Saturday, October 27, 2012

NYC in 1.5 days...

As a last minute business trip, I booked a visit to our Corporate offices in NYC for 1.5 days. Yes, 1.5 days only. My itinerary included getting into the city around 12pm on a Wednesday, work in the offices/meetings Wednesday afternoon and then work/have meetings Thursday morning before my car service would pick me up from the hotel at 2pm. It would be a whirlwind trip, but I was determined to get the most out of the city despite my short time frame.

D and I last visited NYC 2 years ago, and we had a plethora of food while we were there.... The most amazing Belgian fries, the best ramen I've ever had State-side (with delicious pork buns as well), Bubble Tea, Shake Shack, and Japanese okonomiyaki to name a few...

Having landed at LaGuardia airport, I finally made it into the city around 12pm on Wednesday.
Hello, New York!
Luckily, I was staying at the Marriott Marquis, located right in Times Square (great location for me, and only 1.5 blocks from the office). After checking in, I went to get on the elevator where I had to input my floor # and the digital display would tell me which elevator to get on.

21st floor
By this time, I only had about 45 minutes to run out and grab lunch, so I called John's Pizzeria (Times Square location), placed my pizza order, grabbed my headphones, and ran out of my room.... but, not before taking a quick picture of the view outside my window:

Overlooking Times Square
I know many people shy away from staying at Times Square, but for me, it was perfect. Since I only had Wednesday evening to sight see around the city, it is in a great location (Midtown West) and within walking distance to all the places I wanted to see eat.

Since Times Square is located right by the Theater district, I couldn't help but take a few pictures all within a block from the Marriott.
Evita (at Marriott Marquis)
Once (Tony 2012 Best Musical winner)
Rock of Ages
The Lion King

Phantom of the Opera
Newsies (Tony 2012 Best Musical nominee)

Knowing I had very limited time, I chose John's Pizzeria based on some friend's recommendations, which was great since it was close to my hotel. I walked the several blocks and saw the signs. Mmm, NY style pizza, here I come.

I was worried it would be crowded (as Urbanspoon reviews said people could wait up to 1 hour to get in), but since it was a pickup order, the pizza was hot and ready by the time I got there.
I love being able to pick up my pizza and walk back to my hotel
Mmm, the pizza was still warm (despite the cool 60* temps walking back), and the crust was amazing. I had read that their garlic bread twists were amazing, so next time I will definitely need to order that as well. For a small (6-slice) pizza with 2 toppings, it cost $20. Whew. Already feeling the NYC price tag.
John's Pizzeria- Pepperoni & Mushroom pizza
Was it better than Grimaldi's? I would venture to say not, but definitely a solid pizza in it own right. The crust was thin, crispy yet just enough doughy with a slint hint of garlic, the toppings were fresh and plentiful, and the cheese was warm and melted nicely.

I had just enough time to stuff my face eat 3 slices before I changed into business appropriate clothes, gathered my laptop bag, and jetted out to the office. I had a few meetings while I was there, and promptly shut off my laptop at 5:15pm, looking forward to the evening ahead of me. On my way back to the hotel, I saw the infamous (aka. huge) Toys R Us store in Times Square. 

Boy did it not disappoint. It had 3 levels of toys galore, including a full blown ferris wheel inside.
The ferris wheel "carts" were mini cars of famous animated cartoon/movie characters, including Toy Story, Mr. Potato Head, and the like.
The ferris wheel at Toys R Us (Times Square)
Knowing it was getting dark, I picked up a few items and walked across the street back to my hotel. I changed quickly and was ready to head out to my first stop- Jacques Torres Chocolate at Rockefeller Center (aka. 30 Rock). 
A beautiful cool crisp NY night (55 degrees)
I passed by the Radio City Music Hall...

The Rockefeller Skating Rink was already in full force!

Once I entered 30 Rock and went downstairs (where the dining and shops are located), I passed by this photo shoot of what seemed like average women dolled up in red gowns. Hmm, I wonder if I'll eventually see the actual ad for this?

