Saturday, December 31, 2016

Best of the Best 2016

Which are the best restaurants, spas, and travel destinations? At the end of 2016, I am rating the following (in order of best to worst), based on my personal experience.



Restaurants

Even though it has not been rated my Michelin, Mama's Fish House on Maui is our favorite restaurant in the world. Using only the freshest fish caught of Maui, Mama's Fish House combines an authentic Hawaiian atmosphere with exceptional cooking, and magnificent tropical setting (overlooking Maui's North Shore, near the famous Ho'okipa Beach), to create an unforgettable dining experience.
  1. Mama's Fish House, Maui, Hawaii 
  2. Manresa, Los Gatos, CA (3 Michelin Stars)
  3. The Plumed Horse, Saratoga, CA  (1 Michelin Star)
  4. Lagoon Restaurant by Jean Georges, St. Regis, Bora-Bora, French Polynesia 
  5. Solbar, Calistoga, CA  (1 Michelin Star)
  6. Gary Danko, San Francisco, CA  (1 Michelin Star)
  7. Weinstube Baldreit, Baden-Baden, Germany 
  8. Plachutta, Vienna, Austria 
  9. Humuhumunukunuku'apua, Maui Hawaii 
  10. La Foret, San Jose, CA (Michelin Rated)
  11. Bouchon, Napa, CA  (Michelin Rated)
  12. Eataly, WTC, New York City 

Dishes

Pizzeria

We have had pizza everywhere in the United States (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, etc.), France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, etc. So far, our favorite pizza restaurant is Keste Pizza in Greenwich Village and Eataly in New York City. There was a wonderful, small pizza restaurant that had the most amazing pizza in Paris - but I cannot recall its name. From what I heard, the absolute world's best pizza is to be found in Naples, Italy - but I have not been there yet.
  1. Keste Pizza, Greenwich Village, New York City (Keste #1)
  2. Eataly, WTC, New York City ("Capricciosa" pizza)
  3. Juliana's Pizza, Brooklyn, New York City (#1 Special)
  4. Pizza My Heart, Los Gatos, CA (especially "Manresa" only available on Sunday's)
Gelato and Ice Cream

Our favorite gelateria was in Bologna, Italy. We also tried many exceptional gelaterias in Florence, Siena, Lake Como, Venice, and Lucca.
  1. Gelato in Bologna, Italy (near Piazza Maggiore)
  2. Gelato in Florence, Siena, Lake Como, Venice, Lucca (Italy) 
  3. Bella Gelateria, Vancouver, BC 
  4. Grom, New York City (also in Florence and Siena) 
  5. Eataly, New York City 
  6. Lappert's Ice Cream, Maui, Hawaii

Spas

Our favorite spas so far have been in Baden-Baden, Germany, but we've also heard or exceptional spas in Austria (which we have not tried yet).
  1. Friedrichsbad Therme, Baden-Baden, Germany 
  2. Caracalla Therme, Baden-Baden, Germany 
  3. Miri-Miri Spa by Clarens, St. Regis, Bora-Bora 
  4. Solage, Calistoga, CA 
  5. Scandinave Spa, Whistler, Canada 
  6. Tabacon, Costa Rica 
  7. Indian Springs, Calistoga, CA 
Books (2016)

My favorite book for 2016 is The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I did not realize the magnitude of the work the brothers accomplished. I also really enjoued reading Now - The Physics of Time bu Richard Mueller.
  1. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  2. Now - The Physics of Time by Richard Mueller
  3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  4. Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley Sullenberger
  5. Growing Up in Moscow: Memories of a Soviet Girlhood by Cathy Young
  6. American Road Trip by Ilya Ilf, Evgeny Petrov
  7. Championship Tennis by Frank Giampaolo
  8. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide To Thriving In The Age of Accelerations by Thomas Friedman
Rock Albums (2016)

There were not that many rock albums that I really liked in 2016, but "WALLS", "Blues of Desperation", and "Heavy Entertainment Show" were my favorites.
  1. "WALLS" by Kings of Leon (especially Waste a Moment)
  2. "Blues of Desperation" by Joe Bonamassa  (especially Drive No Good Place for the Lonely)
  3. "Heavy Entertainment Show" by Robbie Williams  (especially Party Like a Russian)
  4. "Cleopatra" by The Lumineers (especially Ophelia)
  5. "I Still Do" by Eric Clapton 
  6. "25" by Adele 
  7. "Squad Goals" by Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox 
  8. "PMJ and Chill" by Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox 
  9. "Stranger to Stranger" by Paul Simon 
  10. "Wonderful Crazy Night" by Elton John 
  11. "Nobody but Me" by Michael Buble 
Rock Concerts

My favorite rock concert was Elton John's Made in England Tour in Tacoma Dome. It was my frist Rock concert and a truly amazing experience. I have been to his other concerts, i.e. the Red Piano in Las Vegas, but they did not have the same atmosphere and intensity.
  1. Elton John's Made in England Tour, Tacoma Dome, Washington on 9/9/1995 
  2. Leonard Cohen, HP Pavilion, San Jose, 11/7/2012. 
  3. The History of the Eagles, HP Pavilion, San Jose, 1/29/2013 
  4. Postmodern Jukebox, The Warfield, San Francisco, 12/13/2015 
  5. Big Bad Vodoo Daddy, Harrah's Hotel and Casino, 5/30/2015 
  6. The Gipsy Kings, Mountain Winery, 8/27/2014. 
  7. Carlos Santana, Shoreline Amphitheater, 2002
Opera

My favorite opera is Carmen by Georges Bizet, due to the fantastic music and dramatic story. I am also partial to Puccini, especially Madame Butterfly.
  1. Carmen, Houston Grand Opera
  2. Madame Butterfly, Houston Grand Opera, 1993
  3. Marriage of Figaro, San Francisco Opera, 6/21/15
  4. Barber of Seville, San Francisco Opera, 11/23/13
  5. La Traviata, Houston Grand Opera
  6. Don Giovanni, San Francisco Opera
  7. La Boheme, San Francisco Opera,  11/22/14
  8. The Magic Flute, San Francisco Opera
  9. Lucia de Lammermoor, Houston Grand Opera
  10. Elektra, Houston Grand Opera
  11. Salome, Houston Grand Opera

Musical Theater

My favorite musical is Chicago (most recently seen at Ambassador Theater on Broadway), but I am huge fan of Kander & Ebb musicals (which also include Cabaret). I also really like most musicals by Cole Porter (Anything Goes, Kiss Me Kate!) and George Gershwin (Crazy for You).
  1. Chicago, Ambassador Theater, Broadway, New York City 12/18/2016. 
  2. Fiddler on the Roof, Broadway Theater, New York City, 12/23/2016 
  3. Cabaret, Orpheum Theater, San Francisco 
  4. Anything Goes Golden Gate Theater, San Francisco, 1/19/2013 
  5. Grease, Orpheum Theater, San Francisco 
  6. Monty Python's Spamalot, Orpheum, San Francisco 
  7. Kiss Me Kate, Orpheum, San Francisco 
  8. Saturday Night Fever, Orpheum, San Francisco 
  9. Showboat, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, 6/13/2014 
  10. Mary Poppins, Orpheum, San Francisco, 5/12/2013 
  11. Mamma Mia, Orpheum, San Francisco
  12. Phantom of the Opera, Orpheum, San Francisco, 8/21/2015
  13. The Book of Mormon, San Francisco, 1/7/2014 
  14. Cats, Neil Simon Theater, New York City, 12/24/2016 
  15. The Lion King, Orpheum, San Francisco
  16. Les Miserables, Orpheum, San Francisco
  17. Hello Dolly!, Orpheum, San Francisco
  18. Mathilda, Orpheum, San Francisco, 7/23/2015 
  19. Fosse, San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
  20. Annie, Portland, Oregon

Theater (Drama & Comedy)

I am a extremely partial to William Shakespeare's dramas, especially Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear. Having seem them long ago, I don't have any exposure to more recent productions.
  1. Emma, TheatreWorks, Palo Alto, 12/4/2015 
  2. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, New York City, 12/22/2016 
  3. Disgraced, Berkeley Rep, Berkeley, 12/12/2015 
  4. Cyrano, TheatreWorks, Mountain View, 4/24/2016 
  5. Outside Mullingar, TheatreWorks, Palo Alto, 10/7/2016 
  6. The Hard Problem, Geary Theater, San Francisco, 10/19/2016 
  7. Daddy Longs Legs, Lucie Stern Theater, Palo Alto, 12/3/2016 
  8. Oleanna, Houston, 1992

Hiking Trails

Half-Dome was the longest, toughest hike I have done. It has fantastic overlooks on Yosemite Valley. However, the other hikes in Silver Falls State Park in Oregon are also fantastic.
  1. Half-Dome, Yosemite, CA 
  2. Silver Falls State Park, Oregon 
  3. Dipsea Trail, Sausalito, CA 
  4. Big Basin Redwoods, Boulder Creek, CA 
  5. Castle Rock State Park, CA 
  6. Mt. Shasta, CA 
  7. Point Lobos Natural Reserve, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 
  8. Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mineral, CA 
  9. Huddart County Park, Woodside, CA

Ski Resorts

My favorite place to ski and snowboard is at Whistler, near Vancouver, British Columbia. Whistler usually has great snow with minimal elevation gain, excellent, inexpensive restaurants, and a great youthful vibe (with many other nearby activities such as tubing, ice skating, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, & snowmobiling) . It's also has a great Scandinave Spa!
  1. Whistler/Blackcomb, BC, Canada (best resort) 
  2. Mount Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood, Oregon 
  3. Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, CA 
  4. Mt. Bachelor, Oregon 
  5. Sierra-at-Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, CA 
  6. Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe, CA 
  7. Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe 
  8. Mt. Rose, East Lake Tahoe, NV 
  9. Sugar Bowl, Lake Tahoe, CA (closest resort) 
  10. Northstar, Lake Tahoe 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review: The Illusionists Turn of the Century on Broadway

While in New York City, on the spur of the moment, we decided to purchase tickets to see The Illusionists -Turn of the Century. We were not really planning to see it, but Inna read some fantastic reviews and was curious about this Broadway quality magic show. Using TodayTix app on my iPhone (extremely useful for last minute tickets), I was able to purchase three discounted tickets for the Christmas performance (when most other museums and venues are closed anyway).

