I am the most disappointing New York tourist. “Where are you from?” they ask me at the beginning of every tour and every interaction where I haven’t had to say the word DAWN. (The only word that still give me away.) “Long Island,” I say. And then they look away because they know I won’t spend any money!!! They’d rather that I was from Omaha. They want me to buy a t-shirt. Or a key ring. Or something.
But I don’t care. Because I LOVE NEW YORK. And I am in it! And I am LEGIT. It’s a always a little weird when I go back. Because I know where I’m going. Even though I really don’t know where I am going because I haven’t spent much time in New York since like 1992, I still know that Penn Station and Macy’s are at 34th Street. I still know that Grand Central is on 42nd. I still know that Central Park starts at 59th. These are small things to know, but they are important landmarks on your mostly north/south traverso of Manhattan Island.
One week was not enough time! I need to go back Here’s where I ate and drank and cried while I was in town:
Where I ate and drank…
Long Island Bagels, Wall Street: OK, these weren’t my favorite bagels — Lou’s were better — but their jet-lag friendly opening hours and relative proximity to my hotel, The Thompson, made Long Island Bagels a no brainer. (And, well, I’m from Long Island so there’s that.) Free wifi too! I went here twice for salt bagels with veggie cream cheese. The Verdict: Good. But not the best.
Lou’s Bagels, Wall Street: One morning, when I had a little more time on my hands, I went to Lou’s Bagels. The queue was out the door and down the street. Great sign! I had — surprise — a salt bagel with veggie cream cheese. (I sweated the salt out while I was in town, I promise.) The Verdict: Very, very good.
Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central: My first time. Totally not what I expected. It’s like one big dive bar. The staff fights with each other in front of you, for real. It’s WEIRD. I should have remembered what it was like to hang around Grand Central when I was a kid. Slightly scary. (It’s really much improved now.) BUT! I still stuffed my face with oysters and wine, although I wanted it all to be a little more — how shall we say — neat and tidy and calm? The Verdict: You should probably go here and maybe you’ll like it here and maybe I’ll like it more the next time I go.
La Villetta, Midtown East: My friend Monica knows the owner so we caught up over low-carb entrees while Monica told us about her upcoming triathlons and her 3rd child, born just a few months earlier. I mean, I know I’m pretty lazy, but I felt really lazy after this meal because I do not plan on running any triathlons anytime soon and I haven’t even had one child yet, forget about three. So I ran for 20 minutes on the treadmill the next morning and went clothing shopping for my cousin’s kids later in the day. That’s about as close as I will get.
Five Senses, K-Town: Kristin was in town from LA so Shin and I met up for lunch with her in K-town. Korean pancakes…they get me every time. And this was an excellent version thereof. Stuffed — and I mean stuffed — with seafood. I was going to order a main dish but decided instead just to eat all the pancake. The Verdict: Loved it.
Bar at Bergforfs, Midtown West: On a hot day, I needed some cool shopping. I popped into Bergdorfs, conveniently located around the corner from my 2nd hotel, The Viceroy, and massaged the expensive candles that Leonid from Bob Bob Ricard loves. (I like them too but the budget right now sadly does not allow.) Given my “Summer of Krista” financial situation, I did not buy anything except one glass of Albarino in the very pleasant bar upstairs. (With free wifi.) The Verdict: Expensive, but good if you need a breather.
Gramercy Tavern, Flatiron District: After stocking up at, uh, all the same stores they have in London, I dropped into The Gramercy Tavern for a late lunch. The staff were awesome. My food was good and the vibe was good but…I don’t know. I had higher expectations of the food and the atmosphere. I expected there to be more flowers? The Verdict: It’s nice.
Excellent Dumpling House, Chinatown: Heh heh heh. After my foot massage (keep reading), I wanted a snack so I got some pretty excellent dumplings from the aptly named Excellent Dumpling House. I ate them back at my hotel while watching reruns of The Property Brothers. Bliss. The Verdict: Cheap. Not so cheerful. But I liked my dumplings.
John’s of Bleeker Street: My college friend Doug and his wife met me for the real deal New York pizza at John’s of Bleeker Street. This place is a little scuzzy — I really can’t recommend the loos at all — but the pizza did the trick. Terrible beer and wine selection. Cash only. Totally suspect ATM in the back. The Verdict: Great pizza. Just wish it was nicer.
Where I cried…
9/11 Memorial: I organized a tour of the facility through the official 9/11 memorial museum and I cried. They do a great job with negative space. Negative space I think says it all. The Verdict: You should go here and you should take the tour but be ready to be overwhelmed by all the things left behind. And the negative space.
