Dinner at Bonnie's

Earlier this summer, I was browsing online to look for a class on tea. I love drinking tea (I hardly drink coffee unless I'm traveling) and living in NYC, there's gotta be something, right? So one thing led to another, and somehow I came across the Te Company. Although they did offer a tea tasting/class, I was more interested in their bi-monthly dinner series called Dinner at Bonnie's. All I knew from the website description was that it was an intimate, multi-course dinner where the menu would not be decided until the day of the meal, decided by the chef when he went to the market that day. I was intrigued. I asked a friend to go but she didn't get back to me until 24 hours later and by the time I was ready to book, the two dates in July were sold out! So I didn't get to go until the third week of August and I gotta say, this was one of the most memorable dining experiences I've ever had in NYC.

 The Te Company

The Te Company

The Te Company is owned and operated by a woman who formerly worked in finance. She loved tea so much that she decided to open up her own shop, selling to locals as well as restaurants around the city. I guess that's how she met her partner, who used to be a sous chef at the acclaimed Per Se.  Anyway, long story short, their shop resides in a tiny West Village location that used to be a vintage cookbook shop owned by Bonnie Slotnick. 

Since I had zero expectations of this place, I think that's what made the experience more memorable too. I don't want to overhype or spoil it for anyone, but here are my key observations from here:

  • There is only one seating (7 pm) for up to 9 guests. So arrive on time because everyone is generally served at the same time. You can bring your own wine, or opt for the tea pairing (which is what I did and it was good but a bit pricey. If you love tea, just go for it, Otherwise, bring your own wine, as much as you want!)
  • The price ($135) includes everything. The 12 course meal, the service, etc. You pay this in advance when you buy a ticket online, and nothing more. So worth it, considering the amazing quality of the food, service, and the cozy ambience.
  • Come with an open mind. Since the chef decides the menu the day of, you need to accept each course for what is it, or hope whoever you're with can eat anything. Most everything we had was seafood and each course was small--a few bites each--but you will get incredibly full since there's 12 of them! This includes dessert. Nothing we ate was weird though. Everything was so fresh and tasty and flavorful, and for the most part, dishes you cannot just find at every other restaurant (or at least the evening I went).
  • I've eaten at Per Se, and I thought my meal here was far superior (and way better value) than Per Se. I wish the chef cooked somewhere else (since they only do dinners here 2x a month) but unfortunately (for me) he doesn't. 
  • Whoever you come with better be someone you really like! My friend and I sat here from 7 pm to 10:30 pm. They reserve the right to ask you to leave an hour after the last course is serve. We left right after since we were so tired and full. The dinners are only on Monday nights (so far).
  • Below are some of the dishes we had. My faves were the trout with roe, soft scrambled eggs with truffles, crab meat with gelatin (sounds kinda weird but it was DELICIOUS--very buttery), the scallops, heirloom tomatoes with sardines, and the Portuguese cheese (which the chef's friend brought over from Portugal, you can't get it here). I asked what the cheese was called and I think it's biscoito amanteigado. 

You can tell they prepare the dinner with care. I would definitely go back (if tickets become available, so far they are sold out through November!). And I loved that at the end of the meal, the chef walks around to each table to have a chat. It's really rare that I wake up the next day still thinking about what I ate the night before, and I thought about this meal after for daaaaayyyysss!!! Highly recommend this!

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Bike & Brunch

Looking to do something active so you can enjoy the sunny day outside but also relax and chill? That's generally what I aim to accomplish during any free time I have. 

Yesterday a friend and I decided to bike alongside the Hudson River near the West Side Highway and then have brunch at La Marina , which is a beautiful restaurant near Inwood and sits right on the river. 

 

 Beautiful views at La Marina, can't believe this is in NYC and not crowded at all! 

Beautiful views at La Marina, can't believe this is in NYC and not crowded at all! 

I rented a bike from Bike and Roll NYC. There are multiple locations and biking in the streets of Manhattan is NOT for the faint of heart. So I decided to rent from the West 70th Street Riverside Park location. From here to La Marina, it is about 7.4 miles one way, so almost 15 miles roundtrip. Seemed like a great way to be active and enjoy the river views. 

