Saturday, January 31, 2009

Serendipity 3: Don't Fall for the Hype

We knew this place was a tourist trap, but we're all about trying something new so we went to East 60th Street on a bitterly cold day to the famous dessert parlor Serendipity 3. We were surprised at how tiny Serendipity 3 was from the outside (black awning in the brown building).

The first miserable thing about Serendipity 3 was how crowded it was. We were actually surprised that the wait was only 30 minutes. However, the 30 minutes seemed like a lifetime because there is no waiting area. We were stuck in a tiny space at their general store area in the front where you're forced to stare at tacky and random oddities they sell, while getting pushed and shoved by adults wearing fur coats trying to get in and out through the door.

The downstairs area is decorated with Tiffany-style lamps.

We were seated upstairs where the walls are pink and adorned with mirrors of various sizes.

We understand that Serendipity 3 is famous for its desserts so we didn't have high expectations for their food, but we were surprised at how bad their sandwiches were. And this statement speaks volumes when you take into consideration that we had not eaten all day and were starving by the time we received our food. Their Haight-Ashbury sandwich was ho-hum and forgettable.

I ordered their High Heel Pump. I like proscuitto. I ADORE brie. I love bread. And I live for dressing. So how could a meal that is comprised of all things that I love combine to create such a horrible mess of a sandwich? The proscuitto was incredibly salty. The bread was stale. Their Russian dressing was simply bad. The brie was overcooked, not melted. More importantly, the sandwiches cost about $14, which makes the crap you're served taste crappier.

But we were determined to turn our experience around - we really wanted to believe the desserts were deserving of its notoriety. So we ordered their Strawberry Fields Sundae (cheesecake, strawberry ice cream, strawberry topping with whipped cream). It looked pretty enough. And it was huge.

This dessert is suitable for four large adults or six kids to tackle.

After trying one of their famous desserts, we can now say DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE. The dessert was nothing special. It was just your basic strawberry ice cream, your basic whipped cream, your basic strawberries, your basic strawberry sauce, and a horrible cheesecake served in a very large bowl. That's it. We could have made it at home. Definitely not worth $15.

So there you have it. Overrated, overpriced marginal food and desserts served in a cramped space. Oh and even their basic black coffee sucked. So after coming home monumentally disappointed, we wanted to do some further research to see if we were just the lone crazies that just ordered the wrong things or if there were other New Yorkers that shared our views. And what we found were that while many travel shows and publications like Frommer's had nothing but the sweetest things to say about them, the average person living in this city were equally pissed off about wasting their money at Serendipity. Even their signature dessert the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate was described by reviewers as nothing better than your store bought Nestle Quick.

We concluded that Serendipity 3 has mastered the art of publicity stunts that get them more media coverage that they deserve. That's why there's a $1,000 Golden Opulence Sundae on their menu and that's why in 2007 they unveiled a $25,000 dessert called the "Frrrozen Haute Chocolate," which Guinness World Records declared the world's most expensive dessert. Seriously, who cares that there's gold and diamonds on it (would rather wear it than eat it). We're not sure if anyone bought one, but there were a lot of pissed off New Yorkers who were disgusted by this ostentatious PR gimmick and the fact that this would be added to the list of why people outside of New York think New Yorkers are nuts and why so many poor countries have this view of us as gluttonous pigs.

But of all the many bad things we read about Serendipity, nothing was quite as bad as this article. We certainly would not have gone if we read this before heading out. Serendipity is supposed to be the fortunate thing you discover while looking for something else. We really wished while looking for Serendipity 3 yesterday, we could have found something else.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Parallel parking in NYC

It must take some talent to parallel park this:

Things that would otherwise be strange back in our hometown just seems completely normal here. Nothing is bizarre in this city. It's great!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Birth of Soul and Cool

Sylvia's Restaurant of Harlem (Lenox and 127th Street) has been selling soul food since 1962. What started as a small neighborhood restaurant has grown to a large business visited by tourists from all over the world and Nelson Mendela, Stevie Wonder, Bill Clinton, and Magic Johnson have all had some sort of fried food here. Even the falafel-loving prick Bill O'Reily ate here, even commenting on the restaurant as would be expected of him. Today, Sylvia's occupies most of a city block and seats 450 people.

