Monday, March 03, 2014

Good Times in the Big Apple

It's so easy to get to New York City, I don't know why more people from around here don't make the trip. It's 4-5 hours on the bus (I always use Bolt Bus, which goes direct from Union Station to Manhattan), and you can sit back, relax, and not have to worry about tolls or paying attention to the road. Maybe I'm weird, but I don't mind bus or plane trips since it gives me uninterrupted time to read, listen to music, or just nap.

Of course, as soon as I arrive in NYC, I like to hit the ground running. When you're only spending one night in the Big Apple, you need to cram in as much fun and adventure as you can, and this trip was no exception. Along with my friend from work (and fellow WM alum), Dorilyn, I spent the last two days in NYC hanging with friends, seeing two of my favorite actors, and stuffing myself with chocolate.

I've had worse weekends. And not that many that were better.

This trip came about because Dorilyn is as big a nerd as I am. When she heard that Patrick Stewart (i.e. Captain Picard) and Ian McKellen (i.e. Gandalf) were performing on Broadway together, she thought I might be interested in going up to NYC and seeing them in Waiting for Godot.

She was not wrong.

Per usual, we took the first bus up and arrived in midtown Manhattan at 10:30, leaving us the entire day for shenanigans. We met up with our friend Caroline and grabbed a quick lunch at Fresh & Co. (basically the NY version of Sweetgreens and Chop't) and made our way to the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to take in some of their exhibitions.

I love visiting FIT when I am in New York; the exhibitions are free, include stunning fashions spanning the centuries, and don't require too large a time commitment. Basically, it's ideal for someone who wants to see something "very New York," but can't spend hours wandering in a museum.

We were particularly interested in two exhibitions, Trend-ology, about the sources and forces that alter trends in fashion, and Elegance in the Age of Crisis, an exploration of the clothing of the 1930s, the period between the Jazz Age and WWII when modern fashion was created (mostly due to the development of synthetic fibers).

From Elegance in the Age of Crisis: I'll take one of each, please. Well, except that one with the green bow. I mean, REALLY.

 From Trend-ology: perhaps camo should remain on the battlefield. 

After feasting on fashion, we headed back to Caroline's apartment, and watched Terminator 2: Judgment Day, ate some cookies, and shot the shit. You know, typical girl stuff. Running around the city is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to catch up with your friends. 

But before too long, it was time for me and Dorilyn to head out. We had dinner reservations at a fun French bistro-type place in the theater district called Marseilles. It was Restaurant Week in New York (which actually lasts for about 3 weeks) and Dorilyn took advantage of the three course prix fixe menu to get a little adventurous. I stuck with my typical roast chicken entree I try at most places, but had a bit of her sweetbreads appetizer. Surprisingly, I found it delicious. I guess eating outside your comfort zone can pay off. And of course, I couldn't turn down fancy melting chocolate cake for dessert. 

And then! It was time for the main event! We walked a few blocks to the Cort Theater and saw two fantastic English actors in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The show was great (of course), with 
engrossing performances from Stewart and McKellen, whose ease and affection for one another was obvious. Despite being at its core a pretty depressing study of the futility and meaningless of human existence (how cheery!), the play was still very funny. Stewart and McKellen proved they were as adept with acts of physical comedy as they are with wordplay, and it was just a genuine pleasure to watch two such talented friends act alongside one another. The audience was also one of the best I have shared a theater with; their respect for the actors and play was obvious and there was no inappropriate talking, cell phone usage, or other distractions.

Their epic bromance lives on!

Did I mention the adorable dance routine they performed at the curtain call?

Right before the curtain went up....we were practically giddy with excitement.

The show let out around 10:30, but our day wasn't over yet. We headed  back to Caroline's to pick up our bags (she was kind enough to let us leave our stuff at her place) and then we journeyed over 100 blocks north to my friend Sarah's place where we were spending the night. It ended up being something of an adventure--I won't get into details, but let's just say it involved a dead cell phone battery, my not writing Sarah's phone number down before the phone died, Dori and I remembering the wrong house number, and a very kind deli-counter worker with a battery charger. Despite the hiccups, we finally got to Sarah's and settled in for a night's sleep.

