Sunday, September 13, 2009

Happenings: The 9-11 Reading, From Behind The Barricades

As a resident of Lower Manhattan, every 9-11, I am reminded in a very immediate and poignant way of the events of that tragic day via the tributes and memorials that are happen around me. The tribute in lights, the many bouquets of flowers inserted into breaks in the construction site wall as the former WTC site, the dozens of police and firefighters dressed in their dress blues, remembering their fallen friends and colleagues, friends and families carrying photographs of their lost loved ones, the stand of flags bearing victims' names at Bowling Green park, and the reading of the names, the sounding of the bells and the moments of silence marking the falls of the towers.

This 9-11 was a rainy, cold one, as many remarked, a very different day than the same date in 2001. Having lived down here for a few years, I had never before gone to see the reading of the names, which I usually watch on TV, but this morning, I turned off the TV and decided to walk down to Zucotti Park, across from the WTC site, where they were holding the tribute and see if I could experience it in person.

News trucks lined the street. as well as firetrucks and police vehicles.
Unfortunately, Zucotti Park had been barricaded off to the public. A very regal line of police and firefighters formed the back line of the park on Broadway. Only family and VIPs, I assume, were allowed into the enclosure. Along Broadway, I joined dozens of stangers who were braving the rain to watch from behind the barricades, but you couldn't hear anything more than muffled words from there, so the crowd was loose and uncommitted. Though at 9:59 am, I did hear hear the bells commemorating the fall of the second tower. I left a few minutes later and walked home.

I find it sad that the public isn't allowed to come together and commemorate this day in a more organized way. Why can't they hear the reading of the names in person? Is it due to a lack of suitable space for congregation? Are they waiting for the memorial to be built. It's been 9 years already. Do we have to wait ten more years to pay our respects properly? In the meantime, it would be nice to have a place to go to be as a community and reflect on what 9-11 taught us. Barricaded streets are an unfulfilling tribute to the victims of that day, both those who've passed and those who still bear the pain and trauma of that day.

Happenings: Fashion Night Out

Thursday was the beginning of Fashion Week and also marked the first ever NY Fashion Night Out. With fall-like temperatures in the 60's, it was a perfect night to be gallivanting around the city admiring the art of fashion...and do a little shopping. Stores stayed open late throughout the city, baiting fashionistas with cocktails and hors d'oeurves, live-DJs, freebies, limited edition items and celebrity appearances. Everywhere you went, crowds and lines of fashionably dressed men and women twittered with excitement.

Miss Fashion, our navigator for the evening, and I met at Opening Ceremony a few minutes before they opened at 6 pm. Already the sidewalk was crowded with fans. As soon as the doors opened, the crowd milling about rushed through the door, ostensibly to grab some of the limited edition items (as displayed in this convertible parked outside the store).Outside the store, this adorable Hearts Challenger ice cream truck (they opened in June 2009 and can be found around the city, but also rented for parties) sold ice cream on a stick, as well as candy and toys, from all over the world. I had green tea mochi ice cream.
Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen was giving out free samples of its very original ice cream flavors - I had earl grey ice cream. Very tasty. Miss Fashion had ginger.Momofuku Milk had a treat "Thai" truck (get it?) from which they were selling ties (you had to pay inside however) and giving out very tasty, very buttery Thai tea and mango cookies.

Miss Fashion got a limited edition Rodarte t-shirt, Kurt Cobain tote and notebook. I bought a fabulous Opening Ceremony dress. By the time we left, shopping bags in tow, there was a long line of people waiting to get in.Next stop: Bergdorf Goodman. We were naively thinking we could catch the Olsen Twins bartending, but by the time we got there, the line wrapped around the block into oblivion. The people at the end of the line were facing at least a two-hour wait. Not worth it. On to Madison Avenue.Charlize Theron was supposed to be at Dior, signing copies of the September Issue of Vogue with her face on the cover. Again, there was a line when we got there, but it seemed to moving pretty quickly. We soon found out whey. Charlize had finished her appearance and been escorted out the back. She's gone, we heard people whisper throughout the crowd. Nonetheless, a big crowd in the store anyway, all oriented to the back room. What were people were waiting for? A mystery still. By the time we walked out five minutes later, the line had dispersed.Other stops: Chanel - where you could design your own Chanel bag and have a Hollywood make-up artist make you over.Louis Vuitton, where we ate a couple tasty hors d'oeuvres and Miss Fashion bought a fabulous pair of pants!
Burberry, where had shared a glass of champagne.

