Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NYC Notes: Where We Ate

Before we went to New York last month I spent a decent amount of time researching where we should eat.  We've had some good, some bad meals in New York on our past trips but New York is a huge city!  There are so many options and I wanted to make sure we ate well.  Or at least iconicly for New York.  I hate the "where should we eat" 5pm question and then trying to figure out what was close and dragging Luke around...I hate NOT having a plan, basically.  Sometimes that's ok.  But not for this trip, not in New York.  Of course, all my planning wasn't perfect and we never made it to two places I had planned for (also mentioned) and, of course, we ate too much food.  BUT...we have some new New York favorites. We've started planning trip #4, and not just for the food (but maybe especially for the donuts we never found).

We have a general "don't eat anywhere we can at home" when traveling, besides transit days (like 17 hour drive to Gulf Shores or in airports).  Chains are ok, as long as we don't have them at home.  Why would you go all the way to New York and then eat at Applebees???  

We packed most of these, even with a 17 hour train ride and no fridge.  The only specific breakfast items we bought were milk for Luke and coffee for Matt and then one of our snacks turned into breakfast.  I'm planning to write a post about how we save money on food when traveling (short answer: we bring a lot from home, even to New York and Hawaii).


We first stumbled on this chain when we were in Vegas and had just landed at about 10am local time.  We were starving because we had been up since 6am home time.  It was a really lucky find because our sandwiches were delicious.  On our first trip to New York I remember we both got really excited because we saw a Times Square billboard advertising an Earl of Sandwich, after some looking we realized it was opening soon.  So on our next trip, we went and got some delicious sandwiches.  All three times I've gotten the Hawaiian BBQ (chicken, ham, swiss, BBQ sauce) and it's still one of my all-time favorite sandwiches.  I'm not a sandwich person but I love this one.   I couldn't tell you what Matt got but Luke DID NOT like his pick this time and much preferred mine.  He has excellent taste, obviously.  I really need to recreate this at home.  (When I asked Matt his favorite meal of this whole trip he said his Earl of Sandwich sandwich.  He couldn't remember what was on the sandwich but he knew he really liked it.)

When in big cities like this (and in London) we usually pick up sandwiches and then go to somewhere scenic to eat.  Here it was Central Park.  Makes for some decently cheap eating (for New York) and better than trying to cram into a restaurant.  This is now one of our standard New York lunch places (I love that we've visited enough to have "our" places).  I'm pretty sure there is only one in Manhattan and it's in the Rockefeller Center area, making it very convenient for Central Park lunches.   Also, I asked for milk for Luke (I wanted to make sure he was still getting that at least once a day) and they filled up a cup for free, I think it was just for coffee drinks or something?  But I was pretty excited Luke got his milk and it was free and the server was really nice about it. 


This is another of "our" places in New York, there was even one conveniently right across from our hotel!  We first ate here in London, more than once, and were excited to find them in New York too.  Where Earl of Sandwich is hot sandwiches made to order, Pret is pre-made sandwiches you pick up from a deli case.  They have salads, chips, drinks, etc. too.  Once again, we picked up sandwiches and then ate them somewhere else (Union Square this time).  Since they are pre-made you obviously can't customize them and I did not like that EVERY sandwich had mustard on it (or at least seemed to) but I survived and would still eat there again (like we have multiple times in the past).  The baguette bread is perfectly crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  I am forced to try combos I wouldn't normally try, which is good for me!  They have many options so we pick whatever looks good, changes every time.  Another place we have, and will, continue to visit in New York (there are multiple locations). 


This one was a random "we need to eat lunch because it's noon-ish" find.  We had tentatively planned to go to Chinatown for lunch but that didn't happen for a number of reasons and were around Rockefeller Center looking for the elusive doughnut place.  There are many dining options in the concourse (we ate supper there on this trip, have been to the Pret in the past, and visited the Jamba Juice...many times.) and so it was easy to find another sandwich shop to grab some sandwiches and eat somewhere else.  When I was entering our expenses back home, I found out we had eaten at this same Hale and Hearty on our first trip, 5 ½ years earlier.  (Matt was not thrilled when I told him that nugget either.)

I got half a sandwich because this was day 4 and I was tired of eating a lot for days on end (since we couldn't get boxes to take home leftovers and I hate leaving food).  The sandwich was perfectly fine, also pre-made, but no mustard on this one.  Luke was so busy eating he made me take a picture of lemur instead. 


Our train arrived in New York late.  We took the subway to the hotel, checked in and then still had to get supper.  Time stamp on this picture: 9:08pm (safe to say, the latest Luke's ever eaten supper in his life.)  I had picked Shake Shack for our first New York meal because it was just a few block walk from our hotel and that walk just so happened to take us through Times Square.  We got to the restaurant at ~8:45 and the line was out the door.  I guess this is New York.  We waited in line to order, elbowed our way to a place to eat, standing, and then waited for our food.  And even at 9pm, starving, and dehydrated, I would say this burger was worth it.  It was waaaay greasier than we make them at home but that also made it super delicious.  The cheesy was all melty and the lettuce crisp.  I would honestly go for another right now.  We shared some fries too which were fresh and hot and delicious.  Those honestly might have made up most of Luke's supper.  This was one of those places I found on many "favorite New York eats" lists I read through Pinterest before our trip.  I'm really glad we found it.  I think it'll become a NYC standard for us.


