Mini Vacation - New York 2017

It's been a long time since Jenn and I were in the big apple. We've talked about going back for many years, heck every once in a while we think about just packing up our stuff and moving out here. But after our trip to Chicago we decided that it was time to finally go back to the big apple and at the same time check off a bucket list item for me, the US Open. 

Day 1 - Houston We Have a Change of Plans

Originally when we booked our flights we weren't leaving John Wayne Airport until later in the afternoon. But with the horrific flooding from Hurricane Harvey, Jenn was able to get our flights moved and instead we left at 7 AM and got into New York at 5 PM with a stop in Chicago along the way. We left our apartment bright and early at 5:30 AM and dropped off our one bag and made our way to Starbucks for some much needed coffee and hot chocolate. 

The flight to Chicago was pretty uneventful. We both worked on the plane and the flight sort of just passed us by. When we landed at O'Hare airport we had 50 minutes in-between flights. That meant we ran to the restrooms, ran to McDonalds (the only fast option available) and then took our hamburgers on our flight to Laguardia. The second flight was similar to the first, we worked, rested, and got ready for New York.

We landed twenty minutes early, grabbed our bags and followed the signs to catch an Uber. Because Laguardia is under such heavy construction you're not allowed to get an Uber at the terminal you either walk or take a bus to a separate lot. We elected to walk (because we couldn't find the bus) and it wasn't the easiest of treks but we made. We hooked up with our Uber driver and he whisked us away in his Toyota Camry to Manhattan. 

For our five-nights in New York we're staying at the Knickerbocker which is located right in Times Square. Although we adored our hotel in the upper east side its nice to try out new spots and new hotels. The hotel is actually really stunning. We checked in and were upgraded (for free) to a deluxe room which is really spacious for a New York hotel room. We have a huge bathroom, a nice bedroom with a couch and even an Android tablet if we ever get bored. 

After we settled in, recorded our room tour, and got our barings we were off. Jenn saw an ad in the elevator for a rooftop bar and so we made our way up to get the vacation started. Jenn had a cocktail and I had an old fashion. We had a great seat in the heart of Time Square with a view of the ball set atop ready for 2018 already. We spent a good 45 minutes taking in the beauty of New York and also a perfect summer evening. 

Afterwards we went back down to our room, I got changed, and we were off to dinner. I made reservations (after a ton of research) at a place called Marta. It was about a twenty minute walk from our hotel and worth every step. We arrived about 15-minutes before our reservations but were seated right away. We both started off with glasses of red wine, Jenn got a Pinot Noir and I had something I don't remember the name of. The wine was great, but the pours were not overly generous. We want more wine! 

We started off with fried zucchini fries. We both adore zucchini and these fries did not disappoint. They were lightly breaded and had amazing flavor. I do wish they were accompanied with a dipping sauce though. For our entrees we split two different pizzas. The first was called a Macellaio which had sopressata, guanciale, pork sausage, mozzarella, and grana padano. The second pizza was the Testa which had pig head terrine, mozzarella, fontina, arugula, and red onion. Both pizzas were out of this world. Super thin crust, great dough and ingredients. I think we only had one slice left of each when we finished. I finished off the meal with a Cappuccino which now Jenn likes (a new revelation in the last couple of weeks). It was a great meal. We didn't want anything super heavy for our first night and Marta hit the spot.

We walked back from our great dinner, passed the Empire State Building, and enjoyed a stunning New York summer evening. When we got back to the hotel we were both utterly exahsted. We watched an episode of Seinfeld and then it was lights out. For the city that never sleeps, we sure did and it was glorious. 

Day 2 - Seven Courses of Happiness

Yesterday was a pretty great start to our time here in New York. Because we arrived so much earlier then we really expected we didn't have a lot planned for today. We assumed we would be sleeping until the afternoon. Luckily for us we got more time and that meant a full day awaited us.

We woke up at 9AM, I went for a run, while Jenn got ready for the day. The hardest part of being in New York is figuring out what to eat. I spent more time then I am willing to admit to try and plan out some dinners for us. But Jenn was nice enough to find me a coffee shop called Bibble and Sip which was only a couple of blocks away. In a weird turn of events Jenn is starting to dabble with coffee related drinks. She enjoyed my cappuccino last night and today, an iced coffee at a recent food and wine festival, and today she got an iced latte which she also enjoyed. A crazy turn of events for sure. It was a great little coffee shop, and we were fortunate enough to find a seat to enjoy our drinks. 