So if you ever decide to rent from this location too, here are a few tips: 

  • Don't trust Google maps to get you there. The bike rental place is not really on West 70th street and Riverside Boulevard (but it's very close). It's inside Riverside Park. To get there, take the 1 train to 72nd Street. Then walk towards 69th Street and Riverside Boulevard. From there, you'll see a long ramp down into the park by the water. Follow this ramp and then walk along the bike lane towards the rest rooms and behind/past the cafe (basically you want to walk north and end up between 70th and 71st street). Bike and Roll is located right next to the basketball courts, like a minute walk past the bathrooms (which were pretty clean for a public NYC bathroom!). You can also call them for directions if you get lost. 
  • It's better to make a bike reservation online. Why? Because apparently they don't really check them! So if you rented online for one hour you can just ride however long you want, as long as you return it to the same location. All they ask for is the rental email confirmation number. But at the desk they don't check your type of reservation. I only know this because I asked a lot of questions (I rented for 4 hours, which was $39) and they said don't worry about it if I go over my time (which I did).  A whole day rental is $44. I took the bike at 1 pm and got back at 5:30 pm (mainly because I was so tired so I biked slow).
  • Eat a little something and don't workout before doing this activity. I made this mistake and was sooo tired. It was fun but I had been doing lunges and cardio earlier in the day so my muscles were already exhausted. If you don't bike often, this is a great workout so start by feeling rested!! And bring water with you!
  • The bike trail up to La Marina is pretty straightforward. You just follow the bike lane to Inwood and you pass the George Washington Bridge along the way. However, it's really steep uphill around the bridge. Just get off your bike and walk it up. Some of the trail is a mix of uphill and downhill, but it's mostly flat. Like I said, it's a great workout and you are reward with nice views of the Hudson. When you reach Dyckman Street (you'll know, you will go down a few bike ramps back down to the street after riding along the West Side Highway), you'll see the restaurant right on the left, and you can lock up your bike at the bike station near the car parking valet.
  • Wear a cap and sunglasses if it's sunny! And also don't bring a lot. The bike rental has a small pouch to store personal terms but not much (enough for phone, wallet, water bottle though). They also give you a bike lock and key and poncho if they think it will rain. You can request a helmet if you want it. 
  • The bike trail, when I went, was very safe, and not crowded at all. I hardly heard anyone dinging their bell. Everyone is pretty respectful (stay to the right!). Saw a mix of joggers and people just walking along as well.

Anyway, it was a nice breezy ride and I was definitely starving by the time we reached La Marina. It took us about 45 minutes to an hour to ride there from West 70th. Mostly because I was slow and tired! But getting there was worth it. I felt like I was in another world. Maybe because it's not the height of summer yet, but on Saturday at 2pm it was not crowded at all and the place was beautiful and relaxing. 

 Great space to kick back for drinks under the sunny skies

Great space to kick back for drinks under the sunny skies

 Inside the restaurant with river views all around

Inside the restaurant with river views all around

 More seating outdoors

More seating outdoors

For my reward of thigh burning, I had the La Marina burger and two Blue Point oysters which were huge. My burger was satisfying, well done with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cheese on a fresh bun. Came with fries. An 18% gratuity is automatically added to the bill here. Service was not exactly on point but they were friendly. Just had to flag the staff down sometimes to refill water. 

Overall I would recommend this if you have an afternoon where you want to explore a different part of the city, try a different place for food, and be rewarded with nice relaxing views. And burn lots of calories! I was exhausted at the end of the day. Note the bike rental closes by 7 pm so you will want to get back before then. Or if you're really ambitious, rent a bike further away like in Battery Park or from Central Park! I thought the West 70th location was just far enough. Also, I didn't do this but maybe bring a blanket to lay out on the grass on if you want to take a rest along the bike ride.

Enjoy! 

Yes Scrubs

 Muscle heaven

Muscle heaven

The Turkish Hammam at Trump SoHo

I love spas. My dream job (besides writing about travel) would be to review spas. I started getting massages here and there when I was 23, when New York Sports Club suckered me into a massage package (which I definitely could not afford at the time, but I succumbed when my muscles melted like butter in the masseuse's hands).  Since then, I'm always on the lookout for spa deals and new places to try. 

