Wednesday, May 26, 2010

it's fleet week!

It's that time of the year again when New York's streets are flooded with strapping men in uniform. I've never actually experienced fleet week before because I always seem to be going on trips right around this time of the year. But this time, I'm here for it, and I'm gonna make sure I get out and find me a sailor! I've always been intrigued by Fleet Week, particularly because of that Sex and the City episode where the girls invade the party and hook up with random sailors. I don't quite have such daring aspirations. A photo op wearing a sailor hat, maybe a drink with a sailor or two, and lots of giggles with my favorite Aussie and Frenchie are all I'm out for tonight. 

So what does one wear to go sailor hunting anyway? At first I thought of going the nautical route but they must be tired of seing navy and white stripes. Jodie and I thought it would be way cuter to do a  ladylike look harking back to those ubiquitous war movies where you see men in uniform paired off with women in feminine dresses and pincurls. I just ended up dressed in a pencil skirt and frilly secretary blouse, but I think these ladylike yet summery outfits by Lauren Moffat would be perfect for running around the city in search for men in white (Well, except those high heels. That would be suicide in Times Square).

Ok, I'm off to a Spanish class followed by the sailor hunt. Hope you're all having a great day! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the birthday pig-out at sik gaek

One of my most touching birthday moments ever was definitely last Friday. I walked into Sik Gaek, a Korean restaurant way out in Flushing, and my jaw dropped open when I saw a table for 20 packed with some of my best Filipino friends in New York chorusing, "Happy birthday!!!"

No, this was not a surprise party. I planned the dinner and sent guilt-inducing emails pleading my friends to please get to Sik Gaek on time because it's near impossible to seat 20 people at any other time. Our reservation was at 6:30PM on a Friday night. At the same time as a Mets-Yankees game in, you guessed it, Flushing. Filipinos are notorious for being late, and my friends are no exception. So I really expected that table to be pretty empty when I walked in. I swear, I almost cried when I saw that the table was packed!

Some of them had gone to crazy lengths to get to Flushing on time, which I will not go into detail about since I like keeping my friends employed. I was really touched. And then I got hungry.

So we sat down, immediately ordered, chugged massive bottles of OB beer and descended on the various Korean appetizers laid out for us: fried eggs, Korean-style miso soup, a yummy fluffy egg soup, and a rice cake dish aptly described by Jason as "like Chef Boyardee for Koreans but WAY better."

And then our orders started coming in. There was some yummy sizzling kalbi and bulgogi ...

... and the most delicious seafood scallion pancakes I have ever had! How could it be anything but with pancakes are so generously packed with fresh seafood and thick strips of scallions? Man, now I'm craving for some!

And then, the pièce de résistance. The reason why 20 food-crazy people would trek all the way to Flushing for a meal (other than their sheer love for me, of course). The cheol pan, a seafood casserole with a live octopus and still moving lobster plopped on top, which cooks and um, slowly dies, in front of your very eyes. I have to admit, I felt guilty seeing it, though it doesn't seem like it in this picture.

Here's a video of the dish for full effect:

To be frank, I loved this dish more for the novelty than for the actual taste. I found the taste a bit too briny. I preferred the steamed pot of goodies which landed on the other side. Wish I'd been able to have some of the juicy crab legs, but it's good that I didn't so I'll have a reason to come back!

A really nice gesture from the staff was the two large platters of oysters that they served us, on the house. I was so happy since you know how I do love my oysters. 

Then came the wacky birthday surprises. At some point, our server realized that it was my birthday and she asked me if I wanted to celebrate with birthday cake. Friends of mine had already told me that they get a little crazy here with birthday cakes so I told her, "No thank you, I'm fine. I'll just have birthday beer." Well lo and behold, about 10 minutes later, the lights go off, Korean music starts blasting, the servers come out clapping and blowing noisemakers, a ridiculously huge and crazy birthday hat gets plopped on my head, and I'm presented with ... birthday beer!

They literally taped a candle to a bottle of beer. I loved it! After the spectacle, we settled down and went back to eating and drinking. And then, the crazy music went back on so I looked around to see who else was celebrating a birthday ... and realized nope, it's for me AGAIN! So I got some icing stripes on my face, got to make another wish and blow out more candles. Thanks again to Gretchen and Gi who got the cake!

