Monday, June 05, 2017

Mexico City Digest - A round up of favorite places and things from my May 2017 trip to Mexico City.

I'm trying something new - using the blog here to supplement my Instagram posts with "Digests" of my trips and some of my favorite places to regularly visit. The Digests will round up my personal favorites from each trip and/or place along with a few thoughts and tips. Coming soon, look for digests from recent and upcoming trips to Florence, the Amalfi Coast, London, LA, New York, Copenhagen and London. And if you don't already, follow me on Instagram! It's pretty fun, I swear! I may even do a roundup of my favorite accounts to help you get hooked. :) Hope you enjoy! xx
Breakfast at Lalo - CDMX
Breakfast at Lalo  - Roma Centro - This was our first, and I think best, breaktfast in CDMX - chilaquiles (verde) and huevos rancheros served with a bowl of soupy black beans.  The eggs were the tell-tale deep orange of pastured eggs, always a good sign.  Lalo is a casual daytime place by the people behind Maximo, a great upscale French bistro across the street which we also enjoyed a couple of days later.  We had good coffee here too - the only downer was the stale croissant - hopefully a one off - but I didn't get the impression that baked goods are their strong suit. (There's a better place for those - Panaderia Rosetta - see below.)  Bonus points for great design and service.
Coffee at Cafe Avellaneda - Coyoacan  - I'm pretty  much ready to move to Coyoacan just to be closer to this place.  It's that good. We found it looking for a spot for coffee before the Frida Kahlo museum, which is a short walk away.  We loved it so much that we went back on our last day. Its a tiny jewel-box of a spot tucked away on a side street.  They have a small bar and a bench along the wall. If you sit there, they bring your coffee on a tray, with a glass of water and a little cookie on a little pottery plate.  It's just perfect.  They also feature delicious coffee cocktails - above is the Juanito, espresso, tonic water and tamarind extract with a twist of orange rind - and a small but perfect selection of baked goods under a glass dome on the counter (I recommend the almond cake) They also sell their coffee beans by the pound.  If you go, will you bring me some??  Please??
The Frida Kahlo House (Casa Azul) - Coyoacan - This was at the absolute top of my list and it lived up to all of my expectations.  There is some, but not a lot of her artwork here - it is really about the house and her life.  The larger and better collections of paintings are at the Diego Rivera and Dolores Olmedo museums, which we did not get to on this trip.  We did not do the audio tour, but I would (will) probably go ahead and spring for it next time - I had already checked my bag at the door so I wasn't able to pay the fee for a photo permit - it's only 30 pesos. I was able to sneak a couple but it would be nice to have more.  Definitely buy tickets in advance online. We went on a late weekday morning and were able to skip the very long line because we had already purchased our tickets. My favorite part was the exhibit of her dresses and clothing - including some of her casts and prosthetics - it was housed in a separate area so I'm not sure if it's a permanent exhibit but it is well worth seeing.  While you're at the Casa Azul be sure to head over to the town square of Coyacan just a few blocks away, and visit the Coyoacan handicrafts markets  - there are two, and they both have a great selection of clothes, baskets huaraches, textiles, etc. at good prices. On Sundays (and probably other days as well) they also have great street vendors, and you can get fantastic churros at Churreria General de Republica.  There is also a great little Antojitos market near Cafe Avellaneda, where we had some fab tostadas after our second visit.
Lunch at Contramar - Condesa - Contramar is a bustling spot and was absolutely packed when we arrived with no reservation at 3 PM on Thursday afternoon - prime comida time.  They told us it would be an hour wait, we said we'd stick it out, and it turned out to be more like 15 minutes.  I'm not sure if we were just lucky, but this "show up and agree to wait an hour" strategy worked for us on two other occasions too - every time we got in within about 15-20 minutes. I really liked our meal at Contramar, but I didn't love it as much as I had hoped. Their ahi tostadas (center bottom above) are their most popular dish - and while they were very good, they weren't better than the tostadas in Ensenada at La Guerrerense or other good ceviche spots elsewhere.  We liked the ceviche a lot, and the "carnitas de pescada" were fun for a change, but the scallop dish (top right) was a little bland in spite of its startling color and the mayonnaise laden camaron tostadas were cloyingly sweet.  A lot of people seem to order the whole fish here, so maybe that's the way to go. I'm including Contramar in this roundup because even though I didn't love our meal, I think it's at least partly because we ordered poorly. It's definitely a happening scene at comida time and people reeallly seem to love it. BTW - they have a "gringo" menu that doesn't have a slot for their daily changing specials - so be sure to ask for those. (They gave us the Spanish one at first, then the gringo one when we asked to see a menu during the meal.)
