Chinatown & Chelsea

I woke up to an amazing view of Pike Street and the Manhattan Bridge. Chinatown is to the west and if you are lucky enough to get a room that faces the Manhattan Bridge, you can have a wonderful view while showering.

I woke up to an amazing view of Pike Street and the Manhattan Bridge. New York City (especially Manhattan hotels) don’t have the best reputation as far as offering value for your money is concerned, but I highly recommend the Howard Johnson Soho. It has a modern look and convenient location, with East Broadway (F train) being the nearest subway stop. Chinatown is to the west and if you are lucky enough to get a room that faces the Manhattan Bridge, you can have a wonderful view while showering.

My first dim sum was at the Golden Unicorn back in June. I had a Chinese friend to guide me along and my last food tour started at Jing Fong. At the suggestion of Simon Tung (from Macaron Parlour), I tried 88 Palace, which is less than five minutes from the HoJo Soho. Although 88 Palace is not as well-known as Jing Fong or Golden Unicorn, it was extremely crowded when I arrived (just before noon). Tables are round and the place gets way too crowded to let any seats go to waste. Unless you are in a large group, plan on sharing a table with people you’ve never met.

The servers come around with their carts and you pick what you want. They can offer a basic description, but it’s way too busy for any of the staff to spend too much time on one person. I ate the things that I enjoyed the other times I had dim sum, most of which were made with shrimp. Like the other two times, I managed to spend under $20.

One of my favorite ice cream shops is Ice and Vice, which is just a couple blocks east of the East Broadway stop on the F line. That was my next destination. They have a very eclectic selection, but I narrowed it down to three flavors: tea dance, opium den and love & hate. As the names suggest, they tend to get creative with the ingredients. I enjoyed all three, but was upset that they discontinued gold digger, which was an olive oil and kalamansi sorbet. When I jokingly complained, I was told that it just wasn’t that popular.

Welcome to Chinatown Manhattan 12-27-2015

From East Broadway, I took the F train up to 23rd street for some snacking and shopping. La Maison du Macaron is just outside of the 23rd Street F M train stop as well as the PATH. Their flavors change, which can be good and bad. No blood orange or mango this time, but they had speculoos, which I’d never seen there before.

Chinatown Manhattan 12-27-2015

I’d read about LA Burdick before and wanted to try their chocolates. I went there next and bought a box of nine. When I saw their desserts, I wanted to try. I had a difficult time deciding between chocolate lemon and hazelnut orange cakes, so I ordered both. I had to wait a few minutes until one of the few tables became available. LA Burdick gets very crowded and has an upscale feel. Finishing two pieces of cake was not a problem since (like the chocolates I bought) they were small. Both were good enough to make me want to visit again.

My next (and final) stop was the Gansevoort Market, which I just discovered at the beginning of December 2015. Most of my favorite things are packed inside that small market. Luzzo’s Pizza, Royce Chocolates and Dana’s Bakery have stands there. There’s also a ceviche bar, creperie and gelateria as well as Thai, Mediterranean and other food options. I got pizza from Luzzo’s as well as a box of macarons from Dana’s and called it a day.

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Eating Along the L Train & Going for a Boat Ride

As enjoyable as a walk around the East Village always is, riding the East River Ferry at night was the highlight of the day. I hope to visit Williamsburg next year and go further into Brooklyn on the L train as well.

During my first visit to Williamsburg, I walked across the Williamsburg Bridge and had lunch at Motorino. It was January 2015 and the weather was so cold that both my iPad and iPhone shut off. I managed to get some nice pictures, but it was not the most comfortable experience. Like much of the travel I do, I had an urge and was not going to let cold weather get in the way.

For my second visit to Williamsburg, all I had to wear was a t-shirt and light jacket. It was around 50 degrees the day after Christmas. I remember it being warm like that in Cleveland around December 2006, but for a lifelong East Coast guy, that’s still a rarity.

I started by taking the L train from 6th Ave to Bedford Ave. Normally, when I take the L train, I get off at 1 Av to visit my favorite neighborhood (East Village). This time, I took it one more stop (into Brooklyn). As soon as I arrived in Williamsburg, I realized it warranted further exploration. The area looked “up and coming.”