So a couple of weeks ago, armed with a special deal from Gilt City ($150, not including tax and tip, regular Hammam price is $210 on the weekdays), I trekked down to the Trump hotel in SoHo two Monday's ago. I prefer going to spas on the weekdays after work since usually there is less people. My appointment was at 7:30 pm but I got there by 6 to take advantage of the spa amenities. I am totally the type of person who can spend all day by myself, lost in my thoughts. 

I checked in and was shown around the spa, which doesn't have the most logical layout but I've always had a good sense of direction so it didn't bother me. They provide a long fluffy robe and slippers, and after changing into my swimsuit, I lounged in the sauna and steam room for about 20 minutes each before taking a quick nap in the relaxation room, where they have comfy beds, hot tea, and snacks (dried fruit, nuts, and apples). It was quiet so I pretty much had all these places to myself.  

Then came Turkish Hammam time. I really had no idea what to expect. I thought I would get a scrub while lying in a bathtub but not at all. My massage therapist took me into the beautifully tiled room above and told me to lie down on a towel on top of a slab of heated marble. She also gave me dark colored disposable undergarments to wear instead of my bathing suit. 

I lied down on my back and the process started. With my eyes closed, I felt the warmth of hot water being thrown all over my body. It was sooo soothing!!! For me, I didn't find it to be scalding hot but it was a shock at first and I quickly got over it. She splashed me for a good while before she started massaging me with oils. It was basically an amazing hot bath massage. Then she exfoliated me all over with a body scrub which was also incredibly soothing and relaxing. More hot water splashing. Finally, towards the end, she gave me a scalp massage, which I so needed and a perfect complement to the rest of the body massage. The final piece of the puzzle was getting splashed with cold water to cool you down. At the end of the hour, my skin was silky smooth and relaxed all over. 

Afterwards I took a quick lie down in the relaxation room, which suddenly had huge chocolate covered strawberries that were not there before. After letting myself bask in the afterglow of the Hammam, I took a long shower in the locker room and that was luxurious too--it's those types of showers where they have like ten shower heads spraying you from every angle.  

All in all, this was my most favorite NYC spa experience so far. I'll write about other places I like some other time, but I highly recommend this spa experience with or without a deal. New York City is a crazy pulsating place and this is the perfect way to de-stress and enjoy yourself if needed. 

 

Happy Meals

There is nothing more I look forward to every day than what I will eat. I love food. I don't want to call myself a foodie though because it is a bit pretentious term and I am NOT 100% knowledgeable about food. I wish I was. I'm learning, but my goal is not to be a foodie anyway. When I go out to eat, I equate it to traveling. I love discovering new dishes, flavors, food I could never re-create at home. My goal is to enjoy the meal, the service, the ambience of the restaurant, the conversation with an eating companion, people watching...

With that being said, I've been eaten at a ton of places in NYC and around the world. Some good, some ok, some overrated, and some absolutely seared-in-my-memory-forever delicious. It's very rare I find a place I want to go back and try other dishes and this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to come across two! Both are brand new, Covina and Le Coq Rico.

Covina

Covina is a Mediterranean restaurant from the owners of nearby sushi joint O-ya (which I've also been and is quite good). It's a great place for any type of occasion--date night, catching up with friends or family. There is a front area that's the "cafe" part of the restaurant where you can get coffee + breakfast. I look forward to trying this area next time! Then when you walk in, there is a huge wrap-around bar where you can drink cocktails or have a meal. The back area is the dining area and the decor is very modern, chic, but comfortable. I'm trying not to be the type of person who takes a million pictures in a restaurant so unfortunately I don't have any to share. 

Service-wise, the waitress we had was great. The restaurant has only been opened a week or so when I went, and she was incredibly knowledgeable about the menu and drinks. My friend and I had:

  • the wood-grilled gulf shrimp - Very juicy and the bed of polenta cream it came with was yummy
  • the Hungarian fried bread - I was curious to try this. OMG IT WAS GREAT. Although it's fried, the bread was very light, not oily or doughy or too carby at all. It came with smoked salmon, which is something I sometimes like but not too much, and the combination of the salmon with the bread and the kefir ranch cream was perfect
  • the mandilla - All their pastas are made fresh in-house and you can definitely tell. This pesto pasta dish is wrapped over ricotta cheese and was probably my favorite of all four dishes. I even took home leftovers and it was still so good the next day after re-heating it in the oven
  • the margherita pizza - I love pizza. I could do a whole post on NYC pizza. This is more Neopolitan style pizza and it was quite tasty. You can tell they're using pretty high quality ingredients for the cheese/tomato sauce

I really loved every dish we ordered, which again, is a rare thing to happen for me at a restaurant!

