Day 4: I Heart Brooklyn

Maya and I welcomed Day 4 of our NYC adventures with mixed emotions. While we were excited that we had another good afternoon ahead of us, we were so sad that this was going be our last day in NYC.

We spent our final afternoon sightseeing in Brooklyn. Our first stop was DUMBO (shortened for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), where we got to be at the foot of Manhattan Bridge. I actually think Brooklyn Bridge is 10 times prettier than the neighboring Manhattan Bridge.

We stumbled upon a wonderful restaurant called Al Mar (thanks to Maya and her handy Android), where we enjoyed a fabulous lunch. The place was cozy and very Brooklyn.  I can totally see myself spending hours here with a good book.

Maya had Eggs in the Cloud (baked egg yolk floating on whipped egg whites, Fontina cheese, smoked ham, toasted Brioche, served with saute spinach) and I had smoked salmon sandwich (with avocado, cucumbers, beets, and creme fraiche, on pumpernickel breads). We split the tart. Everything here was absolutely amazing!

After lunch, we strolled over to the Brooklyn Height neighborhood and took in the picturesque Downtown skylines. I am absolutely in love with Brooklyn and this is perhaps my favorite spot in this borough. I get a rush of energy whenever I stand here.

It still feels a little strange that the World Trade Centers are no longer standing proudly among these buildings in Lower Manhattan. I’ve been to NYC many times in the last several years, but I still haven’t made the visit to Ground Zero. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to go there.

What I love so much about this magnificent city is that each neighborhood has its own, unique charms. Brooklyn doesn’t feel, at all, like Manhattan. You feel like you were transported to another state when you get off the subway. Brooklyn feels slower paced, greener, and a lot more relaxed, than Manhattan.

After the visit to Brooklyn, we hurried back to our hotel in Times Square to collect our luggage (we stopped by at Pie Face for some cute savory pies for the road). We took a cab to JFK, to get ready to board our flights home. We ate an early dinner at Le Vie in the jetBlue terminal – our last supper together on the trip. Maya and I toasted our Chardonnay and Espresso Martini to short but a wonderful four days together, and enjoyed delicious meals of escargot (for her), Salad Nicoise and Pomme Frites (for me).

Now, it’s time to find a destination for our next adventures! (Oh, and to unpack and resume the real world.)

Day 3: All Things Jo

Maya and Hirono’s NYC adventures are not complete until we go on a shopping spree, so we headed over to the famous Fifth Avenue for some much-needed retail therapy. We checked out Tiffany and Co, Louis Vuitton, Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, Longchamp, and other fancy shops, and although most of our time was spent window shopping, we did do a fair amount of damage along the way.redface

Maya found this French restaurant called JoJo on the Upper East Side online with raving reviews, so we decided to give the place a try for lunch. It was a cozy restaurant with wonderful service and even better food.

We started with cocktails (Maya had Manhattan and I had Rhubarb Cosmopolitan), followed by warm asparagus salad. For entrée, Maya had the sirloin steak and I had the grilled salmon.

The food in NYC is seriously fantastic (which is one of the reasons why I love this city so much). You just can’t go wrong, wherever you are. This place reminded us of the restaurant we loved in Paris and the food also took us back to the little bistro we frequented during our stay in the City of Light year and a half ago. The pound cake with rhubarb sorbet that was had for dessert was out of this world.  All this for $32 prix fix … not bad at all!

We stopped at Central Park on our way back. We didn’t have a chance to explore the park much, but we did climb the rock and took pictures of the Upper West Side neighborhood.

We’re not sure if it was the buzz from the curiously strong cocktails we enjoyed over lunch, but we had this BRILLIANT idea of having our portrait drawn by a street artist … which, we quickly realized, was a horrible idea.

The artist, who claimed that she was trained in New York and in Shanghai, successfully turned Maya into a 14-year-old non-Asian girl on paper, with absolutely no resemblance of her beautiful, Indonesian self.eekThe portrait was so awful that we crack up every time we look at it. So, any tourists out there … unless you’re doing it for a laugh, stay away from these “artists!”

Our Central Park portrait adventure was a total bust, but our dinner at Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant was definitely a hit. We didn’t get to go to the original one in Chinatown but ended up at the Midtown location, near Carnegie Hall. We ordered soups to warm up after a chilly walk and a subway ride, and shared an order of the famous soup dumplings (crab meat and pork meat) and not-so-famous Shanghai fried rice.

