Sunday, April 29, 2012

New York Yankees: New York City Fancation in the Bronx


It’s time to kick off the 2012 series of Fancation (vacations built around going to a baseball game or other sporting event) articles with the Fancation that’s closest to where I now live: Yankee Stadium. If you're hungry for more NYC articles, please check out my weekly column on AllNY.com, Stuff to Do, Meryl's Picks, or my NYC restaurant reviews.

Baseball Stop:  Yankee Stadium
Neighborhood:  The Bronx

New Yankee Stadium















Red, white and blue may be the colors representing our nation but in the Bronx, it’s all about blue and white.  Blue and white pinstripes. Hop on the number 4 train heading uptown when the Yankees are playing at home and the sea of pinstriped jerseys and New York Yankees caps is overwhelming. The original “House That Babe Built” -- the nickname for the old Yankee Stadium thanks to Babe Ruth's mark on the team during his reign as a Yank -- is no more, but the Bronx Bombers’ new stadium welcomes the 27 World Championship team with pride. Since the first game on April 18, 1923, Yankee Stadium has hosted more than 37 World Championships and has gone through a lot of remodeling to accommodate its continually growing fan base. The most recent and extensive change has been the demolition of the old stadium and the construction of a new one, the most expensive baseball stadium ever built. The new stadium sits just across the street from the site of its predecessor, now a park for the neighborhood.

Carl's cheesesteak
Three-year-old Yankee Stadium seats 50,287 and offers about a dozen restaurant and dining options including the sit-down Hard Rock Café and NYY Steak. Prices are steep for both food and drink, like the price of Yankee tickets, but the options are a cut above the standard hot dogs and beer that you find at many stadiums.  If you want a meat fix to take back to your seat, try Carl’s Steaks for a decent Philly cheesesteak or Lobel’s Steaks for a New York no-cheese version. Not interested in watery beer? Try an authentic mojito. You can also stuff yourself with sushi, Cuban sandwiches, fried dough,  nachos, guacamole and the baseball-stadium requisite garlic fries, pretty much reflecting every local taste preference.  But what I’m most excited about  is Torrisi Italian Specialties' Parm stand in the Great Hall between gates 4 and 6 which gives you a taste of their fabulous parm menu from NoLiTa. Much better than their standard turkey sandwiches.

When planning where to sit, behind the dugout is always popular but ridiculously expensive, so consider a real fan experience and opt instead for the bleachers. Here you can do the “Roll Call” with the Yankees’ own unofficial cheerleaders, the Bleacher Creatures. At every game since the late 90s the rowdy bunch chants the players’ names as each enters the field and do so until the player acknowledges them with a wave or a thumbs-up. Also listen for the music played when there's a call to the bullpen: the song is chosen by the pitcher himself, like Mariano Rivera's "Enter Sandman."  If you'd rather be a participant in the musicality of this stadium, you can belt out Frank Sinatra’s classic “New York, New York” at the end of each winning game. When the Yanks lose, Liza Minnelli’s rendition is played instead (she sang it in the 1977 movie of the same name).

Be sure to watch the screens for the various trivia questions and games that happen throughout the game; sometimes they can be more entertaining than the game itself.  Also, at least once, visit Monument Park before a game (leave a lot of time because of the long lines) and pay homage to some of the best baseball players to ever suit up in pinstripes: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig and, of course, Babe Ruth. 1 E. 161st Street, Bronx, NY 10452; 212-YANKEES.

For tickets, search your location and book online.


Although most people don't think of sticking around the Bronx for a day of activitites, there's quite a bit to see in this culturally diverse New York City neighborhood.


Explore:

Paradise Theater, Grand Concourse, Bronx






Escape to Paradise: The impressive and ornate Paradise Theater is one of the Bronx' best-kept secrets.  Built in 1929, the once-bustling Loew's Paradise movie theater underwent many remodels and repairs after being closed for almost 10 years Landmarked and reopened in 2005, it still has the original Greco-Roman statuary and "Atmospheric"-style architecture along with an up-to-date auditorium, stage and seating. Some of the highlights:  frescoes inspired by the Sistine Chapel in Italy adorning the ceiling and a luxurious marble staircase which curves up from the main auditorium. The theater offers a variety of kids’ shows like Barney Live in Concert and concerts such as the Heart & Soul Big Classic Soul Jam. If no performances are scheduled when you're in town, ask for a tour. The building is spectacular.
2413 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10468; 718-220-1015

