Sunday, September 29, 2013

25 Things To Do When Traveling to NYC

1. Book a flight on Virgin America into JFK. Because it's the best and if your future husband is seated in 5A and you're all the way back in 22C, you can send him a drink or the snack pack with spreadable cheese so he knows that he's your future husband. And that you like cheese.

2. Upon arrival at JFK, proceed directly to the taxi line for a flat rate of $52 (plus tolls) into Manhattan. Do not pass go. And do not let the smarmy guy with the slicked back hair lead you to his towncar with his smooth talk about his special all-inclusive rate. Even if you do feel like he singled you out because you're pretty. You're not pretty. You just got off a five-hour flight and have spreadable cheese in your hair.

3. Stay in a friend's apartment to get the true NYC experience. Of a bedroom that is also a living room/kitchen/foyer/dining room.

4. Eat dinner at the bar at Danny Meyers' Maialino (pronounced "my-yah-lee-no"). Order a glass of wine and the cacio e pepe (pronounced "get in my-yah belly").

5. Wake up at a reasonable hour (ie. when you can no longer stand the beeping truck that's been backing up for the last hour) and take the 6-train to 86th Street to run the six-mile loop around Central Park.

6. Celebrate not getting lost or ending up in the Bronx by going the wrong way on the subway with Intelligentsia coffee and creme brûlée and dulce de leche doughnuts at Doughnut Plant. Immediately get back in line to order the carrot cake and oatmeal doughnuts "for a friend."

7. Gawk at all the people standing around drinking wine and eating prosciutto at Eataly at 11 am in the morning like it's no big thing and there aren't pigeons starving in Central Park. Find something to buy even if it's a pepper mill that you can get at Surfas in LA for half the price, plus a sandwich for the road because it's New York City and if you don't eat now you might never eat again. For like another five minutes.

8. Check into a hotel (preferably somewhere Midtown-ish, but not in Times Square) because you're an adult now and sleeping on your friend's couch is only kosher for a day, two days, max, and only then if you buy her Payard macarons. Pro-tip: If you're one of Kimpton Hotels' InTouch Loyalty Program members and stay at the 70 Park Avenue on your birthday, they may surprise you with Baked by Melissa mini cupcakes. Because, again, you're in New York City and you might starve like a Central Park pigeon if you aren't constantly eating.

7. Spend Saturday night in the Nolita district because it's where all the cool kids go, and whenever you say Nolita it makes you think of Lolita. (Technically, it translates to North of Little Italy.)

8. Eat dinner at Pearl & Ash on Bowery (one of Bon Appétit magazine's 50 Best New Restaurants of 2013). Get the octopus. Get the potatoes. Order a bottle of wine that pushes you out of your comfort zone. And do not leave without slathering at least one piece of smoked bread with chicken butter.

9. Break your (nonexistent) fast at Russ & Daughters with a bagel lavished with caviar cream cheese and the best smoked salmon (or sable) in the City. Get a number and listen for it to be called because they will skip over you if you don't respond. Repeat, they will skip over you, #99. Also, they hate you.

10. Walk to Dominique Ansel to take pictures of the line of people waiting for cronuts. Cackle maniacally as you walk past them directly into the shop to order from the non-cronut line. Get the magic soufflé (an orange scented brioche pastry that conceals a deep dark brooding chocolate soufflé within) and the frozen s'more (a bruleed marshmallow that conceals a frozen chocolate-cookie-crumb-coated vanilla custard) for funsies, and the canelé and DKA (Dominique Kouign Amann) because they are beautiful executions of classics.

11. Haggle with a street vendor selling art in the Village. Maybe buy something. Maybe not. It's not like you need a canvas painting of the New York City skyline to remember your trip. Except you kinda do.

12. Cop-a-squat in the grass at Washington Square Park next to a couple practicing tree-pose and spend two hours talking about how you'd totally do this every weekend if you lived in New York. Aside from when it's winter. Or summer. Or there's a marathon of Real Housewives on Bravo. So basically once a year.

13. Buy candied cashews from one of the Nuts 4 Nuts vendors. Decide they smell better than they taste. But still finish the whole bag. Cuz you nuts 4 nuts, yo.

