Monday, February 6, 2017

Live and breathe in New York City: What to eat, drink, see

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard...

- Baz Luhrman, Wear Sunscreen lyrics

Sunset over the Manhattan skyline

Central Park in the winter
New York City had a profound impact on my life. I lived there from 2005-2012 as a 20-something. It was the place I felt the most whole and I could do anything I dreamed of. A place of dreams. I wanted to live there for 10 years but fell short of a few years and had to move for personal reasons. So if you ever get the chance to travel or live in New York City, DO IT. Here are my recommendations on where to Eat, Drink, Shop, Dance, Visit, See, etc.

Central Park in the Fall

Celebrating one of my birthdays at Kittichai (I look so young!)
The infamous parmesan wheel at Basta Pasta

Places to Eat:
1) Basta Pasta
I can't rave about this place enough! Its my favorite restaurant in the city. Italian food with a Japanese twist. My favorite meals have been from this place and a go-to place at least once every couple months. Get the Caesar salad, Homemade Fettuccine bolognese, Spaghetti con prosciutto e parmigiano (See the picture above - the pasta is thrown into the parmesan wheel table side and then served with a topping of freshly cut prosciutto), and if they have grilled Branzino fish as the special it would make you a fan of branzino, finish with their beautiful Tiramisu. I've tried a bunch of their pastas and entrees over the years of living there and have never had a bad meal.

2) Eleven Madison Park
I was taken to eat here for my birthday and I still remember the beautiful food indulgence. The foie gras was served in a couple different ways and utterly delicious. I think this is the restaurant that sparked my interest in foie gras as well as food orgasms. Since that birthday dinner, this restaurant has received a ton of accolades over the years and gained notoriety around the world as a premiere dining destination.

3) Babbo
Traditional Italian food that makes your tummy growl with passion an excitement. If you were to ask me what my favorite cuisine in the world is, I would answer Italian food! From bruschetta to fresh pasta to pizza to gelato to Chianti classico wine, I love Italian food, wine, and coffee! This restaurant is classic fine Italian food and one of Mario Batali's best restaurants in my opinion. A favorite among New Yorkers so a reservation ahead of time is needed.

4) Eataly
About that Italian food obsession... Yes, a visit to the Flatiron district's location of this behemoth will be a great place to pick up fresh pasta, handpicked (a bit pricier than your regular store) herbs and vegetables, slabs of premium cut meat, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, gelato, chocolate, coffee, kitchenware, etc. Its a foodie-must. In addition to the premium grocery store. There's a pizza restaurant, pasta restaurant (my choice), vegetarian restaurant (actually really good!), fish and seafood restaurant (also really good), steak restaurant, cafe, gelataria, and more!

5) Lombardi's pizza
Pizza!!!! New York has good pizza and arguably the most authentic Italian style pizza you can find in the US (with a few exceptions of course!). There are so many pizza places in New York City that its a bit difficult to know where to go. My favorite pie is from Lombardi's Pizzeria. Its supposed to be the very first pizzeria in the US. The sauce is has that extra special tomato freshness, the crust is soft and crunchy with a bit of bite. This place uses fresh ingredients and is always packed so make sure you come with some good friends so waiting for a table is less painful.

6) Katz's Deli
Classic New York Jewish deli made famous from that infamous scene on When Harry met Sally but New Yorkers have been going to Katz's for a while. The way it works here, you walk up to the counter and pick up a ticket then move along the line. Order fast. The guys behind the counter don't have time for you to be indecisive. I recommend a matzo ball soup, 1/2 pastrami on rye bread, washed down with a chocolate soda. Beware the portions sizes! They are super generous.

7) Baohaus
I am going to let you in on a totally geeky food secret. I love steamed bao that is fluffy, soft, and warm filled delicious fillings. The classic is a pork belly stew. At Baohaus they have one called Chairman Bao which takes it a bit further. I've tried baos around the world from New York to LA to Singapore to London and Baohaus takes the title of the best baos I have ever had. The baos are fluffy, soft, and warm; it is the unique twist on the classic fillings that really get my tastebuds buzzing with excitement. My favorites are Birdhaus Bao (fried chicken) and the Uncle Jesse Bao (fried tofu). They also have rice bowls, taro fries, and variety of interesting nonalcoholic drinks. The owner Eddie Huang is also quite the character and the popular Asian American coming of age sitcom Fresh off the Boat is based off his memoir.

