Sunday, April 6, 2014

NY Can't Even Handle Me

We had just stepped off the bus in New York.  Carrying our bags and not quite prepared for just how cold it was, I knew what block we were on, but not what direction we were facing.  We headed to the end of the block so we could see past the scaffolding far enough to gain our bearings as attempted to weave past the groups slowly walking three abreast while doing our best not let our luggage create the same road block.  It was past nine and the lights and the traffic and the attractions were all blaring and glaring.  And while our hotel didn’t look all that far away on the map, we had a good mile to go.  Walking a mile isn’t too big of a deal to me, but a mile covers a lot more of the map in DC.  Not so in New York.

Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park

“I’m not sure if I could handle living in New York City,” I said.

“I think the opposite is true,” Jason replied.

Silence as I think the following: The opposite? What is the opposite? New York can't handle me? I'm not really that crazy or a big deal, but...  New York can't even handle me! Whaaat!

Jason clarified, “I meant, I think you could handle this once you got used to it, but you couldn't handle living in the country.”  Bubble popped.  I think he is right.  And that explains the post title.

It all started when we were watching TV sometime after Christmas.  I can’t actually remember which show it was, but it was set in New York and after one of the scenic city shots, Jason said something like, “What a cool city.” To which I said, “We should go.” 

We’ve been to New York before and have done a lot of the standard tourist things: Broadway, the Empire State Building, frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity3.  But it’s such a big city that there are still neighborhoods to explore, foods to eat, and stores to be shopped.  New York City is like Chipotle to me.  I start to crave it if I haven’t been there in a while.  So we used Jason’s upcoming absence and the three day weekend we had for MLK day this January as an excuse to go.  The goal was just to have fun, relax, and find some good eats. (Surprise on us.. he wasn't gone very long.  But we didn't know it at the time, and I'm just getting around to writing about our trip three months later.)

I’ve been wanting to explore Brooklyn, but decided to stay in Manhattan at the Ink48.  It was basically because the only NYC Kimpton hotels are in Manhattan, and we love their hotels that much.

Upgraded to a corner suite: this explains our brand loyalty.

We took the bus from DC to NY after work Friday so we didn't get in until after 9. The rate I booked at the hotel was a special deal that if you take a train or bus into the city, you get a $50 dining credit. The late hour made it an easy choice to use it for dinner that night at the hotel restaurant, Print. Dinner was tasty although we had an unusually long wait for the food to come out.

The next day our goal was to explore Brooklyn and take some pictures. After a leisurely morning drinking coffee and a quick workout, we headed off in search of that defining experience of any city: brunch.

(Side note: has anyone else experienced the "brunch craze", wherein people are obsessed with finding "the. best. brunch. eveeeer."? This usually involves places that unless you get there when the restaurant opens, hour plus waits are normal. Is it because it is a socially acceptable way to drink before noon? Because it's the only time you can take your children to trendy restaurants without fear of a past-bedtime meltdown? And why is it a combination of the words "breakfast" and "lunch" when most places only start serving "brunch" at lunchtime or later? Because you can add an egg to your pizza? Should we base these names on the time they are served or the type of food? I think the "b" really stands for "booze" not "breakfast." But here I am, kettle calling the pot black. I love that getting brunch means your weekend is relaxed enough to start off the days with a meal out.  Plus, I'm on a self-appointed mission to find the best biscuits and gravy possible.)

Before this trip, I hadn't had time for my normal amount of restaurant "reseach," but preliminary analysis suggested that Littleneck in Brooklyn was supposed to be good for brunch, so we went way across town to get there, only to find that the door was locked.  I'm really not sure what was going on because people were inside, and we felt rather silly as we attempted to open the locked door while the people inside laughed at our confusion.  A few blocks from our hotel I discovered my camera battery was dead, so since it wasn't even noon and we had already failed at our two goals for the day (brunch and pictures), we just started walking towards downtown Brooklyn.  

We conducted our own food tour that day, as we walked.  We stopped for some cheap and greasy pizza at My Little Pizzeria. I'm not sure what makes a slice "NY style", but for $2 a slice, it was perfect! We got the lunch special at Ki Sushi. I thought the place was great for lunch: good value, fast, and nice atmosphere. We popped into shops to browse and walked whatever way looked fun.  I told Jason I was "following my heart"as to which direction to go.  I'm not really sure where we should have gone, but we had fun browsing furniture and antique shops along Atlantic Avenue and hipster clothing and coffee shops on Smith Street.  We seem to have opposite taste on most things, so it's like a game to us to in home furnishing stores to point to a piece of furniture and ask, "What do you think about that?" and see if our opinions match. The answer is either a vehement "I think it's so ugly" or a tentative "I kind of like it." We usually end up laughing because either we're so surprised that we agree or of course we don't agree.   We will probably never buy furniture and just have empty rooms.

