Sunday, January 31, 2010

Amy's Birthday: Sunday in NYC

Sunday morning we were much more tired than we anticipated. We had figured we'd be on our way to Central Park by 8:30am or so... notsomuch. But, we did get to the Park before 11, and saw all of the major sights I had hoped to see (aka South Central Park, Mid and East). Photos below with captions explaining my selections. I also have a breakdown of what we'll see when we do the West part, and the North as well, hehe.
the Carousel
statue of Beethoven. There's a whole walk of famous figures in statue form
Bethesda Fountain
Terrace at the Bethesda Fountain
apparently a half-marathon was being run in the Park that morning. We saw the final few people
there was a very clear point where the Conservatory Pond became frozen
the Alice in Wonderland statue. they let you climb on it!
so we did!
the Obelisk
random curly tree

For lunch we decided on E.A.T., a rather famous restaurant on Madison Avenue. I had recently saw a special on them on the Food Network, toting their grilled cheese as the cheesiest in the country! As such, I ordered that while Jonathan went with the grilled ham and cheese. We were extremely impressed, and found it to be one of the best lunches ever. They were served with green salads and a strange dressing... I was expecting Caesar, but it ended up being more mustardy. There were plenty of breads served with the meal (sourdough, nutty, and raisiny), and the service was very good. It was a very good meal, but probably the kind of place you only go to on special occasion or to take tourists for a treat... aka it's pricey.
The plan was to see the Guggenheim Museum next, but when we arrived we found out that nearly half of the museum was closed because of renovations and changing out an exhibit that would begin five days later. We decided to put it off (you couldn't even walk the swirly stairs that day!) until another time.

We walked around a bit and saw a few things randomly before walking into a three-story Toys R Us. It was really cool, with a giant Ferris Wheel that you could ride, and lots of toy demonstrations.
Radio City Music Hall
the Pond at Bryant Park
Carnegie Hall
the Ferris Wheel!
all of the carts were cartoony
Statue of Liberty done in Legos!
Empire State Building in Legos! really realistic Jurassic Park dinosaur

Friday, January 29, 2010

Amy's Birthday: Saturday Night in NYC

We had planned on Italian food for dinner. I had the names and addresses of four places within three blocks of our hotel. But, as we walked back from sightseeing, another place caught our gaze: Saju Bistro. I'm not generally one for French cuisine, but the specials looked good, the aromas wafting out were delightful, and there was a pre-theatre menu that was reasonable. So, after we changed and grabbed the ticket information, it was down for dinner.It was fairly crowded, and we were asked if we made a reservation. We had not, but were still seated right away (there were several tables for two that weren't filled the entire time we were there, so I imagine they hold those for walk-ins during pre-theatre rush). The attentiveness of the staff was wonderful, from water refilling to taking plates away to the pacing of our dishes. While one of the specials (grilled scallops) sounded delicious to both of us, we each chose the prix fixe.

Jonathan had a glass of wine (Argentinian Malbec), while I stuck with water. For starters, I had the mixed greens salad, Jonathan had Brandade de Morue (a baked dish of codfish and potato, served with toasted slices of baguettte). The salad was as stated, with a strange dressing. It was certainly dijon-based, but it may have been lemony as well, I couldn't quite place it. Jonathan's baked cod was wonderful. It was quite hot and blended with the potato and garlic beautifully. It was delicious, although I didn't try it paired with the baguette as Jonathan did.

I chose the Saumon Provencal as my main course, which was an excellent selection. It was prepared medium with tarragon, and served with asparagus and tiny diced (and fried) potatoes. The grilled flavor on the asparagus was very good, and the potatoes were very flavorful, albeit a bit greasy. The salmon was served with half of a lemon, which added a light flavor to it... delicious. Jonathan went with Onglet a l'echalotte, aka hanger black angus steak. It came with potato puree (ridiculously fine, took out the flavor), a stewed tomato, and a nice shallots sauce. I wish I could replicate the sauce, as I enjoy shallots. The steak itself was enjoyable, although a bit different. He made room for all of it, which I was impressed with.

