Saturday, February 9, 2008

The New York Bar / A Tokyo Night Out

I have a new favorite restaurant in the world. On the 52nd floor of the Tokyo Park Hyatt Hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo, is the New York Bar. I had ear-marked it as a must-do because it was featured in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, but knowing it would be pricey, had saved it for the very last night.

I rallied a few hostel-buddies I had befriended, we dolled ourselves up and we hopped the (very easily navigable) subway from our hostel in the Asakusa neighborhood. I was instantly smitten by the ambience: an (American?) jazz band was blowing the blues, the views were heartbreakingly gorgeous, and the menu, as chi-chi as it was, had me melting with excitement as I poured over the cocktail list.

I sampled two different bellinis, and a artisinal cheese selection that, at nearly 3000 yen was my most expensive meal in my two week stay. I certainly felt like the queen of luxury while I was there! The New York Bar was, without doubt, one of the best bar / restaurants I have ever dined at in my life.

**Note: If you choose to follow my recommendation and dine here yourself, beware of price! There is a per-person service charge in the evenings. This fee is worth it, though, because you get to experience the jazz band and views of Tokyo by night!


Karaoke Time!

What visit to Japan is complete without a trip to the old Karaoke parlor? A little-known fact (well... to me) that I picked up some more Tokyo-savvy acquaintances is that all their subways stop running from midnight until 6am. That leaves the late-nighters options to either hail a cab... or party until 6am.

Since my hostel crew had no desire to do either, we took the subway back to our neighborhood, Asakusa, around 11pm and hit up the local Shidax. We spent two hours drinking beers, eating (a few opted to starve as oppose to shell out the dough at the New York Bar), and belting out Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", ABBA's "The Winner Takes It All", and finishing the night with a little Sinatra "My Way". And yes, the music was in English! The videos on the other hand...

And my FAVORITE thing about the Shidax: themed floors! Although there was no evidence that the themes carried over in any way to the actual karoake rooms, each floor had a delightful nickname: Russian Dance Elegant, Remember the '70s, and my personal favorite: Prison HipHop in NY!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lost in Translation

Ok, I have seriously neglected this blog. I am going to TRY to do some updates. Truth be told, while working, it is hard to pay attention to anything other than the 50 people directly in front of me, but since my cousin is blogging her way through France, I figured I'll make a second attempt.

To make things easy on myself :-P, here is something I originally posted as a Facebook note on 11 December 2007. I ventured to Japan ALONE... This was written on my 4th day, when I arrived in Kyoto after some misadventuring through Tokyo:

"Ok, I think Kyoto is kind of boring. And gloomy. And it's been raining, so I have every excuse to sit on my computer and type b/c I've been having far too retarded a time not to at least re-cap a few events:

1) Capsule hoteling:

First off, not what I expected. Basically, b/c you are not actually encapsuled in any way. The "capsule" is fairly spacious. And there is just a screen/curtain thing at the end, so you aren't sealed from the world. I could hear someone snoring! Strange! But two nights of this was WAY too much, not b/c it was scary, just b/c it was lonely.

2) Public Bathing:

The capsule hotel had a bathroom which was 3 showers (all open) and a giant pool (also open). The first morning, I observed from a locker area, using only audio cues, something that horrified me: it seemed the little Japanese ladies stripped down naked, jumped in the pool, splashed around for a while, then took a shower. That first morning, I snuck in between two rounds of Japanese ladies and took a 4-minute Australian style shower. The second morning, I woke up early (due to jet lag/the opposite of jet lag) and splashed around in the pool for like 20 minutes. It was amazing.

3) My birthday:

My birthday was actually going fine. I'd met some lovely people and we went down to Harajuku to watch cos-play (which, btw, not at all what I expected - the Harajuku girls are SHY; I thought they'd be vogueing). Ate my first Japanese food under the encouragement of said lovely people. By the end of the day, I go back to the hostel I'm staying... get VIOLENTLY ill. Can feel myself burning up. Stand up to tell the hostel people I need to leave and go somewhere where I can have a single room (not that sharing w/ 3 German boys isn't every American girl's dream), and my stomach lurches. The girl was like "You will have to call this number..." and I grab it, by-pass the phone, and go straight for the bathroom. Get ridiculously sick (don't even REMEMBER the last time I was so sick)... Yeah. Then, I leave for the hotel which is "a five minute walk", go walking for ages, hail a cab... $7+. Get my own room - smells of cigarettes, alright, take a bath and go to bed. Next day, as I go back to hostel to pick up my stuff I realize, in fact, they are only 1 block apart.

