A Spot of Tea

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I recently realized that the older we get, the more most of us wish we had paid a little more attention in school. For some, they wish they could remember more of their math lessons; for others, it’s literature, and for me, it’s history. When textbooks popped open to learn about wars and presidents, my head always went into the clouds. But as an adult, when I pass by major landmarks, I find myself constantly Googling. It makes me wish I could remember some of the trivia that was probably right there in those textbooks.

One of my biggest history fascinations in NYC has been The Plaza Hotel (which, for the record, was built in 1907, took two years and $12 million to build—unprecedented at the time.) So when one of my best friends invited me to a birthday tea party there hosted by her lovely mother, I was excited for weeks, imagining all of us dolled up, soaking in the grandeur like it was the 1920s. And it was grand, indeed. We had a three-hour, Eloise-themed sit-down in the Palm Court, an ode to the six-year-old star of the children’s book series. Of course, there was tea, plus mini-peanut butter and jellies, scones, and tiny cupcakes on three-tiered servers.

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Staring up at the vaulted glass ceilings and looming palm trees, I felt like I could’ve been Zelda Fitzgerald on a tea date with Scott—before tea turned into orange blossoms spiked with gin. But I was glad to be me, in a pretty dress surrounded by other women (in pretty dresses themselves) who uplift and inspire me. (And crack me up. Seriously, we need a reality show.)

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I think tea is now officially, well…my cup of tea. And not just because of the magic of the Plaza and the comforting drink (which had me briefly considering making the switch from coffee before I asked myself Who are you kidding?), but because of the idea of taking a break from your day to sit down with friends to eat, drink, and enjoy one another’s company—no cell phones included. Why can’t we all sit for tea with our girlfriends more often? Frolic in the fountain outside like the Fitzgeralds once (allegedly) did? Wander the hotel’s hallways like the mischievous Eloise?

True to my inner nerd, when I got home (well, after a champagne after-party at my apartment, because what’s tea at the Plaza without a Gatsby-like moment?) I did some research, and discovered the hotel offers a free 45-minute tour of the Renaissance-style chateau. Who’s down to go with me? If you come, I promise we can sit down for tea afterward.

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The Art of Fine Dining

Spinach, goat cheese and herb pizza from ABC Kitchen

Spinach, goat cheese and herb pizza from ABC Kitchen

[WARNING: Do not read on an empty stomach!]

I love food, but I’ve always been a picky eater. Before I moved to New York, my palette was pretty much limited to Latin food, French fries, and cereal. I hated the word foodie and rolled my eyes at photos of plates on social media. But I admit it: The city has opened my eyes to a whole new world of eats (and, therefore, the necessity of the gym).

Restaurant Week was earlier this month, which meant some of the city’s hot spots offered special pre-fixe deals. One night, I attended a “strangers dinner” at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Perry Street restaurant in the West Village. The idea is that the host invites two people, each brings someone the host doesn’t know, and so on. While the conversation and wine were delightful, the food stole the show: roasted squash soup with mushroom and sourdough, onion-and-chili crusted beef short ribs, and banana cake with salted caramel ice cream. Absolutely divine; so fantastic, in fact, it was even more delicious than Drake on Saturday Night Live.

That evening at Perry Street inspired me to reflect on some of my favorite New York dinners— perfect timing, because the next day an out-of-towner asked me for my top three NYC meal recommendations. Here’s what I told her—I hope you can try them out, too. Bon appétit!

Potato gnocchi with sweet corn and summer truffles at Park Avenue (960 Park Avenue, but currently relocating): This restaurant changes its name every season (Park Avenue Spring, Park Avenue Summer, etc.). When I visited two summers ago, I couldn’t even pronounce gnocchi (FYI, sounds like “nyo-key”) but these potato dumplings in a frothy sauce literally blew my mind.

Spinach, goat cheese and herb pizza at ABC Kitchen (35 E. 18th Street): In my prior life, you had to hold me down to get me to eat goat cheese. (I’m big on texture, ok?!) But this dish made me a convert: The cheese and herbs sit atop a perfectly simple, flaky crust that I could demolish just about every day.

White truffle risotto at Marea (240 Central Park South): At my day job, I tried various samples with truffle oil and truffle salt (truffle salt popcorn is my favorite!), but my first foray into freshly sliced white truffles was at Marea, where they were finely shaved onto a creamy, rich risotto. This was the most buttery, sumptuous dish I have ever had—no lie, I shed a tear at the end. Who knew good food could make a girl cry?

 

It’s a Party, It’s a Party, It’s a Party!

Ever since I moved into a one bedroom, I’ve been looking for any and all opportunities to have get-togethers. I’m a hostess at heart: I love planning, decorating, and getting the people that make me happiest together in one place for a good time. (I even joked with my friends that I might have an Arbor Day gathering. But really, why not?) So when July 4th came around, I knew it was time to host a par-tay to celebrate our great nation…in other words, have an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry.

