Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge may be constantly packed with slow-walking tourists yielding cameras, but the famous landmark also gives some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. I feel it’s a crime to live in New York City and never walk across the bridge, which has connected the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan since 1883. As you stroll along the suspended structure, some of the most famous sights in the world lay right in front of you: the Statue of Liberty and Freedom Tower to the left, the Empire State Building to the right, and even the buildings surrounding Time Square and Grand Central Station.
The Brooklyn Bridge has special meaning to me in particular. On the last night I saw Jake before I spent a semester in Germany, we walked across at sunset and shared many heartfelt words. Now I always associate the bridge with love and hopeful futures. 
Last week I walked with my mom from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and the views were even better than she thought. She told me she felt like Miranda Hobbs (shout-out to any Sex and the City fans who understand the reference!) and that everyone should be able to visit the Brooklyn Bridge in their lifetime. I felt so lucky and happy to share such a beautiful landmark with her.
If you’re visiting New York City in the future, don’t forget to add the Brooklyn Bridge to your itinerary.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Meeting Martha Stewart and a Mother-Daughter Weekend in NYC

So many exciting things have been happening at work and in my personal life, keeping me happily entertained but too busy for any downtime. First there’s my amazing editorial internship at Martha Stewart Weddings. I stayed late several times last week to help with an insanely fun project, and I also had an “intern lunch” with the beautiful Martha Stewart! She’s just as funny, smart, and good-natured as she appears on TV and it was a pleasure to hear an hour-long speech from the lifestyle mogul. Then my mom came to visit me in New York City, and we spent the weekend exploring some of my favorite places, walking around the West Village, and pigging out on brunch – mimosas included! And later today I’m hopping on a bus to visit my boyfriend in Baltimore, since he’s interning at the Under Armor corporate office there. 

I figured now would be the perfect time to document some exciting parts of my summer, before the pictures start piling up too much! Here is my life lately:

Martha Stewart's new cookbook, Clean Slate, signed and personalized by the domestic goddess herself!

My mom and I eagerly awaiting wine, escargot, steak, and duck at Balthazar in SoHo.

A cheeseburger and fries from Shake Shack – a New York City classic.

A beautiful sunset at the Mets baseball stadium. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia hosted an "intern outing" at the game! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

NYC Dining: Cheesesteak Sandwiches at Wogie's

After moving to an unfamiliar city, there is inevitably a certain point when it starts to feel less foreign. New York City felt huge and overwhelming when I first arrived last summer – I couldn't escape the swarms of people, crowded subways, or towering skyscrapers. I didn't know how to navigate the subway systems or where to buy groceries. Then, when Jake visited me last week, I realized that New York isn't so big and scary anymore. I can travel through Manhattan without getting lost or flinching at the busy sidewalks, and I even know the characteristics of most of the Manhattan neighborhoods. But the thing that struck me most is that I now have favorite places. Favorite restaurants, shops, subway stops, grocery stores, and parks.

Wogie's, a sports bar in the Financial District specializing in cheesesteak sandwiches, is one of my and Jake's favorite places. They have tasty, authentic cheesesteaks for a very reasonable price, especially for the Financial District. 

We stumbled upon the restaurant last year after a day of sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We were hot, probably a little sunburned, sick of tourists, and craving Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. (Except Jake was only craving a steak sandwich because he doesn't like melted cheese...) Anyway, I pulled out on iPhone and searched for "best cheesesteak sandwich near me" and up popped Wogie's. Since we could easily walk there form Battery Park, we decided to give it a go. And we loved it so much that we went back this year, after finding ourselves in Battery Park again (we took the ferry to Governor's Island. You can read about that adventure here!)

During both visits, the small-ish place wasn't packed. Then again, I'm pretty sure we showed up around 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon both times, and the Financial District clears out immensely during the weekend. As soon as you walk in the restaurant's front door, you walk down a set of stairs leading to a basement room nicely decorated with large tables and a bar. Of course, since Wogie's is a sports bar, the bar boasted TVs playing various sports games. The atmosphere feels cozy, relaxed, and perfect for a greasy meal and drink with friends. 

Jake and I recreated our orders from the first visit and got one steak sandwich (for him) and one cheesesteak (for me). Both $10 meals were spectacular. Jake says, "I think the best part of the cheesetseak was the bread. The bread was authentic for philly cheese steaks.. hard outside, really soft inside. It was greasy but not overly greasy."

Trying to get the Philly experience, I opted for Cheez Whiz  on my sandwich. The steak turned out perfectly cooked and juicy, the bread was crisp, and the Cheez Whiz was, well, just like any other Cheez Whiz I've ever had. Actually, I found my sandwich to have too much Cheez Whiz, which is surprising given how much I adore cheese. However, the extra cheese came in handy as a dipping sauce for my french fries!