Next was coffee and dessert. There were quite a few choices (more dessert options than appetizer options, LoL), I easily chose the chocolate mousse, while Jonathan thought for a moment before settling on creme caramel, a flan-ish dish. The mousse was plentiful and incredibly rich. Very good, and the homemade whipped cream topping it was delectable. I wasn't a fan of Jonathan's sweet, but he enjoyed it very much, particularly the sauce. The coffee was very hot, but with cream even I had some. The biscotti cookies were the best I'd ever had, but that's because they were closer to lady fingers, hehe. We'd both highly recommend the place, but be sure to go between 5 and 7 so you get the pre-theatre menu and discount!

After dinner, we headed over to the Booth to see Next to Normal. Now, I've done a few theatre reviews in the past (one even appeared in an FSU publication), and what I'm about to say is no comparison, so please don't think of it as a true critique. We both liked the show, although we agreed it was depressing and kinda pointless. I liked the music much more than Jonathan did, but we had the same favorite number, "I'm Alive." Of course I didn't film this, it's from the official website. I'd love to recommend the entire soundtrack, actually. As many others would as well, since the show did win the Tony for Best Original Score in 2009.

I don't want to give away any spoilers (there are quite a few, really), but I will say that I enjoyed all of the performances. I was a little sad that I didn't really enjoy Alice Ripley's voice in person as much as I do on the soundtrack... which is strange since she won a Tony for this very role last year. We did meet her though (and most of the main actors - we have their autographs on our playbills!), and she's a joy. I was very impressed with the set and the lighting, and the more I think back, the more genius I thought went into the design. It was three levels, which really allowed those in the balcony to have a great view, much better than some other shows. Which is handy, since I decided to buy the cheapest seats available for this production (this was after much deliberation, but we now have a list of shows to see and a budget to follow, so I'm saving the big bucks for when we see Wicked, for instance). The only negative thing I have to say about the Booth is that the very last row (H) is extremely warm. The radiators are just behind the seats, so we were boiling by intermission.

After the show we went around to the side of the building to wait and greet the actors. It was very special to thank them for a wonderful performance. I'm not really sure how common of a practice this is (although it also happens with Memphis since we saw the crowds down the alley, haha), but I'd recommend the chance to shake hands, hug, talk to, and get autographs (and sometimes photos!) with the performers. It would have been neat to have this opportunity with the pit as well (there is definitely some great work done by the musicians and conductor in this show). Anyway, it was a great Broadway experience, and I'd recommend the show to theatre folk and others well-versed in "new musicals," but perhaps not the general public, as it isn't Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Amy's Birthday: Saturday Afternoon in NYC

Jonathan and I have been meaning to go into New York more. So we're making it a point to get in and see the sights and whatnot. My birthday was a perfect opportunity for our first overnight in Manhattan. We parked at Trenton and took the train in again, then the subway to Times Square where our hotel was. Worked out great!

We stayed at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, right on 44th about half a block from Times Square. From our room we could even see a reflection of the ball! Jonathan took the route where you put in a bid and see if it gets accepted, and we got lucky! We had hoped for something in the Theatre District, and got this gem for almost $200 UNDER standard price! The view was great, the bed was firm, and the television was large. Nothing outstanding about the decor, and the remote wasn't the greatest. Location and price made it a winner. Here are a bunch of photos, first from the hotel room and then of Times Square. We spent the first part of the afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art, which was rather crowded, but not uncomfortably so. As we usually do, we started with the top floor and worked our way down. Overall, I was a little disappointed with the collections, but that is mainly due to the current "special exhibits," not the permanent ones. There were also several areas that were off-limits for various reasons, which made for a little disappointment.