It appeared members of the Woods family were working at the restaurant; you could tell them apart because they were the ones wearing head-to-toe shiny gray suits and 4" high heels. Also, many large photos of owners Sylvia and Herbert Woods and their family adorn the walls.

What we absolutely loved about Sylvia's was that we got to choose our two side dishes to accompany our entree from a great and long list of side dishes. We ordered this white meat fried chicken with a side of garlic mashed and okra and tomato gumbo. The fried chicken was not "wow" like we were expecting from Sylvia's but it was good. The okra and tomato gumbo was delicious, as was the mashed potatoes.

Their fried pork chop was absolutely moist, tender, and perfect, and it was made even better by dipping it in Sylvia's hot sauce (although the sauce was labeled as extra hot, it wasn't spicy at all, in fact, it was more tangy than spicy). The mac and cheese was also perfect. We also loved that the side dishes were HUGE. There is no portion control at this restaurant. Don't even think about coming here if you're not a big eater.

Breakfast items include corn beef hash and eggs and salmon cakes and eggs, although most people were ordering Sylvia's thick waffle and fried chicken combo. Appetizers include chicken livers and catfish fingers. Other side orders include collard greens, black eyed peas, buttered corn, and cowpeas and rice. Their daily specials include stewed chicken and dumplings, as well as oxtails. Their mixed cocktails include "Devil in a Blue Dress" and "Waiting to Exhale." And of course, they sell Harlem's own Sugar Hill beer (which we oddly tried for our first time at Whole Foods in Union Square). Next time we'll have to try their ribs nicely coated in BBQ sauce and yams (we were drooling as we saw the waiters bringing them out of the kitchen). We'll also try their peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. We just can't forget to wear loose clothing (there was definitely sly unbuttoning of the pants going on at our table).

This evening gown was at the entrance on the diner side of the restaurant. Why didn't Michelle wear this gown on inauguration day (especially since she has a penchant for one-shoulder gowns)?

One block up from Sylvia's is The Studio Museum in Harlem on W 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. and Lenox Avenue. The Museum is currently hosting Barkley L. Hendrick's first career retrospective, Birth of Cool. (The Museum also presented his first major solo show in 1980).

Birth of Cool showcases Hendrick's life-size portraits of stylish African Americans from the 1960s and 70s. The vibrant colors and the stylization take these portraits to another level. The one below right with the Superman shirt is titled "Icon for my Man Superman - Superman Never Saved Black People)." There were also some great self-portraits like his "Slick," a 1977 portrait of himself in gold-rimmed shades, with a toothpick in his mouth, in a cool all-white suit against an ivory background. The only other person that could have pulled that look off was Marvin Gaye.

These were our favorites. Smooth, suave, fly, cool . . .

The Studio Museum of Harlem was founded in 1968 to exhibit work by black artists and to promote local art. It's highly recommended to go on a Sunday when it's free, called Target Free Sundays (thanks to Target). Otherwise, the suggested donation price for adults is $7.

This is the Museum's project space, and this installation is from artist Shinique Smith.

In short walking distance from Sylvia's and the Studio Museum in Harlem is the famous Apollo Theatre (on 125th St. between Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass Blvd.). Who didn't love watching Amatuer night at the Apollo? My favorite parts were when the oddball underdog got on stage and people started booing before they even sang and then blew them away to the point of a standing ovation. Ella Fitzgerald was one of the first Amateur Night winners and other icons have been on its stage early in their careers like Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and James Brown, hence their saying "Where Stars are Born and Legends are Made."

Also nearby on (55 West) 125th Street is Former President Bill Clinton's office. Not surprising that he wanted to be near fried chicken.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


How great to be alive for this uplifting day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wanna be Startin' Somethin'

We will always stop for a Michael Jackson song, even if it's at the always crowded and annoying Union Station. Watching people attempt to dance like The Baddest Moonwalker never gets old.

They're working for the money and people that don't even give a little are lame.

And in hard economic times, you put the kids to work.

We love the way people in this city get creative to make their money. But sometimes there's people in the subways that ask for money upfront by saying things like "I'm a recovering drug addict trying to get clean."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Croque Madame at Bar 6

Starting your day off at a bar sounds a little off, unless you skip the drinks and head straight for a fantastic Croque Madame (Canadian ham, gruyère cheese and 2 fried eggs) at Bar 6.

