My Big Apple favorites

Dining out? Facing a googolplex of options? Italian, French, Korean, Slavic, American, and so on…? Enjoying a ginormous park in the middle of a vast metropolis? Perhaps discovering a quaint, beautifully maintained zoo (or two) inside the park? You just might be in New York City.

Home to hundreds of restaurants and scores of parks, NYC’s theatre district showcases dozens of on-and-off Broadway productions. Finding yourself in The Big Apple also means plenty of bars, pubs and fancy cafes where one can enjoy a favorite coffee or nightcap, or a fancy new boozy beverage.

So many options! Only your available moments limit your choices. Let me share with you a few of my favorite discoveries…

A ghost

Open year around, the Central Park Zoo is home to some very special critters. Like playful sea lions. Fancy peacocks. And the elusive snow leopard. Referred to as a “ghost cat” in the 2013 movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, this beautiful hunter seemed in sync with its wintery surroundings.

Visiting the zoo in early March meant cold weather for us, but also smaller crowds. Bundling up, we were able to visit each group of animals with ease, having great vantage points at every stop.

When we were ready to warm up a bit, we ducked into the Tropic Zone. Adjusting to the immediate climate change by removing our coat-glove-scarf combos, we discovered the occupants to be just as welcoming as the temperature. They seemed just as curious about us as we were about them.

A legend

Still inside Central Park—just outside the Tisch Children’s Zoo—stands a very special statue: Balto. Famous for leading his sled team in the final 53 mile stretch of snow-blinding wild Alaska wilderness (destination Nome) January 1925, this Siberian Husky and his pack won the hearts of people all over the world. Their cargo? Medicine, desperately needed to battle a diphtheria outbreak.

Their successful impossible mission inspired New Yorkers to commission this statue that very same year; a beautiful monument to all the sled teams—all the people and dogs who saved the lives of Nome’s children. Having enjoyed the 1995 animated movie “Balto” that featured a cameo of this statue, it was exciting for me to see it in person.

A queen

In step with our winter theme, we headed for the St. James theatre and Disney’s production of “Frozen” on Broadway. Having enjoyed Disney’s movie version—and its cruise line musical version—we were curious; how would it transition to this world famous entertainment capital? Answer: beautifully!

Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and all their friends took to the stage, sharing their story in both familiar and new ways. Similar to Disney’s at-sea production, this bold version adds new songs, and tells the tale in a way that appeals to Frozen fanatics without leaving any Frozen newbies in the cold. We absolutely loved it.

A plate

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many an afternoon tea, but the Russian Tea Room provided a unique first for me: caviar atop a mini pancake. Delicious! Another first: sour cherries to flavor the tea. Also delicious! RTR has treated NYC restaurant patrons for almost one hundred years. We truly enjoyed wonderful food and fantastic service in this beautifully appointed room.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a plate of linguini and a glass of vino to sing my soul to sleep. Biricchino Italian Restaurant—definitely a Chelsea neighborhood gem—features flavorfully fresh ingredients woven into pasta perfection. Lots of other amazing dishes too, but my favorite is the linguini with clams…ahhhhh…

And sometimes there’s nothing better than simplicity. A simple menu, a perfect cut of beef and a side of crispy French fries. And in this case, the fries really are French. Entering Le Relais de Venise and glancing at the paintings, you might think for a moment that Italian is the cuisine. Even the name might suggest so, but it’s only a nod to a street in Paris. The menu is set; the server asks only how you’d like your meat prepared.

Enjoying our green salads with a glass of beautiful French wine, and awaiting the main course, we began to relax in this place of clean and simple elegance. The price is no nonsense too; very reasonable. Wonderful food and excellent service, Le Relais de Venise is a fun place for me to revisit every time I’m in The Big Apple.

In search of something hot and nourishing one chilly evening, we headed out for a big bowl of soup. Thankfully we found our savory broth at Miss Korea. Just a block from the Hyatt Herald Square—our very comfy hotel—we didn’t wait long for a table, despite the restaurant’s obvious popularity.

Each of us ordered the beef bone broth. Soooooo gooooood! That, along with delicious house barley tea and fresh sides; we ate like royalty.