Happy, we had dinner at one of my favorite midtown clutch restaurants - Menchanko-Tei on 55th St between 5th and 6th Ave- for perfect bowls of Hakata Ramen (half portions) and rice balls. Yum!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Great Find: Bia Garden

I'm typing this while in a food and beer coma, but I'm so pleased after a perfect night out that I had to share. Tonight Book Babe and I went to Bia Garden, Michael Huynh's beer garden inspired Vietnamese street food restaurant in the Lower East Side (Orchard between Stanton and Rivington) and had a perfect al fresco meal on one of the nicest nights of the summer.

After weeks of anticipation in foodie circles, Bia Garden was finally open last week. When we arrived at 6:30, a piece of white paper on which someone had written "Bia Garden" was stuck to the window as identification, but you could have guessed by the line that this was the place.
The place opens at 6:00, but according to the host, there was already a line at a quarter of. At 6:30, the line of people extended down the short stair case and into the small space that serves as the take out/delivery space of Bia Garden. From that vantage, it was impossible to see the beer garden itself, as the steel refrigerator door conceals the passageway to the garden, so it was hard to gauge what kind of a wait we could expect. But we decided to wait 15 minutes and see if the line moved.

Some people left, discouraged, but others left their names with the host, who was willing to call people when tables opened up. We stayed and took in the take out menu (which is different than the eat-in menu includes Bun) and Asian snacks (shrimp chips!) being offered at the take out window.It's a good thing we stayed b/c within 10 minutes, we were happily escorted through the steel refrigerator to the garden in the back, through the beer-bottle lined passageway. The journey to the patio passes the kitchen and is a bit treacherous - a lot of "watch your step's" by the host. The patio, which reportedly seats around 50 people, was packed. The clinking of beer bottles and happy hour chatter filled the air. A large Vietnamese family seated at the large table in the center of the space seemed to be enjoying themselves--an auspicious sign for a Vietnamese beer garden.The garden has wooden painted tables, for both small and large groups, on which chopsticks and napkins are stuck in empty Cafe Du Monde coffee tins for easy self-service. Menus looks like they were printed just that morning on someone's office printer.Our waiter, possibly one of the nicest waiters I've ever been served by, came by and took our drink orders. The way it works is you order a six pack (or more) of beer bottles off their Asian beer menu, which features beers from all over Asia, and they bring it to you on ice. You're only charged for what you drink. We ordered the "33," a Vietnamese beer, on our waiter's recommendation. A mild, nutty beer. Very nice.So far so good, but how would the food be? Dishes are arranged on the menu by size - the small dish category had the most items, then the medium dishes, and finally, the large, which featured a lobster.

We ordered the green mango salad, shrimp summer rolls, and spare ribs off the small dish menu and the berkshire pork belly off the medium dish menu. Let me tell you, I'd go back for the pork belly and the summer rolls alone - they were that good. Here's more about each dish, in order of my preference:
  1. The pork belly was PERFECTLY cooked - moist and fatty on the inside and a little crisp on the outside. The dipping sauce, which had the sweetness of a fish sauce, was a perfect complement to the saltiness of the pork. This was by far the standout of the meal. This pork was so good I had to close my eyes and shut up in order to savor its flavor. It was so good I had to pace myself so I didn't eat it too quickly.
  2. Shrimp summer rolls are a difficult thing to distinguish yourself by. They are pretty standard Vietnamese fare, but these summer rolls were the epitome of freshness. First of all, the peanut sauce they came with was so perfectly balanced - not too chalky or peanuty or salty or sweet - and then, when you bit into the roll, you got a hit of the fresh mint and the perfectly cooked shrimp. A great way to start the meal.
  3. The green mango salad was full of flavor - tangy, salty pickled green mango, fish and shrimp flakes, tiny slices of hot pepper. This dish was saltier than I would have liked for a stand-alone salad, but it worked well as a condiment (kind of like a kimchee) to the other dishes.
  4. Our least favorite dish was the pork spare ribs. You could tell there was a nice sweet marinade in the meat, but it was overpowered by the charring on the spare rib. Also, the meat could have been moister. We wanted the meat to fall off the bone, but I had to work to hard to get at it.
Three out of four is not bad, and pork belly....seriously good. The beer and the garden atmosphere just adds to the fun. And all for under $35 a head (mind you, we're girls and we only had one beer a piece). In the winter, Bia Garden will be covered and heat lamps will be used, so it'll be a nice place to come back to when I need another casual night out.