8) Vanessa's Dumpling
New York is always touted as super expensive but what most New Yorkers know is that you can get a super cheap good meal that is tasty. There are a few locations in the city but the cheapest and most Chinatown experience is in Chinatown/Lower East Side location. Order a plate of dumplings for a couple dollars and wash it down with a soybean milk or get the scallion sesame pancake with veggies. It's flaky exterior filled with veggies Is large enough to fill you for the rest of the day.

9) Curry-ya
A small restaurant specializing in Japanese curry with a open concept kitchen, diners sit facing the kitchen. If you have never had Japanese curry before it is rather different than a Thai or Indian curry. In fact, it reminds me of a creamy beef stew with curry flavor. You can order your curry with different toppings and varying degrees of hotness. Though this place is unassuming and tiny, I think it's one of the places to get Japanese curry in the world. My favorite is the hamburg curry (a hamburger without the bread and served over rice). Reservations are recommended to ensure a place to sit however, you can also call ahead for delivery or takeout.
Next to Curry-ya is a ramen restaurant that serves a hearty bowl of tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen or shio (salt base) ramen. Owned by the same restaurant group as Curry-ya, this casual ramen eatery is a perfect respite from a cold, damp, winter night. The noodles are chewy and the broth is hearty. My biggest pet peeve with ramen is the texture of the noodles being too soft or the broth is too oily or bland. Rai Rai Ken delivers a solid bowl with reasonable prices. 

Other places to try...
11) Seoul Garden
Korean food in the heart of Koreatown on 32nd street

Brazilian-Japanese fusion restaurant with a few locations in the city
French bakery with serving the best French Macarons in the city. 

14) Aquavit
A Scandinavian fine dining restaurant with a more casual bistro in the front.
For a more New York Jewish deli restaurant experience, this restaurant is located in Murray Hill and a convenient stop after work, or midtown shopping in nearby Herald Square.

16) Veselka
The best pierogis in town!

17) Resto
A Belgian-American farm-to-table restaurant with awesome moules-frites (mussels and fries) and an even better brunch (fried chicken and waffles, "hangover" pasta are the star winners)
Open late, everyday, and serving home style Chinese food. (This is actually my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city.)
The classic street New York hotdogs with extra toppings in a grunge-y hipster basement eatery. (make reservations for the speakeasy bar in the back)
Classic New York-Italian casual restaurant with several locations in the city.

A popular bistro pub in residential part of West Village with amazing food. The last time I dined there, a few celebrities were a few seats away in this cozy and dark space. The marrow is melt-in-your-mouth indulgence.
Meatballs cooked according to your preference and choice of side. 

Japanese katsu is fried to perfection here. Katsu is breaded and fried meat or vegetables. Katsu Hama makes their katsu to perfection. Crunchy, juicy, and doesn't feel greasy like other fried food (but don't be fooled because it's still fried!)
A slice of Americana in Manhattan. This is also a good place to go if you're a vegetarian. 
Home style authentic Filipino food in a cozy restaurant that reminds one of being in someone's kitchen.

26) Otafuku
An inexpensive take-out place specializing in Takoyaki (Octopus filled savory pancake balls) and Okonomiyaki (savory pancake with cabbage and meat). This is a great snack or lunch take-out spot.

27) Cha-An
A beautiful Japanese tea place with delicate cake offerings but also healthy Japanese savory food is also offered here. I loved coming here for meetings and to meet friends.

Fashion's Night Out is a fun night of shopping, booze, free makeovers, celeb-sightings, and parties

Its a night for the public to engage with the Fashion community during Fashion Week

Halloween in New York is always a fun time and great people watching!

Places to Drink and be Merry:

When people find out I lived in New York for such a long time they always ask me where are the best bars or clubs to go to. To be honest, I was not much of a drinker or partier when I lived in New York and only went out to pubs or neighborhood bars or karaoke bars with friends. My short list below reflects that. I added a few recommendations from friends. It is fairly common to see very good happy hour deals after the traditional work hours in many bars littered throughout New York. There were some places I do think pride themselves on cocktails though. If I returned to New York, I would definitely rediscover the ever-changing nightlife scene. 
For a more extensive bar list visit CN Traveler's 19 Best Bars in New York City 

1) Angel's Share
A Japanese speakeasy bar in the East Village hidden behind a door in a Japanese restaurant.

