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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Tennessee goes to Manhattan for some holiday cheer.

It's supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year" but Christmas started with a BANG this year in our household.

Or should I say, with a THUD.

Already frazzled by frenzied holiday shopping, one too many events to organize and keep up with, and what seemed like endless piles of things to be wrapped.....I got an extra kick in the pants from Christmas this year when I spent hours decorating the perfect tree not knowing that the stand was broken and that each ornament or string of lights I added only placed more stress on that little crack......

The end result was a heap of beautifully decorated tree lying in a puddle of dirty water, smashed limbs, pine needles, and broken ornaments on my living room floor.

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Home alone, I could do no more than cry pathetically as I tried to push the tree upright (knowing it was pointless since it weighed more than I did), so I could clean the spilled water and broken glass...only to have the darn thing fall over again!

Covered with sticky tree sap and glitter that I'd never be able to scrub out of all the places it got embedded in, I started the Christmas season with a big fat BAH HUMBUG!

Needing a boost of Christmas cheer and needing it FAST, we made a mad dash to NYC. If you can't find a way to be merry in a city filled with twinkling lights, a tree on every corner, 4,000 Santas, ice skating, and air that perpetually smells like roasted chestnuts, well....you can't find a way to be merry.

This trip was so last minute that I didn't have time to do my usual 3 months of internet scouring for every obscure and remarkable thing that I never knew about the place I was about to go, so I was going to have to call in an expert for help.

I sent a desperate plea for help to my virtual friend and favorite travel blogger, Manhattanite TraceyG. If you have never read her blog, Escape From New York, don't even hesitate. Stop reading this RIGHT NOW and click this link:

Escape From New York

You can thank me later.

I needed some help finding great places to go in a city with 12,000 restaurants that considers a $25 plate a bargain meal and where reservations need to be made at least a month in advance, not with 3 days notice. I also wanted some cool New York experiences but did not want to hear the words, "Empire State Building," "Ice Skating at Rockefeller Center," or "Macys." I'd sooner poke my eye out with an "I heart NY" pencil than stand in a queue with 800 other people to do/see/buy anything that didn't immediately grant me eternal youth or give me the ability to turn things into gold.

Tracey needed some parameters so that she could make some quick recommendations. Our conversation went something like this:

Vicki: OMG....HELP ME!
Tracey: What are you looking for?
Vicki: Food. Cocktails. Shiny Things.
Tracey: Price Range?
Vicki: Something better than TGI Fridays Times Square but less than Per Se. I want to be able to dress up, but I don't want to have to pawn my car title to have money to get home.
Tracey: Do you like ethnic food?
Vicki: People from Tennessee don't eat things they can't pronounce.
Tracey: How do you feel about waiting for a table?
Vicki: If Matt has to wait longer for a table than he could hunt his own dinner, kill it, clean it, and cook it.... someone is likely to get hurt.
Tracey: I've seen your blog. I won't even ask about restaurants with small portions.

As I knew she would, Tracey delivered up a glittering, shiny list full of promise and exquisite possibilities.

We were going to New York!

As soon as we arrived, the city threw her best holiday greetings at us. With Santacon in town, there was literally a Santa (or four) on every corner (Santacon is an event where hoards of adults dress up as Santa and go cavorting about town for no reason whatsoever), the buildings were wrapped like sparkling packages, and Frosty was even wearing his special Christmas thong.

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We were a little travel weary, having been up since 4:00 a.m. for an early flight, but we only had 2 days so we hit the ground running. Literally. We ran all the way to Dos Caminos for a lunch reservation.

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One of the best things about vacation is lunch cocktails. Not just acceptable, but expected. The Cadillac margarita at Dos Caminos might cost $14...but I think they put about $12 worth of tequila in it. Made with el tesoro reposado, fresh lime juice, and a grand marnier float, this drink was the perfect way to start a weekend of fun. I was merry and bright within minutes.

After two of them, I was downright jolly.

A third and I might have been trying to steal a big red suit to join Santacon.

Good thing I stopped at two.

