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.
view from shower at Howard Johnson Soho
Marilyn Monroe in my bed
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.
inside 88 Palace
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.
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.
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.
La Maison du Macaron
Lemon & Orange Hazlenut Cakes at LA Burdick
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
As part of an unexpected 4-day weekend, I spent this past Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn’s Park Slope. I had a handful of places I wanted to visit to make the nearly 30 minute trip from Washington Square Park worthwhile.
Like usual, I parked at the Newport PATH station in Jersey City and took the train to Christopher Street. After my usual sweets stops along Bleecker Street (Royce, Bisous Ciao & Popbar), I played U2’s The Joshua Tree on my new iPhone 6S and boarded the D train to the Atlantic Av-Pacific St. From there, I intended to transfer to the 2-3 line, but there was a delay. Instead, I boarded the Q train and took it one stop to 7 Av.
This area was new to me. I exited the station at Flatbush Ave. and walked 1 block south to Franny’s. Before I visited any museums, I needed to eat. I’d been reading about Franny’s for a while, and finally tried it. I had the margherita and writing this one day later, only thoughts of Luzzo’s and L & B Spumoni Gardens excite me more. It was around 2:00 in the afternoon (a late lunch for me). I got the Panna Cotta for dessert and was very glad that I did.
I saved room for a slice at DiFara. I was conveniently along the Q line (the only one that stops at Avenue J on weekends) and there was no construction this past weekend. I called ahead since they had only recently reopened after being closed for a week, but I got no answer. Other times I wanted to visit, there was construction on the Q line, which affected the Avenue J stop.
I decided it wasn’t meant to be and walked to 8th Avenue and then headed south towards Union Street. I hadn’t been to Macaron Parlour in a while, and they have a new temporary location in Park Slope. It’s small and you can easily walk past it. I did! I ordered a box of 6 to add to the 6 I bought earlier at Bisous Ciao and got an excellent shot of the wall.
My next destination was Old Stone House. I read about it online, but was surprised when I arrived. It’s very small and located inside of Washington Park. Having resided in Pennsylvania my whole life, I’m more familiar with revolutionary war sites in my home state and neighboring New Jersey. Brooklyn’s role in the revolutionary war was even less clear to me than that of Manhattan.
There is a suggested donation, which I gave. I don’t see how anyone can spend more than 30 minutes in there. There’s just one small room with exhibits. Just as interesting as being inside of the museum is looking at it from the outside, as it’s in the middle of a public park and surrounded by a playground and a skatepark.
Before going to the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, I had to go to L’Albero dei Gelati, which I passed on 5th Avenue on the way to Old Stone House. I’d never heard of this place. Over the past couple years, I visited some ice cream shops that I read about in Time Out New York and the results were always good. This place was at least as good as any of the places I read about in Time Out and similar magazines. The largest cup they had held four scoops. With their amazing selection, I needed all four. I could have chosen more, but there were four flavors (abbreviated descriptions) that stood out from the rest: ricotta with cinnamon, olive oil, lemon with lemongrass and orange. Since I prefer to eat the heavier flavors 1st, I had them put the gelatos (cinnamon & olive oil) on top and the sorbettos (lemon & orange) on the bottom. The cup was pretty large, but I had room (since I never went to DiFara) and finished it well before arriving at my next stop.
The Museum of Morbid Anatomy is near the relatively new Whole Foods Market Brooklyn, which I’d been to a few times before (when I drove in). It’s a black building, which makes it stand out from everything else in the area. With a student ID you can get in for $6. The exhibits are upstairs. Although the figures on display may be disturbing to some, I would not include myself in that list. Like the Old Stone House, it would be difficult to spend more than 30 minutes there (unless you get a snack downstairs and/or take advantage of their reading room upstairs). The exhibits are in one small room and there is someone to explain them and answer questions.