I stopped for lunch at Fornino which had been on my list of pizzerias to try since earlier in the year. I was there for their pizza, but they had some interesting appetizers and I had a friend to share with.

We started with eggplant rustica, then had baked clams, followed by portabella mushrooms (with goat cheese) and finally, a margherita pizza. For dessert, we shared the lemon & olive oil cake with strawberry sorbet. Nothing went to waste and I would be interested in trying their Greenpoint location next time I’m in that area.

Walking east on North 7th Ave will lead you to Woops (on Driggs Ave). They have around a dozen French macaron flavors and the place gets pretty crowded. Konditori (Swedish Expresso) has a location on North 7th Ave as well.

Artists & Fleas Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015
Pin Your Home City

West of the Bedford Ave stop on North 7th Ave. is Artists & Fleas’ Williamsburg location (there’s another inside the Chelsea Market). Compared to the Cheslea Market, Williamsburg was much less crowded. I bought my favorite necklace (preserved dragonfruit) from Glitter Limes at the Chelsea location last year and it’s still my favorite.

East River from East River Park in Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015

East River Park is northwest of Artists & Fleas and provides some great photo ops. It’s not as impressive at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, but still worth a visit. Oddfellows Ice Cream is along Kent Ave, but they were closed for the holidays.

For a light snack, we stopped at Rosarito Fish Shack. The place looks very interesting from the outside and the same is true of the interior. We shared a salmon ceviche as well as the carne asada tacos (each order comes with two).

woman looking out at Manhattan from Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015
The East River Ferry Arrives

The East River Ferry Terminal is northwest of Oddfellows. I decided that this would be a good (first) time to take a boat across the East River. It was getting cold outside and neither my friend, nor I felt like walking back to Bedford Ave to catch the L train. While waiting for the ferry, we walked around the Northside Piers and took some pictures. While walking, we saw a man showing his friends around explaining how back in the 1990s, cab drivers often refused to take people to Williamsburg. I heard a similar story while walking around Gantry Plaza State Park a couple months earlier.

East River Ferry Terminal in Williamsburg Brooklyn 12-26-2015
Northside Pier

Most of the East River Ferry stops are in Brooklyn. There is one (Long Island City) in Queens and two in Manhattan. Our choices were to go to either East 34th Street or Wall Street. We chose the first boat that arrived (Wall Street). The ride is quick. In our case, it stopped in South Williamsburg, DUMBO, then Wall Street. Although a ferry ride is more than double the cost of a subway or bus ride, it’s much more scenic. We got to ride under the BMW (or WMB since we were going south) bridges. It was dark outside, so the city was well lit.

It’s easy to get the M15 bus north from Water Street, which is just two short blocks west of the ferry stop at Wall Street. Our destination was the East Village (my favorite neighborhood). The bus stops at East 8th Street (Saint Mark’s Place) and 1st Ave. We stopped at Macaron Parlour at ended up getting advice from Simon Tung on where to go for dim sum in Chinatown.

potato shrimp at Ramen Setagaya East Village 12-26-2015
Potato Shrimp at Ramen Setagaya

There are great places to eat all along 1st Avenue, but 2nd Ave has plenty as well. After you cross 2nd Ave, you can have gelato at DF Mavens, Belgian fries at Friterie, bubble tea at CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice and ramen at Ramen Setagaya without even making it halfway to 3rd Ave.

As enjoyable as a walk around the East Village always is, riding the East River Ferry at night was the highlight of the day. I hope to visit Williamsburg next year and go further into Brooklyn on the L train as well.

 

NYC Chocolate & Macaron Tour

Most of my group was from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and had never tried this style of Pizza before. Using a fork and knife to eat pizza was not something they were accustomed to.

My most recent NYC food & neighborhoods tour was different from the previous one. Last time, a bus took us everywhere, while this time my group and I started with a dim sum brunch at Jing Fong in Manhattan’s Chinatown and then went everywhere on foot and via subway.

