I visited New York for the first time as a college student. To be 21 in the big city was a thrilling adventure. I was both energized and overwhelmed by the city’s vibe. Although I was from Houston (the 4th largest city in the U.S.), I wasn’t accustomed to such a fast-paced environment. But I quickly adapted and fell in love with the Big Apple.
I recently returned to New York 20 years later as a married man with three kids (Disclosure: Kellogg’s paid all of my travel expenses). Since that first trip, I’ve traveled around the world and I’ve seen many splendid things. But nothing compares to New York. While I didn’t have the same wide-eyed amazement as I did on my first visit, I still managed to experience many of the things that make New York great.
Day 1 – REDRUM & Yum
I arrived in New York in the afternoon and navigated LaGuardia airport to find my ride. The driver led me to the vehicle and I was slapped in the face by the cold air. I was obviously not in Texas anymore. I wrapped my scarf around my face and rushed to the car.
Forty-minutes later, I arrived at Hotel on Rivington. It was a swank, boutique hotel that seemed right in place in the Lower East Side. I walked through the cavernous red and white entryway that made me think of “The Shining.”
I checked in and went to my room, a nicely appointed suite that offered a great view of the city. I peaked into the bathroom to make sure REDRUM wasn’t scrawled on the mirror. Thankfully, it was not. However, the bathroom did offer another surprise – a fully exposed shower. Although I was on the 19th floor, I felt a little uneasy about flashing all of New York.
Later that night, I met some friends for dinner at Plan B, a tapas restaurant in the East Village. The menu had several exotic options such as Python Sausage, Rabbit Meatballs, and Bull Testicles. I played it safe and ordered the Short Ribs, Scallops and Cured Spanish Meats.
After dinner, we went to Ferrara Bakery & Cafe for dessert. The sights and scents tempted me to overindulge in sweets, but I exercised self-control and ordered a small sampler plate with an expresso.
On the way back to the hotel, I witnessed a New York scam in progress. Two guys in a Town Car were pretending to be a driver and passenger. The “passenger” went around asking people for money to pay the balance of his fare, while the “driver” waited in the car. I watched him approach several people until someone offered him money. I was about to intervene until a local guy stepped in and prevented the tourist from getting ripped-off.
New York is probably the only place in world where you can see con-artists in action and get a plate of bull testicles on the same street.
Day 2 – Olympians and the Road to Sochi
The next morning, I went to New Museum to have breakfast with Kellogg’s Olympic team. In addition to meeting current olympians such as Torin Yater-Wallace, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, and Gretchen Bleiler, I got to spend time with two of my winter Olympic idols – Jim Craig and Kristi Yamaguchi (BTW – need to watch this inspirational video of paralympian, Amy Purdy).
I tried to play it cool and not be a total fanboy, but I couldn’t help myself. My phone is filled with photos of the Olympians (my wife pointed out that there were an inordinate number of Kristi Yamaguchi photos).
Later that afternoon, I grabbed a slice of pizza at Rosario’s Pizza. The staff had the stereotypical New York City brusqueness, but I managed to make a connection with Sal, the owner. He told me about the history of the restaurant and talked about how much New York had changed over the years. Our conversation was cut short by Sal’s running outside to yell at some contractors who were working on his shop.
The highlight of my day was skating in Rockefeller Center with Meryl Davis and Charlie White. I had never ice-skated before and I was afraid that I would make a complete fool of myself in front of hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists. Thankfully, I managed to skate a full hour without falling or winding up in the ER.
Some local kids were invited to skate with the olympians and a few of them displayed genuine talent. One of my friends told one of the girls that they should teach us how to skate. The little girl looked her in the eyes and said with utter confidence, “Yeah. We’re good.”
We finished the evening with a nice dinner at Resette. My main course was delicious, but I would have been satisfied with the antipasti plate, especially Nona’s Meatballs.
Day 3 – He Likes My Man Blog
My final day in New York began with a cooking class at The Culinary Loft. My friend, Danielle, and I made Chicken & Waffles while the rest of our group prepared a smorgasbord of delicious dishes. I felt like I was my own Food Network show – Cooking with Danielle & Fred (if any Food Network execs are reading this, call me).
With my belly full, I decided to spend a couple of hours exploring Manhattan. I visited several local boutiques and spent time talking to street vendors. These guys always have amazing stories to share and are good sources of information about the city.
On the way back to meet my group, I stopped at a deli to get a bubble tea. The woman in front of me asked the cashier for a cup of water.
“No water,” he barked. “You have to buy drink.” He pointed to a beverage cooler on the other side of the restaurant. The woman walked towards the cooler and was quickly reprimanded by the cashier.
I felt like I was in the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. Gotta love New York.
I met my group for lunch at The Lambs Club Restaurant & Bar in The Chatwal. Although the restaurant was only one block from Times Square, it was quiet and secluded.
I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the Road to Sochi events in Time Square where I did some curling, took a few hockey shots, and piled into a bobsled.
That afternoon, I was invited to a mixer with some of the Olympic athletes. While mingling and eating tasty hors d’ oeuvres, I noticed Gavin DeGraw enter the room. We talked for a few minutes and I mentioned Mocha Dad.
“You have a man blog,” he said. “I’m impressed.”
Later that night, DeGraw performed at the 100 Days to Sochi event in Times square. It was a great show and one on my tweets even showed up on the Jumbotron.
This trip to New York not only made me excited about the upcoming Winter Olympics, but it also reminded me of the many reasons why I love the city.