Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

I had a truly lovely Valentine’s Day. As you all know, I love chain restaurants and have long thought that my favorite was the Olive Garden, in spite of having only been once before and of being served a wilted salad. But those pastas! All those pastas! And their cream sauces! And unlimited breadsticks! Isn’t there even a bottomless pasta bowl deal?

There was certainly no bottomless pasta bowl deal at the Olive Garden on 6th Avenue that Chris and I went to for the Early Bird Special on Saturday. We thought arriving at 4:15 would beat the crowds (not that there would be crowds at the Olive Garden in New York City, with so many other restaurants to choose from!), but that place was packed. There was a 40-minute wait, so we walked around and stopped in the Container Store, which is an incredible and way-too-expensive store. It’s one of my favorites, and I love to imagine the organizational system I’d choose for my walk-in closet, were I to have a walk-in closet or be able to afford such a system.

It turns out that not only is the Manhattan Olive Garden a popular spot, but it, like the Container Store, is Way Too Expensive! Entrees started at about $18. What? And, as I mentioned, no bottomless pasta bowl. I guess the unlimited salad is only for the basic salad, not the Caesar, which is what I wanted. There were unlimited breadsticks, but while they were delicious with all the butter and salt and garlic slathered on top, they weren’t really breadsticks, more like big puffy loaves.

We got the calamari and beef ravioli appetizers. Both were pretty bad. I love fried calamari, and this was some of the worst calamari I’ve ever had. I’ve had better for a few bucks at a bar. The Caesar salad was overly dressed with watery, bland dressing that only hinted at Caesar. Chris got some Italian sampler with lasagna (actually not bad), chicken parm (I couldn’t even finish one bite) and fettuccine alfredo (admittedly delicious).

I got the chicken and broccoli with garlic-cream sauce, which I’d been daydreaming about since I saw it on the online menu last week. Alas, the chicken was unnecessarily breaded, the broccoli was merely steamed (I’ve recently developed a killer recipe for broccoli, and this fell way short, though, let’s be honest, broccoli is delicious no matter what you do with it), and the cream sauce, like the salad dressing, was watery and bland. The dish’s saving grace was that it used orecchiette pasta, the little ear-shaped guys, which is probably the trendiest pasta out there right now. The Olive Garden’s hip to pasta trends, at least, and it really was a good choice. The sauce, too watery to really stick to the noodles, was able to nestle itself into the cup of each little ear and thus deliver as much of its muted flavor as possible.

Everything was better as leftovers, of course, and no matter that this was my worst meal in New York. It was also utterly hilarious, and I shared it with one of the best things (people) New York’s got going for it. Thank you, Chris, for a wonderful second Valentine’s Day celebration.

Best part: We made it home by 6:30, just in time to watch several hours of TV!


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Laundry day.

When I moved into this apartment, I thought I’d hit a goldmine. Laundry in the building! No more lugging seven loads of laundry (because I always put it off till I absolutely have to do it) to the laundromat in the morning so they could have it ready for me when I got home from work, inevitably ruining a piece of clothing or losing a sock in every batch. I thought: I’ll just do my laundry as I need to do it, and it’ll be so convenient! I’m even on the first floor, so I’ll only have to take the elevator for a quick ride down to the basement!

Ugh. Laundry is such a nightmare here. There are four washers and three dryers for a 100-unit building, and the laundry room is only open from 9 a.m. till 7 p.m., meaning anyone with a 9-to-6 (when did it stop being a 9-to-5 anyway?) has to do laundry on the weekends. The machines are old, and the room is dirty. Today, one of the washers (I used all four) didn’t spin my load, so it came out sopping wet. One of the dryers is broken, and another one swallowed three quarters without registering them.

The real bummer is that there’s not even a laundromat convenient to me here. At least in the old place, the laundromat was on the way to the train. In retrospect, it was pretty easy just to drop off the clothes and let someone else do all the work.