The show is stage in the beautiful Palace Theater on Broadway, but we had a difficult time getting in. Broadway was extremely crowded on Christmas and it took us some effort to make any forward progress into the theater.


The Illusionists features many separate acts and I list some of the highlights here:
  1. The Clairvoyants - Thommy Ten & Amelie Van Tos
    • Thommy and Amelie tried to show their mind reading tricks by repeatedly being able to tell members of the audience what was in their hands or handbags - while Amelie was blindfolded. The tried to show that without hidden cameras or microphones, they could read people's minds (so to speak)
    • There was one amazing acts in which a member of the audience randomly selected a number of jelly bellies in a canister and Amile (while blindfolded) was able to tell him that he had chosen exactly 52 candies. I don't know how she counted them blindfolded.
  2. The Daredevil - Jonathan Goodwin
    • In one stunt, Jonathan lied down on two large nails (that seemed preposterous), while a member of the audience broke a concrete block with a hammer. How he did not die is a mystery
    • In another stunt, Jonathan (while blindfolded) used a bullwhip to cut the flower held by an audience member with her mouth
    • In yet another stunt, Jonathan is handcuffed and raise on a burning rope above a bed of long nails. If he does not escape, the rope will break and he will fall to his death on to the nail bed. He escapes (of course), but it looks very precarious
  3. The Grand Carlini - Justo Thaus
    • Justo had an act with rings. He was able to take three rings off man and women and interlock them. Then, he was able to magically unlock them.
  4. The Immortal - Rick Thomas
    • Rick Thomas was able to float his assistant in the air (without any visible wires). How did he do that?
    • The floating, glowing sphere which seemed to go all directions without any wires. How did he do that?





Cast
  • The Charlatan - Dana Daniels
  • The Eccentric - Charlie Frye
  • The Daredevil - Jonathan Goodwin
  • The Showman - Mark Kalin
  • The Conjuress - Jinger Leigh
  • The Grand Carlini - Justo Thaus
  • The Immortal - Rick Thomas
  • The Clairvoyants - Thommy Ten & Amelie Van Toss

Friday, December 23, 2016

Review: Cats on Broadway

What can be said of Cats - a musical I first saw performed in Houston, Texas in 1993? Has it changed at all? Is it better on Broadway?


The plot for the latest Cats revival remains the same. A bunch of Jellicle cats prance around the stage, using Cat-like movement and choreography, singing about their unique characteristics. There is a Jellicle Ball to decided which cat is most worthy to ascend to heaven (aka heaviside layer) and be reborn. Of course, this cat will be Grizabella - the cat that sings the lovely version of "Memories" (the best and most memorable song in the musical).

All of the cats have lovely costumes and the Broadway setting is spectacular. The intricate choreography resembles ballet. The highlights include the following songs & dance numbers:
  • Grizabella
    • Mamie Parris does a wonderful version of Memories
  • Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer
    • Jess Le Protto as Mungojerrie and Shonica Gooden as Rumpleteazer have a very funny duet, where they dance, prance, and sing. It's fun to watch
  • Old Deuteronomy 
    • Quentin Earl Darrington does a fine job with the slow moving, Old Deuterenomy
  • Gus The Theater Cat
    • Christopher Gurr delivers a poignant reminiscence of a career on the stage in one of the show’s most softly lyrical, moving songs.
  • Macavity, the Mystery Cat
    • Daniel Gaymon does a fun version of Macavity
  • Magical Mister Mistoffelees
    • Ricky Ubeda is intriguing as Mister Mistoffelees. The cat's that always missing at the scene of the crime.
All of this intricate singing and dancing cannot make up for the weak plot. Really, nothing much happens. However. the Broadway version of Cats is significantly superior to the Houston version I recall.


The lyrics for the best song in Cats, Memories, are below. It's the highlight of the show and one of the major reasons to see Cats on Broadway.
Midnight
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan
Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
Every street lamp
Seems to beat a fatalistic warning
Someone mutters at the street lamp gutters
And soon it will be morning
Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn't give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin
Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
A street lamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning
Touch me
It's so easy to leave me
All alone with my memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You'll understand what happiness is
Look a new day has begun

Cast
  • Alonzo – Ahmad Simmons
  • Bill Bailey/Rum Tum Tugger - Harris Milgrim
  • Bombalurina – Christine Cornish Smith
  • Carbuckety – Tanner Ray Wilson
  • Cassandra – Emily Pynenburg
  • Coricopia – Corey John Snide
  • Demeter – Francesca Granell
  • Electra – Claire Camp
  • Grizabella – Mamie Parris
  • Jellylorum – Sarah Jane Shanks
  • Jennyanydots – Eloise Kropp
  • Mistoffelees – Ricky Ubeda
  • Mungojerrie – Jess LeProtto
  • Munkustrap – Andy Huntington Jones
  • Peter/Bustopher Jones/Asparagus – Christopher Gurr
  • Plato/Macavity – Daniel Gaymon
  • Pouncival – Sharrod Williams
  • Rumpelteazer – Shonica Gooden
  • Sillabub – Lili Froehlich
  • Skimbleshanks – Jeremy Davis
  • Tantomile – Emily Tate
  • Tumblebrutus – Kolton Krouse
  • Victor/Old Deuteronomy – Quentin Earl Darrington
  • Victoria – Georgina Pazcoguuin
  • The Cast Chorus – Richard Todd Adams, Callan Bergmann, Jessica Hendy, Nathan Patrick Morgan, Megan Ort
Musical Numbers

Act I
  1. Jellicle Song for Jellicle Cats
  2.  The Naming of Cats
  3.  Invitation to the Jellicle Ball
  4.  The Old Gumbie Cat
  5.  The Rum Tum Tugger
  6.  Entry of Grizabella
  7.  Bustopher Jones: The Cat about town
  8. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer
  9.  Old Deuteronomy
  10. Song of the Jellicles and the Jellicle Ball
  11. Memory
Act II
  1. Introduction to Act II/The Moments of Happiness
  2. Gas the Theatre Cat
  3. The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles
  4. Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat
  5. Macavity, the Mystery Cat
  6. Magical Mister Mistoffelees
  7. Memory
  8. Journey to the Heaviside Layer
  9. The Ad-dressing of Cats
  10. Finale

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway

The sorry state of the world gives us new reason to appreciate the depth of feeling so powerfully, so ingeniously embedded in “Fiddler on the Roof,” the much-loved and much-revived 1964 musical comedy that has returned to Broadway.


The superb new production, currently playing at the Broadway Theater, certainly honors the show’s ebullience of spirit, as embodied in the central character of the Jewish milkman Tevye, living in a Russian shtetl in the early 20th century, eternally wagging his tongue, shaking his fist and cracking wise at an indifferent God.

The score, by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), enters your bloodstream, indelibly, upon a single hearing, so rousing are its songs of celebration, so beautiful the melodies of its songs of love and loss — two sides, for Tevye, of the same coin.

The role of Tevye, is here undertaken by Danny Burstein, a Broadway veteran and five-time Tony nominee. Mr. Burstein unleashes his rich baritone with roof-raising force when Tevye’s emotion is at its height, bringing home the character’s indomitable will, often hidden beneath his self-deprecating humor and sorely tried by his rebellious daughters. Mr. Burstein’s way with a classic Jewish joke is assured but unforced, his performance affecting but not overscaled, in keeping with the production’s emphasis on the musical’s emotional underpinnings, rather than the frosting of shticky comedy. 


A framing device finds Mr. Burstein first standing on a bare stage, a contemporary figure in a red parka facing a monumental gray brick wall. A sign bearing the name Anatevka hangs forlornly over a bare expanse. He is, we assume, a descendant of one of the townspeople, coming to see what is left of the shtetl. The answer: Nothing.

Mr. Burstein quickly unzips the parka to become Tevye, dressed traditionally, a prayer shawl hanging from underneath his vest. The famous violin solo is heard, and soon the stage has filled with the people of Anatevka singing the electrifying opening number, “Tradition,” which defines the central theme, the tension between honoring the past and accepting progress.