La Merced Market Tour with Eat Mexico Tours:  Aside from the Casa Azul, the other advance plan we made before leaving on the trip was a tour of La Merced, the largest and oldest food market in Mexico City.  We chose Eat Mexico for this tour and we were really happy with the experience.  Our guide, Carla, was incredibly charming, and took the three of us on the tour all over the fruit and vegetable and prepared food sides of the market.  Interestingly, she said she would not take us in the meat building because we were an all female group, and she didn't want to subject us to harassment by the butchers. I had heard that street harassment is more of an issue in Mexico than it is in the US, but either we were too old or this didn't prove true, because we certainly didn't notice any.  We never felt unsafe anywhere we went, and we walked around quite a bit.  As we went through the tour, Carla took us to her favorite stalls and all of our food and beverages were included - we stopped for tacos, aguas frescas, candy, and even a stall selling insects and other delicacies of Mexico. We had some really good nieves (ice cream) on the street, and finished with mezcal served in a poblano pepper and guacamole with chapulines (yes, grasshoppers!) at a nice restaurant nearby. The tour takes about five hours, and I had been a smidge concerned about spending such a large chunk of time at the market, but it was really worthwhile. La Merced is also something you definitely would not want to do without a guide, at least the first time. The place is huge and a total maze and you would have no idea how to find the good stuff once you got inside.
Palacio Nacional - CDMX
After the tour, since we were close to the city center, we walked over to the Zocalo to see the Cathedral, the Templo Mayor ancient Aztec ruins right next door, and the Diego Rivera Mural at the Palacio Nacional - the History of Mexico.  If you go to CDMX - do not miss this mural - it is worth a special trip, and the Palacio Nacional is a lovely oasis of calm within the city.  We had a little trouble finding the entrance to the building (a sign maybe would have helped?)  but eventually figured it out. The Zocalo itself was a construction site so there wasn't much to look at there, but the balcony bar at the Gran Hotel has a fabulous vantage point and a killer Tiffany stained glass dome in the lobby - like the Palace Hotel in San Francisco - and is worth a stop for a drink.
Lunch at Maximo Bistrot - Roma - This was by far my favorite meal of the trip.  In fact, it's  the best meal I've eaten in recent memory.  We arrived at 3 PM on Saturday afternoon and they squeezed us in after a lovely cocktail in the upstairs bar.  The restaurant wasn't exactly what I expected - it's  described in blog posts and articles as a "French bistro" but it's much more interesting that that.  I'd say Mediterranean fine dining maybe.  We opted to share two starters, two mains and a bottle of wine  Our server very enthusiastically recommended the "Caracol" - which is sea snails, with butter and garlic, plated over a swirl of avocado puree.  I've never loved sea snails but these may have changed my mind.  They were tender and rich, sparkling with butter, citrus and garlic.  The next dish was lightly fried artichoke hearts - served in more garlic and butter but just different enough from the first dish. They brought around hunks of fresh baked sourdough bread and it was all just heavenly with the bottle of dry white wine we ordered.  For mains, anytime I see rabbit on the menu I order it, and it was fantastic here - braised and served in a flavorful demi glace. My friend Kris chose fish and was equally pleased.
Panaderia Rosetta - Colonia Juarez.  There are a few other smaller branches of this bakery cafe sprinkled around including one in Condesa and Roma.  We popped in for a bite on the afternoon of our last day in CDMX - I opted for the lemon meringue cake pictured above, which was better than I dared expect - and Kris had a savory snack of appetizers and salads.  Everything was just "so" and if I were to return to Mexico City (and I am fairly certain I will) I would seriously consider staying in the Air BNB that is literally right upstairs just for easy access to their coffee and pastries in the morning.  The Juarez area was lovely, with tree-lined streets and an upscale residential feel to it  I'm sure they're very busy in the morning but in the afternoon it was nice and peaceful.

