.

I stepped outside of the airport to meet my chariot, which as it turns out was not waiting patiently for me curbside, but was running a bit late. I occupied a spot of sun on the sidewalk of the International terminal, and took part in some very entertaining people watching. Once my parents arrived, we jetted over to Grandma Alice’s place in San Francisco. Alice had obviously been preparing for our visit and was dolled up for a day in the city. We promptly departed for the Inner Sunset to hit up one of my all time favorites for lunch, Park Chow. In their regular fashion, they kindly offered to open the rooftop for us and turn on some heat lamps to combat the fog that had settled on the neighborhood.

After our tasty lunch, which was a great welcome back to California fresh cuisine, we headed a block or so into Golden Gate Park. As we headed for the Academy of Science Museum we passed through some of my favorite Park spots, such as Shakespeare’s Garden and the Arboretum. The Science Museum was packed for free Wednesday but still wowed me with its shiny new fa├žade. So, we headed across the street to the De Young Museum and took in the amazing ariel views from its tower (the only building above the tree line in the Park).

After taking Alice home we left the fog behind and headed to Fairfax. My mom had already prepared an amazing dinner of garlic grape chicken, which happens to be my favorite. The icing on the cake, if a person can provide such a thing, was our guest of honor and conversationalist extraordinaire Jenny Bray. Aside from being one of the loveliest girls I know she has this inner drive and intensity that will always amaze me. Jenny and I headed down to Nave’s, the only real bar I remember from my college days left in downtown Fairfax. Jen Norman (now you see why I have to use last names) who could entertain a rock with her amazing stories and cross-country edge met us up for a spell. She warded the few men offering to buy us drinks off with a stare and cracked me up for a solid hour. She amazes me with her strength and openness and we always have a blast together.

Jenny spent the night at my parent’s house, as her car had broken down the night before, and I borrowed dad’s porche to drive to Jenny to work in San Rafael and head over to my hairdressers. The entire ride Jenny and I tossed back and forth between enjoying the car, and remising about how much we despised “girls like us” who received first tier cars in their high school and college days. It was a fun ride!

Haircuts in Marin are so much more than beautifying for me. They are a test of my wit, endurance of my humor and mini-therapy sessions. Rinelle has known me since I was 5 and never lets me forget who I really am, no matter how wrapped up I get in college, city life or a job.

Wine Tasting along the Silverado Trail

My new pretty hairdo and I ran dad’s car home and picked up mom and dad for a day of wine tasting along the Silverado Trail. The sun came out for us just in time for a perfect lunch as ZinsCafe in Napa and stayed strong through our tasting. We started out at Reynolds Family Winery, which had a cozy feeling to it and perfect tasting room (not to shiny, not to cold, not to closed in…just right). I enjoyed all our tastings but really loved their Los Careros Pinot Noir, which felt like silk on my tongue (I’m not the world’s most sophisticated taster). Our tasting host, Steve, turned out to be the best we had all day and snapped a shot of us on their patio.

Next we dropped by Darioush Winery, on a recommendation from a friend and tasted just one wine, their signature Shiraz which was quite possibly the best wine we tasted all day. It was perfect in every way and left us reeling for more. Unfortunately the tasting room was way to cold and sterile for us to stick around for a full tasting or bottle purchase (not to mention the overly snotty tasting room employees), but we did have some fun taking photos in their Middle Eastern themed building.

Next we marched to Clos du Val Winery, which felt a bit more like home, with heavy ivy climbing up the brick building that housed their tasting room. Their Stags Leap Cabs were big and bright and offered us the best taste of Cabs all day. The tasting room staff was beyond helpful and even printed us out a map to my friend’s house for later that day.

They sent us next door to Chimney Rock Winery, which left an impression on us from the instant we began down its driveway. The white stucco building stood out between the surrounding vineyard and green hillside. We saddled up to the U-shaped tasting bar for the most unique tasting I’ve ever had. I enjoyed all their wines but feel in love with their Rose of Cab Franc with somehow managed to maintain its blueberry and cherry smells while leaving my tongue clean and light after each sip. Of course, we took some photos there too.