NYC Food & Xmas Spectacular 12-6-2015 Brian
tour flyer

My 1st dim sum brunch was back in June with a Chinese friend. I was excited that our tour would start that way, but concerned that we would have no room for pizza later in the day. At brunch, I finalized my plan for the day and ate every appetizer with shrimp.

Dim Sum at Jing Fong NYC 12-6-2015
inside Jing Fong on Elizabeth Street

The tour I advertised included a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a risky thing to advertise in December. I had an alternate plan which would have cut Brooklyn out of the tour, but it was around 55 degrees and nobody in the group wanted to change the plan.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge 12-6-2015
walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

On the last tour, everything took more time than I allowed for. This time, everything took less time than I planned. Our walk from Chinatown to DUMBO took less than an hour. The last time (that’s a Rolling Stones song) I walked over the Brooklyn Bridge was in October 2013, on my way to a (nearly three hour) Pearl Jam concert at the Barclays Center. Only one other person in my group had ever walked over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Brooklyn & Manhattan Bridges from Booklyn Bridge Park 12-6-2015
Brooklyn Bridge on the left, Manhattan Bridge on the right

After a photo op filled walk across the bridge, we followed Tillary Street to Cadman Plaza, which turns into Washington Street, which took us to Jacques Torres only Brooklyn location on Water Street. I bought a box of 12 chocolates and let everyone else do their shopping. Most bought something. I’m usually the one who buys the most, but someone else bought a box of 25.

Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn Bridge Park 12-6-2015
Brooklyn Bridge from Main Street Park under Manhattan Bridge

From Jacques Torres, we followed Main Street to Main Street Park, so everyone could get pictures of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. After a quick walk along Washington Street to York Street to Jay Street, we boarded the F train, bound for the 2 Av Station between the Lower East Side and East Village. Most of my group had never been in the subway before.

selection at Jacques Torres Brooklyn 12-6-2015
selection at Jacques Torres

Our next destination was Bisous Ciao on the Lower East Side. They were running a happy hour special where you buy two and get one free. Everyone sampled the different flavors. Those who took my suggestion and tried the salted caramel were not disappointed. I bought a box of six and we headed to Essex Street, which turns into Avenue A.

tour group at Bisous Ciao LES NYC 12-6-2015
Bisous Ciao on Lower East Side

After a left turn on Saint Mark’s Place (East 8th Street), we arrived at Macaron Parlour, where I bought a box of six and let everyone else try the different flavors. I tend to avoid the more eccentric flavors there. “Party time” is my favorite.

Macaron Parlour 12-6-2015
me offering advice at Macaron Parlour in East Village

After Macaron Parlour, we walked to First Avenue then north to East 12th Street to Motorino. We all shared Margherita Pizzas. Even after dim sum, I ate 3 slices and did not feel stuffed. Most of my group was from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and had never tried this style of Pizza before. Using a fork and knife to eat pizza was not something they were accustomed to.

Margherita at Motorino East Village 12-6-2015
Margherita Pizza at Motorino in East Village

From 14th Street, we took the L train to the 6 train to 51st street to sample Japanese and Belgian Chocolates. Royce gives out a free mini box of green tea nama to anyone who checks in on Yelp. Since the refrigerator at my house usually has at least a couple different flavors of Royce chocolates, I just took the free ones, but the people in my group bought chocolate covered potato chips.

I had not been to Leonidas since earlier in the year and that was our next (and final) destination, just a block south on Madison Ave. My favorites there are the speculoos and champagne truffles. Since I’m not in this area very often, I bought a half pound of truffles while the people in my group sampled some other flavors.

As our chocolate and macaron tour was coming to an end, we walked to Rockerfeller Center so everyone could take pictures of the tree. Our tour ran ahead of schedule so there was almost an hour before we had to meet the bus on 49th street between 8th and 9th Avenues (the bus was not allowed to drive to Rockerfeller Center).

Xmas tree at Rockerfeller Center 12-6-2015
Christmas Tree at Rockerfeller Center

 

This time, I’m not in charge!

I’m usually the one making all the plans and this weekend was the total opposite. I was following someone else’s plan. It was not better or worse, just totally different. Like Indian restaurants, I have a nice time when someone takes me, but I would not likely go for Dim Sum by myself.