In other news, Arthur’s amazing, and I woke up this morning to find that he’d finally pooed in his litter box. I was so worried last night that he kept eating and eating and wasn’t using the potty! We’ve had a lovely day together of sleeping (him, not me) and eating and watching a couple of mediocre movies. He’s so exhausted from it all, he just collapsed next to me on the couch and fell right asleep. Again. Take a load off, Arthur!

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Last night, my brother and I went to see my high school friend Michael’s band, Stepanian, play at the Bitter End in Manhattan. Actually, the band’s bassist and I have been friends since we were babies; we used to carpool to preschool, and I have very distinct memories of climbing the stairs to his second-floor playroom. His mother was one of my gifted-and-talented teachers in middle school.

The band was awesome, and it was great to see Michael again. But get this. Another high school friend and her husband are in town from Seattle this weekend for a last-minute vacation. After having a late pizza lunch, Amy and Peter were wandering aimlessly around the Village. Peter stopped outside of a bar to look at the band posters taped to the front window and recognized a band called Stepanian. He looked inside, and there was Michael doing a sound check on stage!

So we ended up sitting with Amy and Peter for the show and then going to Rub for BBQ after. My brother got something called “burnt ends,” which were pretty much the most delicious thing any of us had ever tasted.

Only in New York, guys. Only in New York!

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The cost of living.

Has everyone seen this? Apparently, $50,000 in New York City is equivalent to about $125,000 in Houston.

I’ve been down on New York lately, mostly because it’s so expensive, but with a side of its taking so long to get anything done here. As a result, I feel always as if I’m just slightly out of control of my life, with an ever-growing to-do list that includes everything from Call My Grandmother to Clean the Toilet to Maybe Finally Go to a Museum or Do Something Else New York-y That’s Supposed to Make Living Here Worth It All. My brother Jesse just moved to Houston, and he has a car, and he can run multiple errands in a day. (And he loves his job, working for this incredible organization.)

Not that I want to move to Houston, and as I’ve said before, New York has so much to offer.

It just gets a bit overwhelming sometimes, especially when you’re not really sure what you want to do with your life and where you want it to take you.

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I want to let the world know that I have made my pick for this season’s “Top Chef.”

My pick is Carla, otherwise known (by my “Top Chef”-watching party of myself and Chris) as the Human-Shaped Flightless Bird, and we label her as such with all the respect and affection we can muster.

She’s the underdog, for sure. I was surprised she made it through the first few episodes. For a while, it seemed all she could do was make dessert (and not always very well), and as we all know, it’s “Top Chef,” not “Top Pastry Chef.” She definitely has a shot to be this season’s Fan Favorite, but it’d pretty crazy-awesome if she won the Big Title, too.

Speaking of crazy, she’s also as quirky as they come. Here’s some videographic evidence to support this claim.

Recently, Carla won the Super Bowl challenge (and a couple of tickets to the Bowl, which she reportedly gave to her husband and stepson). If only I could find the clip of her reaction to the news, but suffice it to say that she was as surprised as the rest of us, and terribly, terribly excited.

Over the past few weeks, Carla has been full of surprises. She’s been cooking savory dishes instead of desserts, and she’s been cooking them well. And we learned just this week that Carla is classically trained in French cooking! Eric Ripert could tell immediately that she knew her stuff.

So why has she been painted as so clueless, or at least a bit of a goof, up to this point? I suspect that part of the surprise element has to do with the show’s production and editing (we all know from that little, tiny-print disclaimer at the end of episodes that the show isn’t as “real” as it claims to be). They’re setting us up to think she’s going to lose because, when she comes close to winning, it’ll be that much cooler!

You might have noticed, too, at the Le Bernardin table, that she displayed none of her human-shaped-flightless-bird eccentricities. I suspect this shows the hand of the producers and editors, too. Her hair was pulled back, and she sat there calmly and responded sanely to Eric Ripert, in contrast to pretty much every other scene she’s been in.

I think it’s going to come down to Fabio and Stefan, and Stefan’s going to win, but my hope is that Carla comes in third. I don’t care about Hosea, and Leah is obviously getting booted next episode because not only does she not cool as well as the others and cheat on her boyfriend, but she also just gives up whenever something’s a little bit hard, and we all know, this is “Top Chef,” not “Top Quitter”!

