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
  • 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 
  • 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.