Get Wild:  The Bronx Zoo has something for everyone. Whether you prefer feeding the farm animals up close and personal at the petting zoo or watching the reptiles devour their lunch from afar, you’re sure to be entertained. There’s always something new happening at Jungle World, with its otters, gibbons and 800 other animals, or at Tiger Mountain and the always-dramatic Congo Gorilla Forest. The little ones will enjoy The Bug Carousel, Zoo Shuttle and the Wild Asia Monorail. And you can even ride a camel. Say hello to the zoo's newly famous escapee (and returnee), Mia, whose name means "missing in action."
Mia, the Zoo's most famous wanderer
General Admission tickets are $12 for children under 12 and $16 for adults.  The park is open daily from 10am-5pm (until 5:30 on weekends).
2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, New York 10460; 718-220-5100



Fields of daffodils at the Botanical Gardens










Stop and Smell the Chrysanthemums:
No trip to the Bronx is complete without a visit to one of our country’s historic landmarks, The New York Botanical Gardens. In celebration of its 120th anniversary, there are numerous exhibits and programs in the more than 50 landscapes and gardens within the 250-acre Botanical Gardens. Containing more than one million plants, the diverse collection draws large crowds especially for the annual The Orchid Show, Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Chrysanthemum, and the Holiday Train Show. Children and adults alike can learn the importance of plant life and how to keep your plants healthy and growing. My favorite time of the year: May and June when the daffodils and roses bloom. Simply gorgeous.
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am–6 pm. Check the website for General Admission ticket pricing.
Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road, Bronx, NY 10458; 718-817-8700

The red neon lobster and marina at the northern tip of City Island
Eat:  City Island is a seven-mile drive northeast of Yankee Stadium. Unfamiliar to many visitors to NYC, this 1.5-mile strip of land offers a wide variety of seafood restaurants in a boat-friendly residential area. Try the Lobster House for a lobster and crab lunch or dinner and check out the boats by the restaurant's own marina. Or Sammy's Fish Box. You'll probably feel like you're somewhere in New England rather than in New York City, although the prices are a bit higher.
691 Bridge Street, City Island, NY 10464; 718-885-1763

Mike's Deli in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market
Little Italy -- Arthur Avenue is one of the best-kept secrets of the Bronx, a thriving area of Italian food and culture. Generations of Italian families have flocked to this area to set up a home away from home. Often called Belmont, and less touristy than Manhattan’s Little Italy, this area is considered to be more authentic throughout.  Arthur Avenue is a place where Italian restaurateurs as well as local families do their shopping.  There are shops, restaurants, and an indoor Retail Market with vendors selling Italian breads, pasta, gelato, sauces and fresh meats. Restaurants are family-friendly and serve copious portions; many like Dominick’s have no menus – just ask for your favorite dish or let the server surprise you with the evening’s specialty. Another favorite is Mike’s Deli where you can stock up with items for cooking at home or put together a meal to eat on the spot with cured meats, olive oil, Italian cookies, and other delicacies.
2334 and 2344 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458

VIP Spa Suite at the Mandarin Oriental NY
Sleep:  Head back to Manhattan to enjoy a good night’s sleep in one of the top hotels in the city. With the Columbus Circle subway hub adjacent, this is an easy commute from Yankee Stadium and a day in the Bronx.  Here you’ll enjoy one of the 248 luxe rooms at the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel where relaxation is the main goal. Overlooking Central Park and located in the pulse of the city in Columbus Circle, the Mandarin Oriental offers ultra-pampering spa services, top-flight dining and drinking options, and knockout views of Manhattan.  Asiate, the hotel’s Asian-inspired restaurant has striking Central Park-inspired décor, an award-winning wine collection for lunch and dinner, and an amazing breakfast selection that includes a Japanese bento box assortment.  Relax post-game at the MOBar or Lobby Lounge, drinking in both the incredible views and your favorite cocktail.  The B or D subway lines will bring you right from the ballpark to the front of the hotel.
80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street, New York, NY 10023; 212-805-8800


Shop:
Shops at Columbus, Time Warner Center
From the Mandarin Oriental, you can easily walk to the attached Time Warner Center with its fantastic array of shops (Montmartre, Hugo Boss, Eileen Fisher, Stuart Weitzman) and restaurants (Bouchon Bakery, Per Se, Porter House, A Voce, Bar Masa).  Or, go super elegant and head over to Fifth Avenue where the famous street is lined with high-end boutiques like Chanel and Pucci, and kid faves like American Girl and H & M. If you'd rather window shop than spend, you’re still in for a real New York experience: the male models of Hollister strut their stuff in front of the store during the warmer months and Bergdorf Goodman’s window displays redefine fashion and artistic creativity at any time of the year.
Luxe on Fifth Avenue at Bergdorf Goodman
Time Warner Center, The Shops at Columbus Circle, 10 Columbus Circle