Jake and I split an order of chili waffle fries for around $5. I would've went for cheese as well, but like I said, Jake doesn't like melted cheese so we stuck to chili. The chili had a nice flavor and worked well with the fries, but I felt like something was missing from the combination. As it turns out, dipping the fries in my extra Cheez Whiz was the perfect solution. Next time I would probably ask for chili cheese fries instead of just chili, although both were delicious. Jake said the fries were good but didn't stand out compared with other restaurants. Last summer I think we also ordered fried pickles and loved them, but we didn't place the order this time. 

Verdict: Go to Wogie's! The atmosphere, food, and friendly staff are all winners. There's also an older location in the West Village, so New Yorkers hopefully don't have to travel far for a good cheesesteak. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hammocks and Hot Dogs on Governor's Island

What is Governor's Island? It's a sparsely populated piece of land about 800 yards away from Manhattan that's only accessible by ferry. I didn't even know the place existed until I read about it in a magazine article describing the best places to take day trips near New York City. The 172-acre island was a military base for a long time and only opened to the public about 12 years ago, according to its website. Now, the island's grassy fields, great views of Manhattan, and peaceful hammock park attract all kinds of visitors wanting to escape the city.
Jake and I had a few hours to spare when he visited me in New York City, so we decided to be adventurous and check out Governor's Island. The ferry to the island takes off every half hour from Battery Park and only costs $2 per round-trip ticket! The cheap price tag may seem surprising by New York City standards, but the entire boat ride is literally five minutes... we spent more time waiting for the boat to leave than actually riding on it.
Once we got off the boat, we noticed that the island looked pretty empty – probably because it was the 4th of July and a steady drizzle had been falling all day. Apparently, on non-holidays when the weather is nicer, visitors sometimes wait hours to get on the ferry. The island is famous for its views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, so the first thing we did was walk along the coast to see the sights. The overcast skies didn't detract from the beautiful photo opportunities!
After checking out the views, Jake and I tried to find the main force behind our decision to visit Governor's Island: Hammock Grove, where about 50 big red hammock swings lie in peaceful grassy fields as the perfect spot for relaxing, reading, or tanning. After a long search, Jake and I finally stumbled upon the semi-hidden park and cozied up on one of the hammocks. We spent a solid hour talking, laughing, and swinging. I'd come back to Governor's Island just to lay out on a hammock with a book, although I'm sure snatching one is difficult during the busy times.
Besides the views and the hammocks, there isn't much else to do besides relax on the endless grassy fields and sightsee. Governor's Island is home to two forts from the 1800s, which were cool but not our cup of tea. Bikers would love the open trails and smooth terrain, and visitors can also rent these multi-person bikes that look like golf carts. I wish I had taken a picture of the fun contraptions! I also think Governor's Island would be a perfect spot to bring a family, considering the various play areas and open areas. I'd recommend bring a picnic, because I couldn't find any restaurants on the island. However, Jake and I ordered a delicious hot dog from a food vendor cart!

Verdict: If you want a quiet day away from the city, look into Governor's Island. Although there aren't too many activities in the area, the hammocks and views are enough reason to visit for an afternoon.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Romantic Weekend in the Big Apple

After a long month apart, Jake and I finally reunited in New York City over the long weekend! He's interning in Baltimore this summer and I'm in Manhattan, so we've had to transition from seeing each other daily at school to only talking over Skype at night. Unfortunately we've had to spend every summer of our three-year relationship apart since we live in different states, but the distance makes our visits all the more special. 

Jake visited me in NYC a couple of times last summer and we had an absolute blast, although we stuck mainly to tourist attractions like Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Little Italy, and the Brooklyn Bridge. While we still acted a bit like tourists this year, we also made a point to explore more local restaurants and attractions. Given that we’re both 21 now, we also visited some bars and pubs in the East Village and Lower East Side. One of the highlights of the weekend was watching the Macy's fireworks show over the East River!

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Jake and I had so much fun exploring and hanging out. If you’re interested, scroll through the pictures of our four-day vacation!

I showed Jake my favorite areas of Central Park, including Belvedere Castle. 

We also admired some impressive views of the lake and the Manhattan skyline. 

Of course, we had to visit the famous Bethesda Fountain.

Jake treated us both to ice cream after a successful people-watching session in Washington Square Park.

Sitting in Times Square until the wee hours of the morning is one of our favorite things to do. I usually avoid the crowded area, but always love coming with Jake to hang out and people watch. On this particular night, we ate at an Irish pub at midnight and then sat in Times Square until 2 a.m.

We both obsess over Prosperity Dumpling in Chinatown and bought meals there twice during the week. Four orders of fried dumplings and two sesame pancakes for $6?! Unbeatable!