For more photos, click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Glastonbury Festival 2015

Oh Glastonbury, you got me again.  I thought this second visit would be so much easier than the first - we were staying inside the festival in a tipi, some of my favorite bands were playing (even headlining!)  and having been there before we were old pros. We even knew where the secret piano bar was.  But guess what?  It still went by in a flash, and we still didn't get around to everything we wanted to do.  I  now realize that is completely impossible and one of the maddening yet enchanting thing about the festival.  You are going to miss 95% of it no matter what you do.  It's all about choices, and it definitely keeps you coming back for more.
The tipi thing worked out really well.  There were clean compost toilets, showers, a fire pit and a cafe, and we had a lovely huge tipi to enjoy.  It was pretty noisy, with music coming at us from about six different locations during waking hours Friday-Sunday (including a never ending drum circle in the Tipi Field next door.)  The hour-long lines for showers were also inconvenient, but at least there were showers.  I just don't think I could do the whole five days without them. Between the mud, all the walking and the fact that there's no better way to revive when you're hungover or tired, that is a necessity for me. We missed some things about our posh campsite last year - namely the lovely people running it, parking close to the tent and the real double bed we slept on, but the prime location of the tipis made up for a lot of that.
The benefits of being inside the festival were only slightly offset by the misery of having to carry our belongings all the way across the site from Gate D to the tipi field without a backpack or a cart.  That was kind of our own fault though.  Would you go on a three mile uphill hike with two overweight, sagging duffel bags?  Don't answer that.  We ate all our meals in the festival this year, but there was a lot of turnover in the food vendors - and sadly many of the ones I enjoyed last year were missing.  I was also chagrined to notice the prices went up by about a pound across the board, so most meals/sandwiches, etc. were around 8-12 pounds, or about 13-18 bucks a meal.  Seeing as I ate only one real meal every day it wasn't terrible, but when your one meal isn't very good it's a bit of drag.
We did try that Tabun pizza, and it was the best thing we had.  Tied for second were the lobster dripping in herb butter, and the raclette - both down by the Pyramid Stage. The lobster stall was a little overwhelmed, but when I finally got my lobster it was almost worth the crazy long wait.  On the plus side of the wait, met and chatted with the guys who do the visuals for Flying Lotus - one of them even chivalrously gave me his lobster when mine came out looking scrawny and I sent it back. (Picky? Who, me?)  The raclette boys had the whole set up - broiling the wheel of cheese under a heater and then scraping it off onto little paper boats filled with new potatoes, bacon and pickles. (Pro tip: get it with the fries instead of new potatoes.)  I would have pictures and even a video of that for you, but I managed to lock myself out of my phone and lost all of my pictures from Wednesday and Thursday when I had to restart it as a new phone on Friday (which was not easy in a remote location like that, let me tell you!)
My music highlight this year was definitely Florence and the Machine.  She stepped up to the headline slot at the last minute when planned Friday headliners Foo Fighters had to cancel because of Dave Grohl's broken leg.  She absolutely killed it - I almost didn't go because I was by myself, but I am so glad I did. Her cover of Times Like These by the Foo Fighters was the perfect homage. I got as close as I possibly could and I've never been at a show with more energy and enthusiasm.  I loved it so much I bought tickets for her show here in October as soon as I got home.
I was committed to changing it up and getting around to as many new experiences as possible this year, and going in the "back" of the Rabbit Hole was close to the top of this list.  We went on Thursday since we figured the lines were only going to get longer throughout the weekend.  When you finally get to the front, they usher you through a thigh high door into a room decorated Alice in Wonderland style, where they ask you riddles, spin you around and generally just try to disorient you as much as possible before sending you through a lighted tunnel to a tented dance club area - there is a little outdoor space and a second smaller tented area too with a live band. Adjacent to this is an even more exclusive "VIP" area with a central outdoor fireplace and live music -  it was rumored there was a hot tub back there this year too.