The Frick

The Frick Collection, located on East 70th Street, is housed in the former residence of Henry Clack Frick. It's the artwork Frick hoarded during his years as one of the most ruthless of New York's coal barons. He spent millions on the best of the European treasures, including paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fragonard and Whistler, as well as decadent 18th century French Furniture.

The entrance to the mansion.

Opened in the 1930s, the museum has been kept almost just like the way it looked when Frick lived in the mansion, including large marble fireplaces in almost all the rooms and painted Renaissance-like walls, so it gives an interesting glimpse into how "large" the elite in New York once lived. Considering this mansion is located directly across from Central Park and is surrounded by luxury high-rise buildings, we wonder what this mansion would be worth in today's real estate market. We weren't allowed to take photos inside the mansion areas but this courtyard in the middle of the mansion should give you an idea of how impressive it is. This courtyard was also a nice place for people to relax between art viewings.

The art collection was impressive (sorry, no photos allowed inside), as well as their current exhibition - the bronze collection by renaissance sculptor Andrea Riccio. We were so curious to see the roped off second level, especially upon seeing the large organ pipes leading to the upper level.

There was no line on a Saturday to buy admission tickets, it was uncrowded, and the relatively small spaces allowed us to see everything in the museum in about two hours at a nice pace, although some of the paintings in rooms with skylights were hard to view because of the natural lighting. There were also ample furniture to sit on (so nice that you think they're part of the exhibit) and the bathroom here was by far the cleanest, nicest museum restroom (Guggenheim, please take note). After you're done at the Frick, head across the street to Central Park (in short walking distance to the Boathouse mentioned below).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Six Degrees in Wonderland

Today was six degrees at Central Park, which is 20 degrees colder than it was the same time last year. We were told this would be one of the coldest years New York has experienced in many years. As you can tell by our blogs, we love Central Park. The park has everything. During winter months, ice skating. During warmer months, boat and bike rentals. This is the New York Boathouse overlooking the (now frozen) lake. We're not looking forward to the summer but we're definitely planning on renting a rowboat and taking a ride in a Venetian gondola. The Boathouse restaurant is beautiful, especially the deck on warmer months, but the menu is a bit fancy and expensive for us. Notice the two tall buildings in this photo - they were used in Ghostbuster (and are also currently the homes to many of New York's rich and famous actors).

This is one of Central Park's ponds. Aside from one person ice skating and two people playing ice hockey, it was barren and clam today.

We're always amazed at the things we stumble upon at Central Park, like this Alice in Wonderland monument.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jennifer's Dream Omelet

We fell in love with Sarabeth's after tasting the most delicious pancake. Now we love Sarabeth's for another reason: Sarabeth's Award-Winning Legendary Spreadable Fruit (we knew we had something in common with Oprah). Sarabeth's fruit spread is AMAZING. That's all we need for breakfast- one of their fruit spreads with one of their delicious breads.

When you walk into Sarabeth's Bakery at the Chelsea Market, you smell nothing but buttery sweetness. We wonder if they hire someone to mop up the drool puddle from the door to the cash register. We were salivating. The bakery is simple, with just a few tables, no waiters, and a view of the small bakery - far different from their restaurants.

Jennifer's Dream Omelet was exactly that, a dream. The Jennifer Omelet was probably one of the sweetest and most unique omelets we've ever tried. Sweet jam with cheese sounds like a strange mix but it was decadently good, without the decadent price (a bargain at $7). The egg was thick, fluffy and perfect, the jam was, well, legendary, the cheese was smooth and light, and the croissant that came with it was near perfection. Also, what a great name for this omelet.

Oh, and their lemon buttermilk cake - FANTASTIC! Not bad for what started out as a small family business out of a Manhattan apartment. Sarabeth's is now something of a global business - with the fruit spreads being sold in the the Caribbean, Canada, Japan and South Korea. The jams are still produced in New York (in a factory in the Bronx) and the business is still being operated by the founders Sarabeth and Bill.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You Know it's Winter

. . . when the outdoor beer garden is completely empty.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


This trio at the Columbus Circle subway stop plays superb jazz music. They're also representative of the great diversity in this city.