From the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, it’s a short walk to the 4 Av F-G station (or the 9 St D-N-R) station. I boarded the F train with York St (last stop before Manhattan) as my destination. I made it as far as the next stop (Smith 9 Sts) and decided to get out to take some pictures. The sun was beginning to set and I sensed an excellent photo op. From the Manhattan and Queens bound platform you look down at Gowanus Canal and lower Manhattan is off in the distance. The buildings along the canal are gritty and industrial looking but the further out you look, you start to see the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.
Less than 10 minutes after exiting the train, I caught the next one and exited at York Street. Since this past summer, I’d been wanting to visit Bldg 92 in Brooklyn Navy Yard. Although it looks close on a map, it was at least a 15 minute walk along York Street to Flushing Ave. When you start to see the Navy Yard, you are only around “halfway there” (that’s a Soundgarden song). By the time I got to the entrance around 5:15 (that’s a Who song) it was dark outside.
Like Old Stone House, Bldg 92 is free. Unlike the area around Old Stone House, there’s not much else to see around Bldg 92. For dining or sightseeing, you have to go back towards the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge underpasses. One to Two hours is an ideal amount of time to spend at Bldg 92 (unless you show up 45 minutes before they close, like I did).
Like Old Stone House, Bldg 92 covers the Revolutionary War, but the difference is that at Bldg 92, that’s just the beginning. Bldg 92 covers all the way up to the 21st century. The story is rather interesting from a civics perspective, but I have no interest in the technical aspects of shipbuilding. As a result, I skipped some of the exhibits. There are three floors and I spent the longest amount of time on the first floor. I stayed right up until they closed at 6.
After my 3rd museum visit of the day, I was tired and was hoping to find a cab to drive me back to the 23rd Street PATH station. This really says something, because I only remember using NYC cabs twice in my entire life. No such luck! The cabs I saw did not notice me and the streets you take to get between York St station and Brooklyn Navy Yard and pretty desolate (by NYC standards). I walked all the way back to York St station without getting a cab.
Before catching the PATH train, I had to make one more macaron stop (La Maison du Macaron). Everything I saw in Brooklyn was new to me, which says a lot since I’ve been there dozens of times both on foot and behind the wheel of my Prius.
This past weekend, I walked around Long Island City for the first time. The reason for my visit was Gantry Plaza State Park, but I ended up having one of the best Italian dinners of my life.
This past weekend, I walked around Long Island City for the first time. The reason for my visit was Gantry Plaza State Park, but I ended up having one of the best Italian dinners of my life.
Like usual, my day started by driving to the Newport Centre Mall, parking my car and catching the PATH train into Manhattan. Like I typically do, I got out at Christopher Street to take an obligatory stroll along Bleecker Street. Since I had not been there in more than one month, Royce Chocolate and Bisous Ciao were obligatory visits. At Royce, I bought my usual Champagne and Au Lait. At Bisous Ciao, they had the best selection I had ever seen in my dozens of visits since 2014. I bought a box of 12.
From there, I walked to Jacques Torres Chocolates (SoHo location), where I bought a box of 12 chocolates. Although I’d walked past the NoHo location before, I never bought anything because it was around 90 degrees outside and I had a full day of walking ahead of me.
I typically don’t eat Thai food in NYC because there are so many good places in Pennsylvania, but my friend that was traveling with insisted that we try a Thai place (with a five star rating on Yelp). Since our plan was to catch the F train from W 4 St-Wash Sq station, we found a place off of West 3rd Street with a four star rating on Yelp. Khao Thai Kitchen opened recently near NYU. They offer 1 free Thai Iced Tea or Ice Coffee if you check in on Yelp. My friend and I shared a mango salad with shrimp as well as a seafood paradise. It was just enough to hold us over until dinner time since we didn’t have lunch until after 2:00.
As we walked towards the W 4 St station we came across Kulu Desserts on West 3rd Street. It looked somewhat interesting to me, and my friend insisted we stop. I got the mango Pomelo and my friend got the Mixed Fruit with Glass Jelly. I’d recommend trying Kulu. They also have a location in Flushing as well as one between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, just steps away from the 8 St N train stop.