As soon as I told one of my good friends and fellow magazine editors about the gathering, she passed along the party-in-a-box she’d been sent at her job, a creation by the new company Revelry House. The kit is full of every adorable thing an eager 20-something party-thrower might need to have a great July 4th bash, and I was ecstatic when I found out the business was co-founded by Lo Bosworth, the beloved sidekick from Laguna Beach and The Hills. (I was actually just lamenting about missing those shows with my friends. Admit it: Real or not, they were addicting).

In my box: Blue-and-white paper straws, sparkly American-themed cupcake toppers, star confetti, an American flag scarf, cardboard dining trays, bamboo cutlery, and more. The boxes are a bit pricey, at $189, but they eliminate the need to spend hours shopping, budgeting, and planning. And what I love most about the idea is that the box gives you all the tools you need to throw a great shindig, but you can also make them uniquely your own. For instance, in addition to the flag, bicycle, and rocket shaped toppers, I threw some blue and red sprinkles onto the white icing of my cupcakes; the confetti went on the table and inside the red balloons (and although it got everywhere, it was totally worth it); the flag scarf became my tablecloth, and the blue and white straws went swimmingly with the red signature cocktail I’d already planned.

Some photo evidence that I actually pulled this off:

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And guess what? The July 4th party-in-a-box also included sparklers, which I tried out on my balcony at the end of the night w/ my besties. Nice work, Lo—I’ll definitely be checking out the Birthday and Bachelorette Boxes, whenever one of my friends decides to tie the knot next.

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Sweet Tooth

Allow me to introduce you to the Cronut, NYC’s latest craze.

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Cronut is the latest pastry from Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho. A donut with a croissant texture and light drizzle of icing, this dessert has had New Yorkers losing their minds. Because of the kitchen’s small size and the amount of time it takes to make the Cronut, Chef Ansel can only produce 300 each day, which means les cronuts sell out before 9:30 AM. So now, there are scalpers selling these things for upward of $100. And there was a man on Craigslist searching for um, services, in exchange for a Cronut. Yes, it’s that real.

At my day job, we were lucky enough to obtain three (yes, only three!) of the in-demand treats. Each month, Ansel and his team create a new flavor, and this month’s was blackberry. I was skeptical; in my experience so far, rarely has a Manhattan craze lived up to the hype. But when I tell you that as soon as I bit into this thing, I saw fireworks, heard angels sing, and felt like I was being nestled inside a fluffy cloud, I mean it. It’s the perfect ratio of croissant to donut, soft to chewy, icing to filling. I was in awe, and after my two small, sticky bites (unfortunately, I had to share) I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a whole one. But seeing as that would mean waking up at 4:45 AM to get in line, I may have to wait until things die down a bit. But rumor has it upcoming flavors will be passion fruit and coconut. Heaven!

It wasn’t long after I finally tried a Cronut that I learned there’s a new croissant-donut hybrid in town: The Squat (yes, as in what you should do after eating these bad boys). It’s a glazed, square donut with a croissant texture and—wait for it—bacon sprinkled on top. According to Gothamist, it might be even better than the cronut. What is wrong with America? First the Cronut, then Dunkin’ Donuts’ donut breakfast sammich, and now this? Are we just set on giving our population heart problems? (Don’t get me wrong, I will be trying all of this. Shame, shame on me.)

ImageAnother croissant-pastry hybrid I recently taste-tested (doesn’t my day job sound horribly labor-intensive?) is City Bakery’s croissant pretzel, which we nicknamed the “cretzel.” It’s the perfect, soft combination of a croissant with a pretzel’s saltiness (and not too much of a pretzel-y texture, which I feared). And reader, prepare yourself, as this is only the beginning of my NYC pastry taste-testing. Before I left for Paris last summer, I read Amy Thomas’s Paris, My Sweet where, throughout her story of moving to Paris from New York for a year, Thomas shared the best sweet shops in both Paris and New York. I still have a ton of bakeries from that book that I need to visit (Maison Kaysar and Lady M Confections on the Upper East Side are up next), so it’s time to pick up the pace. And don’t worry: In between, I will share all the sugary goodness on the blog—while simultaneously doing a ton of squats.

The Misadventures of Ari & Esther

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Once, grocery shopping meant trailing behind my mom as she wandered down every aisle of Safeway, then grudgingly helping her load the bags into the back of the minivan. Now, it means stopping in Duane Reade for some milk that hasn’t expired or ordering Pad Thai from Seamless.

But after scrounging around my fridge recently—and staring at a barren bank account (thanks, Upper East Side rent)—I’ve decided to perfect the art of Manhattan grocery shopping. Sounds easy enough, right? But there’s a reason there’s a restaurant every two steps in this city: New Yorkers don’t cook. And the ones that do are either ordering from Fresh Direct or sending their personal assistants to do it for them.

Having neither the time to order from a service nor the money to hire an assistant, I decided to venture out on my own. When I first moved to the city, I found a little rolling cart at the hardware store in my neighborhood. It was a grandma cart so adorable, I named it Esther. Genius! I thought. I’ll use it for all the fabulous grocery shopping I’ll do to create delicious gourmet meals! One week later, Esther was full of dirty laundry.

