Thanksgiving in New York City (with a teen and a tween)

12.4.13

I have included a list of links at the end of the post.

Traveling with a 15 year old girl and a 12 year old boy and two (very young) parents requires flexibility and the knowledge that not everyone will have their needs met at the same moment in time. Every day every member of the family will have their wants and needs met for a large portion of the day, but unlike solo or couples travel there will undoubtedly be compromise involved.

Our first compromise was the hotel. Mr. G likes full service hotels. He likes a lobby lounge and a spa (even if it’s never used), a workout room and a restaurant. I have the same wish list when we visit resort locations but in New York City I just want a decent sized room, an immaculate bathroom and a small bill upon checkout. I don’t want to spend time in the room and I don’t want to pay a premium for a room that I have no interest in lounging in. I picked the perfect hotel for me, The Affinia 50 (50th between 3rd & Lex). Mr. G thought it was “a bit dumpy” but I would have to disagree with him. The kids had a great room with plenty of space to run around and a view of 3rd Avenue (hey, it’s a view of something) and we had enough space to move around and a view of a brick wall (bonus: you can walk around naked with the shades up).

Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy the Affinia 50 so much is that ten years ago when we were there in a four day blackout the staff and management helped us carry the children up and down 22 flights of stairs. Twenty two flights of stairs. In the dark. In 100+ degrees.

best luggage tag

So yeah, brand loyalty and all of that.

We spent about $3,500 on the two rooms, much like at the Viceroy. Unlike the Viceroy the rooms were immaculate, the staff was friendly and Rome (the doorman) would greet us with, “Welcome home Family.” and the biggest smile you ever saw every time we walked in the door. If Rome ever decides to work at another hotel you should probably think about staying there too. He’s that lovely.

I love that there’s no minibar and I can put my milk & fruit in the small refrigerator without having to ask permission. I don’t mind that there’s no lobby bar & the business center on the 2nd floor offers free coffee and wifi, that’s enough for me. I travel with my own wifi anyhow.

Our first night there we ate at Gyu Kaku (50th and 3rd). It was raining and they’re a chain and we’d come in rather late. It’s not really great but not terrible either. It’s also moderately priced.

The first morning was cold and rainy. I walked to Ess a Bagel (3rd between 50th & 51st) and we all indulged. At this point in my life I find carb eating women to be quite rebellious. I don’t know many rebellious women. New York bagels are big and doughy and they put half a stick of cream cheese on them. They’re equal parts delicious and disgusting and I suspect that if I lived in New York City I’d never eat another bagel but I’m a tourist so I eat my bagel and gain my first pound.

We stopped by Bloomingdales because Jane didn’t pack a coat. I will not tell you how angry I was. I’m trying to not cuss here.

No one else eats their bagels and we end up having lunch at Jackson Hole (64th between 2nd and 3rd). This is a childhood favorite of Mr. G’s and we struggle to eat not a burger knowing that we’re going to have steak later that evening. Note: the only thing worth eating at Jackson Hole is the burger.

Then we shopped. Jane and I shopped like we were headed for the chair. It was like a slingshot sent us to Madison Avenue and we found ourselves at Chanel, Prada, Hermes (where are we at on the H belt? Tacky or fabulous?), Gucci (hadn’t been to Gucci since the 80’s… surprised that it’s reasonably priced), Pucci and then I succumbed to Jane’s demands to do a Gossip Girl tour of the city. This included visiting the steps of the Met but NOT actually going in. Apparently they eat lunch there. No art for us, Gossip Girls do not “do” museums.

We headed back to the stores and Jane went into Alice & Olivia. It’s a fabulous boutique for her and most of her dresses seem to come from there. I went next door to Helmut Lang and and then came to see what Jane might have found. She was trying on dresses and came close to finding one that she loved but it just didn’t lay flat in the back. That’s when the sales lady turned her attention toward me and asked if we had “classic leather pants” and tried to tell me that leather leggings were classic. Although she had at least 19 years of wisdom gathered up I explained to her that $800 leather leggings are not classic and that mothers and daughters who shop at the same boutique never end up looking good. She argued with me and told me that they have grandmothers who buy outfits at Alice & Olivia. You can’t save the world, we left empty handed. Poor Jane still doesn’t own a pair of “classic leather jeggings”.