Earlier this month, I was invited to go to NYC on an overnight trip for a friend’s birthday. I’m used to being in charge, but this time, we followed her itinerary. We rode from the Sand Casino in Bethlehem, PA to Chinatown, Manhattan in a limo and I only knew my friend and her employee. The ride went extremely quick and before I knew it, we were passing the Newport Mall, where I normally park my car and get the PATH train into Manhattan. I hadn’t driven under the Holland Tunnel in years and the last couple times I did, I could have gotten through the tunnel faster on foot. This time was different. Before too long, we were at the Golden Unicorn Restaurant in Chinatown. 
 
 
All I knew about Dim Sum was that it was Chinese snacks/appetizers. Although I skipped the chicken feet, pork dishes and anything spicy, I really enjoyed it. I was enjoying not having to come up with a plan. I was VERY full by the time we got the bill. I was expecting my friend to ask me for $40 or $50, but she said “$14 please” and at first I thought it was a joke. We were in probably the most expensive city in America and I had a pretty amazing lunch for $14! This trip was off to a good start.
 
Since my friend runs bus trips into Chinatown from Bethlehem, PA a couple times every year, she knows the area. We went on a bit of a walking tour and she did some shopping. Hey, this is what I do when I’m showing people around………..”hey I need to go get some of this, some of that!”
 
 
Since none of us could eat anymore, everyone wanted to shop. I couldn’t eat anymore, so with my hour of free time, I walked to the Lower East Side and got some macarons from Bisous Ciao. One box for me, one for my friend’s birthday. If I had to choose 1 favorite macaron, it’s the salted caramel from Bisous Ciao.
 
My next destination was the East Village, which is probably my favorite neighborhood since my cousin in law gave me a walking tour last year. Macaron Parlour was my destination. I got a box for me and a box for the birthday girl (lady).
 
I had to walk quickly back to Little Italy, where everyone had to meet the limo to take us up to Harlem. There were a total of 8 people in the limo and I was the only one familiar with Harlem. My friend wanted to have dinner at a “soul food” restaurant and her friend suggested Amy Ruth’s
 
Although it was not my birthday and the only thing anyone wanted my help with was the subway, I insisted that if they are going to visit Harlem, they have to at least see one historical site. Nobody disagreed and we ended up spending a couple hours at the Apollo Theater.
 
Michael Kimmel was there signing books and I ended up leaving with a signed copy of Angry White Men. The Women of the World Festival was also wrapping up there and we watched Michelle Williams speak about depression. It was a very moving speech from someone I knew very little about.
 
After dinner at Amy Ruth’s, we took the 2 train to Penn Station and walked to our hotels in Chelsea.
 
The next morning, my friends wanted to go to Bleecker Street. I made different plans to meet my cousin at Norma’s inside the Le Parker Meriden hotel. I never heard of this place, but my cousin (who I rarely see, but appreciates some of the same things I do) lives nearby and wanted to meet there. 
 
I had some TIME TO KILL (that’s a Deep Purple song) before meeting my cousin and I had not been to Astoria in a while. I boarded the N train and took it out to 30 Av. I picked up some of my favorite seafood salad at Titan Foods and then got some baklava at Artopolis bakery. With the little bit of extra time I have, I walked up to Ditmars Blvd and made a left towards Astoria Park. After walking around a bit and taking some pictures, I needed to get the train back to Manhattan. Feeling too tired to walk to the Astoria-Ditmars stop, I got on the Q69 bus.

 

 

 
After brunch with my cousin, I met up with my friends at Port Authority. Although it was not my birthday, my friend got me a box of Royce Chocolates, while they were on Bleecker Street. We took a bus back to the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA. As I was explaining to my cousin over a $27 crepe at  Norma’s, I’m usually the one making all the plans and this weekend was the total opposite. With the exception of my trips to the East Village and Astoria, I was following someone else’s plan. It was not better or worse, just totally different. Like Indian restaurants, I have a nice time when someone takes me, but I would not likely go for Dim Sum by myself.