We walked west on 50th Ave., which leads right into the park. It was a challenge to put my camera down. Amazing shots of Roosevelt Island, Midtown Manhattan, as well as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge were at every turn. We walked north to the 11th Street Basin and then took 46th Street east back to Vernon Blvd. I’d been hearing about the Long Island City Flea & Food for a while. Unfortunately, it was closing by the time we walked past it. Another example of going to see one thing, but stumbling upon another. Since I love going to Corona and Flushing, I will definitely check out the LIC Flea & Food next time I go in that direction.
Since my friend chose our lunch spot, I was in charge of our dinner plans. My understanding of Long Island City is that it’s an up and coming area, but I never associated it with a specific ethnic food or group. However, as we walked along Vernon Blvd, the Italian places kept looking better. After passing a couple, I decided we should forget about my idea to take the F train to 23rd St and eat at the nearby Grimaldi’s and instead try a place in LIC. I chose Testaccio between 47th Road and 48th Ave. Our server was from Italy, which is always a good sign. We shared a Carpaccio Di Manzo, Gnocchi alla Sorrentina as well as a mushroom risotto with truffle oil, which was one of their specials. This place was as good as any Italian restaurant I can remember (not including places I only visit for pizza). It reminded me of a place I ate at two nights in a row in Florence back in 2006. Between this restaurant and the LIC Flea & Food, I definitely have a reason to come back to this neighborhood.
After dinner, we took the 7 to the F to 23rd St to get the PATH back to Jersey City. Well, before we could do that, I had to stop at La Maison du Macaron. Like Bisous Ciao, they had the best selection I’d ever seen there. I love anything with pumpkin and macaron shopping is always great in the fall because most macaron shops offer chestnut and pumpkin inspired flavors.
I thought about how many “only in New York” moments we had during an 8 hour day there.
When I see or hear the date September 20, I think of Pearl Jam’s Backspacer and driving to a Target store in Massachusetts (where I was spending a long weekend on the day it was released) to purchase it. Target was the exclusive big chain retailer for Pearl Jam’s 9th studio album when it was released back in 2009. Well, September 20, 2015 was a more interesting day than I had 6 years ago.
Like I usually do, I drove to the Newport Centre Mall, parked my car and caught the PATH train into Manhattan. Like my last NYC trip (2 weeks ago), I had a friend along for the adventure. We exited left at the Christopher Street station, turned right onto Bleecker Street to do some quick shopping.
Our first stop was Sugar and Plumm, where we had not stopped on the previous trip. We each got a box of six macarons and then headed to Royce Chocolate, where we each got a box of nama chocolate maccha. My friend also picked up another box of petite truffle pralines. During the warmer months, stopping at Royce also gives you the unique advantage of ice packs, designed to keep your chocolates cool for 7 hours. Although the weather was supposed to be in the 70s and sunny, it was quickly starting feel more like 80s.
As I’ve previously mentioned, my favorite macaron is the salted caramel at Bisous Ciao. That was our next stop. This time, I was the only one who bought anything. I had them fill half of the box (of 6) with salted caramel.
The plan for the day was to have lunch at Sottocasa in Boerum Hill, see Green-wood Cemetery to get some nice pictures of the upper bay and statue of Liberty and then head to Gantry Plaza State Park, walk along the river and have dinner in Long Island City. We boarded the F train at W 4 St-Washington Square and headed to Bergen Street. Although it would have been nice to take a train which goes over one of the bridges connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn, the F was the most convenient option for where we were going and the ride went quick.
We exited at Bergen Street and took Smith Street north up to Atlantic Avenue. I’d been wanting to try Sottocasa since reading about it in Time Out New York. Since my friend preferred Keste (because of their use of fresh tomatoes on the Regina Margherita) over Luzzo’s, I thought she would appreciate Sottocasa. Their Reginella was the same as the Regina Margherita at Keste. Since I had someone to split the pie with, I suggested we also get a Nutella pizza and we did. I went there with the idea that we would just have a light lunch, but I left feeling like maybe I didn’t need to eat again until the next day.