We had been to New York twice and never eaten pizza there, especially not from Michael's Scott's "favorite New York pizza joint" (Sbarros).  I knew we needed pizza on this trip.  Especially when it can be found for so cheap. I, again, did a lot of searching for "best New York pizza" and this one was near our hotel and not crazy expensive or fancy.  It was a really basic pizza place, there were about 4 seats along a counter (we took up 3 of them) and a walk-up window.  We got slices that were sitting under warming lights, 3 pieces.  It was cheap, fast, and easy.  And we finally had some real New York pizza.  It wasn't "oh my goodness, amazing" pizza but it was good.  Not life changing but it worked.  We would go back if we were in the area (and it's right off Times Square...so we will be in the area) but I wouldn't go out of my way necessarily, not when there are about 1000 other options in New York.

This was our last night in New York and we hadn't had a real sit-down meal yet.  It was also raining and our 10th wedding anniversary.  Where I had planned to go would have been a subway ride away and we weren't up for that after getting through Times Square with construction, rain, umbrellas, and a sleeping kid.  So we went somewhere walking distance away (which TOTALLY makes sense when it's raining) for a real sit down meal.  I honestly don't remember how we ended up at Rockefeller Plaza other than we knew we still wanted to go to the Lego Store and get Jamba Juice (which we had been getting at 30 Rock).

What this restaurant had going for it was the view (seen above) and that it was convenient.  The service was definitely the best we had the whole trip (of our one and only sit down meal...), a bit fancier than most places we frequent, but still kid & jean friendly.  It was so nice to sit and eat and be waited on, especially after the rain and all the walking we do in New York anyways.  We shared the burger and a chicken caesar salad, both of which were fine, not amazing, but not bad.  This was, by far, our most expensive meal of the trip but also, our 10th anniversary!  So a little splurge was totally acceptable.  And not much more than we paid to eat at Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock on our last trip (and we had a third mouth to feed on this trip).  They have an outdoor patio but, as I said, it was raining when we got there so we didn't even attempt that.  It was a nice, special anniversary dinner, even with our 3 year old along.

It's been more than a month since we got home from New York and, still, if you ask Luke his favorite part he will say "Jamba Juice".  That was his favorite part before we even went, due largely to the "free Jamba Juice with a Redcard" promo Target had going last December.  On our very first night in New York, 5½ years ago, we found a Jamba Juice in Times Square.  We then stopped every single night of both that trip and the next one.  Drinking Jamba Juice in Times Square was a standard part of our trip.  When walking to Shake Shack on our first night this time we walked past where Jamba Juice WAS and it WASN'T THERE.  I was shocked.  And disappointed.  I had researched so many things before this trip but hadn't even thought to check that Jamba Juice hadn't closed.  And it was.  I knew exactly where it was (it was now a tour company).  I spent our time in the Shake Shack line finding the next nearest Jamba Juice because 1) Luke had been looking forward to this for months 2) I had been looking forward to this for months and 3) Jamba Juice in New York is just a necessity at this point.

The nearest one was in Rockefeller Center so after finishing our burgers & fries, around 9:25pm.  We quickly sat on my favorite red stairs (the TKTS booth) and then high tailed it over to Rockefeller Center before Jamba Juice closed at 10pm.  With a 3 year old.  It took a little looking and a lot of consulting the posted maps but we found it about 9:50pm (time stamp on the far left picture is 9:54pm).  We finally had our Jamba Juice in New York.  Not on my red stairs but it would do.

We obviously went back every night.  One night walking very quickly from Rockefeller Center to Times Square so we could sit on the red stairs with our drinks, just like always (far right).  Not quite the same but it was the best we could do.  We also always stop at the Penn Station location before boarding the Amtrak home, which we always have a little trouble finding.  That's the middle picture, the only time we got Luke his own.   (And we did get it a 4th time, for anyone keeping track, but I didn't take a picture.)

These are just smoothies, I've made them at home, but we've made them a part of our New York tradition and one every night is a must.  Also, they use real fruit and we didn't get as much of that we normal with traveling so fruit in smoothie form still counts as health food, right??  I've gotten the Aloha Pineapple every single I've ever gotten Jamba Juice, across 4 different vacations.  Matt branches out, I stick with what I know I like.  I tried the "lighten up" Aloha Pineapple this time and it was just as good, and less calories.

TIP: You can sign up for their text or e-mail alerts and get $$ off or a free smoothie or something.  We each signed up the night we got to New York and each got $3 off a drink PLUS they somehow thought it was Matt's birthday (he swears he didn't do it on purpose) and got another free one.  Definitely worth doing before you go (not lying about your birthday necessarily but signing up for some money off!)  Then just unsubscribe after you've redeemed!