Renew Bowery Foot Massage: Because I can’t write about 9/11 and leave things on a sad note, I also cried when I went to Chinatown for a foot massage after a long day of walking. William — apparently the teacher — realigned my spine but only touched my feet. It HURT so bad — I cried — but it hurt oh so good I felt like a new person the next day. I was bummed when a regular came in and William left me with his student to do my other foot. The student did a good job, but William was much more awesome. The Verdict: Go, but be ready to cry if you ask for and get William. (Who you really should ask for.)
I love New York! I feel like I am among my people there…when I don’t feel like my people are in London, that is. I need to get back more often! Much more often!
I made a quick trip to Chicago last month. Very last minute. It kinda cracks me up that I’ve been back to Chicago THREE TIMES since leaving the city last June. Out of all the places my new job could have sent me…seriously??
To be fair though, this third trip was more about me than about work. I knew I had some leftover holiday to take and I knew I wanted to see some people and celebrate some things so I went. And I had a nice time. But I don’t think I need to go back for a while now…
I stayed at The James hotel off Michigan Avenue, an excellent location if ever there was one. My room was all white and modern BUT it was also a bit scuffed up. I used Hotwire to book my room and saved A BUNDLE. I forget now if I’ve written about my Hotwire arbitrage skillz but if not, I will in a later post. I like The James BUT I don’t like the food at The James, even though it is David Burke. Every sandwich came with too much untoasted bread and too many undercooked fries. Also, every sandwich was pretty expensive. So stay at The James if you want a nice central location, but eat elsewhere. Also, book via Hotwire. I saved $100 a night off the regular rate at time of booking. With taxes and fees, my room cost $153.87 a nght, which is a great rate for a hotel of this caliber and in this location. The Verdict: A good choice, but in need of a facelift. Try The Thompson instead.
Eating & Drinking
I wish I could tell you that I did some good eating and drinking while I was in Chicago, but honestly…I didn’t. I don’t know if it was bad luck or just laziness on my part. (OK, it was laziness.) I didn’t even go to Eataly, for the love of God! Here’s where I ate and drank…
Kanela Breakfast Club, Wicker Park: I met my friends Amy and Larissa at Kanela Breakfast Club in Wicker Park for a Saturday brunch/lunch. Kanela is in a beautiful space largely kitted out by the oyster bar that was there before Kanela. I liked that oyster bar, but when they opened, I thought to myself “People in Wicker Park don’t eat oysters.” I was right. They didn’t last long. Judging by the crowds at Kanela, people like it here. I did not enjoy my chorizo breakfast burrito at all, and that was after waiting an hour to receive it. The Verdict: Skip it. But I don’t know…everyone else seems to like it here so there’s that.
O’Callaghan’s, River North: My friends Bob & Aileen were celebrating their 10 year anniversary so I popped over to O’Callaghan’s with them for some Guinness to kick off the festivities. Super friendly bar staff, although very dark interior. It was quite empty when we visited but I am sure it gets packed during the week. The Verdict: If you want a nice Irish bar in downtown Chicago, you could do worse than O’Callaghan’s.
Star of Siam, River North: I used to walk by Star of Siam every day on my way to work, but yet I had never been. Well, a sudden craving for curry led us here during my visit and boy am I glad we stopped in. I loved it! I loved the decor! (All warehouse-y and spacious and nice decorated with Thai things.) I loved the service! I loved the food! Why have I not eaten here before? Star of Siam is in a bit of a strange location…you have to walk down a flight of stairs to get there from Wabash…but it seems to be a destination in its own right. The Verdict: Go if you’re craving Thai in downtown Chicago.
Lou Malnati’s, Rush Street: I woke up on Sunday morning and was kinda jonseing for a pizza. Don’t ask. I am ashamed of myself. I was there as soon as they opened and enjoyed my deep dish mini pan pizza in silence. UNTIL…I ran into my old colleague Leslie who caught me stuffing my face at 11 am on a Sunday morning. Lucky for me, her and her dad were planning on doing the same. The Verdict: A guilty pleasure.
Soho House, West Loop: I met Karen out for some drinks and snacks at Soho House and she gave me the grand tour. Amazing how much it feels like Shoreditch House. I mean, I guess that’s not amazing because it is the same owners and everything but they’ve really got this design thing nailed. The ground floor of Soho House was packed, the upper levels less so. The ladies’ room on the pool floor was flooded, so that was kinda gross. Also, I ordered almonds and pickles to snack on and the dish came with just three pickles. (Granted, when I pointed this out, they brought me a WHOLE BOWL of gherkins.) The Verdict: I like Soho House. Despite The Pickle Incident.