We had hoped to make it to the gym in the morning, but because of a noon brunch reservation and a late opening time of the gym, it didn't work out (we were of course, DEVASTATED). Instead, we had a bit of a lie-in, grabbed some coffee at a tiny, adorable coffee shop down the street, and took the subway back to midtown to meet up with Caroline and Joe and walk to Union Square, where we also met up with a friend of Dorilyn's, Dave, who lives in Queens.

What was in Union Square? Only some place I have been trying to visit for the last couple years: Max Brenner, a restaurant that believes in "creating a new chocolate culture worldwide." Most of the items involve chocolate of some kind and other sweets. Example: sandwiches are served on rosemary waffles instead of bread and the pizza is actually a sweet pizza crust topped with chocolate and mini marshmallows. Fries are dusted with coca powder and salads come on top of a corn waffle.

So yeah. To say I was looking forward to eating there was a bit of an understatement.

The food and dessert menus are extensive and creative. Everything we had was tasty and decadent, but aide from a few standouts, it wasn't really anything too terribly special. The regular food is on par in terms of quality with your typical chain sit-down restaurant (think Ruby Tuesday, etc.) except for the unusual ingredients and construction. The desserts were all delicious, but again except for a few items, didn't really blow my mind. The real appeal of Max Brenner is the experience, the presentation, and the fun of ordering things like the Spectacular Melting Chocolate S'mores Sundae. And the indulgence of all that chocolate. The chocolate was amazing.

And now it's time for some food porn (apologies for the yellow tint in the pics, my cell phone camera isn't great at taking indoor photos):

Hands down, the best thing I had was the Italian Hot Chocolate (available in milk, dark, and white chocolate). I had the milk chocolate, and it's a very thick warm hot chocolate with added vanilla cream. Completely and utterly delicious. It's also served in a special mug called the "Hug Mug" since you have to hold it with both hands to sip.

 It really was like a warm chocolatey hug.

We were there for brunch after all, so I ordered the goat cheese and spinach omelet. The eggs were ok, as was the sugar-dusted biscuit, but the spicy breakfast potatoes and little dish of chocolate (for biscuit dipping) were the stand outs here.

And now the desserts:

The above-mentioned S'more Sundae. Chocolate peanut butter ice cream, with toasted marshmallow, fudge, graham crackers, and peanut butter sauce. Ice cream is always yummy, but I couldn't really taste any of the peanut butter. It was good, but not great.

My other favorite item: the OMG dark chocolate chunk cookie served with strawberries, whip cream, and pourable chocolate. The cookie was fantastic: warm, crispy outside, soft inside. Kind of like a brownie in consistency Yum!

Dessert #3: chocolate cherry waffles. A waffle covered in chocolate, whip cream, and what was essentially cherry pie filling. The cherry filling could have come from a can and all the other toppings basically masked the flavor of the waffle. Again, you can't call something that looks like this anything other than delicious, but still, not the best dessert ever.

 Pourable chocolate served in little beakers. So cute.

DC peeps: don't feel like your Max Brenner dreams can never come true. They opened a dessert bar in Bethesda last year that includes all the desserts on the NY menu, but not the actual food menu items. And there are also locations in Vegas and Philadelphia.

After stuffing ourselves with chocolate and sugar we needed an activity that didn't require too much physical exertion. Good thing Union Square is also home to a huge bookstore, The Strand. If you're familiar with Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, it's kind of like that. A huge, sprawling, wonderland for book lover's filled with used and new books of all kinds. I could have spent all day in there, but alas, we only had about an hour and a half. Still, we all found some books and we headed back to Midtown flush with chocolate and excited to read our new books.

Unfortunately, by that time Dori and I had to head out to catch our 5:00 bus home. There was a large snow storm headed for DC, so Dori and I were fervently hoping we would make it back before the weather hit. Turns out we didn't have anything to worry about--we got on the bus with no trouble and made it back to DC in around 4 hours with no traffic and only a little rain.

All in all? It was kind of a perfect visit.

Next excuse for a trip to NYC? Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams in Cabaret. YES, PLEASE.

 Me and Dori heading home on the bus. Until next time, New York!

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