We bought macaroons at Ladurée (Madison between 70th & 71st) and enjoyed the experience and the packaging nearly as much as the flavors. Do not miss vanilla or salted caramel. Jane had first experienced Ladurée in London this spring and hasn’t stopped talking about it since. It’s worth a visit as the macaroons are both delicately sweet and decadently flavorful.

Jane and I walked and nibbled and stopped for coffee and found ourselves back at the hotel in time to get ready for dinner at Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. By “getting ready” I meant it was time to loosen our belts. Peter Luger is another of Mr. G’s favorites and the Brooklyn location holds many fond childhood memories for him and now for our kids too. We can’t visit New York without dinner at Lugers. It would be incomplete. We ordered steak for four, tomatoes & onions, potatoes and spinach and we felt like a family. It was one of those dinners where you look around the table and swim in gratitude that your children love each other and that they’re kinder, better and smarter than you and your spouse. It was good. Steak in butter has that effect on me I suppose.

We left Brooklyn fat and happy. This is a good time to mention that Uber is just as fantastic in New York as it is in LA. Possibly even better. We took town cars everywhere, sometimes they were SUVs, they were all clean, they were all safe, they were all not-taxis and didn’t cost much more than a taxi. I was happy. If you want to try Uber here’s a coupon to save you $10.

Thursday was Thanksgiving so the city was pretty quiet. We wandered over to Bowlmor in Chelsea because their website fairly screamed that Bowlmor at Chelsea Piers is open. It wasn’t open. We then headed to Times Square because Alexander wanted to bowl and on our way to Lucky Strike we wandered into another Bowlmor and the three of them played three games (nine total) for $130. We can just file that under “things that aren’t worth the money”. It’s my mistake for not asking about prices but none were posted and it hadn’t dawned on me that bowling would ever cost quite that much. Lesson learned.

bowlmor open thanksgiving

After the Bowlmor shakedown we wandered through Times Square and popped into Bobby Van’s for a very late lunch. Jane had a pan seared scallop salad that’s one of the best I’ve ever had. I never order scallops (or rack of lamb) in restaurants because my own are better than most and they aren’t really that difficult to prepare but I’m willing to concede that Bobby Van’s scallops are better than mine.

I made Jane go into St. Patrick’s Cathedral because churches can be so beautiful. It’s under construction and the presence of money boxes everywhere just made me think of all the money the LA Archdiocese took from the community and all the children they abused. When Jane started lighting candles at every altar I wanted to tell her to stop, that it was disrespectful but then I realized that some part of me wanted to disrespect this institution for the damage they’ve done and the damage they continue to do.

We kicked around a little more and rested up because it was Thanksgiving. There was more eating to do.

I’m pretty sure you won’t be shocked to hear that I gained a little weight on this trip.

We had Thanksgiving Dinner in Central Park. If you ever find yourself in New York City looking for a restaurant to enjoy Thanksgiving I’d recommend the Loeb Boathouse. It was reasonably priced and since Alexander and I are the only two who enjoy a typical Thanksgiving dinner it was important to find a menu that would offer Jane & Mr. G a protein besides turkey. Mr. G had prime rib and Jane went off the kids’ menu and had some pasta, which was not at all child sized and was absolutely delicious. The dinner was beautiful without being stuffy and elegant without being fussy. The service was spectacular and the view was unbeatable. The cheesecake and pumpkin pie were good but skip the chocolate cake.

We spent the day Friday visiting with family and I thought I had reservations for Serendipity 3. Unfortunately it was for the DC location and apparently it’s a mistake made so often that they honor the reservations. The waiting area was pretty full and Jane needed to use the restroom so while she went to the back of the store I checked in with the hostess and then out of nowhere this guy appeared.

There were about a dozen people waiting for tables and out of the blue he started yelling at the top of his lungs, “I need to clear this place out. I can’t work like this. I need everyone waiting to go outside. The wait time is two to two and a half hours. If you don’t get out of here I’m going to shut everything down.” It was 35 degrees outside and almost everyone went outside. I didn’t. I was talking to the girls at the hostess desk. I asked them if he was always like that and they were apologetic and said he yells a lot. They said they could seat me quickly and tried to make things right.

My daughter came out to look for us and saw an empty front of the store and when I told her we couldn’t eat there because the manager was a crazy man who was kicking people out she was somewhere between pissed and sad. Yep. I know the feeling. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to shake the feeling and strongly suspect that Serendipity is a place I’ll never return to.

