Friday, March 30, 2007

Life Beyond the Heights

Brooklyn extends beyond Brooklyn Heights? Who knew?! I had a most wonderful evening on Tuesday checking out Boerum Hill and Fort Greene. (And by "checking out" I mean I went to one place in each neighborhood…but heh, it’s a start.)

Anyway, the Brooklyn Inn on Hoyt Street is a charming little watering hole in Boerum Hill. A giant dark wood bar wraps around the front room, which smells vaguely like cigarette smoke reminding me of a time gone by. There was a pool table in the back room but we stayed in the front of the house. I assumed Boerum Hill would be sketchy and there was more construction and change going on that you would find in the Heights, but overall I was pleasantly surprised.

Stop #2 was the Stonehome Wine Bar in Fort Greene. What a gem! The décor is modern --almost Scandavian looking-- but the atmosphere is totally relaxed and warm. One fun option is to try a “flight” of 3 different wines that all complement each other. I didn’t do that, but my white wine from South Africa was splendidly unique—sweet and fruity, it smelled like grapefruit. The cheese plates were great too! We sat inside, but there was a cozy patio out back that would be fun to take advantage of in the summer. As long as you skip the shrimp, you should definitely try Stonehome.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Can't we take a cab across the bridge?

Erica and Rachel left early on Sunday, but Jennie, Carl, Anuradha and I had another fun day in the city. We started by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, despite the fact that someone thought taking a cab across the bridge would be more fun. NOOOOO! Walking on the Bridge provides beautiful views of the city and the weather was great.

We also walked through Chinatown, which is a lot more clean than I remember it as a child. I can't remember the name of the restaurant we ate at, but the food was great (though I could have done without the ducks, chicken and pigs in the window!) Outside, two guys were making "egg cakes," which tasted a bit like yellow cake and were cooked like abelskivers or thai spring onion 15 for $1, they were the tastiest deal in Chinatown.

I left Jennie and Carl searching for a sports bar where they could watch the UCLA game, but not before we visited Once Upon a Tart in SoHo. A brick-walled cafe with great coffee, cookies with royal icing and phenomenal pumpkin tarts, among other desserts, it was a "good thing":-)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hail, hail the gang's all here

Q: What do you get when you bring together 6 George Washington grads and a Georgetown grad thrown in for good measure?
A: tons of old stories, lots of fun and just a pinch of trouble:-)

This weekend I had the pleasure of welcoming Erica, Rachel, Anuradha, Jennie and Carl to Brooklyn Heights (Daniel, a fellow Colonial and BHeightser rounded out the group.) After a late start on Saturday morning, our first stop was The Cornelia Street Cafenear the W4th subway stop in the Village. Cute and modern but not pretencious, the cafe was a great place to go with a group. We were seated quickly and there was something for everyone on the menu. I recommend the huevos rancheros and others raved about the eggs benedict, eggs florentine, quiche and omlette. Apparently the cafe also has jazz and other performances in the evenings.

Stop number two was Chinatown where we picked up Anuradha who had taken the Chinatown bus from Philly. That was a sight (and smell) adventure! On the one hand, we did find Anuradha and a great fruit and veggie market at the base of the Manhattan Bridge. On the other hand, there were some smells that definitely caught me off guard. (I'll go back for another look... but before it gets too hot out!)

We then walked up Canal, scoping out the 3 for $10 scarfs, "designer" handbags and high quality bling along the way. I think Canal is more crowded with tourists than mid-town...craziness! We window shopped through Tribeca and the heart of SoHo and then headed west to a charming part of SoHo, Thompson and Sullivan Streets between Broome and Houston. I was there earlier in the week at The Room (which I highly recommend for groups of friends or for getting cozy on the comfy couches) and thought it was definitely a go-back-to part of town. The area is peppered with cute restaurants and cafes and a fun mix of she-she botiques (for people and dogs), a kimono store and a yarn stop. We had coffee at Cafe Borgia II on Prince Street. I now see that it has mixed reviews on some of the restaurant websites, but we all thought it was a decent, quintessential NY cafe.

Grimaldis pizza was on the menu for dinner. We added Carl's sister-in-law from Sweden to the group and were pleasantly surprised to get seated in 10 minutes (unheard of at this NYC establishment where waits at 8:30 on Saturday could have taken 30-40 minutes.) The smell of warm pizza that greets you from the moment you open the door is intoxicating. We started out with 2 large pizzas and quickly ordered a 3rd because it was just that good!

The evening ended at the Henry Street Ale House, the low-key but slightly loud watering hole down the street from my apt.