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dining and Baseball: Spring Traditions for Travel and Food Notes

Starting this month, I'm all about two things: restaurants and baseball.  I'm not sure why I connect the two, but I guess it has something to do with getting deeper into the culture of a location by understanding the sports mores and by experiencing the cuisine.  I kick off this series with a look at my current home, New York City. 

Here's a restaurant, right in my neighborhood, that's gotten a lot of buzz, and I loved it!  If you get a chance, get a reservation at Crown on the Upper East Side.  It's definitely the "crown jewel" (sorry about the pun) in my neighborhood.

When the Bruno Jamais supper club abandoned their turn-of-the-century townhouse near Madison Avenue, there was a collective concern for a disappearance of culinary class and quality on the Upper East Side.  Chef proprietor John DeLucie saved the neighborhood by bringing the refinement, “scene” and first-rate dining experience of the Waverly Inn and the Lion uptown to the inviting Crown, the townhouse’s new resident.  With three dining spaces, starting with a long but intimate bar, and continuing into a clubby wood-paneled dining room, and an art-filled back-room, Crown excels at providing top-rate French cuisine in an equally polished setting. 

Jordan Salcito, Wine Director
The restaurant is a scene, populated by both residents of the tony neighborhood and those feeling the downtown trendy, yet upscale vibe.  Dining, wines and service are excellent.  Starters like Tasmanian trout tartare are expertly prepared, fresh and a bit daring with pumpernickel crisps and caperberry remoulade.  Main courses are pricey but delicious, including perfectly seared Maine diver scallops accompanied by escargots to add a bit of brininess.  Two meaty lamp chops, plated with Swiss chard and chanterelles, are edged with a crusty blend of salt and pepper that seals in the flavor and moisture.  Ask Wine Director Jordan Salcito for suggestions from the restaurant’s 200-bottle list; her enthusiastic and knowledgeable description of each wine is like hearing poetry to the grape.  I loved the silky 2010 Marcel Lapierre Morgon and the slightly minerally 2009 Clos Blancheau from Paso Robles.  Both paired well with our meat and seafood choices.  It may be difficult for you to take your eyes off the interesting scene and clientele at the restaurant to give equal attention to the food and wine, but you should.  You should also leave room for pastry chef Heather Bertinetti’s signature creation, the warm chocolate soufflé which your adept server will dress with malted English cream.  If you can’t get a prime-time seat in either of the two dining rooms (it can be very difficult), the bar also serves dinner.  Crown is also open for lunch.  Dress up, and enjoy a wonderful New York dining experience.

 Crown, 24 E. 81st Street,  646-559-4880, http://www.crown81.com/

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Renting an Apartment in Paris (Instead of a Hotel): Why You Should or Shouldn't


Apartment rental in Paris
I've often thought about taking a month off and renting an apartment in Paris or a farmhouse in Tuscany instead of booking a traditional five-star or four-star hotel.

Here, Travel and Food Notes welcomes guest blogger Peter Hochstein, author, biographer, ghostwriter, journalist and award-winning advertising copywriter, who captures the often-hilarious essence of doing just this. You can learn more about him at www.PeterHochstein.com.

Saving vacation money by living in a Parisian apartment – stairs and glowering concierge included. 

Alas, the Parisian concierge, like the Aberdare Mole Shrew and the Santa Cruz Dwarf Frog, is an endangered species. I’m not talking about those sharp-looking, ever-helpful folks wearing crossed keys on their lapels ­– the ones behind the concierge desks at Parisian four-star hotels like the Lutetia and five-star hostelries such as the Ritz. Instead, I’m talking about women of a certain age and often more than a trifle on the cranky side. They usually sit with a pet dog or cat in a booth or behind a window inside the entrance to French apartment buildings, keeping a suspicious eye on who comes and who goes. The concierge may have other duties, too, such as light cleaning of the stairways and halls. But make no mistake: espionage against her building’s visitors, as well as projecting a generally negative ethos, is key to what she does. The encroachments of civilization have been killing off those endangered mole shrews and dwarf frogs. It’s the same with Parisian concierges. Increasingly they find their métiers getting encroached on by intercom systems. But if you’re lucky and hurry up, you may still be able to rent – often at bargain prices compared to the price of a hotel room – a Paris apartment that comes with the last of a once-ubiquitous Parisian breed. Until now you may only have experienced her type in Muriel Barbary’s novel, “The Elegance of the Hedge Hog.” 