It came to roughly $40 per person (with them treating me, at that), which amazed everyone since we had ordered a crazy amount of food and drinks. And somehow, at the end of it, there was too much money left over so we decided to get a round of shochu shots for the whole table.

Truly one of the best and most memorable birthday celebrations I've ever had. Thanks again to everyone who came! I love you all to pieces!

Sik Gaek is located at 161-29 Crocheron Avenue, Flushing, NY 11358. Tel. (718) 321-7770

Additional photos courtesy of Bernice Tenchavez and Bong Perez

Sunday, May 23, 2010

the happiest happy hour

For my birthday eve, I went to Xai Xai with my favorite Frenchie and Aussie for South African wine and $1 oysters. Normally I would be wary of eating oysters being sold that cheap, but since we know people who work at the bar, I trusted that the oysters would be fresh—and they absolutely were. Juicy, succulent oysters at a buck a piece? Hellz yeah!

When I was a kid, we always had oysters at family picnics and it frustrated me to no end that the adults wouldn't let me have any on an empty stomach. I would have to eat something substantial (and cooked) first before I could dig into the oysters. Even at 29, I can't seem to get their voices out of my head so I had to order the mini ostrich burgers ($14) for added sustenance. 

Who needs birthday cake when you've got Gewurtz, oysters and ostrich burgers? 

Well okay, maybe not birthday cake but some Malva pudding? Malva pudding is a traditional South African dessert with apricot jam as one of its main ingredients. It is a plate of moist, mushy, warm deliciousness. I have developed an addiction to it, I'm quite sure.

So happy I've found a cool little bar that can support my oyster habit. I fully intend on regularly taking advantage of Xai Xai's oysters happy hour (4-7PM) on a regular basis.

Thanks to my lovely ladies for kicking off my 29th on a lovely note! Expect weekly groveling for wine and oysters from me.

Xai Xai is located at 369 West 51st Street between 8th and 9th Avenue, New York, NY. Tel. (212) 247-7826

Friday, May 21, 2010

keeping death company

I suppose a place called Death & Company is a bit of a weird spot to have birthday cocktails at. But if you'll indulge my morbid side for a second, you have to think that every year we grow older, we do get a bit closer to kicking the bucket, right? So I'm just being real here. In any case, I should be so lucky if I met my end via death by cocktails and foie gras.

Having said that, I actually just picked this place because Zoe and I passed it last week and I couldn't believe that I'd never been there. So we set up an intimate party of cocktail lovers to celebrate my impending 30s (it's still a year away, but clearly I have a flair for the dramatic). The wait for our table was a tiny bit annoying, but after half an hour and some sweet talking out front, we did get seated. I got a kick out of the menu, which had all sorts of quotes that I am totally including in my repertoire. This one's a favorite:  

The quote above seems particularly geared towards me since I am given to proclaiming that I will wake up at 7AM and run 4.5 miles after drinking roughly five gin & tonics. Death & Co.'s cocktail menu is pretty extensive, separated by the main spirits used: rum, gin, tequila, whisky, champagne or beer. Furthermore, they change their menu every few months to incorporate in-season produce. I settled on the Hoi Polloi, which was refreshing, delicious, and served in a satisyingly tall glass.

We hadn't planned on eating but Zoe, Mat and I have very little willpower when faced with the words "foie gras, pork belly and truffled macaroni." The seared foie gras, priced at $18, was totally worth it. We were served two slices of foie about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide, laid atop dainty corn cakes and quince puree. Heaven. Just heaven.

I loved the presentation of the truffled macaroni (above), which made clearing out the plate a breeze. Not that it wouldn't been wiped out if the macaroni was simply dumped on a saucer. Macaroni, cheese, bread crumbs and truffle oil are just heavenly, no matter what. I wasn't able to get a good picture of the pork belly but they were quite good as well. The pork was flavorful, and the meat-fat-crispy-skin ratio was on point. Even Zoe who is very particular with pork belly gave this dish two thumbs up.

Qualms: there was a strange and rather unappetizing odor permeating the area where we were seated, making the feeling of being inside a massive coffin a bit too real, if you know what I mean. I would definitely come back to Death & Co., but I would let that air out first ...

I proclaimed this week my birthday week, so you can expect a few more stories about how I milked my birthday for the next few days ... in the meantime, if you're in New York, I hope you'll go do something amazing to enjoy the fabulous weather that we're having today. If you're elsewhere in the world, have a wonderful weekend!