Top of the Rock- I really want to do this the next time

.... and I found Jacques Torres! The 2 main chocolate shops I always hear about are Jacques Torres and Max Brenner. It's been years since I was at Max Brenner, so I knew I couldn't compare the 2 shops but was eager to try JT. Based on reviews I've read, he is known for his chocolate chip cookie (get it warm) and his hot chocolate. I picked up a cookie, and it certainly didn't disappoint! It was crispy and buttery as a dough, and the chocolate- oh my. So delicious, creamy, and decadent. Price: $3.00.
I wanted to pick up some chocolates for D, so I hand selected (with the help of the sales associate) 12 pieces of milk and dark chocolate pieces. Price: $21. Aren't they so pretty?

I was getting thirsty from the walk so I stopped by a local grocer (I love how there are so many mini marts and Duane Reades everywhere). I picked up a cold Coke Zero (Price $2.25), and went on my way to Macy's Herald Square (W. 34th Street). Having recently renovated the women's shoe department, they are now the world's largest women's shoe department. omgomgomg. 
Do you see those Ranch Wheat Thins? I was going to pick them up (since we don't have them in OH), but then I looked at the price tag- $6.29. I promptly put them back on the shelf.
Ta-Daaa- Macy's Herald Square on 34th Street
And let me tell you- the shoe selection was out of this world. The ENTIRE floor was shoes, shoes, and more shoes. They carried the same designers they carry at my local Macy's store but the selection was unbelievable. Everywhere I turned, I saw shoes upon more shoes. I kissed about 15 pairs while I was there. They even had an entire large room for sale shoes:
Sale shoes galore!

I spent about 2 hours perusing through the countless rooms, which are categorized by brands. Thus, you'll have a large section full of Nine West, then another section of Guess, then Fryes, etc. This is good for me, since I am pretty brand loyal to certain designers based on what works for me, comfort level, etc. 

These shoes caught my eye (Vince Camuto)- as much I love the spiked heels, I knew they were too fashion forward for Cincinnati, so I (sadly) put them back on the rack.
Bye bye, spiked heels
Since it was getting close to 8pm, I decided to leave Macy's and head further downtown to Tebaya. Naomi recommended that I go here, specifically for the Japanese chicken wings. Reviews had mentioned this place was tiny so seats were really sparse. I just really prayed that I would be going at an  "off" hour and hoped I could squeeze into a seat. 
Lucky for me, there were a few stools left! The atmosphere is quaint, cozy, yet had a cool contemporary feel.
Inside Tebaya
I knew I wanted to try the chicken wings (which is marinated in a soy-ginger-sesame marinade), but many reviewers mentioned that the curry was really good here as well. I decided to order the chicken katsu curry with 2 wings as a side. The chicken katsu was excellent- the panko crust was fried to the perfect crispiness, the chicken cutlet was moist and flavorful, and the curry sauce was reminiscent of what my mom makes for us back home. Next time, I am definitely ordering more wings! Price: $13.50.
Chicken Katsu (Japanese deep-fried chicken cutlet) over a large bed of rice
Japanese curry sauce
Japanese fried chicken wings- OH YUM
Since it was getting kind of late and being so far downtown (W. 19th Street), I decided to make the trek back to the hotel. By the time I walked up towards Midtown, I could tell I was getting closer as I began to see more and more lights and crowds of people.

I was officially exhausted! It was 9:30pm, and I was most definitely tired. I talked to D for a few minutes and texted away with my sister for most of the night... but not until she strongly encouraged me to try the halal carts. Was I hungry? NO. But, the more I talked to her, I felt this tiny voice telling me I'd regret not trying something new. Halal carts are definitely a NYC thing. So, what did I do? I threw on a sweater over my PJ/lounge pants, and walked out the door. At 11:30pm. 

Despite it being almost midnight, Times Square was still rocking with people everywhere.
I walked to the Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th. Halal carts are at every corner in the city, but with 3,000 reviews and 4.5 stars and a huge Twitter/Facebook following, I knew I had to try "the best". I had read lines could be 1 hour long at "peak" times (lunch, late night), so I was prepared to wait in line, but when I got there, I only had a handful of people ahead of me.