I’ve rented apartments in Paris and I can tell you that (concierges and other difficulties aside) French flats have their charms. Often they’re less expensive on a per person basis than five star, four star, and even many three star hotels. Some come with charming views. Some are located in elegant old townhouses. Some feature herringbone parquet floors, spiral interior staircases, and views through casement windows that make you feel you’re in an old movie about La Belle Epoch, and that Leslie Caron or Maurice Chevalier will arrive at any moment. 

On one stay at Paris, I slept in a triplex apartment on Rue de Seine in the Sixth Arrondissement. My bedroom was on the highest of the triplex’s three floors, in a space glassed in on two sides. It afforded a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance and the Pantheon a bit closer. There was even a view of the Eiffel Tower from the toilet. As for the concierge, she had only half her teeth (left side upper and lowers; none on the right side) and bitterly accused our foursome of conspiring to break her tiny elevator by squeezing in two at a time. That was the way Paris used to be before Parisians became cosmopolitan, began welcoming visitors warmly, and even learned English (with the exception of apartment building concierges.) The price of this Rue de Seine gem? Approximately $3,800 for seven nights, shared by two couples, or under $300 per night per couple. Each couple had their own bedroom and bath. We shared a kitchen where we could keep fresh Camembert in the refrigerator for snacking, or brew coffee, or cook dinner if we were crazy enough to pass up Parisian restaurants for our own recipes. There was even a washer-dryer, so we could come home with clean laundry. 

But living like a Parisian means exactly that. For example, visitors staying in a hotel can walk to the front door and have a doorman hail a cab for them. Parisians have to walk to the nearest taxi stand and endure waiting in an orderly queue for a ride. (However, I found that this was a great opportunity to strike up conversations with the locals.) There’s no minibar in your apartment stocked with wine, whisky, mineral water and peanuts. You’ll have to find the nearest Monoprix market for your bottles of Evian or Badoit, as well as your detergent for the washing machine. (On the other hand, you can have a wonderful time shopping for cheese at the local fromagerie and for just-baked bread at the boulangerie.

Unlike hotel concierges, your concierge will at best reward you with a sneer if you ask her to reserve a restaurant table for you. Better to do that well before you leave home, since even the average Parisian lacks the clout of a concierge at the Hotel George V when it comes to getting last-minute reservations at hot restaurants. The triplex I stayed in was clean enough, but the furnishings and paint on the walls were a bit tired compared to their photographs on the Internet. And both females sharing the apartment complained that those narrow spiral stairs between levels in the apartment caught their high heels. They had to go up and down the stairs shoeless. For me this was part of the apartment’s quirky charm. For the women, it was a nuisance. 

How to find apartments 
You can simply Google “Vacation apartment rentals, Paris” and you’ll discover an ample list of rental agencies. Minimum rentals are usually a week, and there may be extra charges tacked on such as cleaning before your arrival or after your departure, and taxes. Some landlords demand a security deposit. Avoid surprises by asking before you book for a complete list of extra charges. I used a service called FranceForRent.com and was delighted to discover they had a representative in the United States who could answer my queries by phone and help get things arranged. He even arranged to have a driver pick up our party at the airport, a not-cheap add-on which I bought, simply because it meant that the driver would get us into the apartment and know precisely how to get his hands on the keys. 

Most websites show several photographs of each apartment. What you see, and what’s listed as the apartment’s amenities on the Internet is generally what you get. If you don’t see a bed, you may have to sleep on a convertible couch. If it doesn’t say “elevator” be prepared to do some heavy-duty stair climbing. The “first floor” in France is the equivalent of the second floor in the United States, the “second floor” is three flights up, and so on. While the amount of space, number of beds and other amenities help determine the price, so does the location.