Stuff I've Learned: Last Minute Trips Out of NYC

City Guy, bless his heart, has a demanding work schedule that never allows us to plan a vacation more than a month ahead. Years ago when we got married, I was even worried that he'd have to cut our honeymoon short due to work (luckily, that didn't happen ).

The thing is, we love to travel, and by travel we mean, get outside the US. So over the years, we've had to scramble to get last minute trips planned. Our trips to Bali, Mexico, Egypt, Paris--all planned two weeks or less out. So yesterday when City Guy called and said it looked like he could actually take Labor Day weekend off, my trip finding machine went into high gear.

Within a few hours, we were booked into the hotel of our choice in Turks & Caicos, two reasonably priced plane tickets (with first class seats on the return!) and I had a name for the best dive shop on the island. Here's what I've learned that helps me with last minute travel:

1, Always have a wish list handy. I store websites for hotels or articles about destinations I' interested in in my Delicious bookmarks so I have them handy when I hear "go!" I also have a top destinations list on my computer. Of course, when you're booking so close to departure, you don't always get your first choice, so be willing to compromise a little. But you'd be surprised, especially in this economy, how often hotels still have availability. Flights are also sometimes cheaper closer to the date of travel, as surprisingly they were for this trip to Turks & Caicos.
2. Know what destinations are close to NYC. For trips of under a week, I don't want to spend more than seven hours on a plane. Here are some of my top close destination picks. Hours listed are for nonstop flights.
  • 7-8 hours: London, Paris, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Peru
  • 5-6 hours: Iceland, Costa Rica
  • 4-5 hours: Barbados, Mexico
  • 3-4 hours: Jamaica, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico
  • 2-3 hours: Bermuda
  • 2 hours or less: Montreal
3. Use to find the best air fare. Kayak will list airfares it finds and then transfer you to other sites to book. If you can't book a flight through one of the discount sites it sends you to(Travelocity, Expedia, etc.), go directly to the airline sites. Their systems are more up-to-date and accurate for flights that are quickly booking up.
4. Use Trip Advisor to find the best hotels, and to learn from traveler reviews what to expect when you get to your hotel. Once I book a hotel, I read the reviews again to figure out things like what part of the resort is best, what activities are can't miss, and any other recommendations from past travelers.
5. Have a good travel agent to call for upgrades, difficult itineraries or when you're losing your mind.
6. Have a reputable source for travel insurance. City Guy and I are divers, so it gives us peace of mind to pay $20 per person and know we're covered for medical evacution, in case something happens. The policy we get through Medex has a hazardous sports rider, which covers us for activities like scuba diving.

We make this work for us because we have to, but we envy those of you who can plan in advance...and spend weeks at a time traveling. Some day. For now, I'm just so excited to be going away. Too many staycations this year, though those can be nice top. Ever notice how quiet the city gets on long weekends? Wherever you are, here or afar, have a great Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Happenings: Jury Duty - Day 3

It's over folks! I'm free at last. Boy, what an anticlimactic experience. Here's how it went down:

9:30 a I arrive to find my fellow prospective jurors holed up in the "lunch room," hiding from the "new kids" who have reported for their first day of jury duty. I feel like a kid who's been held back a year in school. We listen as a guy we've never seen before gives the new kids the same instructions we got on Monday.

10:15 a After a lot of waiting around, the juror administrator finally takes attendance for our little group of 35. There are a couple no shows, people who made it clear (and not always politely) that they couldn't serve on the trial if it went until Friday. Did they get excused? Or did they just decide not to show up? We're finally allowed back in our windowless room.

11:00 a The lawyers seem more efficient today. They still seem to ask some pointless questions, but they're finally done with their questioning of the first 16 jurors. How exciting! They leave the room to confer and pick their favorites. They meet with the judge. The juror administrator comes in and tells five lucky people they've won the lottery (not!). The rest of the 16 are let go.

Questioning resumes for the final three. Not as entertaining as yesterday. When questioning is done, we know who they'll pick - the nice little old lady in the corner, the sweet fashion designer and the amiable girl with the red hair.