When you’re in the mood for something sweet—a ginormous something sweet—I suggest paying a visit to Levain Bakery. Lots of delectable goodies, and coffee drinks too, but you owe it to yourself to try their signature item: the chocolate chip cookie. Quite possibly the biggest chocolate chip cookies in the city, this bakery doesn’t just go for size; it goes for quality too.

The line is always out the door here, no matter the weather, so be sure to pack your patience as you wait for your turn at the counter. It will be worth the wait. Trust me.

In addition to purchasing one cookie each to enjoy right away, we picked up a dozen to share with friends and family back home. And by some miracle, two chairs freed up at their small dining counter just as we made our purchase, allowing us to enjoy the atmosphere (as well as our lattes and cookies) as we awaited our pink box of take-home goodies.

A drink

When it’s time for a spirited beverage (before, during or after dinner), I recommend Crimson and Rye. There are tables available, but our preference is to take a seat at the semicircular bar. We love to watch the mixologists in action as we nosh on bar food while enjoying our libations. This visit, I chose an Irish Coffee. Yummy stuff!

As you might have guessed, narrowing my favorites list for NYC was not easy. Not a bad problem to have… J 🍪

 

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Notes on Nashville

Until my recent autumn visit to Nashville, I’d never heard of hot chicken, seen the Parthenon, or experienced music—great music—coming from every bar and restaurant simultaneously on a downtown street.

And now? Hot chicken is my new favorite, my knowledge of geography and history are in sync, and my impression of the music scene will never be the same.

Let’s start with the music, a legend and a funny song…

Native son

Back in my youngster days, watching evening television meant watching whatever program my parents chose. Thankfully, there were a few shows we all could agree on. From 1969-71, The Johnny Cash Show entertained families like ours all across the country.

His records were a big part of my mom and dad’s vinyl collection. And while the deeper meanings of his lyrics escaped my youthful ears, one of his songs always made me smile at any age:“ A Boy Named Sue.” So, learning we’d be in Nashville for a spell, I knew I just had to visit the Johnny Cash Museum.

A quick walk from our hotel (the Hampton Inn & Suites), this museum was a convenient and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Following a timeline of sorts, the direction of our self guided tour took us through his youth, his discovery and fame, and his golden years.

The exhibit items triggered many memories for me, but also provided me with several new-found facts about the life of the “Man in Black.” For instance, not only is he in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame too.

Walking the streets of Nashville, we quickly learned this town honors not only several equally famous country music stars, but all walks of art, melodic and otherwise. Most obviously though, day or night, from any sidewalk or street corner, we were within earshot of seriously great live music.

National exposition

A centennial mile marker is no small feat. One hundred years of statehood is celebration worthy! But what would be the best, most memorable way to honor Tennessee? Well, in 1897, with a little assistance from the NC&StL Railway and a big desire to establish a true hub of art and culture in Nashville, Centennial Park was born.

And now, it’s time to sync up my knowledge of geography with a little less-than-ancient history. The Parthenon—as in Athens, Greece—was built from 447-438 BC to honor the city’s patron saint, Athena. Hundreds of years later, in 1897 Nashville, a replica of this very famous Greek landmark came into being as part of the centennial celebration.

Serving as a gallery of fine arts during the exposition, the purpose of this new Parthenon was to inspire love, beauty and a true appreciation for the arts. And today? Looking around this city, I’d say the Centennial Park version is a solid monument to that very ideal.

And what a beautiful place it is. We loved walking through the park’s many gardens, stopping every now and then to admire the pond, read the signs, enjoy the statues, and of course, visit the Parthenon. Still featuring fine art—and a ginormously tall Athena statue!—this museum (maintained by the Nashville Parks & Recreation) is fantastic. As in, WOW!

Noshing local

All our appreciation for beautiful music, “modern” replicas and unique museums helped us work up an appetite for yet another art: culinary. Time to showcase a few of Nashville’s foodie hits.

While fried chicken is a well known southern treat, “hot chicken” was a new term for me. But Hattie B’s Hot Chicken brought me up to speed instantly. Talk about delicious! Soooooo moist and flavorful, from the perfectly breaded crust to the very last juicy cayenne peppered bite. Every piece of chicken was this way!

