RIP, Rizzoli

New York, I love you. But not today.

afterlight

I just learned that my favorite bookstore—Rizzoli on 57th Street—is shutting down. The 95-year-old townhouse will be demolished. In its stead will be some shiny, towering skyscraper. And I am pissed.

Here’s the thing: You, as a city, are incredibly irritating and maddening. You drive a girl to drink (overpriced margaritas, usually) with your millions of people and crowded blocks and subways and pollution. But your magic lies in the cozy, charming places that embrace us, that make us feel sheltered and safe and a little less alone.

Rizzoli was one of those places for me. As you know by now, I am a book girl. So when I was a New York newbie, with a boyfriend in grad school and friends far away in different cities, I would escape to Rizzoli’s third floor and peruse the books I couldn’t afford (because of your sky-high rent, of course). After a solo day at the movies and treating myself to lunch, Rizzoli is where I’d end up, flipping through biographies of women I aspired to be like. When I was heading to Paris for the first time, Rizzoli is where I went in search of travel guides. And in that bookstore, beneath its grand chandeliers, is where my Allende obsession continued and my Fitzgerald infatuation began.

Now, I walk by that store every day on my way to work, often with my nose pressed against the window admiring the latest displays. And never mind the fact that we’re losing a historic bookstore: We’re saying farewell to one of your city’s architectural landmarks, a century-old townhouse that got its start as a piano showroom. It literally pains me to imagine that little gem demolished and replaced by scaffolding and yet another West 57th Street glass building.

Tonight, I said goodbye, and tomorrow, I plan to join the rally that will, to put it nicely, give you and your businessmen the middle finger. I know that these things happen, and I never imagined I’d be so attached to a place, but here I am. And here’s hoping I’ll find another great escape just as perfect.

 

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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?

 

An Ode to Kanye’s “The College Dropout”

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Yeezus concert, Madison Square Garden, 11/24/13

10 years ago, I was that high school kid riding the bus to school every day when all of her friends had cars. The ride was about an hour each way, and to fill those two hours, I’d listen to music. Discman in hand (Yes, Discman—it was the Stone Ages…) I’d sit with my knees pressed against my chest, listening to mixes I’d created from downloads and my parents’ CDs.

I learned that certain albums would become the soundtrack for different parts of my life, and Kanye West’s The College Dropout set the tone for the latter half of high school. I’d never heard a record like it: His distinct voice and lyrical wit gave a breath of new life to samples from artists like Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan. The passion I felt as he rapped with a wired-shut jaw on “Through the Wire” gave me goosebumps. “Spaceship” helped me get through long days in classes I didn’t care about. “We Just Don’t Care,” became my anthem for hope, and of course, “All Falls Down” was full of aha-moment gems like: “It seems we living the American dream, but the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem.”

And so, thanks to those early morning bus rides, my love affair with ’Ye began. A decade later, I’ve seen him perform live six times. Late Registration became (ironically) the soundtrack for my freshman year of college; Graduation, for early morning inspiration; 808s and Heartbreak for the laying-in-the-dark emo moments (hey, you know you have them too!); My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for long walks in the city, and Yeezus for intense workouts at the gym.

Rants and Kardashians aside (although, full disclosure: I love a good Kanye rant, and I’m maybe, kinda, sorta coming around to him and Kim) Kanye is, as he himself has pointed out to all of us, a genius. His music has helped me feel confident enough to dream out loud, to go against the grain, and to be my own biggest champion—and it all started with an album that’s just as relevant today as it was ten years ago. Now that’s a classic.

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.

I Can See Clearly, Now

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If you’re cursed (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) with not-so-perfect vision, you know it can be tough to find the right glasses for your face shape—especially if you’re looking for a pair that won’t break the bank.

Since the 7th grade (when I slowly but surely realized I couldn’t see what my teachers were writing on the chalkboard) I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect frames. I’ve tried every four-eyed variety there is: There were the gold wire-rims I’d rather forget, the too-cool-for-school brown cat eyes, and the Armani black rectangulars. While I usually only wear spectacles on the weekends (I’m nearsighted, so they aren’t necessary when I sit at a computer all day, and I’ve never been able to tolerate contacts without wanting to scratch my eyes out) I was ready for a change that fit my New Yorker persona.

So that’s where Warby Parker came in. The eyewear company (named after two of writer Jack Kerouac’s characters) was founded by four dudes who believe that the typical $300+ price tag of trendy eyeglasses is ridiculous. Now, they offer a collection of vintage-inspired, geek-chic frames, all for $95. And the best part? For every pair sold, they give a pair to someone in need—and with nearly 1 billion people who lack access to eyeglasses, there are a lot of people in need.

When a co-worker told me about the company a couple of years ago, what caught my attention was their at-home try-on program: Pick out five frames you like, and WP ships them to you to try-on at home, for free. Once you decide, you supply the Rx either by entering the info yourself, scanning it, or having your doctor call WP.

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After various try-ons, I ended up picking the Bensen style in Olivewood. I’m a bit of a magazine editor cliche in them with their thick, square-round mashup, but hey, I might as well embrace my inner nerd, right? For more on Warby Parker, check ’em out. And if you don’t need prescription glasses, they’ve got stylish sunnies, too.

Floor 36 Play Review: Platanos y Collard Greens

photo courtesy of platanosandcollardgreens.com

This weekend my parents were in town visiting. It was really nice to have them here, and it was kind of cool to look at the city as a tourist again as I tried to think of fun things for us to do.

They came by my office to see where I work as a New Yorker, and we went to visit my grandparents, and Saturday night had dinner at Rosa Mexicano in Union Square (love, love that place!) But my favorite part of the weekend was Saturday night, when we went to see an off-broadway show, Platanos y Collard Greens, which I had heard rave reviews about and had been meaning to see for awhile.

In a nutshell, I loved this show. The premise is about two Hunter College students: Angelita, a young Dominican woman (hence the Platanos in the title…platanos are a popular Latino dish of plantains) and Freeman, a young Black man (hence the Collard Greens in the title) who fall in love and try to learn to deal with the criticisms of their classmates (full disclosure: this is a topic that hits close to home — my mother is Puerto Rican and my father is Black). Freeman is called an “Uncle Tom” and deals with the taunting and hurt feelings of female black classmates who wonder why he chose a Latina instead of them; Angelita is faced with her Dominican mother’s prejudices about black men.

But the show went beyond the typical interracial relationship issues: it explored the intertwined roots and history of Latinos and Blacks, as well as the role music and the city of New York have played in the relationship between the two. The similarities in both African-American and Latino roots are so similar that it really got me thinking about how the separation, prejudices and even hatred between the two even came into existence.

There were definitely a few transitions in the play that could have been smoother, and a more advanced set design would definitely benefit the show. But all in all, it was everything you want from an off-broadway play: there were moments that brought tears to my eyes from both tenderness and laughter, and after the show, I left deep in thought. And all of the actors were young and I could literally feel their love for acting; it reminded me of the brilliance of New York actors. I could definitely imagine this show as a movie — a great romantic comedy!

No matter what your race, if you want a fun show that will teach you something new and make you laugh, I’d recommend everyone going to see it. In NY, it’s playing at Baruch College (Lexington Ave @ 25th St.) but the cast also goes on tours at schools and events around the country. You can see the schedule and get tickets at http://www.platanosandcollardgreens.com.