Seeing my DC friends in NYC is bizarre because it reminds me of how bizarre it is that I live in the city. But I feel blessed to have friends who want to visit and I can't wait for the next weekend we are all able to get together!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Peaks Mason Mints

A building towards the end of Henry Street recently caught my eye. It has a giant “Peaks Mason Mints” sign on it and looks to be abandoned. Because I am interested in anything that involves food, I decided to do a quick Google search and see what I found.

Walter Grutchfield’s website (no idea who he is, but I thought I should give him credit) says that Mason PEAKS and Mason MINTS were confectionery products made by the Mason, Au & Magenheimer Confectionery Mfg. Co., which was in existence from 1864 until the 1960’s when it was sold to a number of companies before finally being sold to Tootsie Roll. Mason Peaks was a candy bar with coconut covered in chocolate. Mason Mints were a round, chocolate-covered mint patty. The company also made Dots and Crows, which are still made by Tootsie Roll. I can only imagine how wonderful the neighborhood must have smelled back in the day!

The building’s history turns a bit tenuous after the candy company left. It was first used as artists’ studios and rent stabilized lofts. The project is seen as one of the things that helped to revitalize the neighborhood. But in the complicated world of rent stabilization and subsidies in New York (under the Mitchell-Lama program,) a building’s owner can opt-out of rent stabilization after 20 years, pay back the mortgage to the Department of Housing Preservation and start charging market rates for the apartments. The owners of “The Candy Factory” exercised that right but the building has sat vacant for the last year as the owner battled the 42 residents who used to occupy the building. In November, The Brooklyn Paper reported that even more condos will go up next door. The Real Estate Blog by the New York Observer reported in January that the whole complex is for sale again for $22.5 million. Bargain price, I'll take 2!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Saturday Night in SoHo

The weather may have been cold on Saturday night, but the atmosphere inside Café Noir in SoHo was hot:-) The restaurant serves tapas and great sangria. I even tried tuna tartar with guacamole and was pleasantly surprised at how good it is! Our waiter was also very good—attentive but not annoying. Check out the website for pictures of the décor—reminded me of what a café in Spain or Morocco might look like.

St. Patrick’s Day added a special flair to the restaurant. The guy sitting at the next table was wearing a hat that looked like a raccoon (not Davy Crockett-like, an actual raccoon) and green face paint under his eyes like a football player.

I want to keep trying new places, but I am now happy to say that I know of a good tapas place in town.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

St. Patty's Day Movies

Here are a couple small videos I took of the parade yesterday:

Irish bagpipers!

This year's parade controversy was that the firefighters were moved from the front of the parade to the middle. The president of the parade organizing committee accused them of showing up drunk at the parade in previous years. The first firefighters to walk carried 343 American flags for the firemen lost in 9/11. The crowd went wild. Mayor Bloomberg then led the rest of the firefighters through the parade. There were at least 1000 men and women marching and they all seemed well behaved. The crowd went wild again! Maybe they will lead-off the parade next year.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Erin Go Bragh

Happy St. Patty's Day!

A late season snow storm yesterday turned the city into a winter wonderland or a mess, depending on your perspective. But the luck of the Irish and department of sanitation was with the city and 5th Ave. was cleaned up in time for the 246th St. Patrick's Day parade this morning.

The parade was super fun to watch and the little kids in front of me who were yelling "nice skirt" and "where's the big balloons" added to the atmosphere. Colleagues had told me that I should expect lots of vomit and...people from New Jersey along the parade route. What I found was lots of drunk people and a few Germans (who found the parade "faszinierend!")

"Let's have a parade"

Look at that Tartan!

Irish dancers

Good choice of flag Sen. Schumer!

"Hi I'm Rudy and I'm running for president"

I hope that will wash out before work on Monday!

Irish-American pride

"Hi, I'm Mike and I might be running for president"

He colored his dog's hair!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Trip in Pictures

Here are some more pictures (most of which were taken by my creative little sis!)

Don't you love the closeup pictures you take of yourself (At the Tower of London)

Stormy skies over Britain...but it got sunny soon after:-)

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace goes high tech

Slides at the Tate Modern

Paealla at the Portabello Road Market

Doesn't Katie setup pictures nicely!?

The Underground at Notting Hill Gate. Mind the gap!

Desserts at Spitalfield's Market

Potato, leek and cheese pot pie with mushy peas (kinda looks like "baby sick" but was very tasty) at Spitalfield's Market

I love beans on toast!

We lucked out at got to ride on one of the old fashioned red double decker busses. You have to hop on the back of the bus, which is open. It totally confused all the tourists who were waiting to get on at our stop. The bus attendant had to invite us to get on:-)

Celeb sighting! Look it's "Kate" at Mark and Spencers

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"My buddy Mo"

We had another day of culture and eating planned for Monday. We started at the British Museum looking at the Rosetta stone (much larger than both of us imagined) and the mummies; then it was off to meet a colleague for sandwiches in Hyde Park.