14. Go to MoMA… to have a drink at the bar at The Modern

15. Eat at EMP. And take lots of pictures to prove you were actually there.

16. Go huntin' for silver foxes at Le Bernadin whilst enjoying the $75 three-course lunch prix-fixe (the dinner tastings run from $140-195 without wine pairings). Be cool and don't ask the suave French server how to use the fish knife. And definitely don't ask him if you can get a box to take the mignardises home with you. 

 Salmon Rillette with Toast

 Charred Octopus "a la plancha"
Green Olive and Black Garlic Emulsion, Sundried Tomato Sauce Vierge

 Crispy Black Bass; Roasted Shishitos and Kabocha Squash “Ceviche," Peruvian Chicha Sauce

 Chocolate Popcorn - Madagascan Chocolate Ganache, Candied Peanuts, Popcorn Ice Cream

 Complimentary Birthday Dessert

 Mignardises (Not pictured: The box we took them home in.)

17. Let yourself be a tourist for 2.5 seconds to stop and smell the wet garbage drifting up from the subway station near Columbus Circle. Ah, New York. 

18. Meander your way up to the Upper West Side and accidentally on purpose wind up at Levain Bakery. Order the chocolate chip walnut cookie to eat immediately on the bench outside, and the dark chocolate peanut butter chip for later (ie. five minutes from now), and then spend the entire time it takes you to walk back to your hotel wondering why all cookies aren't the size and thickness of your fist.

19. Hail a cab, because you can't stomach walking through all the hordes of people in Times Square again. Also, you feel like a badass every time you successfully hail one and say the cross-streets of your destination all fast and New Yorker-like without having to look at the map on your iPhone.

20. Find an excuse to say "Houston" (pronounced "House-ton") so you can prove to people that you belong even if you're wearing bright pink capris and a Birthday Princess tiara and are scared to get on the subway again in case you do actually end up in the Bronx this time.

21. Sit outside at a French cafe drinking wine and eating macarons because life is always better with Rosé-filled glasses and birthday cake macarons. And you think you may have a stress fracture in your foot from all the damn walking.

22. Stay up till 1 a.m. playing the "remember when" game with your H.S. friend until you're tired enough that you really could sleep anywhere - the floor, the bathtub, a drawer.

23. Buy snacks for the airplane from the Whole Foods at Union Square, because if you wait for your future husband to send you a snack pack on your flight home you really will starve.

24. While there, scoop up some oatmeal from the hot bar even though you have a Whole Foods in LA and it's wasting a meal and you should be ashamed of yourself. It's okay - even oatmeal tastes better in NYC. (It's the water.)

25. Plan ahead and take the bus from Grand Central Station (or Penn Station or Port Authority) to JFK for $16. Bring cash for a tip because the bus driver will remind you how much he/she likes tips 33 times before you arrive at your terminal. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thirty, Flirty and Thriving at Eleven Madison Park

I've known that I was going to spend my 30th birthday in New York City for the past four years and four months -- the length of time that's transpired since the last time I was in the City for a whirlwind 28 hours to celebrate my older brother's 30th. It was a tease of a trip, an amuse bouche of the place I've come to consider my favorite in the world -- without the actual meal to follow.

I was bereft when I had to say goodbye that drizzly May afternoon, and clutched each moment tight to my chest. The spicy chicken empanadas we ate on a street bench in the Village, the horrible rendition of Journey's "Living on a Prayer" that my brother and I screeched at a dive bar in Chinatown, and the mimosas we threw back the following morning in a futile attempt to chase our hangovers away.

My hunger for New York -- for the pulse of people; for the endless array of restaurants, bakeries and effortlessly cool bars; for the enigmatic energy that defines it as "the city that never sleeps"-- grew voracious during those four years. I was scarcely able to contain the jealousy that erupted, vicious and hot and ugly, when friends announced their plans to visit or move there. I would coo in admiration as though fawning over a baby, yet inside, felt as though I was observing the shiny, neatly wrapped up life I desired play out on someone else's Facebook page.

I needed New York in the same way that I need a glass of wine after a long day, in the same way that I need that first pot of green tea in the morning when my eyes are still glossy and my brain still incapacitated with the remnants of a poor night's sleep. It was the only thing I wanted for my 30th birthday, the only way I could even fathom "celebrating" it, really.