For Tevye, the conflict is a matter of daily headaches, given that three of his five daughters are approaching marrying age, and each proves unwilling to obey the longstanding tradition of arranged weddings. Tevye’s wife, Golde, brings a moving, careworn quality to her performance. Golde seems forever to be slightly stooped with work or worry, and is plaintively dismayed at Tevye’s ability to see both sides — or rather several sides — of any issue. (His constant invoking of the phrases “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” is a lovable running gag.)

Cast
  • Tevye (a dairyman) - Danny Burstein
  • Golde (his wife) - Judy Kuhn
  • Tzeitel (eldest daughter) - Alexandra Silber
  • Hodel (2nd oldest daughter) - Samantha Massell
  • Chava - Melanie Moore
  • Shprintze - Jenny Rose Baker
  • Bielke - Nerghiz Sarki
  • Yente (a matchmaker) - Alix Korey
  • Motel (a tailor) - Adam Kantor
  • Perchik (a student) - Ben Rappaport
  • Lazar Wolf (a butcher) - Adam Dannheisser
  • Mordcha - Michael C. Bernardi
  • Rabbi - Adam Grupper
Musical Numbers

Act One
  • "Prologue: Tradition"
  • "Matchmaker"
  • "If I Were a Rich Man"
  • "Sabbath Prayer"
  • "To Life"
  • "Tevye's Monologue"
  • "There's a Dream"
  • "Sunrise, Sunset" (The BEST song of the whole show)
  • The Wedding
Act Two
  • Entr'acte
  • "Now I Have Everything"
  • Tevye's Monologue (reprise)
  • "Do You Love Me?"
  • "The Rumor"
  • "Far From the Home I Love"
  • "Chavaleh"
  • "Anatevka"


Fiddler on The Roof Report Card


Positives
  • Danny Burnstein steals the show as the best Tevye yet
  • Excellent singing by Danny Burnstein (Tevye) and Judy Kuhn (Golde)
  • Excellent fiddle playing
  • Excellent stage decorations
  • One of the BEST Musicals of all time!
Negatives
  • Adam Kantor's singing as Motel was a bit weak

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway

How does Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway compare to the famous movie Dangerous Liaisons (starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer)?


Having never read the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (and only seen the movie), I was not sure what to expect. I had nothing to fear. The Broadway adaption of the book was mostly accurate and dramatic.

Janet McTeer as La Marquise de Merteuil acted splendidly with her gift of bending others to her will. She shows that unique skill for conniving and persuading, using all her finest weapons: logic, flattery, and womanly charms. She is quickly able to persuade Vicomte de Valmont to do her bidding, i.e. seduce the young and inexperienced Cecile Volanges for a promise (one night of pleasure with her). Janet is quite convincing as the Marquise and plays her part as well as Glenn Close in the film.

Liev Schreiber as Le Vicomte de Valmont plays his part as the talented Lothario. With skill and ingenuity, he is able to overcome the black strain of his sordid reputation and multiple, seemingly impossible hurdles, to seduce Cecile Volange (played by Elena Kampouris). Upon success, he quickly attempts to claim his prize (the night with Marquise), but is unsuccessful. In the process, he destroys Cecil's reputation and her faith in love (as Cecile returns back to the convent). Liev is very convincing and plays his part as deftly as John Malkovich in the movie. Of course, seeing his skill for argumentation, flattery, and seduction is something to be only experienced in live theater.

Elena Kampouris plays the part of the young, virtuous, and mostly inexperienced Cecile Volange. Despite putting up a seemingly impregnable wall of resistance against Valmont's subtle, and never-ending barrage of seductive temptations, she is altogether powerless to resist them in the end. Valmont skillfully uses Cecile's own words and her virtue to seduce her. The verbal sparring between the great Vicomte de Valmont and the young, innocent Cecile serves as the main dramatic skirmish in the play.

When Valmont utters, "It's beyond my control", to Cecile, we know that he is breaking off the affair with Cecile. But Valmont has more intrigue on his mind. To win Cecile back (after shamefully discarding her) - now that would be something of a grand achievement. It is not winning love that satisfies Valmont, but the overcoming of insurmountable obstacles that truly mollifies his ego (the more difficult the conquest, the better)

Like all great dramas, Le Liaisons Dangereuses, asks more questions than it answers.
Could any of us resists Valmont's advances than Cecile? If not, how are we to judge her actions?
Are there truly people like La Marquise De Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who have the ability to seduce anyone at will? If so, are we all just powerless heaps of clay?


Plot

The Vicomte de Valmont is determined to seduce the virtuous, married, and therefore inaccessible Madame de Tourvel, who is staying with Valmont's aunt while her husband is away on a court case. At the same time, the Marquise de Merteuil is determined to corrupt the young Cécile de Volanges, whose mother has only recently brought her out of a convent to be married — to Merteuil's previous lover, who has rudely discarded her. Cécile falls in love with the Chevalier Danceny (her young music tutor), and Merteuil and Valmont pretend to help the secret lovers in order to gain their trust and use them later in their own schemes.

Merteuil suggests that the Vicomte seduce Cécile in order to enact her revenge on Cécile's future husband. Valmont refuses, finding the challenge too easy, and preferring to devote himself to seducing Madame de Tourvel. Merteuil promises Valmont that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she will spend the night with him. He expects rapid success, but does not find it as easy as his many other conquests. During the course of his pursuit, he discovers that Cécile's mother has written to Madame de Tourvel about his bad reputation. He avenges himself in seducing Cécile as Merteuil had suggested. In the meantime, Merteuil takes Danceny as a lover.

By the time Valmont has succeeded in seducing Madame de Tourvel, he seems to have fallen in love with her. Jealous, Merteuil tricks him into deserting Madame de Tourvel — and reneges on her promise of spending the night with him. In retaliation Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, leaving Merteuil abandoned yet again. Merteuil declares war on Valmont and reveals to Danceny that Valmont has seduced Cécile.

Danceny and Valmont duel, and Valmont is fatally wounded. Before he dies, he gives Danceny the letters proving Merteuil's own involvement.

At this point, the plays diverges significantly from the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. In the play, Cecile commits suicide and nothing happens to Marquise de Merteuil. However, in the book Marquise de Merteuil flees to the countryside ( due to the letters that Valmont left with Danceny, revealing her part in this tragedy).

In the country, the Marquise de Metreuil contracts smallpox and her face is left permanently scarred. She is rendered blind in one eye, so she loses her greatest asset: her beauty. But the innocent also suffer from the protagonist's schemes: desperate with guilt and grief, Madame de Tourvel succumbs to a fever and dies, while dishonored Cécile returns to the convent.


Cast
  • La Marquise de Merteuil - Janet McTeer
  • Cecile Volanges - Elena Kampouris
  • Madame de Volanges - Ora Jones
  • Le Vicomte de Valmont - Liev Schreiber
  • Azolan - Josh Salt
  • Madame de Rosemonde - Mary Beth Peil
  • Madame de Tourvel - - Birgitte Huort Sorensen
  • Emilie - Katrina Cunningham
  • Le Chevalier Danceny - Raffi Barsoumian
  • Major-domo - David Patterson
  • Julie - Laura Sudduth
  • Victoire - Joy Franz

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Jersey Boys on Broadway

Although I was somewhat familiar with some of the songs from Frankie Vallie and The Four Seasons, I was never aware of their true story or their path to rock'n roll fame.

Consequently, I was a little apprehensive when purchasing tickets to the Jersey Boys musical, playing at the August Wilson theater on Broadway. Overall, I enjoyed the performance of Jersey Boys, but it does not fare as well (in stage-work, music, or choreography) when compared to such exceptional musicals as Chicago, Cats, or Fiddler on the Roof.


Plot

The story begins in the future, with a French Rap Star singing "Oh What a Night" in French (Ces Soires-La). This song is intended to showcase the longevity of The Four Seasons' music - as this song becomes a hit in the year 2000, in Paris, long after the Four Seasons have retired.

The story switches back to the past, when Tommy DeVito (played by Matt Bogart), the bad-boy musician and band organizer talks about starting up his band. Although not especially talented as a musician, he has a gift for recognizing talent and quickly discovers Frankie Valli - the young man with a beautiful voice. Tommy tries to start a band with Frankie and Nick, but there is always something missing (lack of good, original songwriting). During this time, Tommy gets involved in some petty crimes and is eventually sent to prison (while also almost ensnaring Frankie), who is unaware of Tommy's schemes.

When Tommy returns from prison, their group is not able to book solid gigs around town, until one of their friends introduce them to Bob Crewe - a teenage pop star who just penned a hit "(Who Wears) Short Shorts". The four musicians struggle to record a hit song, but eventually succeed with the well-known  "Sherry" renaming themselves as "The Four Seasons".


The Four Seasons quickly follow up with "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like a Man". They start touring, but the difficulties of non-stop touring lifestyle takes a tall on everyone. Frankie rarely sees his wife Mary Delgado and his daughter. While on the road, Frankie gets involved with another woman. In general, the Four Seasons don't handle fame very well. Tommy gets into heavy gambling and eventually gets deep into debt with the mob. Nick Massi also quits the band at this time, being tired of being the "Ringo Starr" of the Four Seasons. He does not relish being the unimportant one in the group. The group is now down to two musicians Frankie and Bob.

Being New Jersey Boys, who always take care of each other, Bob Crewe and Frankie decide to pay off Tommy's debts (which run in to $500,000). They decide to take ownership all Four Seasons financial affairs and will no longer be managed by Tommy. This is a huge burden on their finances, but they succeed in the long run. Due to his debts, Tommy is forced to move and live in Las Vegas.