We caught the very end of the Bauhaus exhibit, which was medium on the interesting scale. The Orozco exhibit on the sixth floor was neat, but the second floor dedication to his work was overdone at that point. We were not able to see the Tim Burton exhibit, as all of the tickets for the day were sold out already when we arrived. My favorite of the Orozcos was "Kytes Tree." You weren't allowed to photograph the works, but I found an image online that I've included below. We also saw "Starry Night," which is probably the most famous work in the museum. There were also several Picassos and a few of the popular Warhols. Having taken Art History in undergrad, I enjoyed many of the pieces, and my three favorites are below.

Orozco's "Kytes Tree"Rousseau's "The Dream"
Duchamp's "The Passage from Virgin to Bride" (which is strange, since I normally loathe Duchamp's pieces)
Siquerios' "Collective Suicide"

After we finished the MoMA, we decided to see the New York Public Library. Not the common sight, but we were both interested in seeing it. It's very large, very old, very spacious, and very confusing. No maps and a lot of construction yielded a short visit. Still, we marveled at the amount of marble and awed at the arches.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Amy's Birthday: Sushi for Dinner

On Friday night, Jonathan, Rob, and I drove down to Philadelphia for some good sushi. Jonathan had gotten some great recommendations about a place called Vic's Sushi. It had great reviews on yelp, and we were prepared for a tiny place with fresh fish and great prices.

We found it pretty easily, but parking was a bit difficult. When we got inside, we were told it was a 20-25 minute wait (there are only about ten seats), and we were welcome to walk around. So we did. We found a Qdoba, and since that's our favorite chain Mexican, the three of us ducked in and split a chicken quesadilla as an appetizer. We arrived back at Vic's exactly 25 minutes after our first time in there... and continued to wait.

After another twenty minutes (nobody was seated at all during this time, and it was clear we were next... eventually), we just left. It was coming up on nine o'clock and we were hungry. We walked around the block and found Fuji Mountain Japanese Restaurant a block over. The sushi bar up front looked empty, so we waltzed in. Turns out it's Restaurant Week in Philadelphia, so many of the popular places are reservation-only... including this place. They were willing to seat us at the sushi bar, so that's what we did. The menu was pretty extensive, and we made our selections quickly.

Jonathan and Rob each ordered combination platters... Jonathan had sushi (nigiri) and maki (rolls), and Rob had an assortment of sushi. I went with a chirashi dish, also known as a lot of fish on a bed of rice. It's a favorite of mine, generally speaking. And with 16 pieces of fish for $23, it's a steal. All of our meals came with soup and salad... the soup was average miso, the salad was slightly above average. But we all loved our entrees. The fish was fabulous, particularly the salmon and the white tuna. I was unable to identify one of my pieces (the small white piece just above the ginger in the photo), as it was nothing like I had ever had before. I'm inclined to say it was an octopus or other mollusk, but I really don't know. We were all impressed with the place, and would come back if we were in the Rittenhouse Square area of Philly again. I might suggest a weeknight instead tho, to alleviate parking trouble.

Oh, and something neat about the place... it was quite a few floors, with two rooms devoted to karaoke parties. We were allowed to tour one of the rooms (the other was in use that evening), and it had enough sofa seating for twenty, with menus and tables and a karaoke machine. Awesome. The only slight drawback would be that the karaoke songbook was half in English and half in Japanese, so it was difficult to figure out how to follow the order in the few seconds I glanced through the pages.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Carlucci's: Express

It's rather rare that Jonathan and I go out to lunch together. If we go out, it's usually for dinner (actually, breakfast out might be more frequent than lunch out for us... and we don't eat breakfast out often, either, LoL). But, after we volunteered at The Rescue Mission of Trenton, we decided to see what lunch specials we could find.

As I mentioned when we ate Villa Rosa, Carlucci restaurants are big here. In fact, there are two in the same plaza, and we never knew the difference. Turns out one is a sit-down, full-service place. The other is more of a take-out with a few dine-in tables available. We chose the latter, called Carlucci's Express.

Everything on the menu looked good. Everything in the front display case looked good. Everything smelled good. I instantly decided on a chicken parm sub, while Jonathan wavered a bit before finally settling on a pepperoni cheesesteak. We ordered those (and a dozen garlic knots) to go. The place wasn't empty, yet we had our order in about five minutes, so service was awesome. We dipped into the garlic knots before we even got home (and we live maybe two miles away from this place). Fantastic. Garlicky, doughy, and even a hint of mozzarella cheese. Well done.

