Days after the dust has settled on my trip east to the Big Apple, I’m still in a foggy, moderate depression over how much I miss and need New York City. I’m just a drop in the ocean regarding that opinion. Millions flock in and out of Manhattan everyday hoping to soak in the energy and that after-glow the city leaves behind. Many squeeze themselves into oversized boxes literally shitting where they eat just to feel the achievement of living in the toughest, most alive city in the world.
This was not my first trip. At this point I’ve lost count. I was fortunate enough to visit shortly after 9/11/2001 for my high school graduation; which, needless to say, profoundly impacted my adolescent mind and left me yearning for more. I’ve made subsequent trips to keep feeding my new addiction, including exploring on my own while my Dad worked, attending the U.S. Open tennis tournament with my Mom in 2005, and taking a memorable honeymoon in the fall of 2006. During these long weekends I did all the cliché things. We went to the Empire State Building, carriage ride in Central Park, watched the Yankees beat the Red Sox, beamed from ear to ear watching the immense talent Broadway has to offer, and ate our way from Midtown out.
None of the previous times in the city ever compared to my 6 week respite living on the Upper West Side in the Lincoln Towers while I attended Sonic Yoga’s 200 hour teacher training. I lived in a small space, took the subway everywhere my feet couldn’t, had a regimented schedule, and most importantly, I met friends. I cannot possibly encapsulate what this experience meant to me and how it’s affected who I am today, but suffice it to say I’ll never be the same. I live in a great city now, with endless options for food, sports, people and entertainment and yet I still dream of New York. So my return for a reunion with yoga teachers and friends conjured up so much anticipation, nostalgia, and ultimately, another awe-inspiring experience.
In lieu of my usual review or story about a particular restaurant or experience, I’m going to give a nod to those which are memorable and those which I highly recommend, in both the caloric and entertainment fields.
Amarone’s Italian Ristorante: Located in Hell’s Kitchen, west Midtown on 9th avenue between 47th and 48th street lies the most satisfying, soul-stirring, flavorful 2 hours you can acquire without actually flying to Northern Italy yourself. It was the first restaurant I ever enjoyed in the city and I’ve continued to support their efforts in my subsequent visits. I’ve also recommended it to many friends and family who’ve had the pleasure of dining themselves, with nothing less than stellar reviews as well. Because it’s such a challenging dish to replicate or find in good quality, I highly recommend the Gnocchi di Sorrentino. First off, Gnocchi should be pronounced like you’ve got peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth, hold on to the N, try not to pronounce it like every other white person and say Noki, the G is there for a reason, to give it the ole Italian gangsta nyokki, emphasis on awesome. Secondly, it’s a dumpling made with potatoes and if you’ve never had the pleasure of consuming these little pasta pillows I have deep sympathy for you and urge you emphatically to seek it out, but only via reputable Italian restaurants or Grandmothers. Mine of course makes the very best, here, NYC, or Italy is no match for her. I’m a very lucky lady. The staff is Italian, friendly, relaxed, and passionate about what matters in life, good sustenance with people of substance. Do yourself a favor and enjoy. Tell them I sent you. Just kidding, they have no clue who the hell I am. :)
Azuri Cafe: Not far from the above entry is a typical New York stop; tiny, lunch based, executed impeccably by minorities in which English is not their first language, reasonably priced, and damn delicious. I have my beautiful yogi teachers and friends to thank for this one as we’d scurry to 51st street between 9th and 10th avenue during our lunch breaks to walk and talk and scarf. It’s very veggie friendly but I believe they have meat options. What I recommend is the falafel pita. Whole wheat pita, fried balls of chickpeas and herbs, then combined with grilled peppers, tabbouleh, babaganush, spicy mystery sauce, herbs and topped with spicy pickles. Honestly, I never really know what I’m eating besides falafel and pita mixed with a flavorful supporting cast, but I love the texture, flavors and nutrition this hand-held meal provides. Also for fans of Seinfeld, the owner is a total falafel nazi, exuding pure disdain for all human kind, but I always mess with him and get him to smile. Make it a game and see if you can too!
Lombardi’s Pizza: Let’s head downtown now, near Soho, 32 Spring street to be exact, and eat at what’s understood to be the first pizza establishment in New York City and therefore emerging the first NYC style pizza. Walking around Little Italy and China town with visiting relatives is what first landed me at Lombardi’s, a serendipitous occasion, a very happy accident indeed. I’m a simple girl. Part of being Italian has led me to appreciate simple, fresh ingredients, and certainly acquired a snobby chip on my shoulder watching American’s pretend to be Italian and forcing 85 ingredients into something only needing 4. This is precisely why I order the basic, Margarita thin-crust pizza baked to perfection in a wood-burning oven. Thin crispy crust, delicious, not too sweet sauce, topped with circles of fresh mozzarella and basil shavings. Simple and so perfect. It makes me think of Italy, Napoli in particular, where pizza was perfected and is still the very best. Enjoy the history, the neighborhood, have a beer, share with a friend.