12:00 p We're done! But wait, you didn't ask me any questions, I want to say. (Prospective jurors 24-35 didn't even get questioned). I had my spiel all prepared. We didn't even have a chance to share our most personal details, like the others did--where they went to school, what they did for a living, how many kids they had, if they had a boyfriend, liked to drink, ever was a victim of a crime, ever was sued or sued, where they lived and for how long, what they liked to do on weekends...On second thought, it's best I never had the chance. In any case, we were right. They picked the three nice women, rewarding the obstreperous and the rude with an afternoon off.

The women are told to go to lunch and come back at 2 p. The rest of us are dismissed. The juror administrator passes out or proof of service. "Don't lose this," he says. I won't. It feels good to be done...and it's even nicer knowing I don't have to serve again for six years.

P.S. I forgot the most hysterical part. One of the jurors accosts the plaintiff's lawyer as he's trying to leave, "Did you see this article in the Times? Let me read it to you. Fretful or angry jurors are a concern for plaintiffs’ lawyers in civil suits... because the plaintiffs brought the suit and are more likely to be blamed by the jurors for any inconvenience that jury duty caused them. See, you should be careful!" Funny enough, that morning, the Times had published this article on how people are more anxious about jury duty in these hard economic times.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Happenings: Jury Duty - Day 2

Today was supposed to my day of liberation. If I got past day 2 without being picked for a jury duty, I'd be off scot free for six years. I was very hopeful.'s my story.

9:20 a Arrived a bit early for my 9:30 call time. Used the restroom. Found a seat on the aisle. Atmosphere to today is less tense. More jeans and polo shirts. People dressed in casual weekend wear. Also seems to be fewer people today for some reason.

9:40 a Roll call begins. 10 minutes of names called and people answering "here." A handful of no shows. After roll call, dead silence. I read my magazine.

10:30 a Men dressed in suits approach the administrative counter. This means someone wants a jury. Sure enough, woman gets on the mic. "This is the moment you've all been waiting for," she says. She calls out 30 names, each with a seat number assigned, which takes about 5 minutes. I'm relieved and happy when my name isn't called. Whew! Back to my reading.

11:05 a More suits - this time both men and women. A new panel is called. This time 35 names. My heart beats anxiously. And there it is, my name called over the loud speaker. Ugh. I can't believe it. Those whose names were called are asked to write their juror number on their questionnaire and bring it to the counter, then wait for instructions. We shuffle up to the counter and are told to go and have lunch and be back at 2 pm for jury selection.

2:00 p After a 3 hour lunch, I'm back. The prospective jurors from my case are the only ones left in the assembly room. Everyone else seems to have been let go for the day. I overhear confused murmurings about where we should be going - were we supposed to wait in the assembly room or go to the selection room? I wait in the assembly room.

2:05 p An announcement that the prospective jurors on my case should now go to the selection room behind the Statue of Liberty mural at the back of the room. I'm expecting to go to a courtroom, like I did in both my cases in LA, where a judge will preside over selection, but instead, we shuffle into a windowless white walled room stuffed with numbered chairs and one long wooden desk where the opposing counsels will sit uncomfortably close to one another during voir dire.

The judge, who curiously isn't wearing his robe, just a suit, stops in briefly and tells us we're breaking at 4:30 p, no matter what, and we may have to come back tomorrow. Groan. Then he leaves, leaving the attorneys to deal with us. I feel like I'm back at school, except the teacher's left the room.

Attorneys says they need some time to look through our questionnaires and study us. I feel scrutinized. I try to remember what I wrote on the questionnaire.

3:00 p Attorneys are finally ready to question us for jury selection. They are looking for 6 jurors and 2 alternates out of 35. My odds of getting off are not bad. He asks if anyone can't serve on Friday. A bunch of hands shoot up. Everyone seems to have some excuse. Argh. My odds are getting worse.

Plaintiff's attorney gets up and starts explaining and questioning. The impatience in the room is palpable. The natives are getting restless. Some jurors talk back to him. Others make disgruntled murmurs as he questions people. A man and women in the back almost get into an altercation. The attorneys are already mad at each other. When they leave the room to confer with the judge, the room erupts in derisive chit chat. This is a rowdy crew.

The attorneys return. The plaintiffs counsel resumes, looks flustered at times. Then it's the defense's turn. A Joe Pesci lookalike and a woman who whispers to him, but never speaks to the jury. More questions.