I certainly couldn't be here, in LA, with the good-natured chides at my mounting maturation and bullish demands that I do something. Throw a party. Down a bottle of Jose Cuervo. Make out with at least five male strangers with visible abs and invisible brain cells.

Instead I made 30 an excuse to justify my notions of overindulgence. A trip to New York that's been four years and four months in the making. My first real vacation in over four years. And a blissful five-hour $195 tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park with one of my closest friends.

Male strangers and wine pairings not included. 

Cheddar - Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple

Sea Urchin - Snow with Smoked Cantaloupe and Yogurt (Not Pictured)

Surf Clam - Tomato, Beans, and Savory

Littleneck Clam - Manhattan Chowder with Razor Clam and Scallop

Tomato - Confit with Lobster Salad and Bonito

Housemade Bread with Regular and Beef Butter

 Foie Gras - Seared with Summer Berries, Rye, and Nasturtium

Carrot - Tartare with Rye Bread and Condiments

Black Bass - Poached with Zucchini and Squash Blossoms

Sunflower - Barigoule with Sunchokes and Black Truffle

 Duck - Roasted with Nectarine and Fennel

 "The Cheese Course"

Greensward - Pretzel, Mustard, and Green Tomato

 Malt - Egg Cream with Vanilla and Seltzer

 Sassafras - Sorbet with Banana Cake, Caramel, and Vanilla

Frozen Cocktail - Prepared for us during our tour of the kitchen! 
(Pro-tip: Request a tour of the kitchen when you make your reservation 
precisely 28 days before you wish to dine - the line opens at 9 a.m. EST)

Red Pepper - Cheesecake with Strawberry and Cashew 

Honey and Peanut Truffles

Pretzel - Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt

Chocolate - Sweet Black and White Cookie with Cinnamon

Accompanied with Laird's Apple Brandy 
(Made for EMP, and left on the table for us to enjoy at our leisure. We enjoyed. At our leisure.) 

Housemade Granola (I will be making a version of this)

Happy Birthday "Peanut Butter & Jelly" Chocolates

Sunday, September 8, 2013



I'm turning 30 in exactly seven days.



I'm trying very hard to be "okay" with it. Trying very hard to let the logical part of my brain drown out the irrational side that is kicking and screaming at the top of its lungs because clearly it's the end of the world and my ability to wear hot pants and eat carbs as I know it.

Not that I even wear hot pants, but I could.


If, you know, I wasn't so busy eating carbs.

It's not that I think 30 is old. I certainly don't look at my girl friends who are in their 30's and worry about their longevity. On the contrary, I see them as fabulous, confident, comfortable in their unblemished skin, whilst I continue to hem and haw over whether I should text the boy back or wait till tomorrow or maybe just ignore him completely because I'm in my 20's and I have no clue what I'm doing and that's okay because I'm in my 20's and I don't have to know what I'm doing.

The anxiety that's creeping up my throat now, as I type this, sprawled out on a hand-me-down couch with fake tanner on my legs in front of a rotating fan because I still can't afford an apartment with air conditioning, isn't so much at the prospect of "30" per se. It's more that I never thought it would happen to me. At least not yet. Not while I'm still using a hand-me-down couch and lusting after central air and a functioning dishwasher.

I haven't quite reconciled this image of 30 with the image of 30 that I had in my head when I was growing up and playing house with Ken and Barbie.

In my mind (the rational side), I know I'm going to be fine. That I'm going to wake up next Sunday and not feel any different than I did the day before, aside from the hangover from partying with my girl friends the evening prior. I know that my everyday life won't be any different. That people aren't going to suddenly start asking me if I'd like to use my AARP discount or purchase the senior ticket at the movie theatre. I know I'm still going to be me and will continue to be me even when I'm no longer carded when I try to purchase wine at Trader Joe's.

Likely because I'll be too fabulous and awesome to purchase even cooking wine from Trader Joe's.

But I still have seven days to freak out about it. I still have seven days to tell people that I'm turning 30 with the hopes that by saying it over and over and over again, I suddenly will be okay with it.

I still have seven days to live it up in my 20's.