While you’re in Hell’s Kitchen if you are feeling hummus, hit up the Hummus Kitchen. Best in the world, creamy and delicious. Get their lemonade and mint frozen adult beverage, positively delightful!
Head toward 57th if you’re feeling burritos. The Burrito Box is where it’s at. OMFG. I dream about it. So great.
Tu Va Bien for excellent French, also in Hell’s Kitchen.
Gray’s Papaya, besides an authentic Chicago dog, is the best hot dog in NYC hands down. The flavor of the beef itself, matched with a good quality, not oversized bun, is unbeatable. And so is the price.
Anything in Chinatown is above and beyond authentic.
Cafe Lalo: This may be a slightly cliché place, only because it featured in You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan anxiously awaits the arrival of her online beau and finds Tom Hanks instead. During the film Lalo is almost empty. This is not typical as any time of day I’ve visited it is hopping, vibrant with sugar and energy. Situated in the Upper West Side, W. 83rd Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, the amber lit trees in front of the large wood-framed windows will lead you down the path to enlightenment. For lack of a better description, this place is just too damn cute. It’s fricken adorable, and you feel adorable being there. The antique cash register, the tall round tables, stools along the often open windows, or the tiny two tops enveloping this L-shaped dessert shop are just a few of the nuances giving this place life. The clear, also L-shaped glass case proudly distributing the pastry chefs finest work is what keeps people like me coming back for more. I can’t make a specific recommendation for dessert because they have everything for every taste, be open but also go with your gut. What I will recommend is the hot chocolate with Bailey’s Irish Cream. My last trip we not only visited Lalo twice in one day but I believe 5 times in total and we enjoyed the warm alcoholic beverage every single time. The wait staff is friendly albeit busy, and remembered me. I’m not sure whether to feel embarrassed or encouraged by this, so I’ll settle on neither. Humans and labeling everything, ridiculous. Enjoy.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending Yankees games at both the old and the new stadium. Given the old stadium is no longer an option for you I’d highly recommend watching a game from the beautiful new Yankee Stadium, rooting strongly against them as New Yorkers LOVE visitors and Yankee haters, and getting some soft serve ice-cream in a tiny Yankee helmet. I’ve enjoyed the beer and pretzels too, but New York has nothing on a Chicago dog. Sorry. You win at almost everything else, including fricken baseball!
Everyone who considers themselves a star, or the most skilled and talented of their generation makes it their business to succeed in the Big Apple. As we’ve heard Frank Sinatra croon a million times, and now Jay Z, if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. This is certainly true. And therefore you’re overwhelmed with a plethora of talent to feast your eyes, ears, nose, and brain on. Those who can’t do, enjoy. Although I do not consider myself to be über girly, even from a young age, I do have an intrinsic love for the arts, musicals in particular. Over the years I’ve enjoyed musicals such as: Chicago, Mamma Mia, Hairspray, West Side Story, the Phantom of the Opera, Moving Up, Wicked, Billy Elliot, All Shook Up, Come Fly Away, Fosse, Promises Promises, Avenue Q, We Will Rock You in London, and various dance and music productions off-Broadway. I’ve enjoyed each and every performance immensely; but nothing compares to the musical I was lucky enough to catch recently. Amidst the hype, pomp and circumstance, a great friend and I braved a long line of hopefuls waiting for a standing room only ticket to the Book of Mormon. Written by the brilliant comic minds behind South Park, the Book of Mormon surrounds two young Elders about to embark on a mission trip to Uganda. Not only is it the most hysterical piece of live theatre I’ve ever witnessed, but it’s also deeply poignant and resonates so much with what is going on in the world today. I will not detail the story, or recount some of the genius songs and lyrics to emerge from the very talented cast, but I will say it’s what musicals should be. By poking a bit of fun at a ridiculous book of beliefs, written entirely by a pathological narcissist since being proved by every logical mind to be false, it not only is one of the most inclusive pieces of art performed for the masses, but the most provocative, conversation inducing material I’ve had the joy to come across. I cannot encourage everyone to see this enough. Give yourself the gift of this show.
I tapped into maybe .000001% of what NYC has to offer. All of this exuberance and sheer pleasure would not be possible without the city itself. You may be more of a suburb, small-town, or even quiet, nature type of person, but I still implore you to broaden your mind and heart by visiting this city. Sure it’ll chew you up and spit you out but like anything worth working for, you’ll want and need more. You’ll come through the Midtown tunnel a better, more evolved, more interesting person. And you’d have had one hell of a time.
Eat. Drink. Travel. Dance. Explore. Enjoy.