Three of us ended up with a trio of tacos, so we had the brilliant idea of sharing. That's how I ended up with one machacado breakfast taco with beef brisket, scrambled eggs, Vermont cheddar, and salsa a la Mexicana; one mar y tierra taco with grilled marinated skirt steak,
tecate battered rock shrimp, sriracha aioli, and bacon guacamole; and one pollo taco with grilled citrus-marinated chicken, queso fresco,
pinto beans, chicken chicharrón, and salsa suprema.

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Fantastico.

The afternoon was spent downtown doing some shopping.

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We were going to grab some late afternoon pizza at Lombardi's, but I still had a pretty strong Cadillac buzz even though it was hours later, and I needed a nap if I was going to make it to our 10:00 p.m. dinner reservation.

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Despite my disdain for Times Square and any place that involved a line of people waiting for something, I was willing to do the requisite walk through Rockefeller Center and Times Square to see the lights before heading back downtown to find the Hurricane Club.

See...I'm not a total Grinch.

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Never ever hand your husband your camera so that he can take a photo of you and your best friend in Times Square, because, while you might end up with a nice snapshot of your special BFF moment like this one:

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You might also end up wondering why you have photo of giant boobs on your camera when you get home:

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The Hurricane Club was recommended by Tracey as a place to easily fulfill our desire for something trendy and unique. I believe the words I had used with her were, "I'm looking for an 'experience'." As soon as she told me they had flaming coconut drinks and sparklers, my mind was made up.

Who doesn’t love sparklers?

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The Hurricane Club was definitely an experience.

It was dark and crowded, with music pumping out from behind billowing white curtains, giving it a nightclub vibe as waiters in white dinner jackets carried trays of drinks poured inside carved out coconuts topped with purple orchids. The place was filled with grand chandeliers and wavy palm fronds. I saw a table of girls in sparkling dresses and fur coats sipping from giant straws that were stuck inside a huge watermelon that sat in the center of the table. The room was loud and full of energy. You had to shout to be heard, but I liked it. The Hurricane club was gorgeous, upscale and oozing with Polynesian cool. It made me feel like I was a million miles from Tennessee.

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As I perused a drink menu that contained concoctions like the hibiscus sling, the hurricane mai tai, and the pineapple rum dum, I stopped immediately when I came to the Brazilian. Never mind the colossal drink's $49 price tag. I had to make it mine.

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Made for sharing, the Brazilian is a large silver bowl filled with cachaca and lime (you might recall my favorite combination from last December's trip to Brazil.....the caipirhinia....). This caipirhinia was topped with a flaming lime and orchids. With giant straws, we didn't even have to lean forward to drink.

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Even the food was dressed to impress. The menu was filled with an assortment of sweet, spicy, sticky, fried, and wok-tossed items that came out looking as wonderful as they tasted. I tried the PB & Guava J to start. I ordered it because the name just gave it an instant fun factor. It turned out to be tiny PB & J sandwiches that had been lightly fried and topped with prosciutto and thai basil. Cute and delicious. I followed that with honey glazed baby back ribs and coconut basmati rice. The ribs were "lick your fingers" fantastic and the rice was too cute to eat, served inside a coconut.

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I now believe ALL of my food should be served in a cute little coconut.

The Hurricane club delivered a perfect combination of chic and snazzy for us out-of-towners and the food and drinks were show stoppers. It was perfect.

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However, shouting is required and it's too dark to read the menu without using the table candle as a flashlight, so if you need a brightly lit room where you can see your food clearly and need to say more than a quickly shouted “PASS ME A STRAW!” to your party, this place is probably not for you.

Personally, I loved it.

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The next morning was cold, wet, and gray. It was raining and absolutely freezing. Perfect NYC winter weather! We had places to go and things to eat, so we grabbed the umbrella and headed out.

My husband will not make a trip to NYC without at least one stop at Carnegie Deli. He loves eating sandwiches so big that they give him the meat sweats. For me, the sandwiches are not the star of the show. I go for the pickles and for the cheesecake.

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And so, we consumed a sandwich that could feed the average family of 4 for 6 days.

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After lunch, we hopped on the subway and headed back downtown for more shopping. I hadn’t gotten my fix the day before.

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We stumbled onto the Union Square holiday market by accident and I couldn’t tear myself away. Yes, it was raining. Yes, it was crowded and people kept bumping into me. Yes, I accidentally popped an umbrella full of water onto an unsuspecting guy that was far too polite to do anything but look at me like, “Seriously???”