IN SUMMARY: Recommend for people who are looking for a tapas-style place in a comfortable and cool but casual environment. Everything is shareable. For the price I thought it was reasonable given the quality of the food, service, and ambience. We had leftovers from the pasta and pizza dishes. Located on 27th Street btwn Park and Lexington Avenue, this place is easy to get to via subway. Just take the 6 train to 28th Street and walk 1 block south and then east on 27th.

TIPS: Didn't get to try the coffee, but had mint tea after dinner and it was a very promising sign that they do everything well. I love tea and it perfectly brewed. If you're a tea drinker, you know what I'm talking about.

Le Coq Rico

At Le Coq Rico, which is the first American branch of the Parisian-one, a question formed in my head that in all my 30+ years of eating I never thought about--what is the life span of a chicken?? I could probably google it, but I think if I knew, I would be sad and not eat chicken anymore. There's probably a ton of reasons why we shouldn't be eating meat anyway but...that's a whole other discussion/topic. I mean honestly, every day there is a study about what's good for you, what's not good for you. Eating meat will kill you, being vegetarian increases your risk of cancer, blah blah blah. I'm sure there is some truth to every study but I also think life is life, unpredictable and random. You can try to live a healthy life or one sustained in junk food but anything can happen so I rather just enjoy the present but be mindful. Anyway, at Le Coq Rico, their specialty is chicken and they're very particular about what chickens they use (how long they're alive for, how they're raised, what they're fed, etc.). Apparently it's American standard to take chickens in at 40 days, whereas this place harvests their chicken at 100+ days. 

The hard thing about writing food posts is that there are only so many adjectives to describe what you're eating but I'll do my best. My friend and I ordered:

  • en meurette - Wow, this was different. It's basically egg poached in a red wine reduction sauce and topped with bacon and mushrooms. The sauce was flavorful and the whole dish was just delicious. I didn't even know you could poach eggs in red wine. I must learn.
  • fried & crusty - Also good, came with a lot of fresh veggies. This was my friend's order so I didn't get to try too much of it but I think mine was the better of the two appetizers!
  • rotisserie chicken (quarter-size) with salad - I see the light of eating older chicken! The meat was very tender and the roast of the skin was crisp. The jus you can pour over it was great too.
  • seasonal vegetable fricassee &  potato puree - Basic side dishes, but very fresh. Our fricassee was a bit over salted though
  • profiteroles - I'm not a big dessert person but man these were good. Very light, it wasn't heavy at all though I'm sure it's loaded with calories! Everything about it is a sugar lover's dream. I only had a few bites, my friend did the rest of the damage.

IN SUMMARY: Recommend for people who love their rotisserie chickens and want to try something different. Price-wise, I thought this place was reasonable, maybe a bit on the higher side given that it's comfort food but you can tell they're using fresh ingredients. Good place for date night, catching up with friends, business meals, and families. Located on 20th street btwn Park and Madison Avenue, this place is easy to get to by the 6 train or the N/R/Q line. Close to Union Square as well.

TIPS: Try to get a seat at the kitchen bar so you can witness the action.

S I D E   N O T E:

Everyone's idea of how much to spend is all relative. Having lived in NYC my whole life, unfortunately I've grown accustomed to paying NYC prices. In fact, when I went to Amsterdam last year, I was SHOCKED to see a glass of wine was only $4. I knew that it's cheaper in Europe but hadn't been back in so long that I just forgot. So please know that my opinions of if a place is reasonable or not is due to the fact that I'm used to things being more expensive here. That does NOT mean I like paying NYC prices though! I do try to eat cheap whenever possible, usually if I'm eating alone. If I think a place is "reasonable" in terms of prices, it means that in my opinion, I think the prices are good/fair-value based on the quality of food, ambience, service.