Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NYC - Spring 2015

NYC 2015
Well hello!  How is everyone doing out there?  I'm popping back in to talk about a trip we took to New York a few weeks ago.  I'd like to joke that this is turning into a travel blog, since I only update it when we go out of town - but I don't think that really works if I only post every six months or so.   Anyhoo....we ate some great food and did a lot of fun stuff and I really want to tell you about it - so here goes!  The main reason for the trip was to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch with John Cameron Mitchell on Broadway.  We booked the tickets for Thursday night, and planned the rest of our Wednesday - Sunday long weekend around that.  James had never been to NYC, and though I had been a few times, on some of those trips I didn't have a lot of free time, so there were plenty of touristy things I'd never done before.  NYC 2015
We stayed at the Ace, where I had stayed on my last trip a few years ago.  It's in a great location just a few blocks from Eataly and walking distance to Times Square - pretty much square in the middle of town.  It was fairly new when I stayed before, and the service seemed a little spiffier - but the main improvement over last time was the John Dory Oyster bar which hadn't opened yet then.  We spent a lot of time there, and I strongly recommend it over the Breslin - where we had an extremely mediocre meal on our first night in town, complete with terrible service.  It didn't seem like an off night either - it just seemed like the place was overwhelmed by bar business and the food was becoming an afterthought.  The lobby bar was also constantly overcrowded - they roped off about half of the space on our first night for a bottle service event - and in the five days we were there, there was never a time when we could find two seats when we wanted them.   Instead, we just went to the John Dory and sat at the bar for great cocktails, lovely atmosphere and nice people to chat with. The John Dory is somewhat famous for their homemade dinner rolls which our server smartly recommended we pair with their burrata & salsa verde.  That and the rose & oysters were perfection.
NYC 2015
Since we were going to be there for a few days, we decided to get City Passes, which gives you a nice ready made to do list at a 40% discount (if you use them all).  It includes the Empire State Building, the 9/11 museum or the Intrepid Air & Space Museum, either the Statue of Liberty or a Circle Line Cruise around the island, the National History Museum, the Top of the Rock, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We kicked off our sightseeing by walking over to the Empire State Building at dusk after downing a dozen oysters and bottle of rose - to see the sun set and redeem our CityPass vouchers. (Photo up top.)   It seemed to be a good time of day to do this - the line was non-existent, but it was pretty crowded on the viewing deck. The next morning we set out for the Statue of Liberty.  I didn't realize that you need to make reservations three months in advance for "crown & pedestal" tickets so if you want those take heed and plan ahead. Without them, you're limited to the circular path around the statue - still lovely on a beautiful day. The boat also stops at Ellis Island, but we decided to save that for another trip since we wanted to head over to the 9/11 museum and Ground Zero.  We walked there from Battery Park in about 10 minutes. The memorial is elegant and powerful, and the museum is very well done, both in terms of tone and style.  The rest of the World Trade Center complex is in the process of opening.  Conde Nast had just moved in a week earlier, and they are opening several restaurant and shopping venues in the complex over the next few months, including a branch of Eataly and a viewing deck at the top of One World Trade Center.  The famous Calatrava PATH station is still under construction as well - we could see it taking shape.NYC 2015
From the World Trade Center, we took a cab to Katz's for a late lunch. On my first trip to NYC, I told the cab driver it was my first trip to the City, and he took me on a little impromptu tour - pointing out sights along the way into town from the airport.  One of the places he drove me past was Katz's - pointing out that it was the "When Harry Met Sally deli." That is one of the things it is famous for - the other is the pastrami, and rightly so.  They still cut it by hand. You walk in, get a ticket and give it to the slicer - telling him which sandwiches you want. We got a reuben (with pastrami) and a pastrami sandwich.  (Definitely stick with the pastrami.)  You then move on down the line, giving them your ticket to mark what you order.  Then you sit down to eat.  When you leave, you line up to pay according to what's on your ticket.  Don't lose your ticket, they will want it even if you didn't order anything - so they know you paid for what you ordered.   (If you don't want to deal with any of this, you can sit in the service section, and they'll serve your table - I think a lot of regulars do that.) The pastrami is quite simply, everything.  They say hunger is the best sauce and it definitely didn't hurt that we hadn't eaten much that day and it was close to 2 PM - but this is really something special. I recommend going when you have an appetite.  You'll need the room.
Katz's - NYC
After the pastrami, we walked up Second Avenue to the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop on the LES.  It was about 40 degrees, but I wanted to try a Salty Pimp - a vanilla soft serve cone striped with caramel and dipped in chocolate, with flaky salt.  I was pretty full, but it was pretty good.
