Curious Spectacle

We're Tourists In Our Own Town: New York City.

I'm a tourist in my own town: New York City.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Died and Gone to Shopper's Heaven

Nestled at the base of the Catskills just 45 miles from NYC is a slice of shopper's paradise known as Woodbury Commons. Normally when we talk about budget fashion and good deals we're referring to clearance sales at the Gap, but when you want something more upscale and you don't have the dough to shop at Barney's, we recommend Woodbury Commons outlet mall (which, by the way, has a Barney's Warehouse). This outdoor shopping center has over 200 stores, including Coach, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Valentino, Versace, and Kate Spade, as well as home stores like Williams-Sonoma and electronics stores such as Sony. We saw Brooks Brothers suits that normally retail at over $500 for less than $300, Burberry ties that retail at $115 marked down to $30, and Ferragamo shoes at 50% off retail.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Teeny, Tiny, Tempting

We stumbled across a tiny coffeeshop in Park Slope on 11th Street at 5th Avenue. The closet-sized Cafe Regular serves up some of the best cappuccino in the Slope. Unfortunately, it didn't have much food when we dropped by (we saw only a couple of dried-up croissants and a brownie). The space is charming with a tin ceiling and dark wood bar and bench, but cramped (made more so by people with laptops). Still, it's a fantastic coffeeshop if you're craving a full-bodied, aromatic cappuccino or espresso.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Far Rockaway, Queens

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Last Call of Summer

If you're like us, you're entering the last week of August thinking, "Oh, crap, there was so much I meant to do this summer!" Don't fret--there's still plenty of stuff going on. Check out these events:


If you're craving Vietnamese food in a clean, modern atmosphere, look no further than Nam in Tribeca. This Reade Street restaurant is elegant and simple, and the lunch entrees are tasty and reasonably priced (most of the items on the lunch menu are $10). Our party sampled stir-fried beef sirloin, grilled pork chops over fried rice, and grilled jumbo shrimp soup, all washed down with Vietnamese beer and champagne cocktails. For dessert we shared the banh chuoi nuong which is warm banana bread with vanilla ice cream. Nam is a great place to get away from the hustle of Wall Street and relax over a savory, pungent meal.

*meaning "delicious" or "good to eat"

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Just Say "No, Y'all" to Sadie Mae's

We tried to give Sadie Mae's in Brooklyn the benefit of the doubt. It's a new restaurant, it's a woman's dream, but it's a diner's nightmare. First of all, the building itself is not ready. It's obvious the space used to be some sort of Asian restaurant and Sadie Mae's never quite made the transition into the soul food joint it's supposed to be. The outdoor patio isn't finished, but the waitress sat us there, anyway, and had to set up a table and chairs because there weren't any. She turned on the patio lights and only one sorry string of lights worked. They don't have a liquor license yet "because of the church across the street," so it was BYOB from the bodega next door. We figured we could forgive the physical atmosphere of a new restaurant as long as the food was good. It wasn't. The fried chicken tasted like it had been sprinkled with flour and then thrown into the oil--no flavoring or spices whatsoever. The ribs were tough, chewy, and the meat had to be ripped from the bone. The sauce on the ribs was plainly added after the ribs had been cooked. The collard greens were cooked with turkey instead of ham, the "candied" yams were not candied and had obviously been poured straight out of a can, the corn was a bit dry, and the restaurant was out of grits. The sweet tea was okay, but we were told we had to pay for each glass--no free refills. We're not the only ones who think Sadie Mae's should be avoided.

Gilda's Club

Gilda's Club was named in honor of comedian Gilda Radner who praised support centers for people living with cancer. Gilda's Club is a non-profit organization offering free support meetings, lectures, and classes (including yoga and creative writing) for people with cancer, as well as their family and friends, including Noogieland for children. There are local Gilda's Club clubhouses in Hackensack, White Plains, Manhattan (on Houston Street), and Brooklyn (in Park Slope).