Ever since visiting Portland last year, I've been craving chicken wings from a place called Pok Pok. Of course, when I saw mention of a location in Brooklyn, my mind was made. I tried to play it casual with Jason, like if we didn't go it was no big deal. I even gave him other options and agreed with his vote to get Italian. This man is some kind of mind reader though, because somehow he (or was it me?) came up with the idea of getting chicken wings at Pok Pok as an appetizer and Italian pasta elsewhere.  I guess we were just continuing our "food tour" from lunch. (Ooh - I also just had a light bulb moment regarding a new career - food tour conductor.) He was skeptical that something as ordinary as chicken wings could really be that good, but I assured him they were. (Obviously our furniture shopping experience taught me nothing about how rarely we have the same opinion.)  In effort to "go with the flow" (which for me means not planning activities around food and eating in places that aren't research or planned), we had walked a mile and a half through Brooklyn Bridge Park (gorgeous especially during sunset) even though it was in the opposite direction of Pok Pok. I assumed Jason knew this and we would eat elsewhere.  So when we got to the end of our walk and Jason asked, "Where's the restaurant?" we both were in for a surprise:  I was didn't know he still wanted to eat there and he didn't realize that it was so far away.  By this time the sun had set, the temperature was below freezing, and we figured we'd just walk the 30 minutes since finding a new place would take as long. 

Funny story though. After speed-walking the entire way, we arrived to find out that I got the opening time mixed up meaning we arrived twenty minutes before the place even opened. So that meant more time waiting in the cold.  It worked out nicely though since the line forming at the door was already over a dozen people long and if it really had opened when I thought, I'm not sure we could have gotten a table right away. After spending 50 minutes in the cold, my appreciation for Jason, as well as his expectations for these chicken wings were getting pretty high.  As we waited I peered into the small restaurant, comparing the number of tables to the number of people in front of us. I started to get nervous that we'd have to wait even longer for a table and that Jason wouldn't even like the food after graciously waiting so long. The good news was that we did get a table soon after they opened, and- even better - Jason agreed the wings were worth it!

Totally worth the wait! Pardon the grainy iPhone photo.

Next on the "food tour" was Italian, specifically gnocchi. (Yeah, I also forgot we did anything but eat at Pok Pok since I just wrote a whole story about chicken wings, and it wasn't even that climatic!) After being in the cold so long we decided to find somewhere closer to our hotel. According to yelp, (warning sign #1), the best gnocchi to be found was by Time's Square (glaring warning #2) at Scarlatto.  We waited a few minutes in the drafty entry way despite having reservations, and were eventually seated with the next table so close they started chatting with us. We ordered our single dish of gnocchi, which clearly annoyed the waiter. Rather than tasting like "pillows from heaven," the gnocchi tasted like spaghettiOs. The waiter even swiped my card for another table's $200-plus bill. He was able to cancel the charge, but it certainly solidified my negative opinion.  I was tempted to tip less than normal, but the highlight of the place were the courteous and attentive busboys, who would likely have suffered more than our rude waiter from a small tip. Needless to say, I learned my lesson about taking advice from Yelp.

We were back at the hotel before 9 pm.  I felt a little lame for turning in so early in the city that never sleeps.  Maybe if we had been there longer or planned better, we would have tried to do something else, like a play or live music, but the goal for the weekend was just to do whatever we wanted without having to rush around, so turning in early to take advantage of the nice room and some Netflix was perfect.

We finished off the weekend with a lazy morning brunching and walking through the shops in the Flatiron District the next day.  We ate at Maysville. The food was Southern. The decor that ubiquitous, industrial, reclaimed wood and staff clad in plaid. But we thought it was good, and it was really easy to get in without a wait or reservation, which isn't always easy.

Before getting on the bus home, we picked up snacks at the Doughnut Factory and some sandwiches for the ride. As a Top Chef fan, I couldn't resist getting mine from 'wich craft, Tom Coliccio's local chain.  Jason got a BahnMi from Num Pang, which was both more tasty and messy.

So overall, the weekend was a great chance to enjoy the time together.   My one regret was that we never made it up to the rooftop bar at our hotel, which is supposed to have amazing views of the skyline, but we had a pretty great view from our room anyways, so it never felt like we were missing all that much.  There's always next time.

Update: I downloaded an app called "city mapper" to get around and it was AMAZING!! It showed all my transit options, their cost, and how long they would take - including walking and taking a cab. Highly recommend it, especially compared to my other transit apps.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Best Kind of Prize

"The best kind of prize is a sur-prise." That is a line from the newer Willy Wonka movie with Johnny Depp. It's slightly creepy, but the original is too in ways I never noticed as a kid. But I digress. Back to surprises... boy, did we get a one a few weeks ago. Two days after saying our final goodbyes for nine months, Jason's job was changed, and he came back home.

Bam! So that was way different than what we expected all year. Seriously, one day I'm saying a tearful goodbye, and the next week I'm picking him up from the airport.

We're glad, of course, that we doesn't have to go through the challenges that come with being apart all year. It's a big relief, and I'm so grateful for everyone who has shared in that joy with us. At the same time, it's a little disappointing for Jason not to get the job he was excited to do. He's been preparing for so long and thought the experience may have helped in the future. And clearly the planner in me is going crazy. We've been preparing all year for this! We moved! Oh good, now he will get to watch the World Cup with me. But we moved! Where will we live now? What about my plans?

"My plans." We had scenarios A, B, and C totally worked out and, wouldn't you know, this was the one thing we did not plan for. God is slowly teaching us the truth of Psalm 16:9, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps."

We aren't totally sure what the next year looks like right now. There are a lot of "wait and see" type things happening, so I still can't plan more than a couple months. It sometimes drives me crazy, but it's also exciting that the world is our oyster, if you will.

We were attempting to talk about where we might live in a few years, which was proving impossible with all the unknowns. Jason just laughed that we weren't seeing the obvious lesson, "Maybe God is just teaching us that we can't plan everything right now."

So we are doing our best to plan wisely and hold those plans loosely. And at least one thing is sure about the summer: we will be watching more soccer Jason even knows.