In Tennessee, “handmade market” conjures up images of doilies, corncob dolls and crocheted Kleenex box covers and the very thought of them makes me cringe. This was not your grandmother’s market.

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Happy red and white tents were filled with an abundance of bright and shiny things….skillfully crafted jewelry and handmade leather belts…Italian leather gloves and handmade paper….chunky knit scarves and blown glass…..macarons in rainbow colors, hand dipped chocolates, hot pretzels, and meatballs….this was heaven on earth.

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We wound our way through the maze of colorful baubles and awesome eats…nibbling and buying along the way. We did some downtown power shopping after and I decided it was time to return to the hotel when I could no longer lift my bags.

We had tickets to a 7:00 show, so we decided to grab a quick pasta dinner before the show. I had settled on Gallo Nero because of its proximity to the theater and was pleasantly surprised when we walked into a warm little eatery that reminded me of a small restaurant that we stumbled into in Ercolano, Italy called Viva Lo Re.

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It was small and warm, with only a few rustic tables and wine bottles lining the walls. With a cozy atmosphere like this, the food could be as bland as Aunt Betty’s low sodium chicken and rice and I would still like it.

But the food was savory and delicious. We sampled the meatballs as an appetizer. Big, hearty meatballs in a marinara sauce went just right with a bottle of red wine. I followed the meatballs with the gnocchi. To my palate, gnocchi are little soft pillows of happiness. We wrapped up dinner with glasses of chilled Limoncello.

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Alla Salute!

It was a short walk to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, my favorite when visiting NYC. Matt and I prefer plays to musicals and we like the intimate size and amazing quality shows that we find at the Schoenfeld Theater. Seating just over 1,000 – this theater is so small that there isn’t a bad seat in the house. What a perfect place to watch Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross.

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Always Be Closing.

What a great show.

After the show, we headed downtown to find Beauty & Essex…hoping for another “experience.” We found one.

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From the sidewalk, Beauty & Essex looks like an old pawn shop. Inside, we found an oasis of cool. Downstairs was a club-like restaurant with dramatic decor, inventive cocktails, beautiful people, and tasty small plates. Upstairs, via a sweeping spiral staircase that swirls deliciously around a giant chandelier was an ultra-hip lounge.

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This is a place right out of any girl’s dreams. It was glamorous and decadent, a hidden wonderland of beaded curtains, a pearl draped chandelier, and jeweled lamps. This place wasn’t in party mode, but instead displayed a controlled cool to the beat of the day’s hottest tunes.

I thought I had seen it all, and then I went to the loo.

There was a pink bar loaded with free champagne in the ladies room.

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This might be my favorite place on earth.

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After that, the guys kept wondering why we had to return to the restroom every 15 minutes.

In addition to free pink champagne, Beauty & Essex had great cocktails, so I had to try a couple. I started off with the O.D.B., Old Dirty Bramble, which had Don Julio Reposado tequila, smoked blackberries, honey, ginger juice, and lemon. It was good, but I much preferred my second cocktail, the Emerald Gimlet, with Grey Goose, basil, lemon nectar, and fresh lime.

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Our waitress gave us a complimentary amuse bouche. As soon as she said the word “beet,” I zoned out. There are only about 5 foods in this world that I won’t eat. I pretty much eat anything that doesn’t run away first. However, beets just don’t do it for me. To me, they taste like dirt no matter what you do to them.

However, I was in New York and New York wanted me to eat beets….so eat beets I did.

Delicious. Everything tastes better in New York.

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I have no idea what they did to those beets…frankly, it was so dark in there I am not entirely convinced they WERE beets….but that little bite was positively scrumptious.

Made me thirsty, though, so I had to go back to the powder room.

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We sampled some small plates: the lobster mac n’ cheese, lobster tacos, and the chicken fried oysters.

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Everything was quite tasty, but the dessert menu was where we found the magic.

Unable to settle on just one dessert, we decided to share three. Why have one when you can have 3, I always say? Dessert is best en masse.
We tried the Peanut Butter & Jelly Crème Brulee, the Devil’s Food Layer Cake with mascarpone filling and milk ice cream, and the Box of Doughnuts (vanilla beignets with chocolate hazelnut crème & raspberry jam).