Eventually, Bob decided that he does not like the "touring" lifestyle and recommends that Frankie focuses on his sole singing career while he (Bob) composes songs for Frankie. They handshake on this partnership  and from that point on Frankie tours on his own (as Frankie and the Four Seasons), without any of the original founders.

Frankie and a new band tour around, recording many new songs. However. there is a major tragedy, as Frankie's daughter overdoses on drugs and Frankie feels guilty for not being there for her.


But all is not lost. Eventually, the Four Seasons are reunited and get inducted into the Rock'n Roll hall of fame.

Mark Ballas, who plays Frankie Valli, does a credible job of singing and is enjoyable to watch.

Cast
  • Frankie Valli - Mark Ballas (the singer with the angel voice)
  • Nick Massi - Matt Bogart (self-described Ringo Starr)
  • Tommy DeVito - Nicolas Dromard (the bad boy organizer)
  • Bob Crewe - Peter Gregus (the genius songwriter)
  • Mary Delgado - Kara Tremel (Frankie's wife)
Musical Numbers

Act I
  • "Ces Soires-La (Oh What a Night)" - French Rap Star
  • "Silhouettes" 
  • "You're the Apple of My Eye"
  • "I Can't Give You Anything but Love"
  • "Earth Angel"
  • "Sunday Kind of Love"
  • "My Mother's Eyes"
  • " I Go Ape" - The Four Lovers
  • "(Who Wears) Short Shorts" - The Royals Teens
  • "I'm in the mood for Love/Moody's Mood for Love" - Frankie Valli
  • "Cry for Me"
  • "An Angel Cried"
  • "I Still Care"
  • "Trance"
  • "Sherry"
  • "Big Girls Don't Cry"
  • "Walk Like a Man"
  • "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)"
  • "My Boyfriends Back"
  • "My Eyes Adored you"
  • "Dawn (Go Away)"
  • "Walk Like a Man"
Act II
  • "Big Man in Town" - The Four Seasons
  • "Beggin" - Four Seasons
  • "Stay" - Four Seasons
  • "Let's Hang On (To What We've Got)" - The Four Seasons
  • "Opus 17 (Don't Worry About Me)" - The Four Seasons
  • "Bye Bye Baby" - The Four Seasons
  • "C'mon Marianne" - The Four Seasons
  • "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" - The Four Seasons
  • "Working My Way Back to You" - The Four Seasons
  • "Fallen Angel" - Frankie Valli - The Four Seasons
  • "Rag Doll" - The Four Seasons - The Four Seasons
  • "Who Loves You" - The Four Seasons

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: Chicago on Broadway

“Murder, greed, corruption, exploitation, adultery and treachery…all those things we hold near and dear to our hearts“…so begins the international award winning Broadway and West End musical, CHICAGO.


What can be said about Chicago - one of the finest (and possible my all time favorite musical) - that hasn't already been said? With subtle, sarcastic lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander, and intricate choreography by the great Bob Fosse, this musical engages all the elements of fine musical drama, comedy, satire, ballet, and burlesque.

I had the pleasure of seeing Chicago on three other occasions - twice at London's West End - and once in San Francisco's Orpheum Theater. However, I have to say that the Broadway version I saw on December 18, 2016 tops them all (though I never saw the original Broadway version starring Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart and Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly). Nevertheless, Chicago is a must see musical, especially for an Ebb & Kander aficionado. 

The roles of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart are extremely demanding. Performers playing these roles must be able to sing, dance, and act with fine precision. Luckily, both Amra-Faye Wright as Velma Kelly and Dilys Croman as Roxie Hart, have the right stuff to pull off these demanding roles.

Plot
Act I

In the mid-1920s in Chicago, Velma Kelly is a vaudevillian who murdered both her husband and her sister when she found them in bed together. She welcomes the audience to tonight's show ("All That Jazz"). Velma eventually is arrested for her crime. Meanwhile, we hear of chorus girl Roxie Hart's murder of her lover, nightclub regular Fred Casely.

Roxie convinces her husband Amos that the victim was a burglar, and Amos cheerfully takes the blame. Roxie expresses her appreciation of her husband's thick skull ("Funny Honey"). However, when the police mention the deceased's name, Amos belatedly puts two and two together. The truth comes out, and Roxie is arrested. She is sent to the women's block in Cook County Jail, inhabited by Velma and other murderesses ("Cell Block Tango"). The block is presided over by the corrupt Matron "Mama" Morton, whose system of mutual aid ("When You're Good to Mama") perfectly suits her clientele. She has helped Velma become the media's top murder-of-the-week and is acting as a booking agent for Velma's big return to vaudeville.

Velma is not happy to see Roxie, who is stealing not only her limelight but also her lawyer, Billy Flynn. Roxie tries to convince Amos to pay for Billy Flynn to be her lawyer ("A Tap Dance"). Eagerly awaited by his all-girl clientele, Billy sings his anthem, complete with a chorus of fan dancers ("All I Care About is Love"). Billy takes Roxie's case and re-arranges her story for consumption by sympathetic tabloid columnist Mary Sunshine ("A Little Bit of Good"). Roxie's press conference turns into a ventriloquist act with Billy dictating a new version of the truth ("We Both Reached for the Gun") to the press while Roxie mouths the words.

Roxie becomes the new toast of Chicago and she proclaims quite boastfully while planning for her future career in vaudeville ("Roxie"). As Roxie's fame grows, Velma's notoriety is left in the dust and in an "act of pure desperation", she tries to talk Roxie into recreating the sister act ("I Can't Do It Alone"), but Roxie turns her down, only to find her own headlines replaced by the latest sordid crime of passion ("Chicago After Midnight"). Separately, Roxie and Velma realize there's no one they can count on but themselves ("My Own Best Friend"), and the ever-resourceful Roxie decides that being pregnant in prison would put her back on the front page.

Act II

Velma again welcomes the audience with the line "Hello, Suckers," another reference to Texas Guinan, who commonly greeted her patrons with the same phrase. She informs the audience of Roxie's continual run of luck ("I Know a Girl") despite Roxie's obvious falsehoods ("Me and My Baby"). A little shy on the arithmetic, Amos proudly claims paternity, and still nobody notices him ("Mr. Cellophane"). Velma tries to show Billy all the tricks she's got planned for her trial ("When Velma Takes The Stand"). With her ego growing, Roxie has a heated argument with Billy, and fires him. She is brought back down to earth when she learns that a fellow inmate has been executed.

The trial date arrives, and Billy calms her, telling her if she makes a show of it, she'll be fine ("Razzle Dazzle"), but when he passes all Velma's ideas on to Roxie, she uses each one, down to the rhinestone shoe buckles, to the dismay of Mama and Velma ("Class"). As promised, Billy gets Roxie her acquittal but, just as the verdict is announced, some even more sensational crime pulls the pack of press bloodhounds away, and Roxie's fleeting celebrity life is over. Billy leaves, done with the case. Amos stays with her, glad for his wife, but she then confesses that there isn't really a baby, making Amos finally leave her. Left in the dust, Roxie pulls herself up and extols the joys of life ("Nowadays"). She teams up with Velma in a new act, in which they dance and perform ("Hot Honey Rag") until they are joined by the entire company ("Finale").



Cast
  • Velma Kelly - Amra-Faye Wright
  • Roxie Hart - Dilys Croman
  • Fred Casely - Brian O'Brien
  • Sergeant Fogarty - Peter Nelson
  • Amos Hart - Raymond Bokhour
  • Liz - Nicole Bridgewater
  • Annie - Gabrielle McClinton
  • June - Solange Sandy
  • Hunyak - Tonya Wathen
  • Mona - Angel Reda
  • Matron "Mama" Morton - Natasha Yvette Williams
  • Billy Flynn - Paul Alexander Nolan
  • Mary Sunshine - R. Lowe
  • Go-to-Hell Kitty - Chryssie Whitehead
  • Harry - Michael Scirrotto
  • Doctor - Jason Patrick Sands
  • Aaron - Denny Pascall
  • The Judge - Jason Patrick Sands
  • Bailiff - Barrett Martin
  • Martin Harrison - James T. Lane
  • Court Clerk - Barrett Martin
  • The Jury - Michael Scirrotto
Musical Numbers

Act I
  1. "All That Jazz" - Velma and Company 
  2. "Funny Honey" - Roxie 
  3. "Cell Block Tango" - Velma and the Girls 
  4. "When You're Good to Mama" - Matron "Mama" Morton 
  5. "Tap Dance" - Roxie, Amos, and the Boys 
  6. "All I Care About (is Love)" - Billy Flynn and the Girls 
  7. "A Little Bit of Good" - Mary Sunshine 
  8. "We Both Reached for the Gun" - Billie, Roxie, Mary Sunshine 
  9. "Roxie" - Roxie and the Boys 
  10. "I Can't Do it Alone" - Velma 
  11. "My Own Best Friend" - Roxie and Velma
Act II
  1. Entr'acte 
  2. "I Know a Girl" - Velma 
  3. "Me and My Baby" - Roxie and the Boys 
  4. "Mister Cellophane" - Amos Hart 
  5. "When Velma Takes the Stand" - Velma and the Boys 
  6. "Razzle Dazzle" - Billy and Company 
  7. "Class" - Velma and Matron "Mama" Morton 
  8. "Nowadays" - Roxie and Velma 
  9. "Hot Honey Rag" - Roxie and Velma 
  10. Finale - Company 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas in New York City

It was time for my first major trip to New York City! The last time I visited New York was in the summer of 1982, when my Mom, Dad, and I visited the world famous Empire State Building and a few other famous landmarks. I have never been to NYC in the winter, so I was a bit apprehensive about conditions there. What has changed? What has stayed the same?