The Rabbit Hole seemed a lot more crowded this year - Since it's tucked up at the top of the Park I think in years past a lot of people didn't make it all the way there, but that seemed to have changed.  We were there for the "Secret Massive Finale" (below) - which was Mark Ronson doing a DJ set.  I also made it to see Fatboy Slim in Silver Hayes this year - a lot of people complained about the venue being dangerously overcrowded, but we were kind of off to the side and didn't notice any problems.  Arcadia was also pretty spectacular this year with their newly added baby spiders, and one of my festival highlights was seeing The Age of Glass at the Bimble Inn at 1 AM on Monday. (Can you tell I spent quite a bit of time enjoying the nightlife this year?)
I did still manage to get around to a few daytime sets including Alt J, where we discovered the joy of  a lazy afternoon up on the hill surrounding the Pyramid.  The sound is really surprisingly good up there.  We were right in front of people's tents - must be an interesting experience to have that view all weekend.  We missed Lionel Ritchie in the Sunday "Legends" slot - he drew the largest crowd of the weekend just like Dolly Parton last year. We opted for a catered Sunday lunch at the Deluxe Diner in Shangri La instead, but I caught some of Lionel on the taped coverage. It looked like he put on a good show and was tickled by the fantastic reception from the crowd.  I also heard but did not see the Dalai Lama's Sunday morning speech. Another side benefit of being in a tipi, we were close enough to the Green Fields to wake up to it coming through over the loudspeaker.
We found the piano bar - which wasn't very difficult at all.  All day Wednesday and Thursday you could see and hear them building it, just off to the side of the Kings Meadow (Stone Circle) - people wandered through during the day and played the piano occasionally - I tried to go Saturday morning but we were deterred by the huge line - it only holds about 30 people.  Also new this year, a couple had set up two tubs nearby  - one "indoor" in a tent and one outdoor with a view - offering hot seaweed baths heated by a woodfired stove. It looked interesting, but I don't know if they had very many takers.
We closed out the weekend with the Chemical Brothers at the Other Stage on Sunday night (before going on to Arcadia, Bimble Inn and the Rabbit Hole...again...)  Though I probably missed more of the music than I should have one great thing about Glastonbury is most of the lineup is televised on the BBC - the whole thing is on TV in England and a lot of it was also uploaded to YouTube.  Since you can only be in one place at one time and you have to sleep at some point, the televised coverage is fantastic for seeing what you missed.  Of course it's not the same as being there, but in some ways it's actually better.  You can  actually see the performance and you're not standing in the rain/being trampled by the crowd/broiling in the sun, etc.  It's helped me discover a lot of bands that I might never have found otherwise like Years and Years, Future Islands, Jamie T, Jamie XX, etc. Unfortunately the BBC has marked all of their You Tube videos private now (I think they only share them for thirty days.) but many of them have been uploaded by other viewers - poke around here if you want to have a look.
All in all, it was another amazing, exhausting, overwhelming, fantastic year.  I met some fun people (one of whom has actually turned into a real life friend - hi Helen!)  hung out with some friends from last year, and made other "friends" I'll probably never see again, but that's how the Glastonbury spirit works.  Every time you go, you have a little more experience to go on, some new areas to see, a list of bands you will probably never make it to, and (hopefully) you let yourself get carried off to something new and unexpected.  I also discovered the joys of showing the festival to people experiencing it for the first time, which might be the most fun of all.

(If you're interested, I also wrote about 2014 here, here and here.)

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 also 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 right in the middle of town.  It was fairly new when I stayed before and the service seemed a little spiffier - but the main improvement 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 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 could never find two seats when we wanted them.  Instead, we just went to the John Dory and sat at their bar. The John Dory is somewhat famous for their homemade dinner rolls which are perfect with their burrata and salsa verde. An order of those with some rose and oysters was perfection.
NYC 2015
Since we were going to be there for a few days, we decided to get City Passes, which give 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 and 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 the above mentioned oysters and rose) to see the sun set and redeem our CityPass vouchers.  It seemed to be a pretty good time of day for this - the line was non-existent but it was still 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 and 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 tone and style.  The rest of the World Trade Center complex is still 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 was 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 both of which were amazing - though I'm always partial to a reuben.  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 popular spot where we experienced bad service.  James ordered a croissant breakfast sandwich and they told us they were out.  Huh?   The case was full of croissants.  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 tiny two-or-three-sip 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, our server was strangely snobbish and unpleasant.  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 can happen with an over-hyped experience, but this was amazing.  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 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 there. 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