In addition to dining at Little Italy and exploring the area around where I work, Jake and I ate at some great restaurants and spent a day in Governor's Island – each of those events will get its own separate blog post. Thanks for reading! Let me know if you know of any other fun activities for couples in NYC.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks in NYC

Happy belated Fourth of July! My boyfriend, Jake, visted me in New York City for the long weekend (more on that in my next post) so of course we watched the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular over the East River. 

New York City closed down portions of FDR Drive for the fireworks, and bystanders stood along the road adjacent to the East River to watch the explosions. Many different websites suggested getting to the site no later than 5 p.m. The four barges set up in Midtown Manhattan – and two other barges near the Brooklyn Bridge– were apparently packed with people long before that. However, Jake and I didn't want to waste too much time and chose to arrive at 7 p.m. We avoided busy Midtown and instead found a grassy spot in the East River Park near Houston Street. A decent amount of people populated the area, but it wasn't overly crowded by any means. 

We sat on the grass for a couple of hours before the show, talking and people watching.

I liked the fireworks show a lot – especially the smiley-face-shaped explosions and the ones that made cracking noises! The booms didn't sound loud at all from our spot, and we still had a perfect, unobstructed view despite our distance from the barges. However, Jake and I agreed that the display wasn't as ornate as fireworks back home. The grand finale didn't last longer than three seconds, and even after the finale I was expecting more. I guess setting off a huge display of explosions is harder in a big city than in a smaller Midwestern town.
 Jake and I had a great time, and I would love to go back in future years! Advice for anyone wanting to attend the Macy's fireworks in NYC: skip the crowded Midtown viewing areas and head to the  Lower East Side instead!

Friday, July 3, 2015

NYC Dining: Barrio Chino (Mexican)

I’m back with another New York City restaurant review, and I’m super excited about this week’s pick. Ever since moving to the Lower East Side for the summer, I’ve been told that I simply have to try the Mexican food in the area. Mexican cuisine has always been a favorite of mine, so I gladly took up the recommendation. I did some research online beforehand, hoping that one or two places stand out as having the best fare, but the dozens of little Mexican joints near me all have stellar ratings. Obviously this made narrowing down the options quite difficult. I finally decided on a particularly tiny place with promising reviews: Barrio Chino, a discrete place with no signage. 

I went to the restaurant at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night, and the place was packed. However, given that the restaurant only boats about eight or ten tables, I wasn’t too surprised. The windows at the front were propped open, but the noise level in Barrio Chino seemed a little high. Nonetheless my dad and I took a seat at the bar and ordered a round of margaritas. At $10 each, the drinks were on the pricy side. However, they tasted good and were very strong, so the hefty price can be justified at least a little. We also put in an order for chips, salsa, and guacamole.  Just a warning: you have to pay for the chips and salsa here. I’ve never been to a Mexican place where you have to pay for these staples … I don’t know if this is an NYC thing or what, but I wasn’t about to go to a Mexican place without eating some chips and salsa!
I have to say, the chips were amazing. You could tell they were homemade from the super crunchy texture and the perfect dusting of salt. I could’ve eaten five orders of these things, but unfortunately I think you have to pay for refills. The salsa also tasted good – nothing particularly stuck out about it compared to other salsas, but I’d gladly eat it again. Same with the guacamole.

Now for the main courses: Bistek A La Casa (skirt steak) and Enchiladas De Mole, which we split. Through my online research I learned that these are the two most highly rated meals at the restaurant. At around $18 each, the dishes were pricier than Mexican food back in the Midwest. However, this is New York City, and honestly the meals tasted ten times more authentic than anything you can get in Ohio. My dad’s skirt steak, which came with black beans and a sauteed spinach-mushroom mix, was perfectly cooked and full of flavor; even someone who doesn’t like Mexican food would enjoy the steak. I also loved the marinade that covered the steak. I would go back to Barrio Chino just for this!
I never had enchilada de mole before. My dad said that the dish is made with chocolate and usually tastes bitter. When the plate came out, all I saw was dark brown sauce. However, after some digging with my fork, I can report that three enchiladas were hidden underneath. It turns out my dad was right: the enchilada was really bitter. The harsh taste actually took me by surprise at first, especially since I could taste the chocolate undertones. However, the more I ate, the more I liked the dish. The sauce tasted unlike anything I’ve ever had, especially in terms of Mexican food, but the uniqueness was good. I happily ate the whole thing and would order again.

Verdict: If you like authentic Mexican food (well, authentic for New York) and are looking for a hip place for a quick dinner, try Barrio Chino! Get the skirt steak if you’re feeling safe, and don’t forget to order the delicious chips.