We were scheduled to fly out of San Jose airport (SJC) on JetBlue Flight 670 at 9:30 pm (red-eye), arriving at New York City's JFK airport at 6:00 am on Saturday, December 17. However, due to winter travel delays, our JetBlue Flight #670 was delayed over 3 hours, finally departing San Jose at 12:45am (instead of 9:30pm). Because of air turbulence during the flight, there was no breakfast service during the flight.

I did manage to start (and complete) reading Chesley B. Sullengerger's excellent memoir of his successful water landing on the Hudson (near NYC) in "Sully: My Search for What Really Matters".

Eventually, we did manage to get some sleep, but we also felt some jet lag upon our arrival in NYC.



Our initial plan is to see all of the major NYC highlights such as the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial, World Trade Center, and Central Park. Being a fan of musical theater, I was also eager to see my favorite musical productions on Broadway and Inna wanted to experience Broadway-quality dramas. With that plan in mind, we pre-ordered tickets to Chicago at Ambassador Theater, Jersey Boys at August Wilson Theater, and Fiddler on the Roof at Broadway Theater. For Inna and me, I also purchased tickets to Les Liaisons Dangereuses (a famous drama and a Hollywood movie) at Booth Theater.


While in New York, we also ended up purchasing tickets for two additional Broadway shows: Cats in Neil Simon Theater (using the TodayTix app on my iPhone) and The Illusionists at Palace Theater. With TodayTix app, I was able to find reduced ticket prices on last minute shows, but seating can be hit or miss. We ended up getting lousy seats to Cats but very good seats to The Illusionists.

Saturday, December 17, 2017

We landed in New York City's JFK airport at 10:00am (3 hours behind schedule) in a snow blizzard, waiting another 30 minutes on the tarmac, until a gate opened up to let us disembark. We are thankful that we landed at JFK eventually, as many other flights were being delayed or cancelled (due to poor visibility and blizzard conditions).

Luggage unloading at JFK took an additional 45 minutes (much slower than in Cancun, Mexico), and it was not until 10:45am that we were finally ready to order a rental car (an UberX) to take to the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel, in midtown Manhattan.



The UberX drive from JFK (in a late-model Toyota Camry) to our hotel was uneventful, despite sleet, rain, and some light snow. We arrived around noon at Intercontinental Barclay Hotel, dropped off our bags in our room #833 and decided to look for lunch.

Our specious and well-furnished room at Intercontinental Barclay Hotel pleasantly surprised us. We did not expect much for the low price we paid ($165/night using Hotwire). Aside from extra charge for daily Internet access ($15/day), the room was practically perfect. We also liked our hotel's location - close to 51st Metro and only 15 minutes from Broadway/Times Square, Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue, Central Park, and the Empire State Building. There was a grocery store across the street where we could buy water and snacks (when needed) - a very nice convenience.


As we were hungry and a bit jet lagged from our JetBlue flight, we asked for lunch recommendations at our hotel. The hotel's concierge recommended AperTIVO Pizza Bar. When we arrived there, we found the restaurant completely empty at lunch time (which made us a bit suspicious). Fine restaurants tend to be busy during lunch time and an empty restaurant made us very suspicious. We decided instead to try the Ess-a-Bagel - a highly recommended (on both Yelp and Zagat) bagel eatery nearby (though reviews mentioned very long waiting time).


I was warned about long waiting times in Yelp reviews, but I didn't expect to wait one hour for a couple of bagels. However, we did end up waiting over an hour, to order a couple of bagel sandwiches and drinks. For Alex, I ordered a pizza bagel, which is a bagel with pizza cheese smeared over. Alex really enjoyed it. For Inna, I ordered a Reuben sandwich bagel (corned beef, pastrami, smothered with melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing). Both Inna and I really liked this combination! For myself, I ordered a Lox, Eggs, Onion (LEO) bagel, but it didn't come with cream cheese, so it was a bit dry tasting.

I ended up eating only half of it. We also tried the Matzo Ball soup, but it seemed to be quite bland, without any seasoning or salt (quite unlike anything I've eaten). For dessert, Alex selected a Black & White cookie, while I chose a Hamantaschen with raspberry filling. The Hamantaschen cookie was quite delicious. In addition, we also ordered some drinks: chocolate milk, a latte, and a mocha. The mocha and latte were not well prepared and I didn't drink mine. So, overall, there were some hits and misses at Ess-a-Bagel. I am not likely to return to Ess-a-Bagel due to the long waiting time and mediocre quality of soups).


After lunch, we returned to our hotel to change into something a bit warmer, and then walked to the Grand Central station. It's a distinctive landmark and a well-proportioned terminal, which in addition to trains also houses many shops and restaurants (and even an Apple store). We liked some of the Scandinavian infused coffee flavors and sandwiches sold. Grand Central feels very upscale and even has a fabulous grocery store that sells everything and makes Whole Foods look low end in comparison. The vast selection of meats, cheeses, desserts, breads, etc. blows everything else away.



From here, we walked to the nearby NY Public Library. The library's building is quite large and resembles a Roman temple. Like all public places in New York, there was a long security line to get in the library. We went in and explored multiple floors.


There was a very nicely decorated Christmas Tree on the first floor.



On the third floor, a nice reading room with desks and computer terminals is available to the public. It wasn't as large as I pictured it, but it was surprisingly busy even on Saturday evening, December 17th.



For some reason, we felt very tired (maybe due to jet lag) and spent some time drinking water (Inna drank three 16-oz bottles and I drank one bottle also) in the Amy's Bread Cafe on the first floor.



Eventually, we felt a bit better and resumed our walk down 5th Avenue toward Rockefeller Center (the Rock). On the way there, we stopped by to admire the beautiful Saks 5th Avenue Christmas display and light show. There were many beautiful dolls from Nutcracker, and other famous fairy tales on display (some with some mechanical movement). In addition, the Christmas Light show played continuously with music to the delight of all the onlookers.



Eventually, we made it to the Rockefeller Center, where a large ice rink was being made ready for everyone’s enjoyment. We didn't stay too long because it was incredibly crowded. We left after taking many photos.



For dinner, Inna made reservations to the well-regarded (on both Zagat and Yelp) Avra Estiatorio Greek restaurant. For appetizer, Inna and I shared a delicious Greek salad, which used fresh tomatoes and greens. I was very surprised by the quality of the vegetables used - since tomatoes are not currently in season and most of the ones you can buy are tasteless. These tomatoes were fantastic! Inna and I also shared the Pikilia, or 3 different dips (Tarama - Carp roe spread, Melitzanosalata - roasted baby eggplant spread, and Tzatziki - yogurt, garlic, cucumber) with pita bread. The dips were quite delicious but we preferred Tzatziki above all the other impostors. For the main entree, Inna and I shared a freshly cooked King Salmon, which was very deliciously prepared. We ate all of it with vegetables. For dessert, Inn and I shared a chocolate cake with ice cream, which was delicious.

We got home quite tired and quickly fell asleep. It was a wonderful start to our New York City Christmas holiday.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the morning, after taking a shower, we decided to get breakfast at the well-regarded Bouchon Bakery. It was very cold outside and we had to wear a thermal base layer.



We walked about 15 minutes from our hotel to Bouchon and by 9:45am, it was already packed. I chose the coffee cake, while Inna picked ham and cheese croissant and a pain au raisin (for dessert). The pain au raisin (raisin bread) turned out to be the best of the pastries while the coffee cake was a bit dry.



After our mini breakfast, we took UberX to the American Museum of Natural History. Although we ordered the NY City Pass, the line at The Museum was really long. Eventually, we got our entry tickets and also tickets to today's planetarium show "Dark Universe" at 11:30am. Alex was not feeling well, but we eventually made it to the planetarium. "Dark Universe" was just a bit too boring for me, as I kept falling asleep repeatedly. Other than good visual effects, I don't recall much useful knowledge. I already read enough on my own, to learn about dark matter, dark energy,



Exiting the planetarium, we explored the many different exhibits, first starting with the large African Animals, followed by Dinosaurs, primates, African peoples, Asian peoples, paleontology (study of human bones, DNA, and evolution), rocks and meteorites, precious minerals and gems. The museum is enormous and we literally spent the entire day there without seeing everything.



Around 5:00pm, we decided to return home, as we had the musical Chicago to watch at 7:00pm, and we also wanted to feed Alex (since we would be returning too late from the theater for dinner). After catching UberX back to our hotel, we found a pizza joint nearby and ordered a few slices of pizza for Alex. Alex though the pizza was similar to California's Pizza My Heart (and that's high praise coming from Alex).

After watching the fantastic performance of Chicago on Broadway, we ate dinner at the well-regarded Japanese Sakagura Restaurant.