Monday, August 21, 2006

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea

Nothing beats fresh seafood, and by fresh we mean sit-on-the-pier-and-eat-it-off-the-boat fresh. You can find that at Bracco's Clam and Oyster Bar in Freeport, Long Island. Bracco's is a family business located on the "Nautical Mile" which is a long pier on a Freeport inlet that has a dozen seafood restaurants, some bars and shops, and a couple of ice cream parlors. We had salty, cold oysters for an appetizer and then shared the huge shell fish sampler which included tangy beer battered shrimp, two pounds of meaty mussels, large top neck clams, french fries, corn on the cob, and some of the best king crab we've ever had. We wanted to stop at Bracco's adjacent fish market next door and take some of that delicious king crab home, but sadly we didn't have a cooler with us. Talk about fresh--we watched boats dock and bring in seafood, and we watched local folks dock their boats just to pick up some Bracco's seafood to take home. Every seat is outdoors on a pier with a view of the water, and it's a very laid-back atmosphere. The stereo was blasting Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley while we were there, and a live band was setting up when we left. We ambled down the Nautical Mile to try Ralph's Italian Ice. We think Ralph and Uncle Louie G are cousins because their stores and flavor selections are similar, but the texture and taste of their products are a tad different. Ralph's had some great mai tai Italian ice, but we're loyal to Louie G when it comes to coconut Italian ice.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Spotted in a Brooklyn schoolyard.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Decline and Fall of NYC Architecture

We were walking on W. 4th Street today when we saw a church undergoing renovations. We joked that the church was being turned into condos. It is. More specifically, this circa 1860 Methodist church is losing its religion and turning into "extraordinary condiminium residences" courtesy of its new god, the Corcoran Group. The former "Peace Church" that once housed Vietnam War protests, Black Panther meetings, and meetings of the Gay Men's Health Crisis will now be home to anyone who can fork over $2 to $6 million dollars for an apartment.

The Great Burger Debate

Ask New Yorkers where to find the best burger and you'll likely hear Corner Bistro pop up over and over again. We had to see for ourselves. The Corner Bistro is a dark, dingy bar in the West Village where the atmosphere practically begs you to kick back, relax, and have a burger and beer--which, by the way, are pretty much the only items on the menu. We're okay with that. Our shoestring fries arrived cold with a slightly beefy taste to them, but our burgers were piping hot. And they were just okay. They were big hunks of slightly dry meat that threatened to fall apart and required two hands to squash down the burger to shove it in our mouths, which is fine, but we wished they'd been a tad juicy and a tad more flavorful. At times we felt like we were tasting more of the gunk on the grill than the burger itself. If you're into dive bars and dive burgers, this is your place, but we're going to keep searching for NYC's best burger.

Chicken & Cake & Tea, Oh My

Our next trip will have to be to the fat farm because we ate our way through the Upper West Side. We started at Rack & Soul on Broadway & 109th. Charles Gabriel (who also owns Charles' Southern Style Kitchen in Harlem) makes a damn good fried chicken--crispy, golden, and juicy. The stewed okra was a hearty mixture of okra, corn, and tomatoes, and the candied yams were just sweet enough (sadly, no marshmallows). The sweet tea was authentic and so sweet that we got a little sick to our stomachs. As if that wasn't enough, even the biscuits were drenched with honey, but we scarfed them down. The one big disappointment was the pulled pork barbecue. It looked like the pork had been baked (rather than grilled) and neatly chopped (rather than pulled and shredded), and then sprinkled with barbecue sauce after it was put on a plate. We tried to burn off some calories by going for a walk, stopping in at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. The cathedral is undergoing renovations so the nave is closed, but the altar is still open to the public. Next, we went to Morningside Park where we saw a wild turkey sitting in a tree. Hedda Gobbler, perhaps? We were still too stuffed to even contemplate eating, but we had to stop at Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too and get a slice of red velvet cake to go. (We devoured it later. The cream cheese frosting was a little too sweet for our tastes, but the bright red cake was delicious.) We cut across Central Park to visit the Museum of the City of New York on 5th Avenue and 103rd Street. We got the typical eye-rolling when we paid what we wanted to get in (hey, it's only a "suggested" admission!), but we gotta give props to the museum for having wonderful exhibits. MCNY really goes all out and makes you feel like you are in the subject. You enter a high-ceilinged, elaborately decorated "hotel" for the exhibit on decorator Dorothy Draper, you walk through a theatre for the exhibit on Broadway theatres, and you meander on a pier for the exhibit on trade in New York's ports.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How Do You Say "Stuffed" in Italian?