I've had a lot of chicken parm subs in my day. In fact, it's safe to say that they are my favorite hot sub. I had them incredibly often during my first year of college in particular... I pretty much lived above a deli that was open until 3am, hehe. Anyway, this was a fantastic chicken parm sub. I'm gonna go ahead and name it #2 ever. The winner featured a more-toasted bread... this one was a little crisp, but more soft. Delectable.

Jonathan thought his was good, and would get it again. I tried it, and it tasted like meat and grease to me... which means it's a cheesesteak, LoL. He even ate his whole sub in one sitting (half of mine waited patiently in the fridge for me until the next day). He's really excited about trying their pizza... it looked SO GOOD.

Not only are they close... they're one of those places that often puts out coupons in the weekly flyer. AND they deliver. this has been an awesome find.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Give A Day: Rescue Mission of Trenton

As you may have heard, instead of letting you in free on your birthday, Disney is rewarding everyone who does a day of service in 2010 with a freebie. So this time you and your friends/family can all get in free on the same day, provided each of you (over 6 years old) completes a service activity. It's quite the deal, particularly if you already live in Florida (or near Anaheim for that matter). [Go here for more info]

Anyway, Jonathan and I signed up a couple weeks ago to complete our service on Martin Luther King Day. It sounded like a great opportunity... the description mentioned sorting donations and decorating a miniature golf course for an upcoming tournament/fundraiser. And the five-hour commitment included lunch. And it was only 15 minutes away. Awesome.

The morning of the event we left with time to spare, but there was no traffic and we found the Rescue Mission easily. It's a rather large campus, and they have several other properties on the block. It's a bare-bones shelter, really. It focuses on getting people inside and give them a meal, nothing fancy. Another facet of their organization is to help addicts get on their feet. As with many similar groups, donations mean a lot to them. It gives the homeless clothing and also stocks their shop (like a thrift store).

There were plenty of volunteers that morning, and every single one was needed for what was in store. After a short orientation, we found out that there would be no golf course activities that day... one group would create hygiene kits (aka mini toiletries kits), the other would be sorting donations in the warehouse. Jonathan and I headed off with the sorting group. And that's when things got interesting.

It's a large warehouse. There were literally HUNDREDS of large garbage bags full of donations in one area. Well, if they don't have heaps of volunteers often, maybe they wait a while to sort their things.... NOPE, not the case. ALL of the bags in this one area came from a single home in Trenton. Over $1,000,000 of merchandise was brought out of the house. How is this possible, you wonder? Well, the home it was all removed from was one going to be featured on an upcoming episode of A&E's Hoarders, the reality show about real-life packrats.

There were fifteen of us sorting the bags, and we didn't even finish in the two-and-a-half hour shift we spent in that room. Bag after bag, so many things... we found receipts ranging from 1992 to just a month ago. We found photos. We found homework (some old enough to have been done on a typewriter). We found dozens of purses, tags still attached. Hundreds of shirts, both new and used. Many of the trash bags were full of bags from the malls... still full from initial purchases. There were scores of photo frames and wedding gifts, stuffed animals and books. I don't even know how to estimate how many pounds of clothing we saw... but we filled up cart after cart that probably held about 96 cubic feet each. Tons of shoes and glassware and even gourmet food gifts. And it's not like there was no rhyme or reason to the collections... many items featured pineapples or golf balls, and most of the clothing was the same size with the same sort of patterns (lots of flowers and leaves, no stripes, many colors, mostly cotton).

It was an eye-opening experience. Really made me want to become much more of a minimalist, LoL. But seriously, we both thought the people who were regulars were very nice, and that the Mission is doing great work (and have been since they opened in 1915). We are considering volunteering there on a regular basis (and goodness knows they need some more help figuring out how they'll sell the bulk of the items from the Hoarders donation!), so we'll see what happens.