It’s a good thing Dylan’s Candy Bar is at the corner. They’re actually nice to you.

We had dinner in Times Square at Ruby Foos. Great service, terrible food.

Then we saw Matilda. It was a wonderful performance and the kids were flawless but Mr. G and I were both uncomfortable having a cast of children working to entertain us at 11 o’clock on a Friday night. We’re both oddly sensitive to kids working. If you’re like us you won’t fully enjoy the show but make no mistake it’s quite enjoyable.

Saturday was spent running through Central Park after lunch downtown at Katz’s Deli. Like so many days lately there was a milestone. Alexander was running and jumping and calling for his sister to join him like she does every time and she toddled along next to me unable or unwilling to run and jump and play in her new wedge heels. Some milestones hurt.

Uber: only a sucker would grab a taxi at JFK or LAX. Just use uber and enjoy yourself

Affinia 50: The hotel I really enjoy and Mr. G tolerates

Gyu-Kaku: eh, it’ll get ‘er done

Ess-A-Bagel: OMG they ship!

Jackson Hole: our favorite location is on 64th but Mr. G assures me they’re all good.

The Met: some people actually see the collections. You should be one of them.

Alice & Olivia: here are the classic leather pants. Perfect for your 15 year old daughter or a 43 year old driving carpool…

Ladurée: with a nod to their French roots the website is difficult, fortunately the stores are lovely.

Peter Luger: FYI it’s cash only and it’s worth every penny

Bobby Vans: We went to Times Square and they also have a store in the AA terminal at Kennedy that’s pretty okay for airport food.

St. Patricks Cathedral:  beautiful gothic architecture, historically important building

Serendipity: fuck that, not linking there.

Dylan’s Candy Bar: the uptown alternative to Economy Candy (which we also visited for my obscure licorice needs and love of wasabi flavored nuts)

Matilda: You’ll probably love it. Mr. G and I have issues. We know it.

 

 

 

Our Family Vacation to New York City

01.4.11

We just came back from a week in New York City. We had a fabulous time, and I wanted to share some hotel, dining, shopping and activity tips with you.

First and foremost, you are going to New York City, do not eat at, or stay in any chains. You can take a Marriot Vacation in any strip mall in America. Embrace the city, and stay in a boutique hotel, and eat like a local.

The Hotel

We stayed at the Roger Smith. This is my second visit, and I’ve been delighted both times. The rates are reasonable, and they’re on twitter at @rshotel. They have good rates posted online, but I found that if you call and say that you’d like the twitter discount, another 10% will fall off your bill.

My family needs space, and the Roger Smith was good for this. We like to have a one bedroom suite, and we like the living room to be over sized. Our room was large enough that when a queen sofa bed was pulled out, and a twin rollaway bed was present, there was still room to walk around, sit in one of the four club chairs, or at the tiny dining room table. There is also a kitchenette. Essentially a closet with a refrigerator, sink and microwave (sorry New York, I like my kitchens bigger), this is as much as you’ll get out of any hotel in the city, and it’s all you need. When we showed up a blizzard was on it’s way, so I grabbed a few bags of milk, juice, fruit, and cereal. With a week of eating in restaurants there were plenty of leftovers to fill the mini fridge.

Oh also, free wifi and free movie rentals. One of the reasons I returned to the Roger Smith is that you don’t feel taken advantage of once you’re there. The price is the price is the price is the price. This is good, and I wish it was the norm.

Lily’s is the hotel restaurant. They make a spectacular breakfast, and the bar snacks are good too, but beware that they close at 10. Sharp. If you want late night snacks you’ll be on your own, it’s a good thing we had the mini fridge.

The Food (in order of consumption)

If you’re staying at the Roger Smith the first thing you’ll want to do is head to the Morton Williams Supermarket down on 2nd Avenue, between 48th and 49th streets. You can get your organic milk, organic produce, cheese, crackers, yogurt, whatever you need to stock the mini fridge is there waiting for you. I was there every two days to replenish, I have a son that eats his weight in fruit and veggies every day.