For an hour and a half, lots of questions from which it's hard not to get a picture of what the case is about and what the lawyers wants us to think or not think. They stick to questioning the first 16 prospects only, leaving the rest of the group bored and restless. The 16 think they'll be off after today if the lawyers decide to let some of them go. But no such luck....

4:25 p The attorneys thank us for our time. What!? The natives are restless. Do we have to come back tomorrow? they ask. They run to get the judge.

4:30 p The judge tells us we ALL have to come back at 9:30 tomorrow. People are upset, esp those among the 16 who thought they were done. People start walking out as the judge is talking.

I'm disappointed. I can't help thinking if this were happening in a courtroom, with a judge dressed in a robe, keeping order--as, by the way, it happened in LA--the natives wouldn't be so unruly. Then again, these are New Yorkers. So far, my jury experience in NYC is not as awe-inspiring as it was in LA.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Happenings: Jury Duty - Day 1

Another step closer to being a full-fledged New Yorker today. Served my first day of jury duty. Having postponed my service in May due to vacation plans, I had almost forgotten about my jury summons for today. Stuck a post-it on my computer last week as a reminder.

I served on two juries when I lived in California - one in Los Angeles and another in Santa Monica - both good experiences, so how does NY compare? Well, it's only been one day, and a short one at that, but I'm impressed by how efficient the system is. No snags, no lines, no confusion. Not when I needed a postponement, and not today either. The courts are definitely older. Santa Monica was a nice courthouse.

Some observations from today:

8:45 a For some reason, I always get a little turned around near City Hall, but finally found 60 Centre St. Went through xray security and took elevators to 4th floor to jury room 452. Last time I reported to 100 Centre St, where I spent 5 minutes until the guy announced that anyone who couldn't serve should go to the postponement place. 60 Centre St feels cozier somehow, though strangely laid out (two rooms bridged by the area where the administrative desk sits), with wood panelling and massive historical murals of NY on all the walls.

The room is eerily quiet. I take a a chair on the aisle in the back. The handful of laptop carrals in the back are already taken - probably need to arrive at least a half hour early to get those. I look around. These chairs are pretty comfortable - mauve leather padded chairs, row after row, filled by individuals in various states of fatigue/unease/comfort/anxiety. Anxious woman with tight bun and red lipstick to match her red button down shirt clutches her summons, eyes darting. Balding man with facial droop stares blankly at newspaper in his lap. Coffee cups, backpacks, and loafers everywhere. Must be comfortable for jury duty.

In front of me, a twentysomething woman, no makeup, hair pulled into disheveled mop on the top of her head, dressed in hoodie and sweats - another woman identical to her, same hoodie and hair style sits on the other side of the room. Coincidence? Middle aged woman across the aisle from me, embarrassed when her phone starts ringing, "I have to call you back," she announces testily to caller and slams her clamshell shut.

8:55 a Black woman whose reassuring voice conjures Nell Carter speaks to us on the mic. Be sure you're in the right location, she tells us...on the right date. We're in the civil division (shucks - I was hoping for a Law & Order type experience). You'll be serving anywhere from 2 days- 2 weeks, from about 9-5 daily. This is your last chance to get out. Got a doctor's note? Can't serve 2 consecutive days? Has your employer written you a note saying business can't continue without you (you're important!)? If so, go get a postponement.

(A flurry of activity. Some people leave.)

Now I'm going to show you this delightful film on jury service, she says. Starting tomorrow, you won't have to get up so early. And we'll do roll call attendance. The water fountain's here, in front of my desk. Please don't put your face on the water fountain (filthy people!) - use the cups we provide. You can use your laptop anywhere in the room. Wifi should work, or so they tell me. See that room back there - it's the lunch room - if you want to eat, eat in there. Keep your area clean. We don't have much of a cleaning staff (read: one old guy who doesn't get paid a lot). Those desks near the door hold stacks of jury booklets, info cards and questionnaires - grab them. Use a pen that will allow the questionnaire to be filled in the entire way through (huh? - oh carbon paper!) - we have some up here, if you need one.

Oh right - qualifications that excuse you from jury duty:
  1. you're not a us citizen
  2. you don't live in Manhattan, Roosevelt Island or zip 10043.
  3. you're not 18 +
  4. you're a felon
  5. you served in the last two years - it's too soon!
  6. you're the sole caretaker for a child or old person - but that child better not be 14 years old!
Anyone need to leave? Okay. Here's the video, she says.