Afterwards it was time for lunch. I did a quick Yelp search and found Totto Ramen which has over 4,400 reviews at the time of this post. That's a lot, even for New York standards. We walked over and there was a line of at least 30-40 people waiting to get Ramen. We joined the queue, because we love food that much. The place was cash only so I walked to a nearby Chase ATM and got cash while Jenn held our spot. When we were a couple away from getting a seat, they took our order. Jenn had the Miso Paitan with pork and I had the Spicy Paitan with pork as well. It was far and away the best ramen I've ever had. The noodles were amazing, the pork was tender, and the broth was out of this world. We were lucky enough to get a spot at the bar where we got to watch them make the ramen. It was such a surreal experience, and if I lived in New York I can tell you I would wait in that line at least once a month. 

After lunch with a full belly of ramen we continued on. From lunch we walked a couple more blocks to a nearby shopping area. Jenn wanted to find some winter clothes for our newly booked January trip to Switzerland and so we stopped into a Nordstrom Rack. We didn't find much winter clothes but I did pick up a couple of things. From there we continued walking, now in search of a 3-story J Crew. On our way we got intertwined with a huge vegetarian anti-meat eaters protest. It's something I've actually thought a lot about. Cruelty of animals, the impact on the environment, and all sorts of other issues. They had a pretty large crowd and it swept through a couple of blocks of NYC. We stopped and starred for a bit before continuing on our day. 

We got to J Crew and Jenn went a little wild. I spent at least an hour sitting in one of their "guy waiting chairs" while Jenn tried on half the store. She came out with so much clothes we had to start going through them to see what she should keep and what would need to get hung up. When she got done emptying our wallets we went upstairs and I got a few items as well. 

From there we walked back to our hotel, making stop at a Starbucks near the Flatiron building and picking up our much needed New York Starbucks mug. We also stopped in at an Amazon Books store, the first one we've been in. Although it still feels like a standard book store, their layout was nicer and things were easier to find. I'm interested to see what sort of other changes Amazon makes to brick and mortar stores. 

From there we speed walked back to our hotel as the weather started changing from overcast to full blown rain. We survived and started getting ready for our big dinner. I made reservations at a restaurant called The Musket Room. It's a very popular and well known restaurant that's known for their two tasting menus, the short story (7 courses) and the long story (10 courses). After our Uber dropped us off in the pouring rain and we messed around with our completely busted hotel umbrella we made it into the refuge of the restaurant and were seated at a great table for two in the middle of the dining room. 

This isn't our first rodeo with tasting menus and so we opted with the short story, seven courses. And by the end of this you will realize why we were so grateful we did. Jenn got a glass of Pinot Noir and I added their wine pairings which meant with each course I got a new glass of wine. Instead of going through each course in great detail let me just first list out what we had and then go over some highlights. 

First Course - Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Big Rock Oyster, Trout Roe, Dashi Pork rillette, and a huckleberry ham egg. 

Second Course - Manuka Smoked Scallop with nashi pear, black garlic and cucumber.

Third Course - Quail with cherry, bread sauce and roasted onion. 

Fourth Course - Pork with barley, beans and apple. 

Fifth Course - Passionfruit and raspberry sorbet. 

Sixth Course - Chocolate Mouse, devil's food-cake and salted caramel. 

Seventh Course - Tomato pate de fruits, earl grey fudge, and salted caramel. 

If we were to come to consensus on our favorite courses I'd say it would go 6, 3, 5, 4, 2, 1, 7. Jenn would have the scallops higher if she did the list on her own and I'd have the first course higher. Regardless the entire dining experience was absolutely phenomenal. From the amazing service to the exquisite food, it was easily in our top five best meals of all time. There wasn't a bad course and by the time we got to our final course I could barely even think about touching it. As it was they had fresh sourdough bread that I did mistakenly eat way to much of. 

After dinner we called for an Uber and made our way back to our hotel. It was almost 11 PM and the rain was insane. We asked our Uber driver to let us out a little early (there was so much traffic) and we hauled it to our hotel. I was able to get a great shot of Jenn in Times Square trying to hold our umbrella while I was getting soaked taking the picture. It was worth it, its one of my all-time favorite photos. We ended the night watching tennis, and falling asleep to the sound of New York and a beautiful summer storm.

Day 3 - Tennis With a Cookie On Top

I cannot believe we finally made it. After years of talking about going to Flushing Meadows and seeing the US Open, today it finally happened. We woke up at around 7 AM, I went down and went for a run while Jenn got ready. We left the hotel right around 9 AM and it was still pouring rain. We ran to a nearby Starbucks where Jenn got a hot chocolate and I got a small coffee. Sadly even after asking for a warmer cup of coffee my coffee was barely luke warm. I suffered through and we made our way to the subway. 

