My Favorite NYC Moments #3: Picnic at Central Park


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.


First to Sheep Meadow, then off to Bethesda Fountain.




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!


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

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

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!  🙂

How Sweet It Is: Streets of Brooklyn

I love walking aimlessly, with no real destination in sight. I love getting lost in an unknown city and feeling the sense of jittery panic, not knowing which way to turn. (This, of course, only works in a bright daylight where one wrong turn can lead to an unexpected adventure, as opposed to a dangerous situation.) I think this is my way of compensating for my every day life where things are very much controlled and in predictable order. Sometime, I just like to let myself go and let the Universe decide my fate and destination. And what better place to walk aimlessly than on the streets of Brooklyn, where every turn is welcomed by contemporary beauty, nature, and timeless wonders?

So yes, I’m in Brooklyn now and this will be my home away from home for the next several weeks. I was here two weeks ago but didn’t have the chance to see the neighborhood much, other than the commute from the hotel to the office, so I am determined to take as much of the energy of this place as possible this time around. And speaking of the Universe doing its thing, it is funny that I’m here in New York because I’ve been thinking about wanting to come back to this magnificent city again for some time now but wasn’t sure how I would be able to juggle a vacation time with all the other business travels I had lined up … and here I am!

This morning, I woke up early to take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted to see the view of Manhattan from the bridge and experience a little bit of the Miranda / Steve moment when they met halfway between the bridge in the first Sex And the City movie (one of my favorite scenes from the entire movie … I can’t watch this scene without crying .. and I can’t wait for the sequal that comes out next week).

After I walked across the bridge and waved to the Manhattan Bridge that stands parallel to its arching cousin, I came back around and headed to the neighborhood of DUMBO (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), known for its emerging arts community. I was particularly interested in visiting DUMBO to experience Jacques Torres’ chocolates which had been in my “New York To-Do / Eat List” for years.

I’ve been an admirer of Jacques Torres for some time now. If I remember correctly, he was one of the first celebrity chefs to appear on Food Network when it first launched (when it actually showed low budget but very educational cooking shows as opposed to today’s more silly game show-type nonsense) and I used to salivate over the beautifully artistic chocolates and other sweets he created on a show simply titled, Chocolate with Jacques Torres. I admittedly got a mixed emotion when I saw Torres on an episode of Girls Next Door where he helped make chocolates molded out of very private parts of Holly, Bridget, and Kendra a few years ago but I like to think that he is a man with a great sense of humor!

The original shop (and the one I visited) is located on Water Street, between the two bridges in Brooklyn. The shop is small but cozy and dreamlike, with every chocolate treat imaginable packed in a tiny space. I walked out with bags of chocolate-covered  cork flakes and Cherrios (breakfast, anyone?) and a small cup of its famous hot chocolate.

Instead of the regular one, I tired Wicked, with hints of allspice, cinnamon, ground sweet ancho and chipotle chili peppers! The drink was very rich and flavorful and tasted like a liquid chocolate as opposed to the traditional hot chocolate we are accustomed to. I must say that the drink wasn’t as fire-ry and spicy or even as sugary as I expected to be, it was still very delicious and extremely satisfying. I’m glad to be able to check off an item from my culinary and New York to do list!

How sweet it is to be in Brooklyn, indeed!