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Travel & Culture

NYC January 2019 Highlights

Rob and I took the train up to New York City for a short (basically 24 hours in the city), the main focus was to see Sara Bareilles in the lead role in Waitress.  This was a somewhat spur of the moment decision right before Christmas, we had seen the show before and loved it and jumped at the opportunity.  Honestly, this is one of the base parts of living in the DC area and the East Cost, in general; you can really easily get to so many great place easily.  Within 4 hours you can get to Pittsburgh, Philly, NYC, Baltimore, among other places.  These all have a unique food culture that is really interesting and fun to explore.  

Waitress Musical
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While Waitress may have been the driver for this trip we also wanted to focus on some food culture.  Obviously, winter is not always the best time to explore a city (it was cold, ironically DC was getting its heaviest snow storm in a few years).  We made sure to take advantage of a few aspects of NYC food, primarily focused on Midtown (our hotel was 48th and Lexington) but we went as far south as Madison Square Park. 

To anyone who may ask: all opinions are my own, I was not compensated for any reviews, etc.  After all, this is still a pretty small blog.

The Hotel: The Lexington, Marriott Autograph Collection

Lexington Hotel NYC
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We have bounced around hotels a little bit in the Midtown area on our trips to New York.  For this trip, we wanted to stay at a hotel that was reasonable central to a lot of the things we wanted to check out.  The Lexington fit the bill, being located at Lexington and 48th.  It was easy walking distance to Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, Time Square, etc.  It also had a number of good food options nearby.  The hotel is decorated in an interesting pop-art/art deco style.  Its not over the top or anything but is a nice balance of clean modernism and pop culture.

Lexington Hotel NYC
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We were upgraded thanks to Rob’s rewards status to a 1 bedroom suite which was really nice, if not a little large for 2 people staying for a night.  One thing I will note is that the bathroom was pretty small, so don’t plan on being able to get ready at the same time as someone else.  Otherwise the room was great.

One unfortunate aspect of this trip was that the hotel’s bar was being renovated while we were there.  From what pictures I have seen its really nice.  The hotel had instead turned a small meeting space into a temporary bar/lounge area.  While by no means bad, it did have a bit of an awkward feel to it (sort of like a airport waiting area).  They did have a decent selection of wine, beer, and cocktails though, so we just grabbed a drink to take back to the room as a nightcap.

Coffee Options

If you are like us, you want to find breakfast/coffee options that are a little different (i.e., not Pret, Starbucks, Dunkin, etc.).  We first started a “no-big name coffee” pact last time we were in Sonoma/San Fran and we extended that to this trip.  We tried three of them on this trip.

Bluestone Lane
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Bluestone Lane at 48th and Madison

First was Bluestone Lane.  It is an Australian coffee shop that has a few locations in NYC, Philly, LA, San Fran, and DC.  The coffee is good, they have some food options, and it was pretty quick.  This location is definitely more of a grab-and-go sort of place though as they don’t really have much seating (Rob said the DC-Navy Yard location is similar).  We both got small lattes which fit the bill after having woken up at 4 am for the train. 

Irving Farm Coffee Roasters
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Irving Farm Coffee Roasters at 50th between Lex and 3rd.  This was an awesome breakfast spot.  They had a pretty extensive food array and several drip coffee options in addition to the espresso options.  We both had bagels, which were solid, as to be expected in NY.  We each got different drip coffee options, both of which were good.  The shop had a really good amount of seating and actually brought the food to you if you were eating in.  Overall, it was an excellent breakfast spot to sit for a few and enjoy a good local coffee option.

Lastly, we made a stop at Ground Central Coffee.  This was an interesting little coffee shop.  It had a dark interior that looked like a cross between a used book store and a record store.  It overall worked for the place and it seemed like a pretty popular hang out.  We both got lattes which were excellent.  They did have a pretty extensive food menu that included some awesome sounding sandwiches.

Shopping and Sights

Rockefeller Shopping
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We had time to kill between the food stops and our show (I mean I love food, but I can’t eat constantly).  So, we explored some areas around Midtown and Flatiron.  I sometimes forget what shopping in NYC can be like, flagship stores can be an experience in and of themselves compared to the normal shopping mall variety.

Lululemon Park Ave
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Take this amazing Lululemon on Park Ave and 48th!  It’s huge, the storefront is absolutely gorgeous, and the interior just plays off that.  Honestly, I probably could have spent way more time (and money) in there but that really wasn’t the point of the trip.  But it was really cool.

Rockefeller Plaze
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We also explored the shopping in Rockefeller Plaza, more to kill time than anything else.  But they have some nice stores like J. Crew, Anthro, Kate Spade, etc. that are nice to look around in.  Also, Rockefeller in the winter is almost like a must-stop in the winter to at least watch some ice skating.

Bryant Park
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We also wandered down to Bryant Park to check out the winter set up there.  It looks like it is starting to wind down; however, they still have a massive ice skating rink set up along with several large pavilions.  Regardless of weather, Bryant Park is just a really nice place to hang out and relax for a bit.  I love it in the summer when it really has a bit of a European feel to it.

Flatiron Building
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The last shopping and site seeing we did was down by the Flatiron Building.  We had lunch at the Wagamama (see below) down there, so we did some wandering after lunch.  Walking down 5th Ave brought a bunch more shopping with it, including a big Madewell and some shopping for Rob at Bonobos and UntuckIt.  Rob also went nuts taking pictures of the Flatiron Building itself, it really brought out his photography nerd side.

