24 hours in New York City

 

“So lucky to be alive today… in the greatest city in the world”

“In New York… in New York” – Hamilton

New York City. It’s one of those places that stimulates me and exhausts me at the same time. You know what I mean?

Just got back from a quick trip anniversary trip, and I’m still so wired from the whole experience.

Seriously, you don’t even need caffeine there.

The streets, the people, the atmosphere. It’s all enough to keep you alert and bright eyed for hours, if not a day or two afterwards.

Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary by heading from DC to NYC for a day.

Here’s how our 24 hours unfolded.

After taking the train, then checking into our hotel, we freshened up and headed to lunch.

We chose Carbone for a long leisurely lunch before our show later that night.

Carbone is a Michelin rated retro style New York Italian restaurant. If you watch the Netflix Aziz Anzari show, Master of None, it was featured in the second season. Aziz is a big pasta fan in real life, so we were sold!

 

The Decor: Big beautiful florals in vases. Pink tiger lilies. Bright blue walls. Tiled floor. This is a HAPPY place.

The Food:  The food is Italian-American, so think big platters meant for sharing. Meatballs. Pastas. Italian salads. That kind of stuff.

The meal begins with a basket of garlic bread, a plate of salami, and a warm fresh ball of gooey mozzarella that they cut with scissors right in front of you. We also ordered the caesar salad, which was the best I’ve ever had. Big garlic croutons with a creamy dressing, and lots of anchovies. (of which I could only eat one… thought I could handle more, but guess not).

We also couldn’t resist the penne al la vodka, lobster ravioli, and veal parmesan.

The Atmosphere: This restaurant is very old-school with waiters who are a bit bossy and brash. It’s the New York experience, really.

Our waiter rolled his eyes at me for looking at my cell phone when he was explaining the menu. (I couldn’t help it. I got a text from my brother, who NEVER texts me. Thought it might have been emergency.)

It’s also very noisy here. The tables for two are pushed together quite closely, so you hear everyone’s conversation around you, and see exactly what everyone else is eating too.

The people next to us, practically in our laps, were also celebrating their anniversary and we chatted with them few minutes, which was fun

Overall impression: This lunch was really enjoyable, and I feel fortunate that we got to eat here. A few groups got turned away as they moved out of the lunch hour, and supposedly it’s impossible to get a reservation here for dinner. While the food was certainly tasty, the whole experience of food + service didn’t quite measure up to Michelin-quality, in my opinion.

I don’t think I would go back there again on my next trip, but I’d recommend to others for a fun NY Italian meal.

Hamilton on Broadway

Okay, so I have to preface this part by saying that while I do enjoy musicals, I’m really picky about them.

I once fell asleep during the musical Camelot and slept through the entire intermission.

Anyway, believe the hype about Hamilton!

It’s really good! As in, your head can’t stop bopping the entire time.

You can’t wait to see what they’re going to do in the next scene.

Every song is better than the last.

This show is so creative. It’s educational. It appeals to a large audience.

And the songs have been stuck in my head for days.

Breakfast

So, after a late nightcap after the show at a rather lame speakeasy (it’s not awesome when the same waitress takes your same order and doesn’t remember)  my husband and I were looking forward to our breakfast ritual in NYC.

We always devour fresh bagels and then buy a dozen to bring back with us to DC.

Before you think that’s weird (because there are bagel shops in DC after all), when I lived in California, I once knew someone from Long Island who would bring BAGELS and NEW YORK style pizza back on the plane with her.

Anyway, a bagel is pretty much my idea of heaven.

I’m pretty sure if I have the opportunity to choose one of my last meals, it would probably be a New York Everything bagel with scallion cream cheese.

Until next time, New York!

 

 

Quick Nashville Trip

Although I grew up in the South a few hours away from Nashville, I never really spent any time there.

But recently, we took a quick trip to Nashville, and I was surprised by how much the city offers. Here’s a quick round up of what we did, where we stayed, and what we ate.

The first day we arrived close to dinner time and headed straight to Rolf and Daughters for dinner. This restaurant serves small plates, and it’s a must if you like innovative cuisine.

It was too dark to take flattering pictures of the food inside, but we had a series of really delicious plates like sourdough bread with seaweed butter (obsessed!), homemade fusilli pasta with mushrooms, Njuda baked sweet potato, and the signature dish, chicken with preserved lemon and garlic.

Patio at Rolf and Daughters

The drinks were really good too and I had something so unique made with Pimm’s, fresh herbs, and falernum, an old timey simple syrup made of ginger, cloves, almond, and lime.

When we travel, we like to stay in Airbnb. This time, our rental was in a neighborhood near Vanderbilt University. This historic red brick cottage had so much Nashville charm- old creaky floors, a slanted bathroom ceiling (where we bumped our heads a few times), country music posters and art, and country decor.