Death & Co. is located at 433 East 6th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, New York, NY 10009. Tel. (212) 388-0882

Thursday, May 20, 2010

how about them yankees?

I still remember going to my first Yankees baseball game. My friend Joel picked me up and the first thing he asked was, "Do you have a Yankees hat?"

"Umm no."

"You need one."

I wasn't too thrilled about spending $25 when I never really wear baseball caps, but once we got to Yankee stadium, I was glad I did. Everyone, including little girls and their American Girl dolls, were decked out in Yankees gear.

I haven't watched a Yankees game since, but I'm sure that at some point I'll end up going. So I'm really glad that Victoria's Secret has come up with cute fan gear that fits women, and fits them well. I am so getting the "I only kiss Yankees fans" shirt:

That with white shorts or a mini plus those knee-high socks and Chucks would be too cute! The thought of the outfit alone makes me wanna be taken out for a ballgame.

Victoria's Secret didn't just do this for the Yankees of course. Check out what gear they have for your favorite team here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

brooklyn pub crawl

Don't you just love that feeling when a day ends up nothing like you think it will? I was kind of floating around yesterday, after a bit too much beer and not enough sleep on Friday, but there were all sorts of things on the Saturday agenda, so I just kept trucking on. Kate and I had our third aerial silks class, which is a little funnier (in my mind, at least) when you're brain dead. Afterwards, we had coffee, helped another friend Céline move into her new Chelsea pad (woot woot!), then trekked over to Brooklyn for an afternoon pub crawl. We took the A and a shuttle, thanks to the usual Saturday MTR madness, to get to Carroll Gardens and made a beeline for the first pub with outdoor seating that we saw. Downtown Bar & Grill was what it was called. Though service was ridiculously slow, they did have a great beer selection and pretty yummy bar food. I had the fish and chips with their recommended beer: Julius Echter Hefe-Weiss, which was a surprisingly light and refreshing dark wheat beer. 

The fish and chips were pretty good, especially when doused in vinegar, but I got tired of all the fried stuff pretty quickly. Thank god Kate and April were there to help me out. Afterwards, we rendezvoused with another group and headed for Camp. We had a hysterical time playing Jenga using a set that people had scribbled silly and dirty tasks on. The idea is that you have to do the task on the Jenga tile that you pull out. For instance:


Then I looked at the corner behind the April and said, "Oh ... " We erupted into giggles when they saw what I was pointing at.

We ended up just doing the more innocuous things like "Hug a stranger" and "Kiss the cutest person in group." Oh, and "Buy everyone in the group a drink." I got that one, which resulted in this:

I thought it was hysterical that we all got much better at Jenga after two rounds of shots.

I just loved how I found myself having an awesome time surrounded by very cool people that I met  in random circumstances. That's what I love the most about New York ... you're constantly finding yourself wondering, "How did I end up here?" and just flabbergasted by all the fun people you come into contact with. 

Oh, one more thing: I'm seriously seduced by Brooklyn and its chill vibe. Mark my words, I'm gonna be a Brooklynite in the not too far future!

Downtown Bar & Grill is located at 160 Court Street, corner of Amity Street, Brookyln, NY 11201.
Camp is located at 179 Smith Street between Warren and Wyckoff Streets, Brooklyn, NY 11201.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the lower east side cocktail bar crawl

It's no secret that I love indulging in the not-so-occasional drink. What not everyone may realize though is that I hardly ever drink with the goal of getting plastered. Drinking to me is a lot like eating. I enjoy savoring the flavors and textures in my cocktails, beer and wine, much like I would a beautifully seared piece of foie gras or some succulent fresh uni.

So it's always a treat when Zoe and I go on our artisanal cocktail bar crawls. Zoe has been dipping into the city's cocktail scene for years, and it's because of her that I've had some of the best spirits and cocktails that New York has to offer. For this chilly Tuesday evening, she suggested starting at Painkillers, a New York-style tiki bar from the guys behind Dutch Kills in Long Island City.  I got off the F train at Delancey and walked a few blocks down the dodgy south side. I was starting to think that I'd gone the wrong way, when I finally hit this unmistakeable sign:

I slipped through the front door and found myself in a green-hued tiki den decorated with Polynesian masks, subway-style graffiti, and bamboo. I said hello to a friend Enzo, who happened to be bartending, and then Zoe and I made our way to a booth in the back to get started on the tiki goodness. We were sold on the Miami Vice ($14, see image above), a combo of strawberry daiquiri and piña colada served in a tall glass (we were assured it was like getting 1.5 of a drink, which was pretty accurate). It was refreshing and I loved that it was blended perfectly smooth. I would've liked it better if the strawberry, pineapple and coconut flavors were more evident. It's only been open for a bit more than a week and we were the first people to order the Miami Vice, so I'm sure it'll be pretty perfect in a few months' time. Check out this little video tour done by Thrillist to see what a New York-style tiki bar looks like. 