Joe Stonecrab, River North: Joe’s was right around the corner from The James so we popped in here for dinner one night. I order the ahi tuna and kicked myself later. I should have stuck with what Joe’s does well…stonecrab or steak. My ahi tuna was straight out of the fridge. No sign of searing but maybe they did sear it…in a very cold, cold pan. Many people like Joe’s, but after eating here many times with those many people over the years, I’m just not a huge fan. The Verdict: Meh.
So there you go…that’s my last trip to Chicago for a while, I think. Unless I become a property magnate and then maybe I will maintain residences around the world. That would be awesome.
Things happen in your life that you don’t expect. Like your father moving to Tampa. The west coast of Florida is full of Harley Davidsons and mustaches and motorcycle cops. My dad is a khaki -and linen shirt kind-of guy who likes to dance the mambo. Hmmmm. But here he is, in Tampa. And British Airways actually flies direct from Tampa to London so here I am too.
Downtown Tampa is a city that time forgot. I try to take a walk around town and it depresses me. Maybe I’m in the wrong part of town. I hear the museums in Tampa are great. But there are a lot of homeless men on bicycles and frankly, I’m not feeling too comfortable. I go to the drugstore, CVS, to stock up on particulars, and a down-on-his-luck-kind-of-guy follows me around and spends a little too long staring at my purse. He hasn’t seen a shower in a long time.
But my hotel, Le Meridian, is lovely. Really really lovely. I’ve booked it on Starwood points, the best points ever, and all is good with the world. It’s a little like Design Within Reach threw up in the lobby of this former courthouse, but hey, I can’t get enough of Herman Miller or Knoll myself so there’s that. Jason at the front desk is the loveliest of chatterers and offers me a free drink voucher at the bar after I check in. My room service breakfast is a little late one morning, and the *gloriously* well-dressed restaurant manager delivers my poached eggs and polenta himself and then tells me it’s all on the house. Life is good.
Tampa is a puzzle. Given how full my returning flight to London is, many people must like it here. Next time, I’ll stay a little longer and see some more things. Maybe drag my dad to a museum or two. We shall see. But one thing is for sure…I will definitely be returning to Le Meridian. It’s pretty gorgeous.
The old Tokyo Hotel, home of Ginza, one of the most traditional Japanese restaurants in Chicago before it went out of business.
I am just back in London after my work visit to Chicago…where it was friggin cold. Too cold. I wanted to leave, it was so cold. My nose, my nose…it is so dry. Everything is dry. My face has aged ten years overnight, in the course of two weeks. No problem then, I just stuffed my aged face at (the oddly empty) Le Colonial for lunch and contemplated botox. (Probably wouldn’t help with the dryness though, huh?) Everything at Le Colonial was nice except for the exceptional amount of shredded lettuce served with everything. I watched the fans swirl around overhead the (seemingly all) blond ladies having lunch as I contemplated the cheapness of my UK mobile phone in the UK but the hefty £6 per mb of data fee in the U.S. Sigh. I feel so powerless. The Loos: Colonial, but they work. The Verdict: Good for ladies who lunch, but hold the lettuce.
Earlier this year, for various unremarkable reasons, I learned a lot about Darden Restaurants. Darden used to run Red Lobster. They still run Capital Grill and The Olive Garden and a bunch of other places most Americans have been to for one reason or another. This is when I finally put together that Seasons 52, the people who had been repeatedly (repeatedly) pestering me to visit their property in the Chicago suburbs, were a Darden venture. It’s an interesting concept for a big chain affair…every item on the Seasons 52 menu is under 475 calories And the food is — you guessed it — seasonal!! I was honestly more than a little curious, and as Seasons 52 was right across from my hotel, The Conrad Hilton, I stumbled over there one late night after work. The decor was pleasantly surprising…no glaring lights, but rather lots of dark wood and soft lighting. And hey, THERE WAS A PIANO PLAYER. I am a bit of a sucker for a good piano player in a bar or restaurant. I ordered some low-calorie mushroom bisque — almost as nice as the piano playing — and served with a bit of crispy (low-calorie?) bread. And then I spent $28 on a piece of sesame coated swordfish as big as my palm (and I have small hands) drenched — inedibly so — in soy sauce, with nary a sesame seed in sight. The Verdict: Go for the live music and if you’re on a diet. Don’t order the swordfish.
Tuesday night, I had a hankering for lobster bisque and a glass of Riesling. It was m*ther-f*cking cold so again, I did not stray far from my hotel. The bar at Shaw’s Crabhouse it was. And guess what guys??? There was a LIVE BLUES BAND! And they were awesome. (The Friends Band…check out some of their tunes here.) And while I liked my lobster bisque, I probably should have had a cup and not a bowl because the big bowl meant cold soup syndrome set in fairly soon after the soup arrived. (Too large of a surface area.) The Verdict: Worth a visit to the bar for live music (Sunday through Thursday…schedule here) and good times. Also some good happy hour oyster specials pre-band.
