My Favorite NYC Moments #3: Picnic at Central Park

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Maya and I picked up smoked salmon sandwich (for me), ham and cheese croissant (for her), and other goodies from Bouchon Bakery and headed to Central Park for an afternoon picnic.

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First to Sheep Meadow, then off to Bethesda Fountain.

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I’ve visited NYC many times, but this was actually my first time in Central Park. I’ve been to the entrance of the park but never inside, because I never knew how to get in! (Lame, I know.) Turns out that I needed to enter from Columbus Circle, on the West side of the park. Duh. Big thanks to Maya and her trusty smart phone for figuring it out!

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Here’s the full list of my top 10 moments:

  1. Dinner at Villard Michel Richard
  2. Lunch at Babbo
  3. Picnic at Central Park
  4. Serendipity 3
  5. Lunch at Balthazar
  6. Grand Central Oyster Bar
  7. Gahm Mi Oak
  8. Dominique Ansel Bakery
  9. La Vie at JFK
  10. Bryant Park at night
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Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant in Chinatown NYC

I was craving some good Chinese food while in NYC, which was a little odd because I seldom crave it. Chinese food is not particularly my favorite cuisine and it’s only when I’m lazy and don’t want to cook that I turn to my neighborhood Chinese delivery place for a quick bite. Maybe it was because it was dark and raining outside on this particular day. There’s nothing more appropriate than comfort food in weather like this.

Shannon and I ventured out to Chinatown for some soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant, a mere 10-minute walk from the hotel in SoHo. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us when we left the hotel, that it was pouring outside and we literally had to swim to get there! We were so glad that the soup dumplings were good enough to make us feel that the swim was worth it.

Happy and dry Shannon!

Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant
9 Pell Street
New York, New York 10013
★★★★☆

Balthazar Restaurant

Shannon and I spent the last four days in NYC and had a wonderful time. All we wanted to do on this trip was to relax, eat good food and drink, and that’s precisely what we did. We stayed in SoHo and we pretty much didn’t leave the area! Some may think that we missed out on a great opportunity to explore the city, but being lazy was what we needed to unwind … and escape from the real world!

Our first stop was lunch at Balthazar, located two blocks from where we were staying. I’ve seen this restaurant before but didn’t realize that this was a New York hot spot, with celebrity frequenting this French bistro. We got really lucky and got seated right away. By the time we ordered our food, this place was jammed packed with locals and tourists, looking to enjoy the French flare.

Salad Nicoise and French Fries for me, and Mac and Cheese for Shannon.

Amazing bread!

Creme Brulee — a perfect finish to a great lunch.

Balthazar Restaurant
80 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012
(on Spring, between Broadway and Crosby)
★★★★☆

How Time Has Changed: Brasserie Le Vive at JFK

An airport is not necessarily the first place people associate gourmet dining experience with, unless, of course, you’re at the Jet Blue terminal in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

If you’ve flown to NYC with this modern airline in recent years, you know what I’m talking about. Terminal 5 looks more like a spacious shopping mall with great restaurants and stores rather than an airport terminal.  There’s even a touch-screen monitor in the middle of the terminal where you can order food and drinks and a server will bring the food straight to your gate. I hope Los Angeles and / or Burbank airports would offer such service!  Oh, how time has changed.

I was able to resist the shopping temptation (well, sort of, if you don’t count the shopping bag full of stationary I picked up at Muji), but I could not stay away from walking in to one of the alluring restaurants that sit in the middle and around the circular terminal. Dining selections here include a casual cafeteria (with the usual selections of sandwiches, salads, pizzas and boxed sushi, etc.), a steak house, a sushi bar, and a seafood place, among many others.

Everything looked wonderful, but one place that caught my eyes in particular was a small French brasserie that sat on the very end of the restaurant row. I sat at a bar counter at Brasserie La Vie and treated myself to a glass of Chardonnay to celebrate the end of the work week in NYC.

The place is totally cute, offering seemingly authentic dishes like Escargot with Garlic Butter, Duck and Pistachio Terrine, and Moules Frites aux Pernod (mussels and French Fries) on the menu — something you’d expect to find at a brasserie / bristro in Paris, certainly not in a middle of the busy airport terminal in the states. There are more mainstream items on the menu as well, like French Onion Soup and Croque Monsieur / Madame. Particularly craving something light, I ordered Salad Nicoise (no surprise here as I am obsessed with this salad) with a side of Pommes Frites (the ultimate guilty pleasure).

The salad was pretty darn delicious, with vinegary anchovy fillets and seared tuna atop a bed of arugula, tomatoes, haricot verts, olives, boiled eggs, and roasted peppers tossed in vinaigrette. Each bite went incredibly well with the glass of chilled white wine, with a side of crispy French fries with a touch of ketchup and Tabasco.

I’m not sure if it was the atmosphere of the brasserie or the fact that I was finally coming home, but I was feeling very happy sitting at the counter at the restaurant. I had a few hours to kill before my flight, and while I usually get bored and antsy waiting, that was not the case this day. I caught up on my leisure magazine reading and just enjoyed the time passing by, while soaking up the energy of New York City.

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.

Mysterious Concoction: Kombucha

I got hooked on Kombucha while I was in Brooklyn. I guess the word “hooked” is a little misleading because I still can’t figure out if I like this cultured tea with slimy jelly-like mold floating in the bottle or I actually think it’s pretty disgusting, but I visited a local grocery shop called Chop Chop almost daily to get a dose of this strange liquid concoction. The tea fizzled in my mouth like soda and left a strange aftertaste like I just chugged a bottle of apple cider vinegar but drinking this strange tea somehow made me feel like I was doing something good for my body. But whether it did anything to my well-being still remains to be seen.

In addition to Kombucha, there are less-mysterious offerings at Chop Chop, like made-to-order salads and sandwiches, along with delicious prepared food like grilled meats vegetables.  I was so glad that this place was located a few blocks from the hotel I was staying.  It gave me an opportunity to get away from all the other restaurant food I was eating for dinner!

Chop Chop
126 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY 11201