Inna made reservations for 9:45pm and we barely made it by 10:00pm from our theater (as we spent a few minutes at Times Square) nearby.


For appetizer, we ordered mushrooms or Kinoko Ohitashi. They were a bit different from what we normally eat. We also ordered tuna tartare - Maguro Tartar. In addition, we shared some fried shrimp, also called Ebi Stick and Tori Tsukune. For soup, we shared Inaniwa Hot Udon, which was quite delicious. The waiter recommended the crème brûlée (Japanese style), and we ordered it as well. It was lovely.

Monday, December 19, 2016
In the morning, we finally got up and decided to great breakfast in the nearby Lexington Brass restaurant.


Inna and I both ordered Smashed Organic Avocado toast (avocado, pomegranate seeds, toasted slivered almonds, roasted cherry tomato, toasted whole grain country bread with a poached organic egg) while Alex ordered the Croque Madame (baked ham, Gruyere, jalapeño, & fried egg).



Our breakfast was really delicious but quite expensive. Toast with Avacado is quite popular in New York and we've seen it everywhere (but not so much in California).

After breakfast, we head to the subway in Grand Central, taking metro #5 to downtown (Fulton Street), to see the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial.


It was only 4 subway stops, and it took about 28 minutes to get there. It was quite cold outside (26 F) and we waited a bit in line to get in (even though we had printed tickets in our New York City Pass).



Once through the mandatory bag screening (standard in all NYC attractions), we turned in our coats and started the tour of the two World Trade Center Towers. It was a very depressing tour with lots of photos, videos, and mangled metal parts on display. There were many remnants from the site on display and photos of victims. I did not realize how many artists and non-finance types had businesses in the World Trade Center.


There were quite disturbing videos of people falling off the Twin Towers.


Some of the debris left from the two twin towers was quite twisted and warped by the intense heat. We got a much better appreciation of the sacrifices made by firemen and other rescuers to save people from the falling buildings.

After the tour, we took a few photos outside and decided to get a late lunch at the nearby Eately Italian Grocery Store and Restaurant.


We did not immediately realize how large and extensive Eately's selection of fine Italian foods was.



Eventually, we agreed that Eataly was gourmand's paradise. There was freshly baked Italian pizza, pasta, gelato, and freshly baked pastries. Alex ordered a "Margherita" pizza: which he ate all by himself (including the crust), which he usually skips. Inna and I shared an "Insalata Mista" and a "Capricciosa" pizza. The pizza was fantastic with a very thin dough and fresh ingredients! After dinner, we shared some gelato (cherry and pistachio), with some delicious pastries. Alex said that it was the best Gelato he has ever had!


Finishing our dinner in Eately, we realized that it was getting very dark, so we took a few more night time photos of the magnificent new World Trade Center. We inquired about tickets to ride the WTC's elevator to the top, but found them to be quite expensive. Instead, we decided to ride the elevator in in Rockefeller Center (for which we already had tickets in our New York City Pass).



We returned back to our Intercontinental Barclay Hotel, and after some rest, decided to visit the Rockefeller Center. On the way there, we stopped by at the magnificent Saks 5th Avenue storefront (on 5th Avenue, across from Rockefeller Center), which were being mobbed by people watching a Christmas lights show.



We really enjoyed these displays and were very impressed with the artistic work involved.



Some of the displays were animated and played popular scenes from Nutcracker and other fairy tales.



Here is a short video clip of the animation and Saks 5th Ave Christmas Light Show:



As it was getting very late, around 10:30pm, we finally proceeded to the Top of the Rock (aka Rockefeller Center).



The line was not very long and we had tickets from our NewYork City Pass, so we decided to enjoy the evening view of the city. It was very cold at the top, but the view of New York City Skyline was spectacular. 


I took lots of photos with my Canon 5ds and Inna with her iPhone 6s. When it got too cold for my hands, warmed them up in a funky "Rainbow Room" with blinking lights.



On the way back to our hotel, we marveled at at the view of Atlas holding the World in front of the St. Patrick's Cathedral.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In the morning, we finally got up and decided to great breakfast in the nearby Lexington Brass restaurant. I ordered my usual Smashed Organic Avocado toast (avocado, pomegranate seeds, toasted slivered almonds, roasted cherry tomato, toasted whole grain country bread with a poached organic egg) while Inna ordered Croque Madame (baked ham, Gruyere, jalapeño, fried egg). Our breakfast was really delicious, but we had to wait some time to get seated.


From here, we walked to the nearby Empire State Building and decided to get a view from the top. The line to get to the top was very long and we waited about 90 minutes (from 10:30am until noon), before we were finally able to take the elevator to the 80th floor, and then from 80th to 86th floor.



The view on the clear winter day was fantastic and we could see all the buildings clearly, including Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, and most of Manhattan Island. Although I enjoyed the view, I hated the long wait. It felt like being in Disneyland (except there were no roller coasters).


After spending some time at the top, we returned to the ground and decided to rest a bit. We found a Korean food court tucked into non-descript space, selling all manner of Korean delicacies. It was full of Asian students, almost like being in Seoul, South Korea.



Given the very high ratings on Yelp for the Spot Dessert Bar (upstairs), we ordered some Beef and Seafood Pho, followed by delicious Asian Tapa desserts from Spot Dessert Bar.



After lunch, we stopped by at the 42nd Street Photo camera store, where I purchased a Canon G7x Mark II to replace my broken Canon G7x. I was planning to purchase it from B&H Photo, but B&H Photo was out of stock.

After watching the musical Jersey Boys (reviewed here), we stopped by at the Marseilles restaurant in Hell's Kitchen for dinner.



At Marseilles, I had the Onion Soup Gratinee (country bread, gruyere) and Orecchiette (lamb shank, ragout, gremolata, pecorino). Inna had the wonderfully delicate Tortellini (jumbo lump crab & ricotta, spinach, herb butter sauce). Alex decided on the Marseilles Burger (dry aged custom ground beef, burgundy onions, rosemary aioli, and cheese). All of the dishes were quite delicious.



Afterwards, we lingered a bit in Times Square, which was heavily lit up and full of people (as usual). It seems that it's packed any time of the day or night.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In the morning, we decided to find a new breakfast restaurant, and after some research on Yelp and Zagat found Casa Lever, a well-respected, trendy Milanese restaurant for New York deal makers.



The insides were quite fancy looking and it had lots of original Andy Warhol lithographs of famous celebrities such as Versace, Aretha Franklin, etc.



I ordered the Crostino Milanese (scrambled eggs and Parmesan cheese). Inna had the Raisin Brioche French Toast (exceptional), while Alex had the Buttermilk Lemon pancakes. The food was exquisite but expensive.


Finishing our delicious breakfast, we boarded the subway train #5 (at the 51st Street Station) in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. We wanted to walk the Brooklyn Bridge and then explore the various neighborhoods in Brooklyn (such as Brooklyn Heights).



The Brooklyn Bridge is quite long (we measured over a mile, while walking it) and it was completed in 1885. We enjoyed walking across it and seeing the wonderful views of Manhattan and Brooklyn from the bridge. We could also see the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in the far distance.



Once across in Brooklyn, we walked down to Brooklyn Heights. We found lots of brownstone houses (most, no more than 7 stories high) and regular homes for non-bankers. There were lots of people walking their dogs and strolling about.



We also found a few synagogues and restaurants. It seemed like a very nice place to live, especially with the beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline.



Since it was getting late, around 1:45pm, we decided to try the famous Juliana's Pizza near the Brooklyn Bridge. Juliana's Pizza was highly rated by both Zagat and Yelp, so we decided to give it a try. There was a long line outside the restaurant, but we decided to wait anyway.



It took us about 30 minutes, before we were seated. We had a very friendly waiter, who made the experience in Juliana's very enjoyable. We would gladly return for more pizza when in Brooklyn.



For appetizer, Alex ordered the Hearts of Romaine Caesar salad, while Inn and I shared Matt's Mix (Baby Spinach, Romaine, Tomato, Yellow Peppers, Red Onion & Kalamata Olives). Both of the salads were quite delicious.


For entrees, we ordered two small pizza (small in this case is a 16" pie). Alex chose the Margherita pizza (tomato, mozzarella, and basil), while Inna and I decided to share the #1 special (mozzarella, scamorza, affumicata, pancetta (Italian bacon), scallions and Oregon-grown white truffles in olive oil). Both of the pizzas were some of the best we've ever tasted and even Alex was very impressed. He usually thinks that Pizza My Heart in Los Gatos has the best pizza.



Finishing lunch, we decided to grab some fresh, homemade, American ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. There were only a couple of basic flavors available, including chocolate, vanilla, and butter pecan but they were all heavy, dense, and delicious.



We walked around Brooklyn Heights for a bit more and than decided to try the famous pastries at Almondine Bakery. The pastries there were very good. Eventually, we took the subway back to our Intercontinental Barclay Hotel.

In the evening, we had tickets to see the dramatic performance of Dangerous Liaisons on Broadway, about which I wrote in a separate review.


Dangerous Liaisons was quite riveting but the theater was only half-full. Too bad, because Dangerous Liaisons was extremely well acted.


Thursday, December 22, 2016


In the morning, we decided to try breakfast somewhere else. Since seating at Manhattan Espresso Cafe was rather limited, we decided to try breakfast at Demarco Coffee.