Silverado Vineyards, set high up on a hill overlooking the valley, had the best views of the day. Their Sangiovese was the bottle of choice for gifting to my friend Emily, later that night. We snapped some photos off their patio and took to the road to meet Emily’s newest edition to her family.

Emily, and her three belle’s welcomed us into their home just off the Silverado Trail for some evening snacks and vino. Her lovely mate, Asade, and his friend chatted up my parents while Emily showed me around the house, played with the new puppy, feed the kids and quite seriously juggled her whole house in one effortless motion. She amazes me and has always added a new element to my life that I never knew I was missing.

I rushed home to meet one of my permanent friends (I use this term instead of “forever friend” due to the cheesy nature of that phrase), who entered my life in high school and has the amazing ability to make me feel like nothing has changed no matter how rarely we see each other. My general rule of thumb: When you feel like no time has passed between you and a friend, despite the fact that years have gone by, you know you’ve found an amazing friend and someone you need to hold onto.

So, my permanent friend Luke and I had a drink at the Sleeping Lady bar and venue in downtown Fairfax and discussed our next steps and biggest ambitions. Nothing finer that discussing a positive future!

Making shopping fun

Friday began with some basic errands, coffee, mechanic and Costco, which was actually quite a bit of fun (my mom has special abilities to these mundane activities fun). Then off I went to meet Shirah, another wonderful permanent friend at my favorite local lunch spot, Comforts in San Anselmo. She recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who I snapped some shots of, but somehow missed taking a photo of my friend and I. Baby Harley slept throughout the full lunch, which gave Shirah and I the time to catch up. We chatted about life changes, work and the amazing Chinese chicken salads and bid out adieus.

San Francisco welcomed me back with sun-speckled arms. I entered the city under the premise there was to be heavy layers of fog and was pleasantly surprised to see a sunny Japan town when I pulled up to Mike and Marlis’ house (my home away from home). We spent the evening at a few new spots I can’t wait to get back to. Mars Bar -- in what I’ve always referred to as the flower district (I think others refer to it as an extension of SOMA now) -- had a great outdoor seating area and quick service. We moved onto a house party in the mission and enjoyed some old time San Francisco apartment mojitos. Then we headed to one of my new favorite taco stands in the Mission, Puerto Vallarta, for some carne asada goodness. The murals on the wall were highly entertaining and the burritos were amazing!

Our last stop at the much-hyped Zeitgeist was a blast. The homage sign to the Tamale Lady inside and incredible outdoor patio filled with long picnic tables provided plenty of entertainment and fresh air.

Gastro tourism in San Francisco

Although my lovely hosts and best friends Mike and Marlis may not have signed up for it, I was keen to do a gastro tourism tour of SF to get caught up on all the hot new chefs and amazing places I’ve continued to read about during my time on the East Coast. I rarely have the luxury of taking a full day in SF to do any one thing, and don’t usually get picky about my restaurant choices when I’m with a big group or at a family gathering (since the people and the location are usually the top priorities).

So, Saturday we headed down to Fort Mason for lunch and some stellar views from Greens, the vegetarian restaurant that occupies part of building A. The food was divine, with all garden fresh vegetables and imaginative dishes. I’ve read about Annie Somerville's recipes for a while but the tacos, which pablano peppers and cherry tomatoes were the winners at the table for me. The linguine with zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shallots, basil, breadcrumbs and pecorino had one of the most flavorful sauces I’ve had without a meet base. The hummus, and side salad with beets and goat cheese were also to die for.

We ventured around the city, taking in the ferry building, sections of SOMA, Hayes Valley (which included a quick stop at Absinth for some well crafted beverages) and Ocean Beach before heading off to dinner.

And what a dinner it was. I heard about Thanh Long from several of my NYC friends, who lived in SF at one time in the lives. Located all the way out on 46th Avenue and Judah Street in the outer sunset this succulent crab restaurant draws in serious crowds. The dinning rooms (one in the front and one upstairs) were filled with the smell of fresh roasted crab. Every table was packed with dinners feasting on king crabs and noodles – which was almost too much to watch as we waited for our table. Once seated we requested a couple of beers and a glass of wine and got to business. We ordered two crabs and some noodles for the three of us to share.

The roasted crab was perfectly cooked and must have been injected with butter and spices because every bite was flavorful and fresh. However they did it, they did it right!