I am so lucky that I live near Alhambra and San Gabriel Valley where I can get some pretty darn good Xiao Long Bao, but if you don’t have an authentic dim sum place nearby or have never tasted these amazing dumplings, Joe’s is a must when you’re in NYC.

We took pictures at the famous Love sculpture on our way back to the hotel, and proceeded to Pie Face for dessert. I recently learned about this Australian chain and was very curious about it ever since, simply for the pies’ pure cuteness (they all have faces!). I picked up mini-size apple pie and vegetarian savory pie. I haven’t tired the veggie one yet but the apple pie was pretty yummy!

I can’t believe how quickly time flies when you’re having fun!  Tomorrow is our last day in NYC.  We’re planning to squeeze in as much fun as possible before we fly home at night!

Lower East Side Sweethearts

I must not have a very sophisticated palate when it comes to donuts because despite the many, many rave reviews this place has received, I found the donuts from Doughnut Plant to be … blah. Actually, I thought it was a little less than ordinary. Unlike the Krispy Kreme donuts where you bite into a soft, airy deliciousness, or the dense, satisfying cake-like texture of Spudnuts donuts, (my personal favorite), the fried dough from Doughnut Plant was tough and chewy, and really hard to bite into.

Could this lack of enthusiasm be because I arrived at this Lower East Side darling in the late afternoon where donuts weren’t perhaps at their freshest? It certainly could be. Or was it because all the better selections, like Tres Leches, Blackout, or pretty much all cake doughnuts, were all sold out? Maybe. But whatever the reason, I can say that the donuts here certainly weren’t worth waiting in line for! I’m sorry, Mr. Mark Isreal, you may have thrown down Bobby Flay, but you couldn’t capture my heart. But will I give this place another shot next time I’m in Manhattan since the 2,105,391,093,295 positive feedback can’t all be wrong? I’m pretty sure.

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002

Babycakes, a bakery that is famous for its wide offerings of sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan sweets located a mere blocks from Doughnut Plant on Broome Street, however, was DA BOMB! I own the baking book written by the owner Erin McKenna, but I’ve been a little intimidated to bake cupcakes made out of spelt flour and other not-so-familiar ingredients. But after tasting the gluten-free red velvet cupcake with vegan cream cheese icing, I am confident that I will crack open the pages of the book and try to replicate these lovely sweets at home. The cupcake was so fluffy and moist that I couldn’t believe there were no butter or eggs (or even sugar) in it.  I know how difficult it is to make red velvet cake moist even with regular ingredients so this really shows that Babycakes knows what it is doing! Job well done!  I can’t wait to visit the Los Angeles location soon!

Babycakes NYC

248 Broome Street, New York, NY 10002
The LA store is located in Downtown, on 130 East 6th Street, between S. Main Street and S. Los Angeles.

Teany Slice of Heaven: Teany Cafe

I’ve been a fan of Teany Cafe in Lower East Side of Manhattan for many years now, even before setting foot in this cozy café and tea house. While I have never listened to co-owner Moby’s music (I am convinced that I live under a rock when it comes to music), I am very familiar with the awesomeness of this establishment’s tea selections, as well as a wonderful array of vegan food it offers, from the book, Teany Book.  The book is part memoir, part tea encyclopedia, part vegan recipe book, and a whole lotta fun.  I picked up the book a few years ago when I started getting interested in learning about different types of tea. I’ve been a tea drinker for a very long time (I am, afterall, Japanese whose meal does not officially end until a cup of delicious green tea arrives at my table) and the idea of learning about the leaves’ origins and rich histories fascinated me, just like how people are intrigued about wine.

On a side note, I am not much of a coffee drinker. I used to be, for a very long time when I was first introduced to Starbucks and its Soy Misto in my early 20s (and I would drink it every day), but after I discovered that my body can’t take too much caffeine without getting a mad headache, I crossed over to the tea world and never looked back.

Teany Cafe was exactly how I expected it to be – small, friendly, and a place where one can sit for hours and relax over a wonderful cup of tea. Well, it was almost exactly how I expected. It had a wonderful selection of unique teas (individually numbered and organized neatly along the kitchen wall in tin containers), great food (that will make you ask, “meat who?”), and a relaxing atmosphere with adorable little flowers sitting smiling at each table.