The "Kitchen"- The Halal Guys are so popular, they have a separate cart to cook the meat to keep up with their customers
The Halal Guys- "We Are Different"
I opted to go with the Chicken Over Rice ($6), which has shredded chicken over top of fluffy yellow rice and chopped iceberg lettuce. The dish is then topped with a "white sauce" and if you like it spicy, they can top it with some spicy sauce as well. Since I was taking it to go, they placed the white sauce and the spicy sauce in "to go" containers, bagged it up, and I started on my way home. Hoards (and I mean lots) of people were within the vicinity enjoying their halal cart food. By this time, at midnight. And in talking to the girl in front of me, she says it gets really crowded at 2-4am when the bars are closing. Apparently it's great "drunk food".

Customers enjoying their late night halal cart food
I got back into my room around 12:15am, and started to carefully unpack the meal (aka. one of the best things I ate in NY).

The platter was still nice and warm when I got back to my room. It came with pita bread too- yum!

The yellow fluffy rice is on the bottom

I poured one of the 2 white sauce containers- OMG, that white sauce. It was freaking delicious.
 I wasn't hungry at all, but I ate about 1/2 of my meal before my stomach could no longer take another bite of food. It was the best and cheapest meal I had in NY. The portions are large, cheap, delicious, and filling. Carb overload, no doubt about it. It would have been worth the wait! And that white sauce. OH my, that white sauce- I could have bathed in it. And the spicy sauce? They are not messing around. That stuff is SPICY. I was stuffed. And in halal food heaven. These guys weren't joking- this was one of the best foods I enjoyed that night. I finally settled down to sleep around 1:30am (at this point, I'd almost been up for 24 hours straight).

Thank goodness I set my alarm, b/c it definitely had to wake me up at 6:00am. The one thing I knew I wanted to enjoy while here was a delicious bagel with lox. I had been told that Ess-A-Bagel was amazing, so I was out the door and walking towards it at 6:30am. It was still dark outside but definitely people walking (either from the night before or business professionals walking to work) so I felt safe venturing down to 3rd Avenue. It was around a 25 minute walk, but the minute I walked in, I could smell the bagels and cream cheese wafting from the storefront. I chose their popular everything bagel with veggie cream cheese and lox. I wanted to enjoy it at home, so I had them bag it and I started walking back to my hotel (Price $12). I wanted to pick up some baked goods (especially NY cheesecake) for my BFF and D, and I noticed a Junior's Bakery right across my hotel on Broadway. I walked up to the Bakery (I love how everything closes so late and opens so early here), and picked up some strawberry cheesecake slices and chocolate muffins. Price $20.

Junior's Bakery Strawberry Cheesecake Pie
Junior's Bakery Chocolate Chip Muffin- delicious!

Ess-A-Bagel- Everything bagel with veggie cream cheese & lox
 That bagel was just the best damn bagel/lox sandwich my mouth has ever tasted. It was huge too- I was only able to eat 1/2 of it for breakfast. The bagel was tender, the "everything" topping was seasoned well, and the veggie cream cheese was outstanding. By the time I finished 1/2 bagel, I had about an hour to pack, shower, and get ready for work. 

On my way to work, I saw a group of people peering inside a window and I saw this:

Good Morning America studio

Here is our Corporate office- at the Hippodrome.

I spent the Thursday morning at the offices, and then bid farewell to my colleagues, and grabbed lunch- at where else? The Halal Guys! The cart was supposed to be at 53rd & 7th from 10a-5p, but luckily I spotted them back at 53rd & 6th and waited in line with the lunch crowd. But this time, I knew better. I not only picked up a chicken over rice platter for myself, I also picked up 2 extra platters for D and dinner for me (since I had a 3 hour layover in Philly). 
The line was longer than last night, but the workers worked quickly to get the food out
I sat down at a bench nearby and enjoyed my lunch outdoor- like a true NYer! I still had about 30 minutes before my car service was coming to pick me up at the hotel, so as I was walking back (really, I was more waddling) to the Marriott, I saw the M&M World and dropped in for a visit.

I had been to several M&M stores but it was neat to look at the various M&M paraphernalia. It was getting close to 2pm, so I headed back to the hotel and not first without seeing the HUGE line at TKTS in Times Square. I saw an attendant there, and he said people have been in line for an hour (it was 1:45pm) and the TKTS booth didn't even open until 3pm. Geesh. 

All in all, I had a great 1.5 days in the city. It's my 7th or 8th time here, and I feel like there is always so much to do/see/eat. I can't wait to come back and enjoy it for a longer stay, but until then... lots of great (food) memories!