You can save quite a bit by staying in one of the neighborhoods on the outer edge of the city, but I wouldn’t recommend that any more than I’d recommend visitors save money in New York by staying in the north Bronx. I’d suggest sticking to quarters in the first through eighth arrondissements, and finding some other way to cut costs if you need to. Finally, use Google to find out if the rental service you’re planning to use has received any bad reports. I’m willing to believe that most of the agents are honest and eager to please. However, occasional scoundrels do come along. I remember reading about a man in a wheelchair who arrived at his elevator-equipped building only to discover the elevator had been out of service for weeks. And he had a devil of a time getting a refund. Stuff happens, as they say. But if you’re ready to dip your toe into the experience of living like a Parisian, and save some money too, this could be the way to go.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April Wine Events in NYC: Some Free, Some Not


This is a great month to sample some unfamiliar Italian wines if you're planning to be in NYC with free wine tastings, some ticketed wine dinners, and other events.

I got a sneak peek at these wonderful wines at Eataly’s wonderful Manzo restaurant, where I sampled a number of wines not previously known to me but ones that deserve special commendation: the versatile Adanti, Montefalco Rosso, a blend of Sangiovese, Sagrantino and other grapes, nice and smooth and very drinkable with or without food; and five 100% Sagrantinos, tannic in character and very interesting as they opened. Names to remember here were Castelbuono, Perticaia, Caprai, Còlpetrone and Scacciadiavoli (meaning “scrapes the devils”). For dessert, I was completely captivated by Antonelli’s Sagrantino di Montefalco Passito, made from grapes that have been left to dry for at least two months, effecting a sweet yet still tannic wine. Served slightly chilled, it was amazing. I also learned that these red wines are among the healthiest in the world due to this tannic quality, having high resveratrol levels which help protect the heart. I didn’t try any white wines but I’ll be interested in trying Montefalco Bianco, made of Grechetto, Trebbiano Toscano and other grapes. If this wine is as exciting as the reds, it should be another revelation.

If you want to experience more of this wine from Umbria, you can participate in classes all month as well as in tastings as I did. Winemakers from Montefalco will offer classes at Lidia Bastianich’s La Scuola along with free wine tastings at Eataly Vino. All Eataly restaurants will offer Sagrantino and other Umbrian wines by the glass as well.

Other locations offering free wine tastings with the winemakers include Enoteca of Di Palo’s Fine Foods, Seagrape, Vestry Wines, Morrell and 67wine. Two ticketed wine classes with the winemaker will be held at La Scuola on April 19 and 26. Ticketed pairing dinners are planned for Felidia, SD26, Trattoria 5 and Bocca. You can see a full schedule of events at http://www.colangelopr.com/montefalco. Eataly is at 200 Fifth Avenue, 212-229-2560, www.eatalyny.com.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Brooklyn Food & Travel Expo -- April 14














Here’s an event you won't want to miss if you’re in the NYC area – the 2nd Annual EscapeMaker.com Local Food & Travel Expo.

On Saturday April 14, from Noon-5pm more than 50 getaway destinations, from counties to towns to local farms and bed & breakfasts within a day's drive or train ride of NYC will be exhibiting at One Hanson Place in Fort Greene in Brooklyn (where the Brooklyn Flea takes place). You’ll learn about what's hot in sustainable travel and sample local wines and foods upstairs, then go downstairs to sample even more goodies at the “Made in Brooklyn” Marketplace in the bank vault. (This was the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building). I’ll bet you never thought of Brooklyn as an agri-tourism escape. Attendees can win fifty overnight getaway prizes; participate in educational workshops about canoeing, sustainable tourism, culinary tours, and hiking; and enjoy food demonstrations throughout the day. Use “escapemakerfam12” for $3 off your $13 ticket: http://www.escapemaker.com/travelexpo. Kids 10 and under are free. The full schedule of events shows it all.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Drink More Water when You Travel: 3 Ideas for Beverages


If you're like me, you never drink enough water. I'm always trying out new coffee bars, drinking too many cocktails and wonderful wines, and finding myself tired when I fly. I know I'm supposed to hydrate but water is just so boring. Here are three ways to kick up your water choices to encourage you to drink more:

Try Very Cherre tart cherry juice mixed with Perrier and a slice of lime. It reminds me of an old-fashioned lime rickey without the sugar.

Similarly, mixing Pom pomegranate juice adds just a hint of flavor to sparkling water and can double as a cocktail on those days when you're trying to cut down. And there's no mistaking its antioxidant properties. Add slices of lime or sprigs of mint to give it added zip.

And, finally, if you need to have a quick fix with no time to mix, Vitamin Water Zero is good although the added stevia which they call a "natural," calorie-free sweetener can leave an aftertaste to some.

Happy Travels and Keep Drinking!

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