What an amazing city! I love New York. D and I recently spent a week there on vacation. We decided to go before Baby Bean arrives in June and as it turned out, February worked really well with our schedules. Our time there overlapped with New York Fashion Week, the NBA All-Star Weekend, and… freezing cold temperatures (average of about -10 C!). This West Coast girl is not used to that kind of cold. At least it was clear and crisp with blue skies, so it was actually quite pretty and it wasn’t so bad as long as we layered up before venturing out. So much for all my careful outfit planning and packing though – my little leather jacket and stiletto booties didn’t see the light of day, and instead I mostly just wore my warmest clothes and a hat the entire time. Oh well, I’m not complaining one bit. It was a wonderful trip and I’m so glad we were able to go!
As for what to do in NYC, there are whole websites devoted to this topic and it’s really hard to cover off in a little blog post. However, I’ve tried my best to sum up what we got up to while there and to compile a list of recommendations in case you find yourself in the Big Apple anytime soon.
Refinery Hotel – I loved our hotel so much! It’s a new, hip, and luxurious boutique hotel located in Midtown (38th Street @ 6th Avenue), near Bryant Park. The location was ideal as it was central and we felt well-connected to the rest of Manhattan. The room was the perfect place to call home for a week, and the rooftop bar (Refinery Rooftop – open year-round) was a highlight and has an incredible view through the glass ceiling of the Empire State Building. Most nights before heading out for dinner, we would grab a drink at the lounge on the lobby floor and listen to live jazz, and at the end of the night before bed we would grab a nightcap at the rooftop bar. On the weekends late at night, the rooftop bar was clubby, and it was more casual during the week. Major props to the bartender who was happy to make me inventive, non-alcoholic cocktails so I didn’t feel left out. Lastly, one night after a show and it was freezing outside, we popped into the hotel’s restaurant, Parker & Quinn (a super casual diner-style restaurant) for a late-night bite and the food was really good.
I didn’t want to stay in Times Square because that seemed a bit too touristy and frenetic for my taste. If you prefer to stay in SoHo (where we wound up spending a lot of time for food and shopping) my friend L suggested The Mercer, which looks lovely (but also quite a bit more expensive than The Refinery).
OMG the food! I ate so much while we were there and because I’m expanding by the day with this whole baby thing, food became a focal point of my NYC research instead of the usual target: shopping. So… I got to test out a lot of places and I’m left with a list of places I didn’t have a chance to try this time that I must try the next time I go back. **Pro tip: most NYC restaurants don’t start taking reservations until 30 days in advance (although some places, it’s 31 days, some it’s 28), and the popular places book up fast. As in I made a point of making my rezzos on Open Table at 9pm Vancouver time, midnight NYC time once the clock hit 30 days before. I know it sounds intense and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m glad we planned in advance and got to check out some really memorable places.
- Betony – hands down, the most memorable meal of my life. We went to this Michelin starred restaurant in Midtown on Valentine’s Day when the restaurant did a 6 course tasting menu complete with sea urchin, foie gras bon-bons, poached lobster, and beef cooked at a low temperature over a 48 hour period that you could cut with a butter knife. D got the wine pairings option as well, and I was happy that he did because he would have missed out if not, even though part of me was crying on the inside. I did cheat and steal one small little miniscule sip of his Brunello because if there was ever a time to cheat, I’m pretty sure that was it. The bartender made me some delicious non-alcoholic cocktails too, so at least I had that. After coffee and dessert, we were given a parting gift of a box of handmade chocolates wrapped up in a red ribbon and set out to walk back to our hotel as it was lightly snowing outside. A pretty fantastic Valentine’s Day, even if I couldn’t enjoy more of that Brunello…
- ABC Kitchen – ah I loved it here! It’s a Jean-Georges restaurant so you know it’s going to be good, and it is such a beautiful space – white and airy and my kind of aesthetic. It’s also located in the ABC Carpet and Home store in the Flatiron District (about a 20 minute walk to our hotel), which is fabulous and if you like design and home decor you should check that out during the day. Apparently the Beckhams were there the night before us, and my little bit of internet research tells me that it’s regularly frequented by names and faces you would recognize. More importantly, the food was delicious – we shared the housemade ricotta with cranberry compote to start, along with the pretzel-dusted calamari, and for our mains we ordered the pan seared diver scallops and the crispy pork confit. I can’t remember if we got dessert (it’s all a food coma blur), but I think we did.
- Balthazar – classic, bustling French brasserie in SoHo. The food was yummy and the atmosphere was fun – it was busy and loud and the tables are super close together and if you love French food, I highly recommend it. We went for dinner one night, but they also do lunch and Sunday brunch. Dinner service was really quick (the place runs like a well-oiled, efficient machine), so I think it would be really great for lunch during the day because you know you’re not going to lose half the day due to your meal. We ordered escargot to start, and shared the steak frites and pork confit for our mains, then had the apple tart tatin and chocolate pot de creme for dessert.
- The Spotted Pig – small, casual, eclectic little restaurant in the West Village. Also Michelin-starred. So good and fun. Apparently also a hit with celebs and locals alike, example: Taylor Swift and Kanye West were there a few days after us. This place does not take reservations so we went here for brunch, put our name down on the list and left our phone number, and they make a point of texting you when your table is ready. So, you can wander around the area, which has lots of shopping, or you can head upstairs to their bar and grab a drink and wait. We waited about an hour and 15 minutes, but planned to have a wait so we didn’t mind. The food was simple and good! We ordered the pork and egg hash as well as the burger with roquefort cheese and shoestring fries.