Half the room gets leave?, to grab the booklets & questionnaire. I wait until the rush is over. Don't want to lose my aisle seat. Video starts. Can't hear. Volume's too low. Are we watching Jesus of Nazareth? What are they doing to these people? Ah, medieval justice. I get it. We've come a long way.

Now here comes Ed Bradley to narrate stuff about the legal system...I look around. No one's watching. Next comes Diane ends. Not sure I'd pass a test on what I just saw.

9:30 a Orientation resumes. Same woman. If after 2 days you're not called, you're free...for 6 years. Whooppee! Well, that's just for state court, not federal. Right now, lawyers are deciding whether to go to trial or not. We'll pull 30-50 of your names to make up a panel, if they need a jury. There's a sign-out clipboard - write your name down if you need to take a break, even a bathroom break, so we know where you are. (Later I notice people going to the bathroom without signing out.) Call us if you're running late tomorrow. Oh, no cell phones in here - I'll read this official directive - only use in corridors or outside, etc. If you don't you'll get no credit, incur fines, etc...

9:50 a Here's how to tear up your jury summons to get the important parts. That one's your ID. You keep that. The rest you come up and give to us - that's how we know you're here. Remember tomorrow we'll do roll call.

10 a (Another woman, a smart looking white lady gets on the mic). Hi, I'm the supervisor of jury rooms. Just the fact that you're here helps the legal process. The lawyers are scared of you (they don't trust you plebes) so they'll probably settle, but we'll know by noon. If they don't need you, we'll let you go for the day (really? sounds too good to be true)

Everyone resumes reading. I catch up on 2-wk old New Yorker.

11:20 a (bespectacled guy gets on the mike). okay, there was maybe one case that needed a jury, but they settled (b/c they're were afraid of you common people), so you're all dismissed. Come back tomorrow at 9:30 a. Remember we'll take attendance.

(Mad rush to the exits. Some very excited people in the crowd.)

Exciting stuff, huh? Not a single panel called, but what do you expect in the week before Labor Day? So far so good. Let's hope I don't get on a jury tomorrow.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Things I Love About New York: Zipcar

I write quite often about the high cost of living in NYC - whether it's the fresh produce, or real estate or toilet paper - that last one is coming in a separate post. "But you don't have to pay for a car or car insurance or gas!" my Angeleno friends offer as consolation. Perhaps. My car was paid off when I left LA. But I digress.

When you need to get out of the City, sometimes renting a car is just easier than taking the train. Especially if your destination is some small town an hour and a half drive north of the city and taking the train would mean having your BBQ-hosting friends pick you up from the station.

In the past, City Guy and I have rented from the Hertz in our neighborhood. Convenient, yes, but the challenges numerous:
  • It's expensive. You go in thinking you're only going to pay $40/day, but wait, the counter person says, do you have insurance, and hey, it's impossible to find a gas station in Manhattan, so how 'bout prepaying for gas and how many miles did you say you were driving today?
  • They operate out of a garage that closes at 10 pm, so if you miss that return time, you have to park the car and pay for an additional day, even if you're returning the car in the morning.
  • If you have to park the car overnight, you may find yourself cruising the neighborhood to find an elusive open spot so you can save yourself another $40 in parking fees.
  • You never know what you're going to get. We'll reserve a Mazda and get a Chevy, for example, or worse, reserve a compact and get a honkin' SUV.
Which is why I have to tell you about my new love, Zipcar. This past weekend, City Guy and I used Zipcar for the first time since he signed up for membership a while back ($25 one time application fee and $50 for the year). Now that we've tried Zipcar, we'll never got back to Hertz. Here's why:
  • It was soooo easy! Just sign up for membership online. Pick up your Zipcard or have them mail it to you. Reserve a car online. The site shows you what cars are parked near you. Pick a car. Say how long you'll need it. Go to the car. Swipe your Zipcard to unlock the car. Voila! You're in, and wow - are those keys? Yes, they are. No upselling! No counter person or contracts to sign!
  • They have all sorts of cars. Driving is fun again. I really do hate those clunky fleet vehicles rental agencies use. Sorry GM and Ford. :( Just for kicks, we rented a BMW for $17/hr - that's the higher weekend rate too - only a couple dollars more an hour than a Mazda, and what a great ride.
  • Gas is included. Yup. They pay for the gas. We stopped at a station in the Bronx and all we had to do was use the gas card that was waiting for us in the car to pay. Sure, fill her up! And make that premium!
  • Insurance is included in the price, so no awkward decision making at the counter.
  • When you're done, you just return the car to where you picked it up and you're done. No one to check in with. No one eyeing you suspiciously.
  • Did I mention it's cheaper than renting from Hertz?
Not all cities are fortunate enough to have Zipcar yet, and I'm happy to live in one that does.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Great Find: Ippudo's Unforgettable Pork Belly