Both Inna and I ordered croissants with Egg Salad, while Alex chose a croissant with Ham and Cheese. Our croissants were cold (I would have preferred them warmer), but Alex's Ham and Cheese croissant was warm. I also ordered Mocha for me, Latte for Inna, and Hot chocolate for Alex. Overall, breakfast at Demarco Coffee was satisfactory (and a lot cheaper than the other places).



From 51st Street, we decided to visit the Frick Collection near Central Park. We took the subway there (in order to save time and walking energy). We really enjoyed exploring the Frick Collection of famous paintings, such as Rembrandt's Self-Portrait, Titian's “Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap”, Hans Holbein's “Portrait of Thomas Moore”, and Renoir's “Mother and Children (La Promenade)”.


Inna thought that the Renoir was the best painting in the Frick Collection.





After enjoying the museum, we decided to explore the nearby Central Park. With the help of a tour guide, we came up with a loop to see the best highlights if the park, including Bethesda Fountain, Bow Bridge, Wagner Cove, and Belvedere Castle.

We started our tour with Bethesda Fountain, shown below. It was turned off in the winter, so we just continued our walk toward the Bow Bridge.



Bow Bridge is a very short bridge over the half-frozen lake below. From there, we continued to Belvedere Castle (the highest point in Central Park).


In Belvedere Castle, there were nice overlooks of the whole city and some pleasant classical music from street musicians (who played selection of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Bach’s Air on a G String).



Exploring New York City’s Central Park was a lot of fun.



For late lunch, we decided to try the elegant Sant Ambroeus restaurant on the Upper East Side (near the Frick Collection). We ordered the following dishes for our late lunch/dinner. They were all very delicious but very expensive.

• Pasta alla Bolognese for Alex
• Panino/Francesino for Boris
• Ravioli al Prosciutto for Inna
• Giandula (hazelnut) dessert
• Profiterole dessert

On the way back to our Intercontinental Barclay Hotel, we were packed in our subway like sardines. However, we made it back in time for some rest, before seeing the famous Fiddler on the Roof Musical.



At around 6:05pm, we started out walk to Broadway Theater, to see Fiddler on the Roof. The musical was fantastic and I review it in a separate blog post.



After the musical, we realized that the famous Grom Gelateria was near Broadway Theater. We have always loved Grom, when we visited Florence and Siena in Italy, so we were excited that Grom has made it to the United States. We ordered a number of delicious flavors, including pistachio and chocolate with orange. Grom Gelato was fantastic and we hope to stop by there again!



In the New York winter evening, it was getting quite cold and we wanted to drink something hot to warm ourselves (especially after eating ice-cold gelato). Conveniently, right next to Grom Gelateria was an interesting tea-house called Argo Tea Cafe. We ordered some very exotic tea concoctions, including Matte Latte and Earl Grey Vanilla Crème (like London Fog). The teas were excellent! We wished that a tea-house like this existed in San Jose.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Wanting a quick, inexpensive breakfast, we decided to try eating at the Fresh & Co. Eatery, near our Intercontinental Barclay Hotel. Alex ordered a croissant with egg omelet, but did not like it. I had the toasted bread with crushed avocado, which was quite delicious. I also shared a fresh, blueberry muffin and an almond croissant for dessert. The pastries were not bad at all (but not as good as some of the other bakeries).


Finishing breakfast, we took New York's Metro #5 train to the Guggenheim Museum. Unfortunately, other than Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall, I did not like most of the paintings in the Guggenheim.



However, the Guggenheim building itself is quite amazing and is worth seeing on its own merits.


Quickly finishing with the museum, we took another metro train from 68th Street to Bowling Green station (near Battery Park), to see about visiting Statue of Liberty.



Seeing a very long a wait (over one hour), we decided to explore Wall Street instead.



Near the Bowling Green metro station, we saw the famous "Charging Bull" statue mobbed by tourists. I could hardly see the statue behind the hoards of people taking photos around it. From here, we ran into the beautiful Trinity Church.



The organ was playing inside and we walked around the church, to explore its design and architecture. We also had a chance to step outside the church, in its cemetery, where a lot of very old, worn-out gravestones decorated the premises.



Moving on, we walked from the start of Wall Street to the financial center of New York.



We ran into the Federal Hall building where George Washington took his oath of office as the first president of the United States, and saw reprints of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. I was surprised to learn that this Federal Hall served as the seat of U.S. Government and U.S. treasury for a time.



In addition, I was surprised to see a Trump building right on 40 Wall Street - across from the famous Tiffany Jewelry store.



Inna was interested in seeing the best Tiffany store in the world, so she went in to explore all of the beautiful diamonds and pearls. All of the items were quite delicate and refined, and I could see some wealthy banker purchasing some of these items for his wife.



Finishing Wall Street, we decided to explore the famous Greenwich Village. We took the metro there and explored around, eventually finding the famous Friends apartment.




Getting hungry, we realized that U.S. best rated pizza restaurant was nearby. Although we have had enough pizza already (from previous days), we decided to stop by Keste Pizzeria.



We were surprised that there was no line to get into the restaurant and were quickly seated inside. Alex ordered the Margherita pizza; he said it was the best pizza ever. Inna and I shared the classic Keste #1 (Tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto di parma, arugula, pecorino gran cru, basil, extra virgin olive oil).


Both pizzas were fantastic, making Keste possibly the best pizza restaurant in the United States.



Later on, while exploring Greenwich Village, we ran into the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. Since it was highly rated on both Zagat and Yelp, we decided to stop by and give it a try. I ordered the famous Salty Pimp (soft-serve Vanilla ice cream with chocolate layer). Alex selected the Hot Fudge Sundae, which he enjoyed a lot. Inna had the Rocky Roadhouse (rocky road) soft cone, which was also quite delicious. While we liked the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, we thought that Grom gelato was far superior.

We also explored Washington Square Park, which had a like Triumphal Arch there (similar to the one in Paris), and a Christmas tree well lit.



However, it was getting dark, so we did not stay too long. I was surprised that there was a musician playing piano in the dark to the delight of all other onlookers.

After a lot of strolling around Greenwich Village, we got a bit tired and returned back to our hotel room to rest. Later in the evening, we saw a new Broadway performance of the musical Cats on Broadway's Neil Simon Theater.


I had seen Cats in Houston, Texas in 1993 and wasn't very impressed. However, Inna had never seen it and was curious about this famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I wrote a separate review about the show. Overall, I liked Cats much better this time around and Inna thought the costumes and stage decorations were fantastic.



After the show, we had a late night dinner at Russian Samovar restaurant near the Neil Simon Theater (where Cats was playing). Inna and I ordered a couple of Russian favorites for our late night dinner, including the famous Olivi'yea salad, Mushroom Vareniki, and Meat Bliny. We also ordered the famous Russian tea in glasses with lemon and jam/varenye. There was a lot of impromptu dancing and very loud Russian music (fiddler, singer, guitar player). It seemed like a very fun place that my Dad would have really enjoyed.


Saturday, December 24, 2016


In the morning, we got up fairly late and were only out of the hotel at 10:30am. We were really tired from the day before and had a hard time getting up. There was a cold, heavy, winter rain pouring outside and we picked up three umbrellas from the Hotel lobby.




At first, we stopped by for breakfast at Demarco Coffee. I ordered a croissant with egg and cheese. Inna and Alex ordered a croissant with ham and cheese. I also ordered a mocha for me, a latte for Inna, and a hot chocolate for Alex with some small dessert.



Since it was raining, we decided to postpone the trip to Brighton Beach in favor of Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met). I had the wrong impression about Met's closing time. Usually, on Saturday's the Met museum closes at 9:00 pm. However, because it was Christmas Eve, the museum closed at 4:45pm. 



When we arrived the Museum, there was a huge line at the main entrance. However, another way in was possible, and we took it. It was much shorter and we were able to quickly exchange our New York City Pass tickets for the Met's official tickets. We also purchased Met's Audio guides to help wit the tour (though they did not prove as illuminating as expected). Half-way through the tour, the audio guides' batteries died (and we had to return to have them replaced).


We enjoyed the Met's immense collection very much, starting out with Greek and Roman vases and statues, moving on to Oceania (New Guinea) artifacts, contemporary art (including famous paintings by Pablo Picasso), Faberge collection of eggs, and then classic French and Italian sculptures.


At this time we were tired and hungry and stopped by at Met's Petrie Court cafe for lunch. Inna and I ordered afternoon tea with small sandwiches, while Alex had a full sandwich. The food was extremely overpriced, and not especially well-prepared. I would have skipped it next time.



After lunch (which took much longer than expected), we realized that we did not have much time left (after our Audio guide batteries needed to be replaced), and we focused on the Renaissance era European painters, such as Rembrandt.


The Met has a large collection of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Van Dyck and we enjoyed these paintings.



With the Met museum closing at 4:45pm (unusually early for Saturday), we returned back to our Barclay hotel using the subway (train #5) and rested a bit. Inna had an idea to visit a bookstore but most bookstores were closing early (due to Christmas Eve), so she decided to try some other activity.




We decided to explore the nearby Bryant Park and Ice Rink as it was mentioned as one of the highlights of things to do in New York City during Christmas. When we arrived (after a 15 minute walk from our hotel), Bryant Park was overflowing with ice skaters. At first we decided to try ice-skating but on seeing the crowds and the high rental cost ($20), we decided to skip it and just walk around, exploring all the cutesy shops.