The side dishes too were amazing. Excellent quality and flavor. We visited two different Hattie B’s, both wonderful, and each featuring a unique set of local microbrews—a little something special to help wash down the heat…

Local and sustainable. That’s what our daughter was looking for in a sit down restaurant. Her find? Farm House. Just a five-minute walk from our hotel, this eatery was packed with patrons (on a Monday night…?…thank goodness for reservations). Together we shared an unpretentious atmosphere that featured excellent food and service. What more could we ask for? Well, maybe some candy…

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen was the perfect place to find souvenirs, as well as something sweet to enjoy on the spot. Not much beats the amazing aroma of confections in progress; Savannah’s creative staff was hard at work assembling lots of sweet praline, decorative caramel apples and chocolatey nut clusters.

Back to the music; just so you know we didn’t enjoy tunes only from the sidewalks. We stepped into a bar called Crazy Town for a shot of bourbon and to hear—and see—the live band performing just near the entrance. The musicians put their hearts into each and every song, here and in every other bar we passed by on our way back to the hotel. It really was a nice way to end our stay.

If ever you find yourself looking for a melodic artsy foodie town that knows how to celebrate each moment of the day, I suggest paying Nashville a visit. Chances are you’ll leave with a whole new appreciation for all things art and soul. J 🎶

 

Las Vegas lite

A weekend in Las Vegas? Sure! Help celebrate a few extended family birthdays? Of course—happy to! Only—I’ve never been. To Vegas. And I’m not much of a gambler. Or a partier.

So, what does one like me (of the low-key variety) do for entertainment? As it turns out, there’s something for everyone in Las Vegas—lots and lots of somethings…

Sin city sips

Chocolate is an easy sell for me. So is New York City. And so is Death By Chocolate, the martini styled chocolate drink I enjoyed with a few of my travel companions at The Chocolate Bar, two steps away from The Hershey Store at New York New York Resort & Casino.

A Las Vegas nod to The Big Apple, this resort features a little bit of everything one would associate with NYC: the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, the many burrows and that infamous skyline—but with a roller coaster weaving inside and out—just in case you forgot which New York you’re visiting.

Signature seasoning

As a youngster, Lawry’s Seasoning was a staple in my mom’s kitchen pantry. We enjoyed many a meal with Lawry’s enhancing the flavors of our food. I had no idea there would be an entire prime rib dinner restaurant by the same company awaiting our birthday celebration!

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A savory supper place…

This wonderful dining room features formal table side prime rib carving and tossed salad, along with some of the best service I’ve ever experienced at a bar and restaurant. Nothing was over-seasoned; all flavors were just right.

Also, I enjoyed reading the history of this flavorful company posted near their hostess podium. (Oh, and for anyone not interested in prime rib, there are other options on the menu.) A little bit of nostalgia mixed in with great food and wonderful service made for a very enjoyable dining experience.

Stars of the sea

A shark dive in the ocean? No. Not really my thing. Sharks within inches of my face—a thick, clear aquarium wall between us? Yes! Much more my thing. The Shark Reef Aquarium and Polar Journey at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino features not only sharp-tooth swimming predators, but several species of underwater critters. Many tropical (and polar) land-based critters as well call this aquarium home.

Exploring this venue was the perfect activity for our entire group, ranging in age from seven to seventy-seven. All of us enjoyed watching the quiet grace and beauty of the sea life gliding before us, above us (and below) as they swam into our line of sight.

Lots of posted information, as well as a highly trained and experienced staff, answered all our questions. Queries like: “What’s the difference between venom and poison?” Or, “How do Stingrays eat?” We also learned that a Jellyfish is not really a fish.

Surreal stage

Calling “O” a stage show would be like calling Amsterdam a canal city. Both are sooooooo much more.

Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio Resort & Casino is beyond amazing. The performers sore, dance, swim—even dive—their way on-in-above (and below) the actual stage. The colors, costumes and scenery harmonize with the music to create a show unlike any other.

The stadium-like theater and tiered seating areas gave everyone an excellent and unobstructed view. This feature was most helpful, as there was usually more than one act in progress at any one time. Truly mesmerizing, this show was worth every penny. I would love to see it again!