To buy and wear hot pants.

And to fly to New York City to spend the weekend drowning out my 30-year-old sorrows by eating carbs with my friends.

Assorted Pastries (Favorites - Almond Brioche, Kouign-amann, Peaches & Cream Beignets!); Truffle Fries at Bouchon

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Egg, Avocado and Caper Toast: 'Ooh' and 'aah'


In the past nine months, I've eaten out by myself exactly four times. I say this with full recognition of how absurd it sounds that I've kept track and can tell you not only the exact circumstances of each occurrence, but also exactly what I ordered and exactly the way I clutched my iPhone with my left hand, as if to say to the world of dining duos around me, "I have friends who will be contacting me at any moment."

Because obviously I don't dine alone out of necessity.

Obviously, I'm just one of those self-possessed people who feel completely and utterly at peace sitting at a bar with their thoughts and a big bowl of al dente pasta.



In my head I'm that person. The girl who can occupy a table in a busy cafe for hours, idling over a cheese plate and glass of wine long after she's finished her dinner without consciously thinking about how the other people in the cafe perceive her.  The girl who draws attention not because she's alone, but because she's filling the space with a quiet, contented presence. Or perhaps because she's ordering more food than seems permissible for a single person, and good for her - why shouldn't she get the grilled octopus and the minted artichokes with burrata and the bucatini and the olive oil cakes?

I want to like eating out alone.
I want to revel in the opportunity to cast my dining mates aside without so much as a periphery glance. Because it all seems so romantic in theory - the idea of treating myself for no other reason aside from that I deserve it.

And am, well, hungry.

So I go out into the universe with that image - of the glitz and glamour of spoiling myself with the lavishness of a solo restaurant meal. Yet, when I'm there, in the moment, presented with a menu and a glass of LA's finest and the vast stretch of time it will take to select a dish, order, wait for it to arrive, eat it, contemplate dessert, and pay the bill, it all feels rather insurmountable. Like the workout that I try to rush through at the gym while distracting myself with Lady Gaga, the latest issue of US Weekly, and the morning news headlines on CNN. 

I'm not content to just sit and marinate in the moment. I don't want to be alone with my own thoughts and a meal that I can't audibly "ooh" and "aah" over without raising the eyebrows of those dining around me. I want to share the bottle of wine, I want to gush over how good the grilled brown rice is and how it's possible that it's that good because it's just rice, and I want to laugh with a chorus and forget that we're there to eat because we're having so much fun talking about nothing and everything all at once.

Except for those few and far between occurrences when I encounter a dish that can't be ignored. That I have to have even if it means sitting alone at the back table near the bathroom during the cafe's prime weekend brunching hours whilst surrounded by people who are clearly judging me. And I don't care because I'm distracting myself with it - the perfect breakfast, brunch or lunch toast that is mine all mine.

For the moment.

And outside the moment, I find a way to make my own variation of it in the safety of my home. Without the cured salmon, smattering of radish and indulgent smear of creme fraiche, and without the judgement - perceived or otherwise.

And then I find a way to share it with someone. With you. In the hopes that maybe we can "ooh" and "aah" over it together.

Egg, Avocado and Caper Toast
A cured salmon-less riff on the toast at Sycamore Kitchen
Serves 1

1 egg
1/4 ripe avocado
1 tablespoon nonfat Greek yogurt (Fage is preferred)
Squeeze of lemon juice + 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1 slice of good quality bread, toasted (I used a 1/2 inch thick slice of sourdough from the bread vendor at my farmers market)
2 teaspoons capers
Salt, pepper to taste

Place egg in pot. Cover with cold water, so there's at least an inch of water above the egg. Bring water to a slow boil, then turn off heat, cover, and let stand for nine minutes. Immediately remove egg and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Let chill for a good 10 minutes, then peel and gingerly cut into 1/4 inch slices.

In a small bowl, combine the avocado, Greek yogurt, splash of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Mash together until somewhat smooth in consistency, and yogurt and avocado are thoroughly combined.

Smear avocado yogurt spread over the toast. Cover with the slices of hard boiled egg, then top with the capers, lemon zest, and additional salt and pepper to taste. Eat immediately, whilst "oohing" and "aahing." Audibly.