We ate our way through Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. We noticed that Carroll Gardens probably has as many, if not more, Italian restaurants than Little Italy, but we sampled a few non-Italian delights as well. We started our gluttonous walk at Sweet Melissa where $20 gets you afternoon tea in an intimate setting, including a pot of tea and a tiered tray of finger sandwiches, cookies, and other small delights. We stopped off further down Court Street at the Court Pastry Shop, which we hear has some of the best Italian ice around, but we just nibbled on a sugary cookie. We ended our Court Street feast at sunny, warm Frankie's 457 where we had a great cup of coffee and a rich vanilla bean creme brulee served by a friendly bartender. We noticed PJ Hanley's bar on the corner has a ping pong table on the sidewalk next to their garden. Beer pong, anyone?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stout Is Out

We had drinks at Stout this weekend. Stout is housed in a huge warehouse-type building near Penn Station and the Garden. The walls are covered in stone, giving it a medievel beer hall feel to it. Props to Stout for having an extensive list of domestic and imported beers. The drawback was the crowds of drunken, singing 22-year-olds from Jersey. No offense, but unless you happen to fall in that category, you may be uncomfortable (like the one table of 50-year-old tourists we saw).

Friday, August 11, 2006

Beet It

We tried a lunch special at Beet and we were not impressed. This place is standard Thai fare dressed up in a bright red, modern atmosphere. The lunch specials come with soup and salad and are priced below $10, but the salad was your standard iceberg-lettuce-with-ginger-dressing salad, and the entree itself lacked flavor and was mushy. Sure, it's cheap and it has a hip atmosphere, but there are plenty of other Thai restaurants around that have better food.

And one more thing...

...check the weather forecast before you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. There's nowhere to hide when a summer storm attacks. We got drenched!

The Left Banc?

We had lunch at Banc Cafe on Third Avenue in the Kips Bay area. What immediately struck us were the rounded banquettes and some almost-hidden corner tables, perfect for playing footsie under the table during a sexy date. This completely contrasted with the giant, round bar and the multiple TVs stucks to the walls, as if they're saying, "We want to get the sexy women in here...but we want the frat boys, too." In any event, the food was good. The turkey club had just a hint of smoky apple and dill, the fish and chips are some of the best in NYC (according to our dining companion), and it was all reasonably priced. Apparently Banc Cafe has a happening night life, with DJs Thursdays through Saturdays, and live music on Sundays. Happy hour features $3 draft beers and $6 martinis.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Our new favorite cafe is La Lanterna Caffe on Macdougal Street in the Village. We're kicking ourselves for spending so much time in the Village and never stopping at this little gem. It's a cozy, romantic little Italian cafe with marble-topped tables for two, a fireplace, candlelight, and a lovely trellised garden in the back. We actually went with a group and were able to sit relatively comfortably with a couple of tables pushed together, but we recommend this place more for a romantic rendezvous. La Lanterna serves mostly panini, pizza, and a few other Italian dishes, but they have an incredible drink and wine menu, plus some good cappuccino and tiramisu that, although a tad too soggy, is delicious. All this, and you could get out the door without spending more than $10. Our friends liked it so much that we've already planned our next trip to La Lanterna.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Is It Sprinkled With Gold Dust or Something?

We finally gave in to everyone proclaiming Stone Park Cafe as a mecca in Brooklyn and had dinner there tonight. Eh, it was okay. To be fair, the entrees were pretty good, but we were disturbed by the portions-to-price ratio. We had striped bass and a strip steak, both of which were adequately proportioned for our appetites but which arrived on tiny beds of potatos and, altogether, did not merit their respective price tags of $24 or $28. Maybe we spent too much time in Europe, maybe we think too much about our high rent, but it was hard to stomach paying $24 for 6 ounces of fish and a thumbful of potatos. We took our chances and ordered the $9 apple and blueberry crisp, which fell below our expectations. It wasn't crispy--there wasn't enough granola, and the fruit was overcooked and not very flavorful. The decor went past "pleasant, modest" to just boring, but the service was attentive and friendly. This is a restaurant that, in some ways, trys to act too hard like it's in Manhattan. Embrace your inner Brooklyn, Stone Park.

Curious Spectacles Abroad

After our issues were resolved, we took off for a long overdue vacation in Prague. Because this is a blog about NYC, we thought we'd do a comparison:
  • NYC has rude citizens. Prague has rude clerks and waitresses.
  • NYC has the Empire State Building. Prague has St. Vitus Cathedral.
  • NYC has the Brooklyn Bridge. Prague has the Charles Bridge.
  • NYC has Times Square. Prague has Old Town Square.
  • NYC has a Starbucks on every corner. Prague has a pub on every corner.
  • NYC has McDonald's. Prague has...McDonald's.
  • NYC had Giuliani. Prague had Communists.

We wanted to stay on vacation forever, but although we had to come home, we're pretty happy that home is New York.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The issues persist... a Columbia House subscription. We'll be back and posting regularly soon.