Facebook had a large tent setup, offering free Virtual Reality demonstrations. At first, we stood in a line to try our VR (the line did not seem very long), but eventually decided that the demo would take too long.


Eventually, we got a bit hungry and decided to eat sushi at the Yelp rated Inakaya Japanese restaurant. We ordered the 5-course Edo tasting menu. We started with Seaweed Salad, followed by three kinds of Sashimi, grilled Yellowtail tuna fillet and roasted duck slices, Miso soup, 7 pieces of Sushi arranged by the Chef, and green tea ice cream. The sushi was delicious but overly expensive. There was nothing particularly outstanding about Inakaya. We think our previous Japanese restaurant - Sakagura - was clearly superior (and less expensive).



After dinner, we explored Times Square. There were lots of street performers doing stunts and we enjoyed watching some of them.

Sunday, December 25, 2016
In the morning, we stopped by for breakfast at Demarco Coffee. We were not sure whether it would be open on Christmas Day, but thankfully it was (as the other breakfast spots were quite a bit more expensive).

Like the day before, I ordered a croissant with egg and cheese. Inna and Alex ordered a croissant with ham and cheese. We had a mocha and latte to drink and enjoyed our quick breakfast.



From here, we decided to see New York’s largest Menorah, which was located in the Southeast corner of the City Park. We ended up walking down 5th Avenue, with all of the glitzy, trendy, high-end shops, including Tiffany, Bergdorf Goodman, Gucci, and many others. Some of the window displays were quite fancy and marvelous. We even found Trump Tower on 5th Avenue, surrounded by police.



The large Menorah did not impress us at all. It was large but rather ugly. We could not believe our eyes. We were hoping for a better looking and more impressive Menorah. Is this really the best we can do?



Since the famous Fairmont Plaza Hotel was nearby, we decided to explore it. The Plaza is a very fancy hotel where many famous movies were previously filmed. It's also famous as being one of New York City's top spots to get married.



When we entered the Plaza hotel, we saw many very fashionably dressed men and women enjoying the Christmas buffet. They were all smartly dressed in suits and expensive dresses.



After taking a few photos, we continued to Central Park, where we explored the nearby Wollman Ice Skating rink. It was filled with ice skaters. However, the line to skate was long, so we decided to skip ice skating this time. We did enjoy strolling through "The Mall" - a straight, tree lined corridor with statues of famous writers. We also saw a wonderful statue of Alice in Wonderland and took some photos of it.



For lunch, we decided to explore Manhattan’s Lower East side and settled on Katz’s Delicatessen. Because of Christmas holiday, Katz was one of the few open Jewish delis and the restaurant was mobbed with people.



We had to wait a long line to order sandwiches and in a separate line to order a burger for Alex. I ended up ordering a matzo ball soup and a Katz's Pastrami Hot sandwich to share with Inna.



The Matzo Ball soup was quite delicious (much better than the one in Ess-e-Bagel), but I did not get much enjoyment out of it, as the restaurant was mobbed with people.



The wait time to order was very long and then getting a table was also very problematic. Inna did manage to find a table after 30 minutes.



The Katz's Pastrami Hot Sandwich was quite expensive (at $19.95) and very plain. It came on some basic bread, but there were no vegetables on it at all (I was expecting at least some lettuce and tomatoes). Alex's cheeseburger turned out to be a junior version and not exactly was I ordered. The people working the grill did not speak adequate English, and it was hard to understand what they were saying. The whole dining experience turned me off on Katz's Deli and I don’t see myself eating there again. This is the famous restaurant where Sally showed how much she enjoyed her sandwich in “When Harry Met Sally”.

Katz employs an bizarre food ordering system that I have never seen anywhere. When ordering sandwiches, you wait in a sandwich ordering line with a ticket. A Katz employee makes your sandwich and marks a bunch of numbers on your ticket. You have no idea what these numbers mean, and you cannot leave the Deli without showing your ticket to the cashier. If you want to order a burger (or something on the grill), you have to wait in a separate line for that item. God forbid if you lose your ticket!



Later in the day, we saw The Illusionists at Palace Theater on Broadway. It was a magic show, based on famous acts of magicians (Houdini) of early 20th Century and was fun to watch. Some of the acts were quite impressive, like the floating woman, floating ball, and this example below of a man lying on two nails.


After the show, we looked for dinner restaurants but all were closed due to Christmas Holiday. We really wanted to eat at the famous Wolf and Lamb Steakhouse that our Chabad rabbi recommended, but the restaurant would not take any additional patrons when we arrived (The Illusionists show finished at 9:30pm). Alex ended up eating a burger from a street food vendor, as we could not find any other open restaurants.

Monday, December 26, 2016

In the morning, we stopped by for breakfast at Demarco Coffee. We had our usual breakfast croissants and coffee for breakfast. I also tried a raspberry muffin and it was delicious.

Inna and I discussed where to go next. We thought about going to Chelsea Market, but did not know if it was worth spending the rest of the day there. Instead, we decided to go back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a second helping.


Since our Metro cards expired, we had to buy three temporary cards for $3.00 each. Once we arrived at 77st exit, we walked quickly to the Met museum. We dropped off our coats and I purchased tickets at the electronic kiosk.


We ended up exploring a couple of different sections of the museum including European Sculpture and Decorative Arts (visiting famous European Hotel Rooms),


The American Wing (with famous Tiffany pieces), Arms & Armor (from Europe, Iran, and Japan).


After finishing with the 1st floor and getting a small snack, we moved on to the 2nd floor, where we focused on 19th and 20th Century European Painting (mostly Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Renoir). We especially liked the paintings by Van Gogh and Renoir.


At around 3:00pm. we were a bit tired from all the walking and decided to get lunch at the nearby Grazie Italian restaurant. I had a sandwich on Focaccia bread, while Alex had a personal Margherita pizza.



Since I got a message from JetBlue that my return flight to Oakland was delayed by one hour, we decided to get dessert at the highly rated Cafe Sabarsky. This Cafe is part of the Neue Gallery which features Austrian Art, focusing on Gustav Klimt.


Cafe Sabarsky had some of the best looking cakes since our trip to Vienna Austria and we ordered a couple to try. I ordered the apfelstrudel, which Inna really loved, but I thought was a bit too dry. The Himbeer (Raspberry, yogurt, poppyseed cake) was simply divine. With fresh raspberries, it was close to the quality of Demel in Vienna, Austria. We also enjoyed delicious Kaiser Melange (coffee with whipped cream). We really have to return to Cafe Sabarsky next time we're at the Met or Upper East Side.

Finishing dessert, we strolled back on 5th avenue, past the large Temple Emanu-El synagogue, toward the upmarket shops on 5th Avenue. As it was past Christmas, all the shops were open and we stopped by at Bergdorf Goodman, marvelling again at the beautiful window displays, before returning to our Intercontinental Barclay Hotel.


We ordered UberX initially to take us to JFK airport but the driver seemed to be unable to come. I eventually cancelled UberX and took the cab, using a fixed $52.00 fare to JFK.


JFK Terminal 5 is much better than San Jose's new airport, with many reasonable priced food stalls, iPads, and charging stations.

Our JetBlue flight to Oakland was delayed almost two hours, so instead of departing at 8:20pm, we departed at 10:15pm, landing in Oakland at 2:00am PST. The flight was uneventful and we liked JetBlue's free chips.

We ordered an UberX to take us home. The pricing in the early morning kept creeping up, but our driver made great time and we were home by 3:10am.

We had a fantastic but very tiring New York City trip. New York is certainly one of the greatest cities in the world!


NYC Trip Report Card
Positives
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the best Art Museum in the United States 
  • Broadway Musicals are significantly better in quality of singing, dancing, and stage work than touring companies. It's definitely preferable to see a musical on Broadway.
  • The Frick Collection is a fantastic, small museum 
  • The American Museum of Natural History is quite extensive and very illuminating with delightful exhibits, dinosaur skeletons, and a large Planetarium
  • New York has so many outstanding restaurants that it's difficult to make a bad choice. On this trip, our favorite restaurants included the following:
    • Keste Pizzeria - for best pizza 
    • Cafe Sabarsky - for best Viennese style cakes and Viennese coffee drinks 
    • Eately - for Italian pizza, gelato, and pastries 
    • Casa Lever - for Milanese dishes and high-end atmosphere
    • Sakagura - for delicious, authentic Japanese sushi 
    • Grom - for best Italian gelato with unique local flavors
    • Avra Estiatorio - for delicious Greek delicacies 
  • NY City Pass was very useful and saved us a lot of money and time 
  • Central Park is huge and a delight to explore 
  • Christmas window displays at Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor, and Bergdorf Goodman are fabulous 
Negatives
  • The Guggenheim Museum is highly overrated. The building is nice but its collection of paintings in paltry 
  • Ess-a-Bagel is highly overrated (Matzo Ball soup is terrible, waiting time can be very long) 
  • Katz’s Delicatessen in Lower East side is highly overrated. The dining experience is horrible 
  • Petrie Court cafe in the Metropolitan Museum is expensive, with mediocre food, and slow service 
  • Times Square can be jammed at any time of the day. It's just too crowded.