We ended up not staying for lunch (ended up being at the end of the day), and when we reconvened with the whole group, I was shocked at how large it had gotten -- the afternoon volunteers had shown up as well, making it truly fantastic gathering of people giving up their holiday to help those less fortunate.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Board Gaming Meet-Up

While Jonathan was in Las Vegas for the CES event with his dad, I decided to join a club. I had been on for nearly a year... having joined when we first moved to California. But since I didn't have a car out there, I never really went to any of the groups that I found. When we moved to Pennsylvania, I changed the groups I belonged to. The nearest board game meetup is the Princeton Area Boardgamers, and they had a gathering last Thursday.

Google Maps said it would take 22-23 minutes to get there (no tolls either way, yay!), so I left with some extra time. And it's a good thing I did, since the GPS wanted me to get off at an exit that was a field. It didn't look like there had EVER been an exit there, so that was weird. I was just going to get off at the next exit, but GPS's re-routing suggested otherwise. I followed his idea, but he thought there would be a turn-around opportunity where there was not. Long story short, a few miles down the road I was able to get off and then get back on headed south. It was easy to figure out the exit going that direction, but it was clear that the whole shopping plaza (the meet up was at a Panera) was new, since the roads weren't in the GPS and even the Target wasn't a listing in the points of interest.

I walked in and easily found the group. It was a little strange in that nothing had started (it was about 6:10), and that when I walked up and introduced myself, the four people I was talking to immediately identified themselves as first-timers, also. Five minutes later the area was packed, with about twenty people all around, discussing the different games that people brought. I was really intrigued with how many European-style games there were, and can't wait to try one next time (or maybe the time after. I was to establish myself as a good player at regular games first, LoL). I met the "organizer" and his wife... he has a hobby/game store in Hamilton, NJ. Before long, people began to break off into groups for different board games.

Three of us were going to try "Words From Words," an anagram-type game, but the Taboo group asked us to join them, since they were only 5. It ended up working out pretty well, and the team I was on kinda dominated. But in all fairness, the four of us had all played before, and there were a couple people who were kinda unfamiliar with the game on the other team. There were some great cards played (like "Kenneth Starr" and "Watergate" and "modem"). After that, one person suggested Cranium, as she had just received it for Christmas. Of course I couldn't say no to that! I was also able to find out that there's a definite interest in both my black box edition and my pop culture edition of the game, and I'm really excited to find new people to do the Pop 5 with! Our team (different people from the first game) really got lucky rolling, and we were "in the brain" when the other team had gone 1 space. But the datahead (red) cards tripped us up multiple times, and they were able to completely go around the board and were also in the brain when we won the game.

The groups changed a bit again and Words From Words was brought out again, but I had to go so I could catch the National Championship game at home. Overall it was a great experience, and I can't wait for the next one... and to bring a couple of my own favorite games!!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

One More on Running

So... running. I'm over it. I gave it a year, it never impressed me. The first time I tried to run a mile (back in January 2008), it was close to fifteen minutes. Breaking 13:30 was a big deal for me. June 1st was the first time I ever broke a ten-minute mile (with 9:55), and that was huge. On October 8th, I made the jump from two miles (which had become my standard, and I'd do them in 19:30-20 minutes) to the full 3.1, and it took 39:26. Adding a third mile is ridiculously detrimental to my pace. I never broke 38 minutes, no matter what combination of running/walking I tried, or how slow I started out.

I hate running. I truly do. It's horribly boring. It's mindless. It's depressing. I don't really see a purpose unless there's an emergency. I mentioned that I've tried various locations and distractions (television, music, etc.), but nothing really made it better.

I am now taking suggestions on a new activity to take up. Don't suggest rowing/crew. I gave that a go in college, also boring. I've also tried spinning. I have no interest in kickboxing or anything martial artsy. Otherwise, I'm taking suggestions!