2) Ulysses Folk House
A relaxed pub in the financial district. A good place to hang out in the summer with a beer in the outdoor dining area.

3) Cask Bar & Kitchen
A relaxed neighborhood bar thats great for meeting up with friends for dinner and drinks.

4) Stone Creek Bar & Lounge
A sports bar with bar bites that is chill with a great back room for private events. I've done most of my fundraisers here.

5) Japas 38
A karaoke bar in midtown serving Japanese bar bites, a main room, and private party rooms

6) Sing Sing Karaoke @ St Mark's
If you like to sing your heart out in front of strangers and friends, come here. I used to come here with my singer friends and just drink because most of the people who sing in the main room are all singers!

7) PDT (Please don't tell)
This is the speakeasy bar behind Crif's Dogs. I heard really good things about this place.  It would be a stop I'd make when I get the chance to return to visit NYC.

8) The Back Room
A friend took us here once and we walked along a dark alleyway, down a set of stairs, and then found this cool speakeasy bar. If you love speakeasies, this is the place to go. On their website it is listed as one of the two remaining speakeasy bars that was functioning during the Prohibition era.

9) Mehanata
This is the place to just let loose on the dance floor. A Bulgarian bar with an eclectic mix of music, people, and no pretentious vibe. If anyone asks me where to go out for a night of dancing, this is the place. I like it because its not one of those fancy nightclubs where people dress up to impress their tinder matches. This is the place to dance the night away.

10) Apotheke
A few friends have recommended this place for good cocktails. This is a trendy cocktail bar and supposed to have really good drinks but a bit on the pricier side. The location is in the heart of Chinatown so have a good cheap hole-in-the-wall noodles then come here after. This would also be a place I'd visit.

11) 230 Fifth 
This rooftop bar is a great place to go for the views at anytime of the day (there's brunch on weekends). I have come here for brunch (there's a boozy brunch) and at night. The view of the Empire State building from this bar is fantastic. The crowd can be a little bit pretentious on popular nights so pick a weekday and come for a sunset.

The view of the Empire State building from Chrysler building

I think this list is an eclectic mix of shopping areas and department stores. New Yorkers does not shop the way the rest of America does. There are no large suburban shopping malls to go to. There are shops in shopping areas in Soho, Herald Square, Union Square, 5th avenue, Madison Avenue, Williamsburg. There are also outlet malls outside of the city area that have shuttle buses that can take you there.  

2) Soho area has really cute boutiques on Prince street, Mercer street, Greene street, etc. 
3) Upper east side on Madison avenue
4) Williamsburg for hipster stuff on Bedford avenue
5) Dylan's candy bar
6) Macy's
7) Herald Square
8) Eataly
9) Union Square
10) Woodbury Commons
11) Time Warner Center
12) Fifth Avenue from 59th street to 42nd street

Brooklyn Bridge

Walking, sights, attractions:
There's always so much to do in New York. I was a performing artist in New York so I was always invited to everyone's performances or having performances myself that I was always busy. On a rare weekend that I don't have work, a rehearsal, or performances, I would go spend a day wandering around neighborhoods because the diversity of NYC is what makes this city so fascinating and my favorite city in the whole world. 

1) Brooklyn Bridge
2) East Village and West Village
3) Central Park
4) Prospect Park
5) Soho/Tribeca
6) Time Warner Center
7) Union Square/Gramercy Park
8) Metropolitan Museum of Art
9) Natural History Museum 
10) MOMA (Museum of Modern Art)
11) Brooklyn museum
12) Chinatown / Little Italy
13) Times Square
14) Grand Central Station
15) Park avenue above 34th street
16) Herald square
17) Battery park city
19) Chelsea Market
20) Rockefeller Center
21) Guggenheim Museum
22) Highline Park



  1. Restos sounds amazing love the Belgian farm to table twist. Hope I can get to New York one day always wanted to visit.

    1. Its an amazing city! Nothing beats NYC in my honest opinion. Everything you could possibly want (aside from mountains, hiking, skiing, etc.) is within a subway or bus ride away 24 hours a day.