Lily’s: The breakfasts are quite good and reasonably priced. I loved that they served perfectly poached eggs. The bar food is good too, the cheese plate is generous and attractive. 501 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017-2008 (212) 838-0844

Ess-a Bagel: These are bagels as bagels were meant to be. No more hockey pucks from the freezer section. Something special is in the New York water, because the line is long, and the spreads are fattening, but I dutifully waited in line each morning for bagels. If you ask for a bagel with butter or with cream cheese you have to specify that you’d like it toasted, otherwise they just slice the fucker in half and give it to you. Not good. Also, if you want bagels by the dozen you can skip the lines and head to the back of the store. You don’t want bagels by the dozen, because you don’t have a toaster. Plus, you don’t want day old bagels. Wait in the line, trust me. 831 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10022, Phone: 212-980-1010

PJ Clark’s: If you wonder where Don Draper took his three martini lunches, I’m thinking PJ Clark’s is the place. We had an okay lunch here, the food is very hearty, very oily (I sent my salad back as it was swimming in oil), but the ambiance is really what you’re looking for. Wood paneled walls and a homey bar draw you in on a cold day. The kids had burgers, they were good, but we’re spoiled with the Laurel Tavern (best burgers in Los Angeles), so pleasing us it a tough job. After sending my salad back, I got a cup of clam chowder, it was pretty good. 915 3rd Ave, New York, NY, 10022

Chin Chin: This is an upscale Chinese restaurant with impeccible service. I didn’t love the dumplings (very doughy), but my husband did. The Szechuan Chicken was the best I’ve ever had in my life, the ginger lobster was light and flavorful all at once. Do yourself a favor and have dinner there. The portions are huge. Two appetizers, and two main dishes fed four of us, plus we had left overs. It is not related to Chin Chin in Los Angeles, not even close.216 East 49th Street, New York, NY 10017, (212) 888-4555

Pasta Lover’s Cafe: I don’t even know how we got here, but it was good. Alexander and I were in the mood for mussels in white wine sauce, and they didn’t have it on the menu, but they made it for us anyhow. The clams casino were small but, according to Mr. G, delicious.142 W 49th St, New York, NY 10020, (212) 819-1155

Katz’ Delicatessen: I love the pastrami sandwiches. I’ve coming to Katz’ since I was in diapers. I was shocked to find out that some people don’t love it. There’s a wait, and a hustle to get to the counter, but don’t worry, because what appears to be chaos is actually quite organized. We played a little game called Spot the Goyim. When you go to Katz’ and see someone sipping Pepsi and eating french fries, congratulations you’ve found a goy.205 E Houston St, New York, 10002, (212) 254-2246

Peter Luger Steak House: If you plan your entire trip around a visit to Peter Luger’s you won’t be disappointed. It’s the best steak I’ve ever had in my entire life, bar none. It’s a cash only place, and it fills up a month to six weeks in advance. We ended up with a reservation for a 2.45 “lunch” on a Wednesday afternoon and the place was packed. We ordered steak for three (the kids eat more than I do these days and there were four of us), as well as a side of tomatoes, and of hash browns.  As I recall the tab was about $250, and I swear to all that is holy, I’d give up every lunch out to be able to afford Peter Luger’s more often. Do Not Miss This. 178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 387-7400

Wild Ginger: This is a local New York chain. I had the Thai Coconut Curry with tofu. It was good, but I was a little disappointed that the tofu was fried, and nothing is “spicy”. Jane had the grilled Sesame Salmon, it was delicious. 48 Great Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021-3305, (516) 487-8288

The Cafe At the Bergdorf’s Men’s Store: On the top floor of the Bergdorf’s Men’s store there’s a cafe. Lunch is standard fare, but done very nicely. The hamburgers are juicy, the chicken salad has just the right amount of curry, and the corn chowder is a sweet pick me up on a cold day. What’s most extraordinary is the view. Watching the chic shoppers is certainly fun, but the cafe looks out onto the Plaza Hotel right across the street and an iconic entrance to Central Park. I cannot recommend this enough for lunch. Oh, skip the hot cocoa for the kids, it’s powdered and served lumpy. It wasn’t a particularly expensive lunch. Yay! 754 5th Avenue, New York (212) 753-7300

Glass House Tavern: This the the perfect pre-theater dinner. The food is light and fresh. The cavatelli pasta was divine, as were the  Mussels. The wait staff was friendly and attentive, and one of the first questions they asked was, “Are you seeing a show tonight? At what time?” They’re clearly in the business of fresh and fast food. Pricey, but absolutely worth every penny. 252 West 47th Street, New York, NY 10036, (212) 730-4800