Next it was off to Harrods, where we managed to not cause any pain to our bank accounts (amazing!) I’m not sure whether I prefer Harrods or KaDeWe. Each has its charms. KaDeWe has the more impressive main entrance and cheese counter. But Harrods is opulent beyond belief!

But all of that is neither here nor there, because the true find of our visit occurred when we were riding the escalator up to the top floor in the Egyptian hall. Amid a gaggle of people stood Mohamed Al-Fayed, owner of Harrods and father to Dodi (need I say more.) He had as much security as the President! Katie and I calmly perused the sporting goods dept. but decided it would be more fun to try to catch another glimpse of Mohamed (or “my buddy Mo” as Katie now affectionately refers to him.) As luck would have it, Mo was just coming out of his meeting and we hopped on the escalator right behind him (well actually behind a security guard, but in front of the rest of his party...but don’t worry, we did it with a great deal of grace.) Being the innocent-looking stalkers that we are, we nonchalantly followed him all the way to the second floor where he stopped to show his guest hand prints in the hieroglyphs that decorated the wall.

The most bizarre part of the ride was looking down at him and then up at a sphinx decorating the hall and realizing that the face on the sphinx was his. The funniest part of the ride was watching other people’s faces as they rode the up escalators and realized whom they just passed. We couldn’t quickly think of a reason to stay on the 2nd floor so we headed out of the store and off to high tea. (Katie practically sprinted through her worst nightmare, the cosmetics department, running the gauntlet of people waiting to spray her with perfume.)

Unfortunately the place that Erica and Rachel had recommended for high tea was being demolished, so we ended up at The Capital hotel for a fantastically snooty and fun time. The maître d' gave us the once over when we first walked in (irritating me almost to the point of walking out, but you can’t let people like that win.) But after that, the experience was lovely. We were served English breakfast and mint tea and a tower of finger sandwiches, tarts, scones, macaroons and pudding. We enjoyed reflecting on our trip, solving the problems of the world and eavesdropping on the table of 4 British ladies who tried to figure out what was in each “lovely” sandwich and sweet.

So now the trip has ended. I’m bringing back a couple of souvenirs, probably a stone or two (how much is a stone anyway?), and a million fun memories. London is certainly not the cheapest town for Americans at the moment, but definitely worth the trip!

More picts tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Fun Continues...

I am currently sitting at Heathrow airport waiting for my flight back to JFK. (Though I’m not going to post this until I get back to Brooklyn—$10/hour for wireless at the airport is too expensive for my blood.) Katie’s flight went out an hour before mine and it was strange but crazy fun to hug her goodbye in London and say “see you in Newtown.”

The last few days have been amazing (sites, food and weather!)

We switched hotels on Saturday morning, moving from St. James to South Kensington. Unfortunately the District and Circle lines were closed for the 2nd straight weekend creating public transport chaos, but we eventually got to the new hotel and then headed right out to Portabello Road Market. What a place—stands and stores with antiques, food, new stuff, junk, clothes, jewelry and wall-to-wall people stretch for at least a mile.

We bought a few things, but the most fun find was a falafel shop that claims to be the store where Hugh Grant bought his OJ right before he runs into Julia Roberts in the movie Notting Hill. (If only we had actually run into Hugh Grant—now that would have been a really fun find!)

Undecided as to what we should do on Saturday night, Katie suggested we try our luck at last minute tickets for a play. The first ticket booth we asked about Wicked and Mary Poppins only had Wicked for 70 pounds/ticket ($140.) The second stand had orchestra tickets for Wicked for 35 pounds/ticket. Were the tickets legit? We were nervous but optimistic. Indeed they were real and I can say without doubt that Wicked is my new favorite play! Kerry Ellis, the actress who played the young Wicked Witch of the West has one of the most amazing voices I have ever heard!

A late-night pizza with cheese mash(ed potatoes), peas, scallions and Tabasco sauce finished off the evening—Delicious!

We had had so much fun at Portabello Road that we decided to visit another market on Sunday morning. Ah, if only I had had $1000 to spend on cool finds! Packed with people and stands of unique clothes, jewelry furniture and food, the Spitalfields Market is located in an old Victorian warehouse that looks like it is being slowly restored. We almost left empty handed after needing cash and seeing the line for the ATM-- seriously, there were 20 people in front of us—where are all the ATMs in London? Isn’t the city a banking mecca of the world? Anyway, being the feisty and determined young ladies that we are, we persevered to the front of the line; I then purchased a short wool jacket that is worn like a kimono and Katie got a pink necklace made from a nut that is described as vegetable ivory.