Hah so I did get out a bit in Chicago — more than I expected to — but I did not get to many new places. My late working hours and the bitter, bitter cold meant I didn’t stray very far from my office or my hotel. That was a-okay with me though.
When I left Chicago this past summer, I really never expected to be back anytime soon. But voila! Late last Friday, it was confirmed. I was heading to Chicago — of all places — for two weeks for work. I’ve been this person before — the Chicago business traveler — but it’s been awhile. Four years? Five? So it’s been weird to be back and in a hotel for so long. And it’s been funny to have my new colleagues doubt my directions to dinner and to their hotels. (“Are you sure this is the right way???” And the ever-alarming “Well surely if we showed up with 8 people at 7 pm on a Wednesday, they’d have a table for us.”) And it’s been even funnier to try to make dinner plans with my old friends, who want to eat at 7 pm. Ah yes, and I hate my U.K. mobile phone plan that charges me £6 a MB for data, so I have been suffering from iPhone withdrawal. (O2, I am looking at YOU.) But here’s what me, the Chicago business traveler, has been up to.
Monday: I almost threw up on the hotel staff as I checked in. It was 2 am for me and I was BEAT. Jet lag hung heavy and dark around me. I went straight to bed, despite promising myself I’d head to Eataly for a little snack before bedtime.
Tuesday: I made it to Eataly and had some verdure fritto misto and a glass of Gavi. Perhaps not surprisingly, while I was sitting there enjoying the free wifi and Wild Belles playing in the background (check them out, seriously), an old colleague walked by, so we had a nice little catch-up and another glass of wine. I love Eataly, especially on a slow Tuesday night when no one is around. Even though the graphic design does really bother me. The Verdict: Go!
Wednesday: We were a motley crew from all around the world so I made an executive decision that we all needed deep-dish pizza. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a reservation anywhere. (Lou Malnati’s on Wells does not take reservations???) So we ended up at Pizano’s on Madison, where I had the genius idea of pre-ordering our pizza so it arrived about 7 minutes after we sat down. For about $20 a person, we gorged ourselves on pizza and slugged back half-price bottles of wine. A good time. And festively decorated for the season as well. The free ice cream cakes/pies delivered to our table at the end of our meal were an extra bonus, as was our extremely competent server. The Verdict: No complaints.
Thursday: We stopped by Bohemian House on Illinois and had some wine and the largest plate of potato chips. Manny the bar back let us tether our phones to his, which was particularly awesome of him, but caused us to go deep into a dark and downward social media spiral. I like the design of Bohemian House, although it feels so much like Hubbard Inn, I thought I was in the wrong place there for a moment. I thought about eating at Boho but I just wasn’t feeling particularly hungry so I headed back to my hotel where two hours later, I decided I was ravenous and that I really wanted CHINESE FOOD. Do you know what happened next? P.F. mother f*cking Changs. You got it. I dragged my jet-lagged, freezing cold slightly slimmer American ass to P.F. Chang’s and enjoyed their spicy chicken more than I really expected to. The Verdict: Hey, sometimes, you are tired and cold and go with what is close and easy and it all works out just fine.
Friday: My friend A has just KICKED BREAST CANCER’S ASS. She is the best and the most amazing. Also, modern medical technology is AMAZING. So we met up at Bistronomic with our friend T who I have known since I was 5 years old to celebrate and chat and be normal. Although A loved her steak frites, I was less than impressed. My steak was overcooked — I ordered medium rare — and and my frites were undercooked. And they weren’t really frites anyhow. (I prefer the golden shoestring style when having steak frites.) The Verdict: I want to like Bistronomic! The chef is handsome! The staff is lovely! The location is great! But yet…
Saturday: I worked for 12 hours on a Saturday. So that sort of sucked. I like my weekends (who doesn’t really) and I am down a day. I got “home” at 9:30 pm and didn’t want to spend $57 on room service. So I went around the corner to Oysy and had some maki and it was okay. It was too cold, actually. But the staff gave me some free saki which was exactly what I needed after a day like mine. They all kinda stared at me when I entered though, and then they cleaned all the glasses like right there directly in front of me. Hmmmm…I wonder how much their rent is and how much sushi they have to sell in a month to break even. The Verdict: I will probably try some other places before going back here.
Hey, it’s not over til it’s over. I’ve got a few more days…