Tuscany tease

Across the street from Lawry’s sits our hotel for the weekend: the Tuscany Suites & Casino. Hosting a convention attended by one of our family members, this place of lodging isn’t bedazzled like many a famous hotel on the strip.

It did however provide us with clean and spacious rooms, and a decent place to meet for breakfast: Marilyn’s. Understated but less expensive than many others in the area, we were comfortable here.

Next-time notes

Upon learning about our Vegas trip, many friends and family members gave us the following recommendations—places we ran out of time for, so they’ll just have to wait for a return visit:

Ziplining—over old Las Vegas! I love ziplining, so this event is definitely on my “next time” list.

Breakfast at The Egg Slut. The menu looks fantastic! And let’s face it—the name cracks me up.

Cosmopolitan hotel hair styling bar—because I’ve always wanted someone to serve me wine while having my hair styled…

I even dropped a dollar in a slot machine at the airport. Did I win anything? Let’s just say the city of Las Vegas is a dollar richer, thanks to me.

We really did have a great time visiting this surreal desert town. Maybe next time, I’ll get my dollar back. J 🎲 🎲

 

Art of arts

What is art? To me, art is something that assembles lines, patterns and designs of colors, sounds and elements, organizing these would-be ingredients into something that captures our attention. Something that wows us, stops us in our tracks and causes us to feel. Emotions generated by our senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste—just because we experienced art.

Artists are those who dare to share such creations with others, hoping to evoke reactions of enjoyment, or maybe to bring about awareness and change. And oftentimes, to make a living by sharing their passion via their work.

Performing arts

Here in Seattle, we’re fortunate to have all shapes and sizes of art to enjoy. And for my family on a recent Saturday, we experienced the fine art of dance—specifically the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s mesmerizing version of Swan Lake.

Seattle Center just happens to be home to a large concentration of the arts for the city. And McCaw Hall—home to PNB and the Seattle Opera—is one of Seattle Center’s largest facilities.

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We arrived early enough to enjoy the lobby and gift shops, as well as place our drink order for one of the intermissions. Settling into our seats, anticipating the curtain’s rise, I couldn’t help but wonder what would wow me. We are big fans of PNB’s ballets, but this four-act story is one of our favorites.

I must say, this company wove all its storytelling threads together flawlessly, giving us goosebumps, and leaving us with a sense of awe. It’s tough to choose only one “wow” element, but I’ll highlight the dancers themselves. They conveyed all the essential emotions necessary to make us believe. Their performance—dancing in beautiful costumes against fascinating sets to the orchestra’s superb rendition of this Tchaikovsky classic—earns a collective wow.

Contemporary arts

After the final curtain, we had a couple of hours before dinner; this was just enough time to take in the neighboring Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery.

Aside from the breathtaking glass structures, what really captured my attention was the brilliance of color. Impressive without being too much. Equally impressive are the number of glass works in the garden that are literally exposed to the elements. Fascinating! Kudos to the caretakers of the special place for keeping all glass pieces clean and shining like new.

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Also fascinating is how life is depicted in each piece. Life–the land, the seas, evidence of animals and people–the environment of all living things and more–captured in beautiful glass. Glass placed harmoniously within industrial and natural surroundings.

Culinary arts

Earlier in the day—before the ballet—we stopped at Caffe Zingaro for a latte. What a fun coffee house! The walls featured fun paintings—pattern-focused and colorful. The staff was friendly and very helpful when it came to answering questions about their unique menu. I selected a Cubano latte (featuring cinnamon and raw sugar steamed and blended into the coffee drink). Delicious! I plan on trying the Broken Umbrella next time (featuring vanilla and honey).

To end our day, we enjoyed yummy Irish Soda Bread—and a few other Irish dinner items—at near by T.S. McHugh’s. This fun pub-style restaurant showcases Irish nostalgia, and is a favorite way for us to round out our day of events at Seattle Center.

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What is your favorite way to enjoy the arts? Is there one that stands out as your favorite? It was fun for us to enjoy familiar favs like the ballet and the restaurant, but equally fun to discover a different coffee place and the gallery showcasing Chihuly’s glass works.

Whatever you choose to do—enjoy fantastic favorites or discover something exciting, you owe it to yourself to experience the art of artists who dare to share.

J 🎨