NYC 2015
We walked all the way back to our hotel from there, and headed out to the play later that night.  The show was great - if you're not familiar with Hedwig I highly recommend the movie as an introduction.  The Belasco theater is a beautiful place to see it too. Afterwards we walked a block to the famous Algonquin hotel for a post theater cocktail. The hotel has been heavily remodeled ad didn't quite reflect the bookish charm you might expect, but was a great quiet place for a drink and a nice respite from the craziness of Times Square.
NYC 2015
We started the next day with breakfast at the Lafayette, an experience I do not recommend.  This was another place where we had terrible service.  James ordered a croissant breakfast sandwich and they told us they were "out."  Huh?   The case was full of croissants.  Color me unimpressed. We should have just gone to Balthazar.
NYC 2015
From there we trekked over to the High Line and walked the entire thing - its all open now - the first time I went it was only about 1/3 completed.  The only drawback of course was that at the end of winter the gardens are not in their lushest state - in fact they were verily destroyed.  The same was true of Central Park.  Another good reason to plan a visit in the late spring or fall if you can, but we were hemmed in by JCM's dates in Hedwig.
NYC 2015
Ticking off more of our CityPass coupons, we cabbed up to Rockefeller Center to do the Top of the Rock.  We had heard from a few people that it was worthwhile, but honestly if we didn't have tickets we probably wouldn't have bothered, having already been up the Empire State Building.  I was really glad we did though.  It's a lovely open and spacious multi-level viewing deck in contrast to the Empire State Building's single level crowded narrow space.  You can see quite a bit (including the Empire State Building) and an especially good view of Central Park.  If you have to choose one or the other, I'd recommend this. A quick word here about security at all of these sites.  It is very, very tight.  We had to go through airport style security at every single attraction, with X-rays and metal detectors. If you are carrying any kind of pocket knife or personal protection device chances are they will take it away from you.
NYC 2015
That night we had dinner at Momofuku Ko, David Chang's 18 seat fine dining bar in its new location on the LES (we wound up spending a quite a bit of time in that area on this trip.)  We love bar seating and enjoyed watching the cooks prepare the food - ala L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Trois Mec.  We had some memorable courses, including a small cylindrical "lobster roll" amuse bouche, rare venison with epoisses mashed potatoes and a chilled razor clam soup with pineapple and basil oil - but we walked away feeling it was tad overpriced, particularly when it came to the beverage pairings.
Dinner at Momofuku Ko
We ordered them not knowing what they cost, and were a bit surprised when we were served two-or-three-sip tasting sized pours with each course. There were a number of sparkling wines, one was a cocktail made of Abita rootbeer and Amaro, several others were ciders, beers, etc.  They were interesting and good, but just not quite worth the price, and that element of the meal left a bit of a sour taste (forgive me) in our mouths.
Estela - NYC
Brunch the next morning at Estela with my friend Rorie was another memorable meal.  The food was wonderful - the menu full of everything I like to eat, but for whatever reason, the service was offputting - snobbish and strange.  The burrata with salsa verde, endive salad with a bright orange dressing, pecorino and walnuts and the spicy lamb ribs made up for most of that though.  Dessert was a chocolate cake with black sesame ganache and clouds of whipped cream. Assuming the service was a one off (and I really think it was) this is a place I would return to again and again.
NYC 2015
Later that afternoon Rorie and I stopped into City Bakery for the famous hot chocolate and pretzel croissant.  I was prepared to be disappointed - as one often is an over-hyped experience - but this was a pleasant surprise.  The key is to get both the rich sweet chocolate and the salty, slightly chewy crisp croissant.  They play perfectly off one another. Seriously. Do. Not. Miss. This.  Between this and Katz's we did pretty damn well at the supposed tourist traps, I gotta admit.
Cafe Carlyle
That night we had a truly terrible dinner at a new hot spot in town, Seamstress on the UES.  We picked it because it was close to the Carlyle and we had tickets to see Herb Alpert at the Cafe Carlyle. The food was dreadful, but the cocktails were good and the crowd was young and pretty.  It was pretty funny to go from being the oldest people in the room there to the youngest by far at the Carlyle.  The show there was wonderful and the room - covered with Bemelman's murals - was worth the trip in itself.  After the show we went over to the Bemelman's bar for a nightcap with a live band. Such an only in NYC treat.
NYC 2015
We closed our our eating in New York with pizza at Eataly the next day. I was a smidge (ok, a LOT) hungover from too many Manhattans the night before.  (I just couldn't stop ordering Manhattans in Manhattan. Ugh, I know.)  In any event I didn't appreciate it as much as I should have, but it was pretty amazing. We also had some bucatini and split a meat and cheese plate out in the atrium.  Eataly is as mobbed as ever, going at an off time is the best option.  They also just opened a rooftop beer garden that is no doubt going to go off this summer.