We couldn't really go through the menu thoroughly since we had other places to visit, so we left after one drink. I'd like to come back and try one of their flights though. From Painkiller on Essex, we walked over to Milk & Honey on Eldridge, passing what looked to me like the daycare center from hell. Chucky's hiding in there, I'm pretty sure.

Disturbing isn't it? Soon after, we got to our favorite New York speakeasy, Milk & Honey. Since realizing that egg whites can do wonderful things to cocktails, I've been hooked, so tonight I asked for something incorporating my favorite ingredient. There were a number of ingredients in there, including whisky, peach nectars, and both the egg white and yolk. It was yummy, creamy and packed quite a punch, but we both agreed we've had better drinks there before. Or are we just getting too spoiled?

After Milk & Honey, we were ready for some food. Thank goodness there's a cuban sandwich shop underneath Cienfuegos called Carteles. It's a good thing we ate there, too, because the cuban sandwich upstairs is about 2 bucks more expensive, and I'd rather save my moolah for the booze. This baby will set you back just $8.50 ...

This was the first time I'd ever had a Cuban sandwich, and I have to say I love how Cubans are not content with just one form of pork in their sandwich. Nope, there's roast pork and ham. Plus two kinds of cheese: Swiss and Provolone. Then, a smear of garlicky mustard and crunchy pickles. And the bonus of heavenly homemade plantain chips. Delish! After we'd had our fill, we ventured upstairs to Cienfuegos, a Cuban-inspired rum bar, which was pretty crowded for a Tuesday night. I guess that's the effect of a New York Times writeup. The drinks here are mostly punches, but Zoe and I both ordered the Vinales, which turned out to be the best drink of the night. How could it be anything but tropical paradise with these ingredients: coconut ice cream, tamarind, pineapple juice, Angostura bitters, Barbancourt, fresh lime juice, Fernet Branca, Jarritos Tamarindo, and nutmeg sprinkles. My only qualm was that it took forever and a day to get our drink. I think they were understaffed, not realizing that they would get slammed on a Tuesday night.

I'd love to come back for another visit once they've worked out the kinks. Check out another video from Thrillist, this time on Cienfuegos.

It was definitely a great way to spend a Tuesday night. Can't wait for the next crawl with Zoe!

Painkillers is located at 49 Essex Street, New York, NY.
Cienfuegos is located at 95 Avenue A, New York, NY.

Monday, May 10, 2010

missoni for converse

I've been thinking for about a week now about getting Chuck Taylors. I don't really wear sneakers but for some reason, it's been crossing my mind lately that it wouldn't be so bad to hang out in miniskirts and high top Chucks for the warmer months. Of course, right when I'm about to take the plunge on these reasonably priced sneakers, I find out that there's now a very chic version in one incredibly irresistible print:
Of course they're only available in two areas, and one of them happens to be New York (the other one is  Beverly Hills). And of course the Missoni boutique on Fifth Avenue is just a quick walk from my office. The damage: $200—expensive enough to make a significant dent on my monthly budget, but maddeningly low enough that I could potentially whip my credit card out in a weak moment.

I am actually hoping that I will be so busy at work this week that I won't even be able to think about walking to the Missoni store to take a look ...


This comes a little bit late, but nevertheless I wanted to say that I hope all the mothers out there had a happy and much deserved Mother's Day! To my dearest friends who are now mothers, I am in awe of all that you do. I can hardly take care of myself, so you are superwomen in my eyes. To my dearest mom, Marinella, who has loved me through 29 years of craziness and belligerence, and supported me in my quest to turn far-fetched dreams into reality, thank you and I love you very much. Special thanks also goes out to my "Mommy", my aunt Cristina who has been a second mother to me my whole life, for her untiring prayers, advice and reminders. I am blessed to have such amazing women in my life. I love you all.

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