I loved the bedspread and the chicken motif decorations!

The next morning, we headed to Biscuit Love early so we’d be there when they opened. This place tends to get long lines and it makes sense why. The food was so good.

I feel like biscuits are making a revival in the States right now. I know biscuits can be different things in different countries, but here biscuits refer to traditional southern rolls made with tons of butter and flour. As you can see, they can be eaten savory or sweet. 

We ordered the fried chicken biscuit smothered in spicy white gravy. The star of the meal though were the mini biscuit donuts served up with blueberry compote and whipped mascarpone cream. Needless to say, it’s worth heading back to Nashville just for this plate again!

The Parthenon at Centennial Park, downtown Nashville

After breakfast, we walked downtown and spent some time in Centennial Park. This park has green public spaces where people can perform or exercise (African dancing and drumming) and a replica of the Parthenon.

From there, we headed to lunch.

You can’t come to Nashville and not eat Nashville hot chicken. There are a couple of good places that serve it, but we went for Hattie B’s. We stood in the long line for about an hour, but it was worth it!

Crunchy. Spicy. Savory. Totally satisfying Nashville Hot Chicken.

After our lunch, we went to Music Row for some country music at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. This place is really amazing. There are three levels and each one had live music all day long. We ended up staying for about 3 hours and then walking around the streets to hear other musicians playing too.

Even if you don’t know much country music, this part of Nashville is really great to visit.

After listening to music, it was getting later in the day but rather than dinner that night, we decided to have some drinks and appetizers instead.

We headed to Patterson House for a few hours.

This speakeasy was so charming. I’d call the atmosphere swanky old-fashioned library (sounds strange, but it works). We tucked ourselves in to a dim cozy corner and enjoyed our lovely drinks!

The bar tenders are really enthusiastic about their job and so skilled here that they can even concoct something just for you. You just tell them your preferences and they come back a few minutes later with a delicious custom made creation.

My cocktail was great. Herbal. Fresh. Gingery. Exactly how I like it.

Arcadia Farm Fall Harvest Dinner

In early fall each year, Arcadia Farm hosts a special Fall Harvest dinner benefitting Veteran farmers. This kind of food event is one of my favorite ways to transition to Autumn here in DC.

See my two previous farm dinners, Feast in the Forest and Arcadia Farm to Table Dinner.

This particular afternoon was PERFECT.

The air was crisp and clean. The sky was sunny. This was the kind of day that makes you feel energized and happy to be alive. 

The afternoon started with delicious drinks around 4:30 pm. They had wine and beer, but the Huckleberry Juice Punch called my name. Similar to cranberry, this punch was tart and and refreshing, made with infused herbs and vodka.

During the cocktail hour, you were encouraged to walk around the farm, admire the sights and say hello to the chickens! 

Because they started running out of the Huckleberry punch, I switched to champagne, which I enjoyed while sampling oysters and trays of passed appetizers.

Soon, we all sat down for dinner at a long family style table, and feasted on 3 scrumptious courses of meats and vegetables.

Everything served was local, either grown on this exact farm or nearby.

There were so many delicious courses like Thai style beef salad and fried okra, but my favorite course of the night was the roasted pork with tomatillo sauce.  

This dinner was a true indulgence, and it was made better by all the fun conversations with people nearby.

As the afternoon sky slowly turned from golden to lavender, the moon come out overhead.

That meant it was soon time for DESSERT!

They served a trio of little sweet bites including cardamom shortbread, mint meringues, and butternut squash cake. (I might have snuck a few of these home in a napkin!)

This day was the perfect welcome to fall.

And guess what I learned, ya’ll?

While I absolutely cannot wait until I can attend this dinner again next October, I found out Arcadia Farm hosts a summer dinner harvest too.

I’ve got my sights set on the next Farm dinner in May 2018!

Scenes of San Juan

Okay, Mother Nature. I respect you.

The last few weeks, Mother Nature has been rough on the Caribbean, Texas, and Florida (and an earthquake in Mexico too).

I can’t believe that since I wrote my last post on Puerto Rico that Hurricane Maria struck the island dead on.

I keep seeing “vacation” images of Puerto Rico in my mind, and it’s hard to reconcile all the destruction we’re all seeing on the news these days.

I sincerely hope it’s not too long before the residents feel more comfortable and things start to go back to normal.

Here are some of my favorite remembrances of colorful quirky San Juan.

Bright sherbet colored buildings and Jesus shrines on the street
Wall of rum… any flavor you could want, literally
View of ocean from San Felipe del Morro Fortress
Beautiful final resting place overlooking the sea
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I loved how wild and dramatic the ocean was in San Juan



Cathedral of San Juan Bautista; Is it just me, or is this portrait  unusually “brawny” for cathedral decor?
Public open air free library on the street

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Amazing detail in this underpass art mural

Puerto Rico

Snorkeling at Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

To be honest, it was hard writing this post.