Four years and one apartment later, I pulled Esther out of the closet, unfolded her, and set out to the Food Emporium. Another difference from the days of Safeway? There is no minivan here, honey. There is either walking with six bags per arm (highly un-recommended, as I discovered the first time I tried and had to stop every minute on the way home to give my arms a break), or rolling up with your g-ma cart.

As I rattled 3 blocks and one avenue away, I could feel the dirty stares of Upper East Siders looking at Esther. I imagined they were all thinking Why didn’t she just send her housekeeper? Still, I marched on. I made it to the Food Emporium and stacked Esther full of everything from veggies to fiber-full yogurt. After everything was bagged, I headed home, feeling proud of myself for catching sales and spending $120 for more than two weeks’ worth of groceries—significantly less than I normally tally up with restaurants, takeout, and work-cafeteria lunches.

While I walked, I dreamed of the gorgeous frittata I’d fix for the week’s lunch and the grilled chicken salad I’d whip up for dinner. As I rounded the corner, I started humming to myself. And then: Esther hit a sidewalk crack. Before I could blink, there was a heap of cracked eggs and chipotle-lime marinade oozing all over a bag of multigrain Tostitos on the sidewalk.

Needless to say, my first effort as a grown-up, responsible New York foodie didn’t go as planned. But even though I had my head down for the rest of my trip home with Esther, occasionally looking back wistfully at the $10 of groceries I’d accidentally just dumped, I was back to feeling good again later that night when I made a big salad. And since that night, I’ve ventured on a few more successful trips to both the Emporium and Whole Foods, and I’m on a good, solid BYOL (yes, I just made up “Bring Your Own Lunch”) streak at work. So, I pat myself—and Esther—on the back. Huzzah to me for being grownup—and a chef-in-training! But tonight, I think I’m in the mood for Pad Thai. Seamless, anyone?

The Pizza Chronicles, Part 1

ImageI love pizza.

I know, this isn’t really a revelation. I mean, who doesn’t? But seriously, one of my ultimate comfort foods is a New York-style, sizzling hot, dripping, tasty slice of pizza. Unfortunately, said bit of heaven does not fit hand in hand with my slim-and-trim for Spring plan.

However, when I’m feeling naughty between workouts and carb-free life (sigh) and I decide to treat myself, I know exactly where to go. Fortunately for my taste buds (and unfortunately for my diet) it just so happens that my favorite slice comes from Mariella’s Pizza, which is right by my job. It’s classically New York: Huge, with just the right cheese-sauce-crust ratio. Simply perfection. And don’t get it twisted: I like my pizza NY style. Perhaps when I venture to Italy in 2014 with my girlfriends, I’ll discover that I like real Italian pizza, but for now I’ll take mine ginormous and cheesy, per favore.

But declaring your favorite slice in this city is a pretty bold statement, and there are many out there that I have yet to try. A close second so far is the original pie at Patsy’s Pizzeria. But with so many left on my to-try list, I just had a thought: Why not go on a pizza tour of the city in search of my ultimate #1? I mean, for the sake of my blog, of course. I can sacrifice some carbs and cheese for a good story, right?

Ok, personal challenge accepted. So, stay tuned—ooey, gooey pizza deliciousness is coming your way.

A Love Letter to Pinkberry

Photo Courtesy of SantanaRow.com

Dear Pinkberry,

It was during my first full summer in New York City a few years ago when I first heard your name. I had no idea who you were, and when I found out you were frozen yogurt–not ice cream frozen yogurt, but literally yogurt that is frozen–paired with healthy toppings like fruit and granola, I rolled my eyes.

I mean, come on, I’d say to my addicted friends. Dessert is dessert and it’s meant to be sweet and indulgent. And healthy yogurt that’s frozen? Bleh.

But as it sometimes can do, peer pressure got the best of me on a particularly scorching summer afternoon. And Pinkberry, that’s exactly when my love for you began. When I have the original version of you topped with pineapple, I’m in heaven (although I must confess–I’ve been seriously considering petitioning to get your limited edition brother, Coconut, and sister, Passion Fruit, back amongst the menu).

I know that I’m not the only lover you have, because the Pinkberry Phenomenon is not mine alone, but a summer-in-New York experience. Even though you are popular in California and have now even moved to Chicago, on the East Coast, you are definitely a New York thing. This spring, as soon as the first day above 70 degrees hit, everyone in the city was in a rush to get to you. Most people who know me would say I’m one of the most impatient people they know, so when I say that I don’t mind waiting in line for long periods just for you, Pinkberry, you should know you must really be somethin’.

You have many imitators, Pinkberry. Back where I’m from in Maryland, I’ve seen “frozen yogurt” shops like Red Mango and Tutti Frutti, but rest assured that there is nothing like strolling through the streets of Manhattan with the deliciousness that is you and only you in the summertime. And on top of it all, even when I start to feel like we’ve been spending too much time together, when I finish with you, I know I don’t have to feel guilty because you are so much better for me than your cousin Mr. Softie.

Oh, Pinkberry. I hope you’re ready, my friend, because you and I are in for some bonding time this summer.

Love, X’s, O’s, and pineapples,
Me