One of the best things about our hotels location is its vicinity to the subway. We walked around the corner and were on the 7-train all the way to Flushing Meadows, it couldn't have been easier. We got there a little before 11 AM, walked around some of the shops and different experiences and made our way to the Loge section to watch the first of three matches for the day. Because of the constant rain, the roof was closed on Arthur Ashe. Having the roof closed made the 23,000 capacity stadium seem smaller and more intimate. It also makes the noise from the crowd echo and reverberate throughout the stadium.

First up on Arthur Ashe was a great three-set matchup between Pablo Carreno Busta and Denis Shapovalov who's a new young gun from Canada that's had an incredible summer. Although Carreno Busta won it in three sets, each set went to a tie break and made it quite exciting. During the match Jenn and I enjoyed a nice lunch of a hamburger and chicken sandwich with fries. Once the match concluded Jenn and I left Arthur Ashe and went exploring. By this point the rain had subsided and it was turning into a much prettier day. We walked around, caught a couple of minutes of a doubles match and enjoyed the amazing grounds. 

When we got back to Arthur Ashe, the second match had just begun and the roof was now open. Although it got warm at times, having the roof open at Arthur Ashe is the way to go. We greatly appreciate that we got to watch tennis in the rain, the crowd and the atmosphere with the roof open was electric. The second match was between Maria Sharapova and Anastasija Sevastova. It turned out to be a far better match then I think anyone anticipated with Sevastova taking it in 3. During this match we picked up some fresh popcorn and the featured drink of the US Open, "The Deuce". It's made with Grey Goose vodka, some flavored liquor, and lemonade. It was dangerously good. The final match up was Venus Williams and Carla Suarez Navarro. We stayed for the first set which Venus won pretty easily before heading out to the subway. 

We jumped on the subway at around 6:30 PM and were back in Manhattan about an hour later. I was able to find a Mexican restaurant while we were on the subway called Toloache. Really the review that drew me in said "some of the best Mexican cuisine this side of the wall that Trump will never build!" We were both sold after that. We had reservations at 7:45 PM and got seated upstairs overlooking the rest of the very small restaurant. Our table for two was sat right in between another table for two and a big party with almost no space in between. After we were seated I went to the restroom and by the time I was back Jenn had struck up a conversation with the couple next to us, who were also at the US Open today. They were from Philly and come out a lot for the tournament and love this restaurant and also gave us other places to try. 

We started off with their classic guacamole which was some of the best guac we've had. For our entrees Jenn got carnitas tacos and I had their lobster tacos. We got sides of corn, rice and beans. 

The tacos were phenomenal. Jenn’s carnitas tacos were flavorful and not overpowering with spice. The lobster tacos were incredibly tender and full flavored. It might be the first time I’ve ever had lobster inside of a taco. The sides sadly fell completely flat. The corn was overpowered by whatever seasoning they put on it and the rice and beans were almost terrible. We were fortunate enough to be warned against getting their churros for dessert. It was a very good meal, but not on the top of our lists so far on this trip.

We still had a slight sweet tooth after we left Toloache so we went in search. Thanks to our handy Yelp app we found Schmackary’s a cookie store that sells some of the best cookies we’ve ever had. Jenn had a chocolate chip and I had their peanut butter cup with a cup of coffee. I don’t usually like cookies right out of the oven but this was to die for. This is another NYC spot that had a decently long line, but was worth the wait. It was to die for.

From there we walked back to our hotel, and called in a night. I’m still in shock that we were at the US Open earlier today. It’s something I’ve watched on TV since I was a little kid and have wanted to go to for just as long. It was sort of surreal to sit there and actually be at one of the biggest tournaments in tennis. We went to bed at close to midnight with a belly full of cookies and with one less item on our bucket list.

Day 4 - Indian G.O.A.T

I still am in utter shock that we were able to go to the US Open yesterday. And yet I'm even more excited for today. Towards the end of the tennis matches yesterday, the US Open released their schedule for today and it just so happened that I was lucky enough to buy tickets for a night match in which featured Roger Federer. So I woke up with a little extra pep in my step and went to the gym a little after 10 AM while Jenn slept in. 

We literally had nothing on the agenda for today outside of going to see tennis under the lights at Arthur Ashe. We found an Indian Food restaurant about a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel.  We made our way to Bengal Tiger Indian Food which did not disappoint. We went with two main entrees our go-to favorite Chicken Tikka Masala and then had their Lamb Korma with garlic naan. It was some of the best Indian food we've ever had. The sauce for both dishes was incredible, and the naan was exquisite. 

From there we decided to go for a walk. It was a beautiful day outside, perfect weather, and so we walked to Central Park. I wish I would have tracked our walk because in total we did over 10-miles of walking in the day and this walk had to have at least been 6-7 of those 10. We walked by so many of the beautiful mini-parks and ponds and lakes on our way to make a circle and back to our hotel. It was such an incredible afternoon. We stopped a couple of times but for the most part just walked and talked and enjoyed a gorgeous New York afternoon.