Stop number two was the Tower of London.

First the positive—the property is spectacular and the tour with the beefeater was fascinating (who doesn’t love a good “drawn and quartered” story?)

Now the beef-- we were both thoroughly disappointed with the Crown Jewels. The crowns, orbs and scepters were gorgeous, but where were the necklaces, bracelets, earrings, rings, etc…?

Dinner found us at Café de Mario, an Italian restaurant in South Kensington with decent food, but an even better history. Apparently Princess Diana and the boys used to eat there. There is now a giant painting of The Princess and Mario in the restaurant and a pizza named after her.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Quick Update

I'm still having a blast in London and am happy to report that Katie has now joined in the fun! Though her bag got lost by Air Canada, it did finally arrive and she's been touring around while I'm in class each day.

Last night we heard a "Baroque Favorites" candlelight concert at St. Martin in the Fields. The church is undergoing a renovation, which detracted from the ambiance just a bit (and the Cafe in the Crypt was closed) but how cool is it to be sitting in downtown London listening to classical music!

Tonight we are off to find Indian on Brick Lane (??) and are heading to the markets and to high tea tomorrow.

Some observations:

Londoners are really still freaked out by the fire. There was actually a fire drill on my first morning of classes and loads of fire doors and extinguishers in all the buildings and hotels I've been in this week!

Men have crazy linings in their business suits. My favorite was the magenta lining, but the royal purple and red with paisleys were high style too.

CCTV (security) cameras are everywhere!

Americans can be so embarrasing! While at Wagamama's last night, we sat next to a kid from the East Coast (determined based on the way he said "water") who made his friend order for him because he didn't understand the waiter's British accent:
Waiter: "do you want still or sparkling water?"
Kid: "do I want what?"
Waiter: "do you want still or sparkling water? Water with bubbles."
Kid: "what is he saying? Man, just order for me."
The kid went on to shamelessly flirt with the girl next to him by informing her that he knew she was from Eastern Europe because of the TB scar on her arm.

Okay, there's more but Katie is now really mad that I'm blogging. More later...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Jolly Good Time

Someone told me that if I don't like New York so much, I wouldn't like London because they are very similar...what was that person smoking!!?? London and New York could not be more different in my opinion. London certainly has a big city feel, but the scenery is much more picturesque, the subway is clean, the air is fresh and the daffodils and crocus are already sprouting in the park. Surprise surprise it rained yesterday, but the skies actually cleared by the end of the day and today it was sunny. In short...London is great!

Besides the fact that I was asked on two separate occasions whether I was coming over on a high school program, the flight to Heathrow was uneventful. Taking the tube into town was easy too and after a quick stop at the hotel to drop off my bag, I spent yesterday walking past Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square. I also toured Churchill's War Rooms (the secret bunkers used during WWII,) which I found to be absolutely fascinating. Secret until 1982, many of the rooms had been closed after the war and left almost completely intact, allowing visitors today to see the rooms as they were in the 1940's.

Here are some of my favorite British-isms from the last 24 hours:

- "British women are like British weather, rather unpredictable"- according to my waiter at the restaurant last night

- "Star jumps"- I believe this to be the British term for jumping jacks

- "This is like herding jelly"- my course leader in regard to walking my class around town to meetings.

- a hair gel commercial for guys running on tv at the moment advertises that the gel is so strong your spiky hair style won't be ruined by wearing a hoodie--BRILLIANT:-)

"London Adventures" will continue in a day or two...toodlepip!

Friday, March 02, 2007

A picture says it all

I've been monitoring the last week or so ahead of my trip to London that starts tomorrow. Now I knew that I wasn't going to hit 10 days of sunshine, but I was hoping for a bit of diversity in the 10-day outlook. That doesn't appear to be in the cards.
The forecast:


On the upside, I decided this morning that I should buy a pair of Wellies/galoshes/rain boots while in London. With such rainy weather in the forecast, such a purchase might become a necessity:-)

New York Adventures will continue in London as soon as I find an internet connection.

Until then...toodlepip!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Dove

Is it Victorian? Is it French? Is it a speakeasy? Combine those three things with an urban chique flare and you've got The Dove-- the great little bar in the Village (Thompson Street at W 3rd) where I went for happy hour tonight. Upon walking down the stairs to this basement establishment, you open the door and are enveloped by warm candlelight and red wall paper with a fleur-di-lis or brocade design. It was quite crowded tonight but in general you can choose between a seat at the big wooden bar or on one of the comfy couches, perhaps near the fireplace. The drinks were very reasonably priced and the wait staff was friendly. All in all, a great find in the Village! (Check out the City Search review for a picture.)