Last night, Book Babe and I went to Ippudo, the Japanese ramen chain that opened a while back on 4th Ave and 10th St. In the past, the long lines snaking around the side of the entrance deterred me, but last night, at 6 pm, we were able to get in without a wait. Check out this bar made out of ramen noodles. What a hoot!

First off, I have to say I had a minor celebrity sighting -- Govind Armstrong, celebrity chef and owner of Table 8 - walked past me - he's hard to miss with his streaming dreadlocks- and if he's eating there, you know it's got to be good.

Okay, so the decor wasn't quite what I expected. Ippudo's stylish, but it's doesn't feel very minimalist or natural, the way you expect Japanese restaurants to be. It's loud and crazy and kinda rock and roll.We were sat at this sort of fake-fire-pit-bar thing, at the back of which was mirrored glass, which I was facing straight on. It was quite distracting. Here's a photo:The noise in the place also gets a bit crazy, with all the ramen guys shouting "Irashaiiii!!" every time someone enters the dining room and a pretty large dining room full of chatter, but the service is fast and friendly, and most importantly the food is good.

We started with the Hirata Buns, slabs of succulent melt-in-your mouth pork belly and some lettuce and sweet sauce that complements the salty pork perfectly, all slipped into a mantou bun.

Now for the ramen. As far as ramen places go, Ippudo's difference is their tonkastsu broth, made by slowly boiling pork bones, giving it a rich, almost nutty texture. Their handmade ramen noodles are thin and light, not like the greasy, plump curly kind you get freeze-dried in the supermarket. It takes a moment to get used to, but once you're a few bites in, your taste buds are doing a happy dance.

I had the classic choice - the Shiromaru, and Book Babe had the Akamaru Modern. Both come with a couple slices of that wonderful pork belly that was also in the buns. I had half a boiled egg and some pickled ginger in mine. The Modern had some cabbage, I think, but the main difference between the two is the Modern has a squirt of "special sauce" - maybe the same special sauce in the buns? - and some oil and miso paste, giving it a richer flavor and creamier texture. But the Shiromaru was perfect for me that night, as I wanted something lighter.

But that pork - boy, I couldn't get it off my mind. I'm definitely going back.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Word On The Street: City's Short On Produce

This little headline in the Huffington Post caught my attention today: "How Hard Is It To Get Fruits and Vegetables In the City?" It's so true. New Yorkers don't know how bad they have it. Anytime I visit a produce department in a supermarket (much less a Walmart) in another state, it's like stepping into Eden, with all that bounty.

When I moved to NYC from California, I used to go to this little bodega across the street from my Upper East Side apartment. They charged a ransom for the mealiest produce you'd ever seen. In the summer, the place would be swarming with fruit flies - unappetizing to begin with - and whatever produce I bought would be rotten or moldy within 48 hours.

There was a Gristedes a couple blocks away, but I swear their produce department is just for the truly desperate--"Yikes, I have a recipe that calls for onions and I'm fresh out. Thank god there's a Gristedes selling really expensive, sickly produce around the corner." I have been this desperate on occasion, but I've learned to plan better

I made these produce blunders when I was a grad student and low on funds. Not only did I lose my California tan, but I'm sure my sickly pallor was due to my inability to find tasty, affordable produce in my neighborhood.

Now that I have a little more cash flow, the only two places I'll buy produce are Whole Foods and the produce markets on Mott St. in Chinatown. At the former, you're paying a little more, but you know you're geting quality stuff. At the latter, you know the stuff is fresh b/c of the rapid turnover, and it's cheap. I also frequent my neighborhood Zeytuna, which is like a mini-Whole Foods and has a cheaper and better herb section.