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Year's Eve in New York City

Who knows if we'll ever live this close to Manhattan again! So, we decided that this would be the year we did the crazy Times Square for New Year's thing. We weren't able to convince anyone else to come (Andy was visiting the area from Cali, but decided to go to Hoboken instead), so we prepared as much as we knew how and went at it!

We thoroughly perused the official website for tips. We looked up the weather. We asked the advice of friends. In the end, we layered it up, packed our pockets, and were off. We stopped for subs on our way to Trenton. We chose the more-expensive garage to park in because it had already been snowing a little and we didn't want to deal with brushing off the car and scraping ice at 3am. It was still only $13.50 to park for 13 hours, so not too bad. We ate half of our subs at Penn Station once we arrived, and were soon on our way to Times Square.

We began walking a little after 4pm, and had a devil of a time trying to figure out how to get into the Square area. Police were of no help. The intersections the websites recommended were not correct. We stumbled upon a line two blocks long, full of people waiting to get searched so they could enter. I went on ahead, discovering that the line wasn't moving because it was a free-for-all at the actual entrance. I phoned Jonathan and he joined me as we shoved our way into the mob. We were searched three times each. Again, the police were not communicating with one another, as we were told to go to 47th, then 49th, then 57th, for no reason. We made it to our "pen" around 5pm... evidenced by the police repeating, "there's no rush. you're just going to be standing for seven hours."

At 6pm they lit and raised the famous ball. It was also at this point that we began a 20-second countdown every hour, which became rather funny. I was afraid that I would get bored out of my mind, but it never got that bad. I didn't even have to coerce Jonathan into playing 20 Questions with me, haha! We could see the screens where bands were performing. They had speakers that were loud enough to hear most of the time. There were announcements and presentations every hour.
image of their blow-up of the ballthe closest I could zoom in on the ball

Official New Year's people distributed freebies starting around 8pm. We each got hats, three-foot-long balloons with streamers on the ends, chapsticks in tiny coozies, lanyards, and coupons from Nivea. I think I was among the few who managed to safely bring a balloon home.
balloons and hats

People moved about somewhat... there was a group from Germany behind us for hours, but they disappeared at some point after 9pm. There were three funny guys in front of us for the first hour or so... they wanted to try and organize a giant game, haha. The girls to our left from 8-10 or so were from Merritt Island. I talked to a guy our age from Atlanta for a while at one point... he had just moved to NYC a month ago, and was there alone that night. He had done film work, but was in the midst of deciding if he should return to school for computer programming. We didn't see much of him after it started raining the second time, though.It rained on and off for a few hours. Never very hard, but since it was below freezing, we were hoping for snow, instead. I tried tweeting pictures every hour, but there were some bad delays, and some never got posted at all. We only got one good photo of us the entire time. I also got a photos and videos of the "hourly countdowns," haha.
3 hours to go!pyrotechnics on the hour

The last two hours were the shortest, with the final hour almost flying by. This was unexpected, since the 9 o'clock hour crawled... we ate the rest of our subs, had some crackers and gummy bears, and took photos... all in the span of just 30 minutes, LoL. The last two hours had almost a constant video countdown on one of the screens we could see, which helped a lot, surprisingly. I got more and more excited as the time ticked down, and the pictures were snapped more frequently.

With the final minute, the ball began to drop... and it's SO MUCH MORE VISIBLE in real life than it is on television! It was crazy neat. I tried to get a decent video, but with so much movement in the throngs, it was a bit difficult.

The confetti was really the most remarkable part, it just kept coming down! We were able to grab one piece for posterity, but it was difficult to get since the wind and rain were ridiculous! The fireworks and pyrotechnics ended up being a lot of smoke, which kinda sucked. At about 12:10, we began making our way back to Madison Square Garden, which took a while since the roads were still blocked in a bunch of places. We were able to get on the second train out, which I was impressed with... I figured they'd all be full for a while.

All in all, we both thought it was a great time. It may be one of those things that you only do once in a lifetime, but it's absolutely worth it. Freezing cold, rain, and standing for hours and hours is nothing when 11:59pm strikes and the excitement of the new year begins!