Also, who doesn’t love how gosh-darn nice Carla is? That’s so rare in competitive reality TV, and definitely a breath of fresh air. If I were still in DC, I’d hire Carla to cater a big party for me, at which we’d serve birds that, though not human-shaped, would definitely be flightless due to the fact of their being cooked.

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When I lived in DC, I worked near Dupont Circle, very close to a California Pizza Kitchen. In fact, here it is:

photo by Kevin L. at Yelp

photo by Kevin L. at Yelp

Late nights at the magazine (including one that ended with me sleeping on the floor till my co-workers arrived the next morning), the designer and I would order potato-leek soup and the most sublime pasta dish, called Chicken Tequila Fettuccine.

When I moved to New York and took my current job, I searched all over the Financial District (well, I looked it up on Google Maps) for a CPK and found none. There’s a TGI Friday’s down the street, but its pasta menu has nothing similar. The closest I’ve come is Chili’s Cajun Chicken Pasta, which I ate on one of the numerous trips to Chili’s Julie and I made at Amherst:

Finally, I gave in to my cravings, and last night I attempted to make the CPK dish on my own. The recipe is readily available online, and I picked up the ingredients on my way home from work, including a small bottle of Jose Cuervo.

I decided to double the recipe, since it calls for half each of red, yellow and green peppers.  I ended up with an enormous amount of pasta! It’s fairly delicious, though if I were to make it again, I’d at least double the garlic and jalapeno, and I’d add salt while I was cooking. Also, I made this with half-and-half, which worked just as well as heavy cream would have, for about half the fat and calories.

Perhaps I am unsophisticated, but I love chain-restaurant food, particularly creamy pasta. Nothing would make me happier than a trip to the Olive Garden for all-you-can-eat breadsticks and salad. And maybe a huge plate of Garlic-Herb Chicken con Broccoli:

I didn’t take a picture of my pasta last night, but the original should do the trick:

There’s enough for a dozen more servings in my fridge, so come and get it before I pack it into Ziploc bags and put it in my freezer.

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On Tuesday last week, for our third and final Restaurant Week experience (Chris had one more on Friday for lunch),  we headed up to Mr.K’s. As anticipated, this was no No. 1 Chinese, but as RW experiences go, it was not a standout, either.

photo by Gayot.com

photo by Gayot.com

The restaurant was about as comfy and grand as they get, with high-backed sofa booths upholstered in pink with delicate gold brocade patterns, carefully arranged so as to provide each group as much privacy as possible.

The standout, though, was the service. With the exception of having to ask for water, we were positively doted on all evening: warm towels to wipe our hands, a beautiful flower on a pin for me to wear, silverware and plates promptly removed and replaced as necessary, napkins unfolded and spread out for us by our server (as if to say our energy was better spent on appreciating our food and each other’s company than on something as silly as unfolding our own napkins). There was even a palate cleanser of tart lemon sorbet between our first two courses:

We had the Shanghai Spring Rolls, which were fascinating, filled with scrambled egg, and the Crispy Beef, which was, indeed crispy. We added an extra appetizer, the Lover’s Dumplings (how could we not?). These were our favorite part of the meal:
Lover's Dumplings

Chris had the Firecracker Fish, and I had a pork dish that was special for the RW menu. Both were fine dishes, Chris’ in particular, and several steps up from the hole-in-the-wall Chinese we’re used to in Brooklyn. The flavors were similar, though, as were the concepts of the dishes, and overall, it was a far cry from Shanghai Pavilion, where by brother Nathan and sister-in-law, Elizabeth, had their “rehearsal dinner.”

On second thought, my favorite part of the meal was dessert. Mr. K’s served a choice: fresh fruit or ice cream. We had the fruit, I believe (it was less than memorable) and pistachio ice cream, because I’ve recently discovered that I love pistachios after having refused to eat them my entire life. I just loved that the restaurant didn’t even try to create an actual dessert. They simply don’t do dessert!

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