I first heard of Milk Bar more than 3 years ago when my brother-in-law showed me the recipe for their compost cookies in a cookbook, amazed at all the things they would throw in a cookie.  I've seen multiple bloggers over the last few months post recipes for their huge cakes which I think is what triggered a "we should check this place out" thought.  We had been doing so much eating on our trip that all we could stomach were cookies but I'm still glad we checked it out.  Matt and I both got the famous compost cookie (my friend Monica has the recipe for them here) and Luke got a confetti cookie.  We waited in line a decent amount of time, with our Earl of Sandwich sandwiches probably cooling off, but the cookies were great.  It was really amazing they could cram so many flavors in one cookie.  Pretzels! Chips! Chocolate! Coffee! Oats! Butterscotch chips! Graham Cracker Crust!  Compost is a very fitting name.  I don't remember trying Luke's cookie but if I did, it wasn't very memorable.  We'd definitely visit again, maybe saving room for some cake next time.

While at home there was some pretty cold weather while we were gone (I lost a plant or two to frost), we had some gorgeous weather in New York, besides a little rain.  Our first full day was about 80° and sunny, by far the warmest temps we've ever had there.  After a hot afternoon of walking around Central Park, ice cream was almost a must.  There are vendors all over the place selling standard treats and this is the one I get every time.  Just a Chipwich but I rarely eat them so still a treat.  When we walked through Sheep's Meadow it almost felt clothing optional (it wasn't THAT hot, people!) and so ice cream in May was needed.  Since we kept our clothes on, of course, and got a little warm walking around.

One of my regrets about our super quick time in Paris was that we did not make enough time to sample all the pastries and treats.  I had read a book that talked about the many amazing bakeries in Paris, but also ones in New York and then I knew I could absolve some of my Paris guilt with Parisian treats in NYC.  So we went slightly out of our way to stop at Laduree in Soho for Macarons.  I was so excited and made sure to schedule this stop on our wedding anniversary.  Laduree has locations in Paris as well so it felt pretty legit.  Also, the menus were partially in French so I could briefly pretend we were back in Paris, just with getting to use American money.

Matt and I each picked 4 flavors (I know I got a salted carmel, chocolate, raspberry, and rose) and paid more than I've ever paid in my life for 8 cookies.  Then...we didn't get to eating them until 24+ hours later on the train home.  They were probably a little crunchier than they were supposed to be but I was still impressed (beside the rose one, I didn't care for that so much) and it renewed my intentions of, finally, attempting them myself (they are just a cookie, after all).  There are two locations, one on the Upper East Side (I believe) and one in Soho.  I don't know that I'd buy macarons again but I would go to try some other Parisian treat.  Never too many pastries.

One of the new places we went on this trip was the Union Square Green Market.  I was especially impressed that you could take your compost there to drop off!  I love that!  Unfortunately, the only compost we created on this trip was the apple cores to apples we bought at the market but didn't eat until later so we didn't get to compost anything.  But I like the idea.  It was fun walking around and looking at the different vendors.  Matt, of course, had to buy a baguette.  He loves baguette.  Before Luke and in his first months of life I made Matt baguettes every week.  I'm less nice now (or busier) but Matt still loves his baguettes.  Him and Luke devoured this whole one pretty quickly.  I have no idea who they bought it from though.

I didn't participate in any baguette buying or eating because I was more concerned with finding this bakery and buying some babka.  I had babka for the first time last Christmas and was immediately a fan (recipe once again compliments of Monica).  And I found this on many "favorite foods in NYC" lists.  And it was right next to somewhere we already planned to go.  I could have eaten the whole loaf myself.  It was delicious.  Very chocolately and just amazing.  I really want another piece right now, just thinking about it (they ship but I'll probably have to settle for just making it myself).  This is what turned into our breakfast our last morning in New York and our morning on the train home.  It was amazing and definitely worth going back for again.

We've bought pretzels in Central Park on every single trip.  With so many other snacks it was hard to work this one in and all 3 of us did share this one pretzel because by that point, our last day, we were ready for to get back to our regular eating.  But, I couldn't pass up a pretzel in Central Park.  It's tradition.  And this was another perfect day in Central Park.  I hear it snowed this day at the lake, an hour from our house, while we had 70° and sunshine in New York.  A perfect way to end our trip.

The Rejects 
These are the places I had planned to go but we didn't quite make it to - rain, not finding them, being lazy, etc.  Definitely high on my list for places to visit next time!

Taqueria Diana - supposed to be amazing Mexican food but also, duh, the name.
Doughnut Plant - amazing NYC doughnuts.  This is the place we could never find despite a lot of walking around (and we were so close).  Next time we will get donuts.   

Next Up Tomorrow! NYC trip details, besides the food (getting the important stuff out of the way first).

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