So that is it for NYC!   If you have any questions feel free to comment, and hopefully I'll be back soon!  xoxox

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Verde y Crema, Tijuana with Club Tengo Hambre

Club Tengo Hambre Group 8.9.14
I have another post about London in the works, but judging by the number of questions I've been getting about this trip, I'm thinking you'd probably rather hear about this first.  I'd been wanting to do one of the Club Tengo Hambre tours for a while, and this time the stars finally aligned.  Their tours to the Guadalupe Valley look like a lot of fun, as do the tacos and beer tours of Tijuana - but this one was an introduction to three of Tijuana's newest prominent dining destinations  - Verde y Crema, La Querencia and Mision 19.  We met on this side of the border and crossed over on foot - then hopped in a mini bus for the short trip to Verde y Crema.  On the way they treated us to shots of tequila - a great start to any adventure.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Verde y Crema is Jair Tellez' new spot just off Agua Caliente Blvd in a converted bus depot.  The art and light filled space was by far my favorite stop on the tour and the menu appealed to me the most of the three for a return visit.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
The dining room is covered but flooded with natural light through clear plexiglass.  There is a bar along the long shaded area on the right and club like space upstairs.  They serve beer and wine, no cocktails (for now anyway) but these spaces look like a great spot to while a way a couple of hours in the evening.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Our tour group sat together at one long table. It was brutally hot and it being indoor/outdoor there was no air conditioning in the restaurant, but they set up some fans to give us a little air circulation.  We ordered bottled water and cold beer and felt better immediately.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
At each stop on the one beverage option was included.  Here it was a lightly smoky young Mezcal - pictured below. At La Querencia it was beer and at Mision 19 it was wine - all local of course.  We ordered more than what was provided at every stop - beer, bottled water, cocktails, etc. so we wound up at each stop with a bit of a bill, which was fine, but just not something I thought about. It would definitely be a good idea to bring some cash along - but you're not likely to cross the border without some cash anyway, right?
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
The first of our two food courses at this stop were the "verdure" (vegetable) tacos - fresh, soft blue corn tortilla pockets toasted with melted cheese and filled with roasted beets, fresh salsa, watermelon radish, cilantro and scallion.  The soft slightly crisp tortilla and warm melted cheese contrasted well with the fresh toppings and made these  radical but welcome change from our usual San Diego style Mexican food.  James said they were his favorite dish of the tour.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Our second course was my favorite, a light citrusy ceviche with fresh uni.  To my surprise, several people in the group did not eat this at all.  At first I didn't want to be too greedy, but eventually I found myself scraping more and more onto my plate.  I couldn't bear to see it go to waste, but of course I didn't want to overdo it with two more stops and six more courses to come.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
At Verde y Crema they cook primarily with wood - behind the chefs below is a complex wood burning grill, and in the corner is a wood burning oven.  This window to the kitchen is at the back of the restaurant, we swung by and took these pictures on the way upstairs.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
The upstairs bar was peaceful and quiet in the afternoon.  The bar was closed, but it looked like a nice place for a drink with friends in the evening or after dinner.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
In the parking lot just adjacent to the restaurant sits a food truck, Troca Lonche.  They do some cooking and preparation for the restaurant, and apparently serve breakfast.  I read that they plan to hit the streets soon with more offerings, so keep an eye out for that.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
Before boarding the bus, we posed for a group photo in front of the mural in their parking lot which made a fun backdrop for a group photo up top.)  Jair Tellez is best known for Laja - the "French Laundry of the Guadalupe Valley."  About a million years ago we went to Laja and I wrote a blog post about it.  We enjoyed the meal but to be honest it wasn't amazing.  I think it may have been a bit of an outlier though, and I've been wanting to go back and try it again.  The Guadalupe Valley has changed quite a bit since 2006 and I can't wait to experience all of the new places that have opened in the past few years.  We're hoping to make a trip down there this fall - now that we have SENTRI passes that whole ordeal just became a whole lot easier.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
If you are not already aware, SENTRI (or Global Entry) is a must for visiting Mexico - if you can afford it.  Frankly, it disgusts me a bit that the Feds are asking people to pay to skip the line rather than simply doing their job more efficiently - but they haven't solicited my feedback recently, so I'm guessing it doesn't really matter what I think.  We forked over our $125. earlier this year after a three hour wait coming back from a camping trip in Baja in December. You pay a $25. deposit and fill out a form online, then wait for them to contact you for an interview.  At the interview, they collect another $125 from you, fingerprint you, take your picture, and ask you a few questions.  It's a lot like a trip to the DMV.  Shortly thereafter - assuming you are accepted - they will give you a Trusted Traveler Number and issue your card.  The whole process took about six months for us, and may be longer now depending on where you are trying to book your appointment. Your Trusted Traveler Number also gives you access to Global Entry and TSA Pre benefits - as long as the name associated with your Trusted Traveler Number matches your reservation.
Club Tengo Hambre Tour 8.14
If you don't live near the Mexican border and don't plan to drive across, you don't need SENTRI - you can get Global Entry for the trusted traveler benefits for air travel including TSA Pre.  (NEXUS is the equivalent to SENTRI for crossing the Canadian border.)  If you decide you want to add SENTRI later, you can just add it to your account by requesting it after the fact.  The guy who interviewed me told me to tell everyone to get Global Entry and add SENTRI because they'll add it for free if you already have Global Entry.  If you apply for Sentri from the start, it costs $25. more.  Not a big deal for one person, but for a family it could add up, and everyone in your car has to have SENTRI in order to use the dedicated lane coming back.



