Since the beginning of the global pandemic, my partner and I have erred on the side of extremely cautious. We stopped going to the office several days before our offices closed, which was already on the early side compared to the rest of New York. We literally did not leave our apartment building for weeks until we finally stepped out to get tested for coronavirus and its antibodies. We didn’t go out again until a few weeks after phase 4 of reopening had begun in the city, and only to pick up food from local restaurants in lieu of asking someone to deliver it to our apartment.
But we have been burning out… pretty hard. I think we have been mentally checked out for over a month, to be honest. Every single day was a huge struggle, and for me, I was sinking into a familiarly bleak place: small pleasures were no longer pleasurable, I wanted to sleep all day but when I finally went to bed I couldn’t fall asleep and then I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, keeping up with conversations was tedious and difficult, I had no appetite for the comfort foods I had stocked up on.
It became obvious that time off was necessary. Many of my coworkers had come to the same conclusion around the same time, and I suspect many of you and yours did as well. We have been living this new reality for months now, and summer brings with it a hazy lethargy during a normal year, but this year it was just exhausting to not experience it as usual.
Actually “getting away” was essentially out of the question for us. We had only just started getting comfortable venturing out of our building on foot, so trying to rent a car or even board a train felt like a really big leap that we weren’t quite prepared to make. This especially factored because we were so mentally depleted that we honestly couldn’t spare the brainpower to think about the risk management with trying to leave the city for our precious week away from our responsibilities.
At the end of the day, we really only need to get away from the obligations that burden us to make it a successful vacation. Getting away physically is a privilege that most do not have and that we don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of at this time. So, in addition to sleeping on the air mattress in the living room to create that ~away from home~ feeling, here’s how we spent our little staycation in the city.
(Previously, on NYC 2017, we ate and ate and ate, attempting to balance it out by walking the entire High Line, and met up with some great friends for our last full day in the city.)
The next morning, we got up and got ready to check out. After stowing our luggage with the bell desk, it was off for a crucial component for our New York visits: BAGELS. It was past noon by the time we left the hotel, so we decided to brave Ess-a-Bagel, where we spent 2 hours waiting in line last year. Upon arriving, we were incredibly, pleasantly surprised to see a very, very short line! It didn’t even go out the door! I was pretty deliriously happy, as Essa was the closest bagel shop to us, even at a different hotel, so it was good to have a reliably good bagel option and not have to wait 2 hours for it. The bagel was so good that I instantly regretted not getting one for each of us, so I went back in the line to get a second one for us to split, it was luxurious and glorious to be able to wait in line for bagels two separate times in one go! I was so happy about it that I got a plain everything bagel for the second one instead of the whole wheat everything bagel I got for the first one. (You know, making tiny healthy choices and then deciding that I deserve to live a little and eat white flour?)
Belly full of bagel, my mandatory New York pizza-and-bagel carb tour complete, we set out to take a leisurely stroll through Central Park. It was a very nice but very warm day, so we strolled in the shade of the trees, stopping at little spots like Sheep Meadow and the Chess and Checkers House. It was very tempting to just sit and soak in the park, but we wanted to explore just a bit more so off we went.
At this point, I wanted something sweet, and walking around in the sun made us want a refreshing drink as well, so we took a detour to Bibble & Sip (review) for just that. I got a beautiful Earl Grey cream puff (I love cream puffs and eclairs!) and this beautiful butterfly pea flower lavender lemonade. Yum! Just as good as social media said it would be, I’ll definitely come back. (I’m a real sucker for choux pastry and cream…)
We were hoping to be able to stop by Ippudo Westside at this point, because Ippudo was our first and favorite ramen experience to date, but they don’t open for dinner until 5PM and at that point we’d already be on our way to the airport. So, after picking up a few small things we’d be needing for the next leg of our trip, we ambled over to the New York Public Library. I first visited the NYPL right after a long restoration/renovation project, when they converted much of the space to a museum and had many of their rare books and collections on display and completely fell in love with the main building and the institution, so I was very excited to show it to Ben. He was most excited to visit the Rose Main Reading Room because he had first seen it in Ghostbusters. I actually didn’t get a chance to visit when I first came to the library so it was a real treat. (It was our first taste of lavishly decorated ceilings for this vacation.)
And just like that, it was time to go to the airport, after a hurried detour through Grand Central Terminal.
We went back to our hotel, grabbed our bags and a cab, and learned how lucky I was to have always traveled out of Newark for international flights because dang, JFK is not as nice as advertised. I didn’t realize how lucky I was for having airports like Newark and Dulles that have restaurants in the terminals, because our dinner options were basically $10 slices of pizza and $12 bagel sandwiches from places that were also selling instant noodles and muffins.
But we couldn’t stay mad because we were on our way to Paris.
That’s the end of the New York recaps! We had a wonderful time in my home city. I’m sorry we didn’t make time to see more friends but we wanted to try to have a vacation with fewer appointments and reservations and pre-arranged times to meet so that we could be more flexible and spontaneous. So far, it worked out quite nicely!