But when musicians like these aren't around to entertain you while you wait for the subway, an iPod is your best friend, especially when you get on the subway. Seriously, an iPod in this city is probably one of the most essential must-have items next to your coat and cash. It's like a shield here that prevents people from attempting to talk to you. Apple must love the Big Apple.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hardcore GREEN

The food here is expensive. The portions are small. So what's the big deal about this restaurant opened by an Argentinian business man that serves organic Latin-inspired cuisine? I guess there's something to be said about a restaurant that does more than just touting itself as being an "organic" restaurant, especially nowadays when that word is tossed around so much now. Gusto Organics is what we'd called hardcore, all-the-way organic: it's not only New York's first USDA-certified organic restaurant, it's also the nation's first restaurant to use 100% USDA certified organic ingredients, and the first USDA-certified organic bar in this world.

Beyond their food, their restaurant itself is also "healthy" for the environment, which we can respect and appreciate because their use of the world "organic" really encompasses everything they do. They use only wind energy, solar lighting, biodegradeable containers, 100% recycled material, their menus are printed with soy ink, their staff wears uniforms made of organic material, and their restaurant was built with recycled woods. The wood for the rough-hewn tables was recovered from defunct barns.

These leather-encased coconut formation lights were made from "cows that were already dead." That's pretty (un) appetizing but equally unwasteful.

Gusto Organics supports small, local farmers, and even their water is clean (and we're not talking Evian bottled water kind of faux clean). And they also believe in portion control - trying to get Americans accustomed to large sizes of meat and potatoes to eat less and get their waist sizes smaller. Their menu is both interesting and expensive, but items like their delicious Media Luna with ham and mozzarella is a delicious and inexpensive breakfast or lunch option. This croissant-like bread is genius. And for $4, it even comes with salad. Probably the best deal on their menu.

Another healthy and delicious option on a budget is their Pura Vida juice made with strawberries, bananas, orange juice, and agave ice. This is probably the best healthy drink we've had - sweet and soft. A far healthier and tastier option than psychotic health juices like Wheatgrass; we would much rather have a strawberry aftertaste than that of dirt, thank you very much. Being healthy shouldn't have to be scary.

On the flip slide, there's also some crappy things on their menu like their vegetarian corn vomit omelet - expensive and unappetizing.

A combination of hits and misses on their menu but Gusto Organic's determination to get this planet and the people within it healthier is something you can feel good about supporting.

Friday, January 9, 2009

History Lesson

The American Museum of Natural History, located at Central Park West at 79th Street and founded in 1869, is a great place to teach kids about the different components of the universe. We found our experience here a bit mixed - it was so crowded that we were stuck in a painfully long line, which is really stressful when the museum closes at 5:45 pm and causes you to rush through the exhibits. We entered and exited the museum through the Rose Center, mainly because that's where our subway stop was and it was too cold to look for the Museum's main entrance. The Rose Center (120-foot-high, 333,500-square -foot facility) is a center for scientific research and houses the Hayden Planetarium.

This should have been where we purchased our tickets - the Museum's main entrance lobby - the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda (the home to the world's tallest freestanding mount of a dinosaur).

Since we went on New Year's day, we were happily able to catch the final day of the impressive Origami Holiday Tree. We would have loved this in our home.

The Museum is home to the world's largest collection of vertebrate fossils. The Dinosaur Halls are the most popular (and crowded) areas of the Museum, especially with the kids. Seeing their faces in complete awe and amazement is an experience in itself.

The Hall of Human Origins was fascinating; its the only major exhibit in the country to present a thorough investigation of the human evolution. The Hall of Minerals and Gems was also cool (and very popular with the women), yet we somehow managed to miss the Star of India. Some of the things we would have liked to see, like the butterfly conservatory, were only accessible to people who paid the extra entrance cost (we only paid the basic fee, which we felt was already pretty expensive). And some of the museums, like the animal halls with stuffed animals were just creepy and boring to us (but again, perfect for kids).

We were excited with the prospect of skating at the Museum's The Polar Rink. When we got there right after the Museum closed, we could not believe there was no line and no crowd. We were glad we decided to check it out first before paying the $10 to "ice skate." When we went outside, we noticed something strange - people weren't really ice skating, they looked like they were just walking instead of gliding. And we noticed a distinct stinky smell - a mixture of cardboard and dog poo. The reason people were having so much difficulty "skating' on this odd rink was that the rink is composed of recyclable synthetic surface. Skating on ice is hard enough but skating on cardboard material? It was one of the weirdest things we've seen in New York City. It's such a shame because it would have been a really beautiful and unique location to ice skate if only it were actually ice.