We took a slower walk back to the Bergen Street station and I noticed We Olive, which I had visited back in February 2013 in San Francisco. The Brooklyn location is fairly new and their first on the east coast. Since we were only on our 2nd stop of the day and bottles of olive oil are heavier than boxes of French macarons, neither of us bought anything. At the next intersection (Dean & Smith streets), I noticed Bar Tabac, which I read about last month. There are other French restaurants and bistros between Cobble and Boerum Hills, but we happened to walk past this one. I glanced at their display menus and the dinner menu looked like the most interesting. It was too early for that, so we went back to the Bergen Street Station.
We boarded the G train (her 1st time and only my 2nd) with the intention of taking it to the last stop, but a young lady overheard us talking about going to Green-Wood Cemetery and she suggested changing to the R train and taking it to 25 st. Before we knew it, we were exiting the G train at 4 Av-9 St and boarding the R train. After going to the cemetery’s web site, I saw that this was a better way to enter. What I thought would be a quick photo op turned into a more than two hour visit and a ride from strangers. About an hour into our visit, a woman with a New Jersey license plate asked if we needed help. She offered to drive us around and we got into her car and she drove us around while explaining everything.
When I realized how close we were to the end of the R line in Brooklyn, I thought it would be nice to walk over the Verranzano bridge. I quickly learned from Google that only the marathon runners do that once every year. The bridge is closed to pedestrians, but I still thought that rather than going up to Queens (which would take 30 minutes), it would be better to take the R train to the last stop (Bay Ridge 95 St) and at least get close to the Verranzano bridge.
What neither my friend nor I were counting on was getting a ride from Green-wood Cemetery to John Paul Jones Park. It’s at least a 20 minute ride, but it seemed like we were there in less than five. The man in the passenger seat was from Iowa and the driver was from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. They knew L & B Spumoni Gardens (my favorite restaurant in the 49 states and 37 countries I’ve visited so far) and reminded me that I needed to check out Di Fara, which never seems to work out when I’m in Brooklyn.
After they let us out of the car, we took a leisurely walk down to the pedestrian area under the Verranzano Bridge. The bright sun made photography a bit difficult, but it was still a nice experience. Although I’ve walked the George Washington and BMW (Brooklyn-Manhattan-Williamsburg) bridges, looking up at the longest suspension bridge in the Americas intimidated me a bit. Although I love walking and bicycling, I didn’t feel disappointed that the Verranzano Bridge is not open to pedestrians.
With a trip up to Gentry Plaza State Park out of the question. I thought it would be a nice idea to have dinner at Bar Tabac. The fact that the F train would not be stopping at 4 Av-9 St made this an even easier choice. We had to pick up the G instead and take that to Bergen Street. Instead of transferring to the F there, we got out and went to Bar Tabac (my friend’s 1st French restaurant experience ever). We shared the grilled hanger steak and les moulets frites marinieres (steamed Canadian mussels in white wine sauce with fries).
After dinner, we got the F train with the intention of taking it back to W 4 St-Washington Square, but before the train crossed into Manhattan, we started talking about ice cream. I was too full for ice cream, but not for sorbet. I’d been wanting to try Ice and Vice since I read about it, but had not been in the Two Bridges area since. We got out at the East Broadway stop and walked what seemed like a long couple blocks east to Ice and Vice. They are known for their creative flavors. They only had one sorbet and it had a citrusy flavor, which is what I was in the mood for. I got a cup and my friend got a cone of “gold digger” which is their combination of kalamansi and olive oil. I never heard of kalamansi before, but as soon as they said citrus, I said yes and my friend followed.
We both left feeling satisfied. After we got back in the F train, I thought about how many “only in New York” moments we had during an 8 hour day there. The first one was going to Boerum Hill to finally try Sottocasa and finding the first We Olive location on the east coast and then seeing Bar Tabac. The second one was getting a ride from strangers and the last was the fact that like usual, I went there with a itinerary in mind, but only did part of it. Instead of seeing Gentry Plaza State Park, we ended up walking under the Verranzano Bridge and I got to introduce my friend to French cuisine. Finally trying Ice and Vice was a great way to end another perfect day in New York.