(Previously, on NYC 2017, we enjoyed some Manhattan fan favorites, a cultural festival that shut down several city blocks, and a great Broadway musical.)
Labor Day rolled around and, after sleeping in a bit (necessary after our strange ritual of watching lat night movies during our stay…), we headed out for lunch at Momosan Ramen (review). I didn’t realize this until we sat down, but this is one of Chef Morimoto’s restaurants. (I don’t follow celebrity chefs at all, so I am often very oblivious about their restaurants and never recognize them in my friends’ excited photos.) They were offering a sake flight and the waitress looked intimidatingly too-cool-for-school so we decided to go for it because the restaurant is technically Momosan Ramen & Sake, despite the fact that I don’t really drink and I definitely don’t really drink sake. I only lament that they weren’t serving the Peking duck baos during lunch, as I could see a roast duck literally dangling in front of my face as I ate, but when I asked what deliciousness I could order to acquire it, I was told that duck was only on the dinner menu.
From there, we decided to walk the High Line from beginning to end, since it is one of our favorite spots in New York (and one of my favorite spots of all time) but we’ve always started walking from somewhere in the middle. We quickly realized that walking the High Line on a weekday evening is very different from walking on a weekend during daylight hours, as the park was crazy crowded. It was also still very warm out, so the many ice cream, paleta, and gelato vendors were doing really well up there. I swiped a yellow watermelon + mint paleta and it was oh-so-refreshing.
I held back from getting any ice cream or gelato because I actually wanted us to get ice cream in Chelsea when we finished walking the High Line. We first walked past Dominique Ansel Bakery, which I learned was selling their Japan-exclusive Crème de la Corn only during Labor Day weekend. Our timing was pretty perfect, because it was the last day they were serving this treat in New York and they were about to open the ice cream window. (By the time we walked away with our ice cream, the line was very long.)
Caramel and corn soft serve was a novel and interesting flavor experience that I liked! It was a different kind of summery taste that wasn’t too sweet, and the actual corn was very delicious. (It is grilled and then glazed with soy sauce and butter! So yum!) That was a fun and unexpected detour, since I honestly did not think I would be able to make it before it ran out. But on to the ice cream I planned for! I wanted to try some of the other ice cream flavors, but we had more ice cream plans ahead of us! From Dominique Ansel, we walked a few blocks to Van Leeuwen Ice Cream. There was a line wrapping around the corner shop but we didn’t mind waiting because it was kind of a perfect golden afternoon moment. That part of the city is quiet and residential, we were approaching golden hour with warm, golden rays of sunshine filtering through the brownstones and the trees, and we were about to eat ice cream after having just eaten ice cream. The ice cream itself wasn’t as sweet as the idyllic moment we enjoyed walking to the shop but it was still very yummy.
There was no way in heck we were going to not visit Joe’s Pizza (review) while we were in their neck of the woods. Joe’s is one of my favorite places to get a New York slice and is one of the few establishments I revisit nearly every time I come back to the city, if for no other reason than to see if the wall of celebrity faces has been updated while biting into that perfect crust + sauce.
Bellies full of pizza and ice cream (honestly, why do we front so much as though children’s birthday party menus are beneath us), we strolled over to Washington Square Park for our annual sit and chill there. It was cooling down, golden hour was in full swing, there was music and laughter and doggos. And this time, I didn’t even run into any rats, it was pretty blissful.
From there, it was time to meet up with my old friend Elvin, so we headed back uptown to meet at Socarrat for tapas and paella. I got to finally meet his girlfriend Emily (after years of us missing each other during my visits) and we had a lot of laughs together over food.
Half-jokingly, I asked “Where to for dessert?”, fully aware that I had just eaten ice cream at two different establishments. But dessert is no joking matter, and we found ourselves walking to Serendipity 3. Despite having heard about this famous restaurant for so long, this was my first ever visit! We were way too stuffed for the famous frozen hot chocolate, so we tried to get the least unhealthy dessert we could manage and wound up with a very fruity sundae. (They let the 4 of us split one dessert because the restaurant wasn’t too crowded, but ordinarily they have a minimum spend amount per person.) It was very yummy, despite the fact that I was eating mostly whipped cream most of the time because the lemon ice cream I was looking forward to was hidden on the other side of the bowl. I don’t know if I get the hype about the Tiffany lamps, which just made the entire restaurant look really kitschy, but I watched Serendipity for the first time fairly recently and it was pretty magical to be there with good friends and a super duper full belly.
We parted ways from Elvin and Emily and slowly ambled our way back to the hotel. It was a beautiful night, and we weren’t quite ready to leave New York, even though we had another adventure waiting on the other side.
Do you have go-to ramen / pizza / ice cream places in the city? We always stop by Joe’s, and our fondest ramen memory is of Ippudo because that was our first-ever ramen experience! I don’t know if I have a go-to for ice cream yet.