A few days before Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean and Florida, my husband and spent a long weekend in Puerto Rico.

We weren’t affected by the hurricane (made it back home safely before landfall) and Puerto Rico didn’t suffer widespread catastrophic damage like St Thomas or St Martin and other nearby islands. However, the news coverage is still so unsettling about how many people are struggling.

This makes me feel uncomfortable writing about the trip. But I hope I can share what we appreciated this lovely part of the world.

Ocean Park Beach outside of San Juan

We stayed in an AirBnB in a neighborhood called Ocean Park. It had a relaxed local feel, and our stay was absolutely delightful.

The owner of the Airbnb created several beautiful spaces in her own home, and you can see from the sign outside her house, her warm positive outlook on life. 

I loved the eclectic decor which combined modern and classic Spanish influences, collected from vintage stores and flea markets.

Our room was built as a sort of tree house attached to the top of the house, and this was our very narrow spiral staircase leading to it.

The most notable aspect of our room was the outdoor shower. There is something so relaxing about taking a shower outdoors in the early evening, listening to the birds and crickets in the trees around us.

Of course, you have to get comfortable with the idea that you’re- you know- outside without any clothes on. But once you do, it’s cool.

This outdoor shower ended up being one of my favorite things are the trip (my husband not so much!) He kept thinking people could spy on us, even though there were pretty high barriers around the shower.

Breakfast at the outdoor communal kitchen

Each morning, we’d stumble down our spiral staircase to have breakfast with the other guests in the garden. This AirBnb had an outdoor communal kitchen, and each morning, she’d place bread, nut butters, fresh jams, granola, hot coffee, coconut water, and homemade beet juice.

It was such a fun way to interact with the other guests.

Perhaps the absolute best thing about this location was the beach, which was literally across the street!

There’s lots more to share about Puerto Rico coming up, including a wonderful dinner we had one night, all the tasty local dishes we tried on a food tour, our day spent in Old San Juan, and our snorkeling trip. 

How do you feel about the outdoor shower? Would you be comfortable with it?

A Day and Night in Rotorua

From neon green lakes during the day to pool tables at night

So, this is my VERY LAST POST about New Zealand. I’m kind of sad about it, but you’re probably thinking Finally!

We spent our last day in Rotorua.

Rotorua is a rather interesting place. It’s what I imagine Earth must have been like during Dinosaur times.

Pockets of steams rising all over the place, volcanic craters, molten hot springs, neon green bodies of water, and a noticeable sulphur smell.

In fact, you can visit the Waitopo Geothermal Park park to see a concentration of all these ancient wonders in one place.

Walking around the park, you are greeted by many scenes of this…

It was hard to get a good shot of this lake which would do it justice.

The wind kept blowing steam into the picture. So, I’ll just describe it to you.

A two tone pool. A body of emerald green water surrounded by a bright orange ring, colored by the minerals in the water around the rim.

It wasn’t all just sulphur and steam though. The park also has beautiful walking trails through trees like this.

My favorite place in this park though was this bright neon green lake. Yes, it really is that color. Did you ever guess that hue existed in nature?

After walking around and contemplating prehistoric environment, we headed to our very special resting place for the night, the Hamurana Springs Lodge.

When researching this inn, I didn’t pay too much attention to the description. It just sounded like a decent place to stay.

But it ended up being my favorite stay of the entire trip.

This lodge was a bit out of town in the country side, sitting on its own estate surrounded by fields of horses. Once you turn into the road leading to the inn, you see the lodge perched up on a hill.

Then you drive down this wonderfully long path to the inn

Finally, you reach this cute old inn.

Once you’re inside, you’re greeted with all kinds of lovely views of the countryside

as well as portraits of local Maori tribespeople on the walls

Being there on a Thursday night, we had the random luck of being the only guests.

Not only did we have the run of the place, but we got so much specialized attention from the staff.

In fact, we joked that we felt like we were in an episode of Downtown Abbey. The staff tended to our every need, building a fire for us and stoking it through the evening, offering nice drinks, and so on.

We took advantage of all the lodge’s amenities including this beautiful fire place in a sitting room where we read books and drank wine for a few cozy hours. They piped in old fashioned jazz music and we felt like we had gone back in time to a different era.

Though I’m not skilled at pool at all, we also enjoyed playing a few games

That night, we slept so well, probably the best I slept the entire trip.

And the next morning, we went down to the dining room and were greeted with this nice breakfast. Fresh croissants. Cheeses and meats. Berries with yogurt.

After eating seconds and drinking a few cups of coffee, we spent a little time in our room just enjoying the view and feeling grateful that our trip to New Zealand ended on such a high note.

Exploring Otago Region, NZ

Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy. (Yes, cheesery is a word, I learned on this trip.)

This charming winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.