The only thing it was missing, however, was a decent service.  They were all very nice but it was very disorganized and the wait staff truly ddin’t know the basic scopes of their job, like entering the order in the system, etc.  It was really sad to watch food and tea orders sit on the counter for a long period of time before they were delivered to designated tables. The café was jammed packed with people, sure, but it took me a very long time to order and get my tea (Green Rooibos Berry, also called “#85) and dessert (vegan carrot cake with cream cheese frosting), and all the patrons looked frustrated with the same issue (I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many “Can we pleeeeeease have the check now?” yelled over me). On top of that, when I left the table momentarily to use the restroom (and I signaled the waitress that I will be back), another wait staff cleaned up my table, and I was not even done with my rooibos tea! But service aside, the café is as cute as I had imagined it would be, and the tea I tried was excellent. It was a wonderful place to sit down, relax my tired feet from walking around town all day, and catch up on my reading on my recently-purchased Kindle.

I ordered some food to go and enjoyed them for dinner! Both Pan Bagna and Vegan Chili were excellent. I can’t wait to recreate them at home (recipes for these two favorites are featured in the book).

Teany Café
90 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002

Springtime in Manhattan

A breathtaking lavender garden in Washington Square Park

People aren’t kidding when they say that there is nothing like New York in the springtime. Even for someone like me who’s been incredibly spoiled with the year-round Southern California weather, the spring in the city is truly something else!

After spending the first few days in cold rain and unfriendly wind, we were finally welcomed by the sun and its beautiful 75-degree ray, as if it were urging me and my colleague / friend H to get out of the office and take in the warmth on the lovely Friday afternoon. Never the ones to decline such tempting invitation from mother nature, we wrapped our day’s work a little early and headed over to Manhattan for a late lunch and a well-earned break!

The front of Purl SoHo on Broome Street

We took the C train from Brooklyn to Canal Street, a mere 10-minute ride, which landed us in the neighborhood of  SoHo. The primary mission today for me was to visit a lovely yarn and fabric store, Purl Soho, owned by Joelle Hoverson, the author of my favorite craft books, Last Minute Knitted Gifts and Last Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts. I had been dying to check this lovely store out, which recently moved to the new, larger location on Broome Street. While most people list famous landmarks like the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and Broadway shows as the must-sees in New York, I have Jacques Torres Chocolates in Brooklyn, Ronnybook Milk Bar in Chelsea Market (for the best yogurt in the world), and yes, Purl Soho, on my priority list. 😆

I actually visited Purl Soho already the day before. I made a beeline to the store right after work last night and spent an easy two hours browsing and salivating over colorful fabrics and luscious yarns from its robust collection. Although I came back to the hotel that night with a good sampling of fabrics, including a floral print from Liberty of London, I couldn’t stop thinking about the rest of the designs that I passed up. I was determined to return to the store to pick up a few items that I could not leave NY without having them in my possession! So there I was, back in this crafter’s dream, nearly passing out from the cuteness overload once again. Hoverson’s tastes in yarn and fabric selections are simply impeccable. She is the epitome of chic style, and I am so inspired by the vision and creativity she exudes in everything she does. I wish I can pluck this heavenly store and bring it back to Los Angeles.

The Color Wheel Quilt Bundle, 50+ different fabrics for the quilted color wheel featured in her patchwork book

The amazing Liberty print … it is so dreamy!

After I satisfied my textile needs, H and I walked over to the Greenwich Village and walked through NYU. We relaxed a little in Washington Square Park, which was lively with people enjoying the music and the sun, before heading over to Carrie’s Stoop (I wanted to show H the place since she’s also a fan of Sex and the City) and enjoyed Magnolia‘s cupcakes and an ice-cold drink at the park across the street (it looks like this is becoming my ritual when vising NY). What a perfect day to be outside!

The magnificent Washington Square Arch

The Central Fountain

The peek of the Empire State Building from the Arch

Carrie’s Stoop on Perry Street

If I lived in Manhattan, I might want to live in the Village or Soho.  These places are alive with such great energy and make me want to enjoy being in the present.  There were so many hidden gems in the neighborhood, including shops like Sabon and Soapology, which specialize in bath goods and offer natural handmade soaps.  I love that they cut a piece of soap for you at the store upon request. Needless to say, I came home with bag full of soaps to add to my soap collection at home!

Soapology in the Meatpacking District

Soapology soaps from top: Rose (pink), Lily of the Valley (white), Seaweed (green), Honeysuckle (light blue), Cucumber (dark blue)

Sabon in Greenwich Village — there are other locations all over New York, as well as Boston and Chicago

Sabon soaps: Lemon Mint, Rosemary, and Rose

The forecast tells us to expect rain over the weekend but that will definitely not stop me from exploring the city even more! It’s been a long and tiring week at work but an afternoon like this in the city makes all the hard work worth it.

I heart New York.  Oh, and my hotel room smells incredible now from all the soaps!  🙂