Do you like Serendipity 3? I knew it for a long time because of the Babysitters Club (it was Stacy’s favorite!) and then came to know of its rom-com fame (Kate Beckinsale is a beautiful goddess walking among mortals). I have been trying to plan out a NYC rom-com guide blog so let me know if you’d be interested in that!
(Previously, on NYC 2017, we were reunited with Ben’s college friends over dinner, board games, and a night out. After some rainy dollar pizza, we went to sleep ready for our first full day in the city for the weekend.)
(Apologies about the lack of photos in this post. I’m discovering that I seem to have lost some data from this day specifically? Best case scenario is that I deleted the photos when I was clearing out the junk from when I accidentally had my camera on burst mode. At worst, the card got corrupted. ☹️)
The next morning, after sleeping in a little bit, we got up for lunch at Xi’an Famous Foods (review), my first time finally trying any location of this famous northwestern Chinese eatery. I majorly regretted ordering a noodle dish for Ben and myself, as we really should’ve split one along with the cumin lamb burger I ordered. Having leftovers while traveling in New York just doesn’t make a lot of sense, and yet we had way a lot of noodles in our hotel mini fridge until the morning of checkout. Oops, that was definitely my bad, I didn’t communicate what we were ordering very well. Err on the side of ordering less, you won’t go hungry!
[ all photos from Xi’an Famous Foods are MIA, hopefully the video isn’t corrupted and I can put together some vlogs for you guys in a few years 😛 ]
From there, we started walking towards Times Square. At this point in our lives, we avoid Times Square because it is not as fun as the flashing lights would have you believe. (It’s hard to believe how recently I made sure to visit Times Square with every visit. I still wind up there almost every year, but not nearly as enthusiastically.) But we wanted to see what tkts had to offer for shows that Sunday, so off we went. The Sunday before Labor Day was actually Brazil Day in Manhattan, so we caught glimpses of a live Brazilian concert and stall after stall of food. It was a freaking bumpin’ time in the middle of the island and I got pretty swept up!
At tkts, we spotted Anastasia tickets on sale for 50% off, which was amazing and incredibly exciting because I have been DESPERATELY wanting to see this show. (Fun fact: I saw Anastasia in theaters and on ice. The movie is very near and dear to my heart, especially as a December baby.) Unfortunately, there were only individual seats left, and the point of me and Ben seeing a show together is to be together. So we opted to see Groundhog Day in the last days of its run, which ended on September 17. Before leaving Times Square, I checked out the art installation “Once Upon a Place” by Aman Mojadidi. Consisting of repurposed phone booths, visitors are invited to step in, close the door to the hustle and bustle of the literal center of Times Square, and pick up the phone to listen to real immigrant stories from real New Yorkers. It was a lovely quiet reprieve to step into another experience.
We ran a few quick errands, picking up bits and bobs for our flight to Paris and walking through some of the stalls that were up for Brazil Day, and dropped off our things at the hotel after a quick bubble tea stop. (The 3 Guys is so tasty! One of my first boba orders in the city and it is always a go-to when I stop by CoCo.)
Not sure of what to do for dinner, we wandered through almost all of the food stalls still open for Brazil Day, which was winding down, as we made our way back to Broadway to watch Groundhog Day (review). I’ll admit, I was not that excited to go see this show when we got the tickets or even when I walked to the theater. But by the time I sat down in my seats, I got that tingly anticipatory feeling I get when I’m facing a stage and taking in the pre-show vibrations of the theater. I haven’t seen the original Bill Murray movie but the show was incredible, with some super dark humor I wasn’t expecting and a great second act opening number that featured the girl who is an object of sexual desire singing about her role in life (and more specifically this show). I laughed, I cried, I loved this show.
Ben and I both knew exactly what we wanted to do after the show: hit up Halal Guys (review), one of the few spots that we visit every single time we come back to the city. They’ve since (FINALLY) opened a brick and mortar location closer to home, but nothing beats the fresh food from the carts, so we enjoyed our short walk over without a torrential downpour. I wasn’t feeling hungry, so we split a single platter, which was a mistake as that delicious plate of food really triggered my appetite! We’re thinking that this may be our last time waiting in line for the original cart, as we learned that cart charges more! So you are paying more for the exact same food (we saw guys prepping meat and rice at a stand down the street and bringing it over) when there is another cart LITERALLY across the street. Yep, that means there are no fewer than 3 official Halal Guys stations going on at the corner of 53rd and 6th, with 2 of them serving platters and one of them with a long line. The line moves fast but we’re starting to feel awfully silly standing in it. Bellies full of good food, we closed out the evening watching Slumdog Millionaire and dancing to “Jai Ho”.
Here’s just a handful of seconds from this day, even fewer than the previous one!
What’s the last great musical you saw? I hope I get to see Anastasia sometime soon and, of course, I still gotta see Hamilton!!!
What are your favorite simple meals in the city? Ben and I really truly love going to the Halal Guys cart every single time we come to the city. I’m glad we finally got to visit Xi’an Famous, too, and I get the hype even though I don’t like cumin! That’s part of what I love about New York’s food scene, is the simple meals that don’t break the bank and are really reliably good.