Lunch Stop: Wagamama

Wagamama Flatiron NYC
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Wagamama Flatiron NYC

If you were following along on my Instagram Stories, you know this was Rob’s highlight.  He has been talking about Wagamama since we went to London last year.  If DC ever gets one, we will likely be going all the time.  Anyway, Wagamama was his major desire on this trip.  It is definitely an excellent restaurant.  You can get a lot of food for fairly inexpensive and the quality is excellent.  The US menu seems to be slightly more limited than I remember the UK menu being, but it still has so many great options.

I got a Shirodashi Pork Ramen, which is one my my favorite styles.  The broth is a slightly milky color with a smooth mouth-feel and taste.  The Wagamama version has the slightest hint of spice to it, so it is just perfect to me.  Rob got a Katsu Chicken Curry (fried chicken with a yellow curry sauce).  It looked like a massive amount of food when it came out, but Rob ate it up.  It was a fairly standard Japanese-style curry, slightly spicy with a hint of sweetness.  We had some Tori Karaage as a side, which are basically the most awesome chicken nuggets ever.

Drinks and Dinner: The National

The National is a restaurant owned by Chef Geoffrey Zakarian of Food Network fame.  If you watch The Kitchen or anything else, you quickly learn that GZ is an excellent classic chef and enjoys a good cocktail.  The National is the embodiment of that focus.  It is very much a classic, American-style Brasserie.  The decor is slightly dark but clean and classic.  It was great for a pre-show dinner; we ate early so it was pretty quiet early on.  It was definitely starting to fill up as we were leaving and the brunch business on Sunday morning was high.

We started out with a few cocktails at the bar, both of which were fun takes on classics.  Rob got a Gimlet, which was pretty classic, while I got an interesting take on a Whiskey Sour (my absolute favorite cocktail).  It was made with honey as a sweetener, which resulted in a good balance of tart and sweet.  The bar had a nice set up and was absent TVs or other mean of entertainment.  This really allowed for more focus on conversation and the atmosphere.

Dinner was excellent.  I decided on a roast chicken, Rob had a braised short rib, and we split a side of Brussels Sprouts.  All of the food was excellent in a simple kind of way.  The menu, in general, avoided over complication of the recipes.  The flavors and combinations were classic without unnecessary garnish or overly “interesting” ingredients.  I love this kind of cooking and I try and emulate a similar style; focusing on the basics and simple flavors gets you an approachable, delicious meal.

The Show: Waitress

Let’s just start with this: Waitress is an awesome show and you should definitely go see it.  It’s a musical, written by Sara Bareilles, about a women who makes pie on an emotional roller coaster to rival a Pixar movie.  The show combines humor and drama in a way that feels natural to a great soundtrack.  I will say that Waitress isn’t 100% family friendly; there is cursing and a pretty good amount of innuendo.  So, if you are okay with that, bring your kids, if not you may want to leave them behind or wait until they are older.  Also to note, THEY SELL PIE!  They are small cups, so its not a lot, but it is a fun way to carry the theme into the concessions.

Waitress Musical
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Like I said earlier, this was a bit of a spur of the moment decision (in that we planned it less than a month before).  Sara Bareilles reprised her role as the lead character for a limited run, so that alone would have been worth it.  Throw in another big name Broadway star (Gavin Creel) and  an all-star reunion of Waitress alum, it became a no-brainer.  This was my first time seeing Sara Bareilles live and let me just say, DAMN she can sing!  Overall, the entire cast was excellent.  Gavin Creel is a great actor with great comedic timing and an awesome voice.

Lunch Stop: The Pennsy Food Hall

Pennsy Food Hall
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Pennsy Food Hall Entrance

We ended up switching our train to get out of NYC a little early given the bad weather down in DC.  The plus side of this was that we wanted a decent lunch near Penn Station.  So we decided to check out the Pennsy Food Hall, which is right on top of the station.  It is one of many smaller food hall/market type places that have popped up all over New York.  We saw at least 3-4 others in the East Midtown area (one by our hotel, one near Grand Central, and a pop-up in Bryant Park).  Overall, these make for a great way to suite a variety of tastes, for fairly cheap.  They all seem to be doing a good business, so it seems like you can’t go too wrong.

Rob and I ended up getting stuff from different stalls at Pennsy.  Rob went with a steak sandwich from the Pat la Frieda stall; while I went for pizza from Ribalta.  Pennsy also has a few vegetarian options, tacos, and an Asian noodle place.  To cap it off is an extensive bar, which was doing a pretty good business (though mostly to what looked like Philadelphia 76ers fans, lol).  Overall, the food and atmosphere are great here.  Rob loved the sandwich he got it was a generous portion and cost less than $10.  My pizza was really good, just a little to big for me to eat by myself.  Given the food options in Penn Station itself (not great), I consider the Pennsy to be perfect for a pre-train meal.

Extra: Bryant Park Urban Space

Bryant Park had a pop-up food hall set up to go with their ice rink.  It was a well decorated space complete with 5-6 food vendors and a full bar.  For a temporary space, it looked like a lot of effort went into it.  The food options all looked really good, including a BBQ/Mac & Cheese place and a taco place.  Unfortunately, we did stop to eat since we had other plans but it looked awesome.  If we had more time, I definitely would have stopped back in to enjoy some food and a drink.

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