- Colicchio & Sons – in Chelsea, we sat in the more casual tap room. This place was good but I don’t know that I would go out of my way for it. If you plan to be in the area or want a reliable meal, then I would suggest here for sure… We went on a Tuesday night, so it wasn’t packed and the atmosphere wasn’t too memorable, but the decor was nice. The food was really good – we shared a starter and then a roast chicken. And, very exciting for me, they had a German non-alcoholic beer on the menu so I had that! (As an aside, I won’t touch domestic non-alcoholic beer but the German stuff isn’t bad!).
- Boqueria – Spanish tapas & wine bar, multiple locations (Flatiron District, Soho, and Upper East Side). This is a casual little place that is big on atmosphere and packed with people. I really liked it, the only thing is tapas are way less fun when you’re not able to drink wine. No reservations.
- Eataly – Italian food market, with restaurants and to-go food items. Italian food is my favorite food, so this was my kind of place. We wound up grabbing lunch at La Scuola di Eataly -a cooking school by night, restaurant by day. The place was filled with energetic older ladies with thick New York accents who were celebrating a birthday… one drunkenly made googly eyes at D and asked him if he was a famous actor, while her friend looked mortified.
- Le Pain Quotiden Bakery & Communal Table – this is a chain with many locations throughout Manhattan, but we found it was a good lunch option while in SoHo. We wanted something a bit lighter after so many decadent meals, and wound up getting some fresh and tasty veggie-based options that kept us fueled for an afternoon of shopping in the cold.
I’m still really wanting to check out Babbo (Italian, a Mario Batali restaurant that is supposed to be phenomenal and it’s the top of my list), the restaurant at the Nomad Hotel in the Flatiron District (we went to the bar here, which I liked), and Gramercy Tavern (farm to table, fine dining, a long-standing NYC institution). Also, if you’re looking for NYC dining options, I always like checking out the Eater Top 38 lists before I head to a US city – they update the list every few months, and you might find something on here that appeals to you.
If you liked baked goods/sweets, I loved the gigantic cookies at Levain (Upper West Side). If cupcakes are more your thing, there’s Georgetown Cupcakes in SoHo and the famous Magnolia Bakery (multiple locations, expect a line up most times of day at most locations). I also hear Two Little Red Hens in the Upper East Side is pretty phenomenal too – I ran out of time but it’s on my list for next time.
No morning feels right without a good cup of coffee. I’ve temporarily switched to decaf, but that doesn’t make me any less picky about my morning Americanos. The good news is that NYC has Blue Bottle Coffee! I first had Blue Bottle Coffee in San Fransciso in 2010 and have been a fan ever since. Lucky for us, there is one right across from Bryant Park (54 West 40th St), so right near our hotel, and we went here every day. They have multiple locations, including in Chelsea, Williamsburg (Brooklyn), by the High Line, and Rockerfeller Centre. Word on the street is it’s the best coffee in town.
As for booze, given my current situation, I can’t lay claim to know the best of the best when it comes to bars in this city. We did go to the Nomad Bar one night, and I liked it there and the Refinery Rooftop. Other than that, I think this is a subject I will need to explore further on my next trip…
- Wander, wander wander – my favorite thing to do in a city is wander around and explore different neighborhoods. There is so much to see just walking around and you really get a sense of the city that way.
- MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) – in Midtown. I liked it here. Check out the Jackson Pollocks and the Andy Warhols, not to mention the Picassos and Van Goghs.
- Central Park – I loved Central Park and the surrounding areas. It is so beautiful, and liked how it is a calm, serene place in the center of such a busy city.
- Empire State Building – I have to admit, I don’t always like super-touristy stuff but going to the top of the Empire State Building was pretty cool. The views were pretty spectacular on the day we went up and I’m glad we made of point of doing it. We went to the 86th floor (main observation deck) and I don’t see a point of going to the ‘top deck’ on the 102nd floor. Note: people will try to up-sell you on a deluxe package that includes going to the 102 floor and something to do with Kevin Bacon. Obviously you do not need this, and do not get suckered into thinking you do. You’re better than that. I have also heard you get great views from the Top of Rock too, but we didn’t do that.
- The High Line – This is a free attraction and it’s a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated running from the Meatpacking District to 34th Street. I really liked this and highly recommend it!
- Museum of Natural History – Upper West Side. Cool if you like science and dinosaurs. I think D liked it more than me, but if you think you might be interested I say go for it.
- The Brooklyn Bridge – walk across this bridge, completed in 1883.
- New York Public Library (Main Branch) – there’s not much to do here, but it’s a cool old building at Bryant Park with some really ornate features. If you’ve seen the Sex & The City Movie (which is horrible, by the way), you’ll recognize it from where Carrie is supposed to get married to Big.
- Go see a Broadway show. We went to see The Book of Mormon. I think I’d also like to see The Lion King.
- Go to a Knicks or a Rangers game at Madison Square Gardens.
- The Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) in the Upper East Side.
- Check out Washington Square Park and the surrounding area (NYU campus, 5th Avenue).
I’m so surprised that I didn’t shop til I dropped, but I don’t really feel inspired to shop right now. I looked in some stores and got a sense of the shopping areas I liked are, but aside from buying Bean his first little outfit at Giggle in SoHo, I didn’t buy anything. When I go back, I’m going to straight to the Meatpacking District, SoHo, and Bleecker Street in the West Village, and maybe the Shops at Columbus Circle (more info here) to make up for my lack of shopping on this trip.
Not the most succinct post, but hopefully some of you find it interesting 🙂