Monday, August 18, 2014

Fairweather at Rare Form - Downtown San Diego

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Hey now!  Look who's got the scoop! Sorry, but I can't resist - I'm just so excited to be writing about something that happened less than two months ago.  This past weekend I was lucky enough to see a Facebook post from the chef at Ironside, indicating that Consortium Holdings was opening an open-air bar called Fairweather over their new sandwich shop/delicatessen Rare Form this weekend.  It was sweet serendipity for me, because I was staying right around the corner from there with a friend this weekend at the Omni next to the ballpark.  She needed a little mini getaway so she booked a room through Priceline for a mini-staycation and invited me to join her.  We were pretty impressed with that place too.  The room was nice, the pool deck was lovely, and it was a lot of fun to be on vacation in my own town, ten minutes away from my house.
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After meeting up at the hotel we walked literally around the corner (ok, maybe two corners) to Rare Form and climbed the stairs in the back (it's a little more complicated than that, but you'll figure it out) to the brand new upstairs rooftop bar.  It's not as high as some of the other rooftop spots in town, but what it lacks in external view (which is a pastoral view of the Park at the Park just outside Petco) it makes up for with its own internal beauty.

Like all Consortium projects, this place is long on gorgeousness, with that same killer Granada Tile that makes Intelligentsia in LA such a popular spot, and lots of marble, citrus and greenery.  Always a winning formula.  
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It's a long narrow space, with cozy booths along the railing, the bar right in the center and a long communal marble table at the far side backed by a green wall.
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The tables were decked out with little brass hurricane lanterns and they were serving a limited cocktail menu for the opening, but will be in full swing soon.

There were a lot of people in Hawaiian shirts and tiki gear - no doubt because Tiki Oasis was in town this weekend. I didn't make it to any of the festivities but James went to the party on Thursday and checked out the hotel on Friday and said it looked like a blast - we'll have to make that happen next year.  I saw this snappy group by the bar on Saturday and asked if I could take their picture - turns out the couple on the right are the owners of Smugglers Cove, one of our favorite tiki bars in San Francisco.  Fun running into them.
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We ordered tiki style drinks too as it turned out - the Rum Runner for me, and the "Blue Drink" for Beth.  There were some opening night jitters in the service and drinks, but we know these guys know how to make cocktails because they do them so well at Craft & Commerce and Polite Provisions, so I have no fear those things will be ironed out asap.

They aren't serving food upstairs and haven't quite figured out how that is going to work yet, but you can order food to go and take it upstairs yourself.  They gave us half of our order wrapped to go and half for here - which worked out well enough since the sweet girl working downstairs helped me carry everything.

This was my second time eating at Rare Form. They specialize in sandwiches and call the restaurant a delicatessen.  That might be a stretch, but the sandwiches and sides I've tried so far have all been good.  I especially liked the Chicken Crisp sandwich we had the other night - a crisp chicken cutlet with buffalo sauce, caper aioli and red cabbage slaw - it's got some good punch to cut the richness of the chicken.  Iv'e also tried the Rare Form 44, their version of a Reuben, and the Italian Roast Pork, with braised kale and mustard.  We also tried the chicken liver mousse in a jar - called the chicken liver parfait.  For the first time in my life, I think they gave us enough toast to go with it.  We also had the farro salad, which I wasn't so crazy about it but my friend loved it, and some chips to snack on while we waited for our food.

I haven't always been so complimentary of Consortium Holdings places in the past.  The attitude at Craft & Commerce annoyed me, as did the lack of spoons and the frigid atmosphere at Underbelly, and I wasn't bowled over by the meatballs at Soda & Swine at first - but I've continued to go back to both Craft & Commerce and Soda & Swine/Polite Provisions and they've solved a lot of their issues over time.  Ironside is gorgeous but the food has been a little uneven - amazing one day, not so much another. As for Rare Form, the service and attitude at are as welcoming as can be. Though the food isn't always perfect and you can't eat the atmosphere at any of these places, I'll definitely keep coming back to this one.

Fairweather/Rare Form
795 J Street
On the walkway next to Park at the Park - off J Street
www.godblessrareform.com
Menu