We got back to our hotel, Jenn took a nap while I worked on this post. A little after 5 PM we were back on the road and going back to Flushing Meadows. Unlike yesterday, the subway was insanely packed for the entire ride from Times Square to Flushing. It was standing room only and even that might be gracious. We were literally packed in like sardines. Luckily we eventually got to Flushing Meadows and were ready to watch Roger Federer play Philipp Kohlschreiber. Before we made our way into Arthur Ashe we both had a hot dog. 

The match started a little after 7 PM and by 7:30 PM you could tell that Federer was in complete control of the match. That didn't stop the entirety of Arthur Ashe to root him along and cheer his every brilliant shot. After the first set, we both got the Grey Goose "The Deuce" drink which continued to be amazing. Jenn got popcorn and I had some Korean tacos. We were back mid-way through the second set and watched Federer put him away in the third. The next match up was Madison Keys and Elina Svitolina. We only stayed for the first set, but Keys ended up pulling it out in 3 sets. 

I still cannot believe that I was able to see Roger Federer at one of his last US Opens. I've been following him and rooting for him for so long that I'm happy I was finally able to see him in person. We made our way back via Subway to our hotel, this time in a much emptier Subway car and called it a night. When you watch the US Open on TV they always say there's an electricity to night matches in New York. But being there and feeling the electricity of not only the Federer match but also the Del Potro match taking place next to us. It was something that I'll never forget and hope to be able to experience many more times in my life. 

Day 5 - Until We 'Meat' Again

Today's sadly our last day in New York. We kept our plans open for the day, as we weren't sure how late we would stay at the US Open last night. Luckily for us, we got back to our hotel a little before midnight and got a decent amount of sleep. While Jenn woke up I went for a run and we were out of the hotel a little before noon. 

Our first stop was back to one of the best cups of coffee I've had in a long time, Bibble & Sip. After making the ten-minute walk to their store I had a cup of their drip coffee and Jenn had a latte, this time hot. We both loved it again and from there made our way to a nearby Poke place called Poke Inn. We wanted something light for lunch and this hit the spot. Jenn had a salmon and tuna bowl while I had a salmon and shrimp bowl. Their fish was extremely fresh and all of their ingredients were great. We've become big Poke fans in the last year or so. 

From there we took the subway and walked around the NYU campus. Jenn loves college campuses and she's always wanted to see NYU so we took the subway a couple of stops and walked around the campus before taking the subway back to our hotel. When we got back to our hotel we decided it would be as good of a time as ever to pack our stuff so we could enjoy the remaining part of our day. After packing and watching some more tennis on TV it was dinner time.

For our last dinner in New York we decided to go for one more tasting menu. There are so many options in this city that it can be hard to choose, but we finally landed on a place called Contra. It's located in the East Village and in a really random spot. It's a really small restaurant, my guess is they can only seat 50 people. They only do a tasting menu which changes daily. We both love that concept and what's interesting about Contra is that they really mess with presentation and textures more than I've ever seen before. Similar to our meal at The Musket Room I will just list the courses and talk about some of the highlights. 

First Course - Tomato, aguachile, herbs

Second Course - Squid, eggplant, squash

Third Course - Swordfish, parsley, bearnaise

Fourth Course - Beef, umeboshi, peppers

Fifth Course - Apricot, Bitter Almond

Sixth Course - Fig, Miso

Before the first course came out we actually got fresh made bread (to die for) and a potato crisp with a cream cheese filling that was out of this world. Far and away the highlight of the menu was the Beef, umeboshi and peppers. The beef was perfectly cooked, the peppers were amazing, and the dish was just so perfectly conceived. We both loved the Swordfish and the Squid as well. Jenn doesn't like tomatoes so I actually had two of the first course which was delicious. If we were to do a consensus ranking it would be 4, 3, 2, 5, 1, 6. We absolutely loved Contra, it wasn't the same level as The Musket Room, but it was dang close. 

From Contra we hopped back on the subway and made our way back to our hotel. Jenn was in heels so she took them off and changed it to something more comfortable (she looked stunning tonight) and we walked back to Schmackary's for one last amazing cookie. We got back to our hotel, finished packing, watched tennis and fell asleep. The next morning we had a 6 AM flight back home so we tried to get as much sleep as possible.

Although the trip is over I still can't get over how amazing of a vacation this turned out to be. We came into this trip with very little in terms of expectations and we leave with our bellies full, and hearts overflowing. I'm so grateful we got to experience New York again a city that I hope one day to call home. That or Paris.