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Oh my.

OH MY.

Really. I can’t talk right now because my mouth is full of doughnuts.

We woke to another cold, gray morning. We had to leave that afternoon, so we wanted to make the most of the time we had. Out into the cold, gray morning we went.

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Having been to NYC several times during the Christmas season, I had never been ice skating. We’ve all seen the movies that provide us with the romantic notion of ice skating in New York City.

The illusion of ice skating in New York City is beautiful. You glide out onto the ice that is magically free of people in your perfect winter outfit, enjoying the nip of the crisp winter air, listening to the music, and gazing at the incomparable surroundings as skyscrapers glitter in the winter sunlight above you. You fingers tingle as your breath comes in little puffs of cold as you skate gracefully beneath a perfect Christmas tree, adorned with lights and twinkling as the first few flakes of snow begin to fall.

The reality of skating in New York City is not quite the same. You can wait in a queue with hundreds of frozen bodies, like meat hanging in a freezer, for hours just for the privilege of paying $30+ to walk across a crowded locker room in wet socks to don a pair of beat up rental skates so that you can attempt to skate on a crowded rink with 150 other people all vying for their tiny piece of the ice and their magical NYC moment.

THIS would explain why I have never been ice skating in NYC.

But this was about to change.

TraceyG….NYC travel wizard extraordinaire had told me about Bryant Park…a magical place where crowds were small and skating was free.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

We had waited until Monday, assuming that would be less crowded, and we were right. We strolled up to Bryant Park’s skating rink and there were less than 10 people skating. Admission was free! We did have to pay to rent our skates, but that was only $14 and it was worth every penny for the peace and quiet we found on the rink. We forked over the required $14 and headed out for our magic moment on the ice.

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It looked so much better in my head. In my head, I was like an Olympic figure skater in one of those awesome sparkly skirts, gliding like a swan……

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In reality, I looked like a baby giraffe that was trying to stand up for the first time.

But I was in New York and I was skating beside a sparkling Christmas tree with no crowds…… and had Matt been able to release his death grip on the sidewall of the rink, we just may have been able to skate around the ice rink together holding hands.

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Maybe some things are better left in our heads.

Or the movies.

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Having survived Ice Skating 101, we stopped into the New York Library to warm up and to visit the incredibly beautiful reading room upstairs.

Have you ever noticed the giant sign inside the library that says, “NO CELL PHONES. NO PHOTOS?" I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked around me at no fewer than 30 people wandering around snapping photos with their cell phones.

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We ended the day with a cruise down 5th Avenue for the beautiful store windows, the over-the-top displays of Christmas decorations, and for a little something special at Tiffany & Co. Merry Christmas to me!

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We stopped in for lunch at Bill’s Bar and Burger.

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Tracey said they had good burgers, cupcakes, and boozy milkshakes.

She had me at boozy milkshakes.

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Since it was my last meal of the day that wouldn’t include airport food, I ate up….a cheeseburger, chili cheese fries, and a milkshake (heavy on the boozy).

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Do you really need to ask if I ate all that?

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Oh ye of little faith.

Oh yeah...and there were cupcakes!

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Our 48 hours were up and our trip to NYC was a lot like that hamburger……gone, but we’d made the most of it and had packed a lot into 2 short days.

It was time to head home, but it had been a great weekend. I was filled with Christmas cheer and had bags of shiny new toys. It was time to load them up in the sleigh and fly away home.

Here’s wishing you a new year filled with good food, good friends, good times, and pink champagne in every bathroom!

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Posted by vicki_h 19:30 Archived in USA Tagged new_york nyc

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Happy New Year, Vicki! Thanks for the time and trips; I'm looking forward to another year of fun adventures with you and Matt! Best wishes!!!

by lprof

Dos Caminos! Killer sangria too. We like the one in the meatpacking district, then stroll the High Line nearby. We hit the Union Sq Xmas market about a week after you. Also near the meatpacking district (aka West Village) is the way cool Chelsea Market - maybe worth checking out next time...I can see you eating your way thru it LOL...

by JMQ

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