I'll occasionally stop at fruit stands on the corner from time to time to grab a bunch of grapes or an avocado, but you have to be careful. I always ask the stand keeper if I can sample the grapes before I buy them, and I inspect my produce before forking over the cash. These guys will pick the produce for you if you stand back and mumble "I'd like to get a few apples, please," but when you get home, you'll find your apples are as mushy as your commitment to good produce.

Monday, June 29, 2009

This NY Moment: Madoff Sentenced To 150 Years

Came across this sign at a store in the Village a couple weekends ago. It struck me as funny but also weirdly opportunistic. In any case, with news of Madoff's sentencing, I thought it a fitting post.

Monday, June 22, 2009

NYC Rant: Crappy Spring & Summer Weather

You knew this was coming. Sooner or later, I was going to jump up on my soap box and complain about the weather we've been having. I think I've been more than patient with the forces that be. Every winter, when I'm wearing three layers of clothing and it's gray outside, and I only get seven hours of sunlight and I'm nearly freezing to death, I remind myself that spring is on its way. Soon, you'll be strolling around the city under your parasol, dressed in your cute summer dresses and your sandals, I tell myself. You'll be eating on that great open patio at Gigino's on the Hudson. It'll be 8 pm and still be warm out! You'll be picnicking!!

But really, I feel like a parent who's promised ice cream to her kid and then found the ice cream store is out of business. Aside from a few warm days (which weren't necessarily sunny), it's been cold, wet and overcast all spring long. The meteorologists forecast a day in the upper 70's but it always feels like mid to upper 60's to me. Or, if it is warm, it's disgustingly muggy and rainy.

In my nearly six years of living in the city, I have never experienced a spring like the one that just ended, and I'm not optimistic about summer, which officially began yesterday. I'm not the only one complaining--I have heard some truly loyal, entrenched New Yorkers, people who've been living here for decades, complain about the weather too. Even the ducks in Battery Park are regretting their decision to fly back for the summer. (these two were sitting in the public infinity fountain in front of Ciao Bella a week ago).

The entire city seems to be waiting with baited breath for the sun to come out. In the meantime, we shuffle around optimistically in our shorts and flip-flops despite the pools of rainwater and the fall-like temperatures, looking crankier and more dejected than ever. We spend our weekends letting our plans for picnics and trips to the Bronx Zoo lapse in favor of a good nap.

I'm reminded of the scenes in The Day After Tomorrow where Manhattan is iced-over, and there are news reports that people are fleeing to Africa where the weather's fine. Whatever the reason, I'm hoping the sun returns, because acceptance of life in NYC is being severely tested by these marathon days of gloom.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happenings: First Visit to the High Line

As long as I've lived here, I've been hearing about plans for the High Line. What is it? An elevated park on what used to be a train track, I was told. I couldn't picture such a thing in theory. But this Saturday, I finally saw it for myself.

City Guy, a couple friends and I braved the heavy gray skies after brunch and walked the rainsoaked wooden planks. The completed section runs from Gansevoort to 20th St, but entered on 18th St. When done, the park should be a mile-and-a-half long and extend north to 34th St. It offers a rare elevated perspective on the river and the Meatpacking District and Chelsea and is beautifully landscaped with plants that were supposedly growing on the abandoned tracks (trains haven't run there since 1980).The architecture is well thought out, although I did almost trip on a couple inexplicable bumps in the cement near some benches (to discourage skateboarders?). Some of the benches were sleek and reminiscent of playground slides, but so narrow that anyone with a large behind might feel less than fully supported. Others were more like beach chairs or beds, sans the adjustable back support. In any case, no one was sitting, as they were wet wet wet. My favorite feature were the windows on the pedestrian bridge over 14th St(?). There is tiered seating so you can while the hours away staring at traffic pass below. The fishbowl view from the other side was actually more interesting.
In this covered bridge above Chelsea Market, an employee from City Bakery manned a small food cart with baked goods and coffee, but wasn't getting much business.
What is this striking architectural giant? Anyone know? It strides the High Line perfectly. Saw lots of people taking pictures, but just one runner. He didn't look very comfortable, navigating the flower beds and benches--plus how satisfying could a half mile run really be? The rest of the High Line is still in construction. Looking through the locked gate at 20th St where the completed section ends, we saw plants waiting for new homes. A nice addition to the city and another bonus to living downtown and on the West side. Should be nice when it's complete.