4) Tokyo is awesome. And massive. Like wider than LA but as built up as NY. But it has a lot of the same shops as NY. Bummer!

5) Kyoto is kind of lame. Oh right, I don't care about history.

6) Americans ARE weirdos. And they don't shutup. Silvia is right. All the best people I've met here are Canadian and Kiwi.

7) Japanese people are AWESOME:

First, I took an overnight bus from Tokyo to Kyoto (it was cheap) and sat next to the cutest Japanese girl. She was like "Do you speak Japanese? No?" and proceeded to translate everything the driver said for me, without me even asking. Then, she fell asleep on my shoulder! How adorable!
Second, I have left the same "Tokyo" guidebook in restaurants/counters etc three times. I don't even deserve to own this guidebook. But alas, without fail, someone has come running down the street after me to make sure I get my book back.

I was just about to say "That's all" but one more thing:

8) In trouble with the law:

My bus got in at 6:30 am and I couldn't check in this morning until 8 am, so I just was like "I'm not lugging my crap around some city" and fell asleep on top of my luggage in the middle of the bus station like some homeless person. And then I got yelled at after I'd already been asleep for like 1/2 an hour! (Speaking of homeless, it's not so bad being homeless here. You know, based on observation).
Another time, a cop told me I should take Japanese lessons b/c I was not good at all. Ow.

That is all! And now... I'm out. And one final note: The toilets here... I can never go back. So amazing."

As a follow-up, Kyoto was INCREDIBLE. How lame am I to have called it boring?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Back in the UK

I've just trekked through 23 states and 3 countries... I will try to summarize that experience later in the week, but I ended my two month journey in jolly old England visiting Paul and his family. They live in Sheffield, about an hour outside of Manchester, and we also visited the cities of York and London. It was the perfect time of year for this trip. The weather, surprisingly, was perfect. It was consistently 70-80 degrees out, and despite a mild haze, clear and bright.

The highlight of my trip was seeing Little Shop of Horrors in London's West End. The show had opened less than a month ago and the cast was fantastic. On multiple occasions, I have missed catching this show in both New York City and Philadelphia, so the opportunity to catch a brand new production in London was fantastic. Other highlights from London include watching Blood Brothers, which I had originally seen a decade ago on my high school Latin trip (it was ok - I remember it being better, but this rusty cast paled in comparison to Little Shop of Horror's) and viewing the entire city from the London Eye. The eye is a giant ferris wheel with viewing capsules that hold approximately twenty people, and from it you can take photographs of Big Ben and a million other sites. Apparently we were lucky, because not only did we have phenomenal weather on our side, since we were on the early side of the tourist season, we only waited a brief half hour to board. And my last small confession may be that I spent a few pounds (stupid pounds, double the dollar) on Oxford Street. But maybe I didn't... Those Topshop bags could have come from anywhere.

Later that week, Paul, his parents, and I went to my favorite little city, York. York is an old walled city, that is somewhat busy due to a nearby university, but it is just an adorable maze of intertwined streets lined with boutiques set up in the loveliest, most charming old buildings I have ever seen. On my last trip to York (August 2004), we visited the York Dungeon, which I feel compelled to mention despite the fact I didn't visit this time. There are dungeons throughout the UK that provide both history and entertainment as they talk about such national horror stories such as Jack the Ripper and The Black Plague. This time, I wandered in and out of the shops and we ate at a lovely French cafe. As a side note, I believe I consumed about 12 baguettes in the nine days I was there... oops? We finished our day by trekking along the walls that surround the city. From the walls, you can see all the gorgeous old buildings.

Paul is in love with Sheffield. It is his home city, and while I see it as a small town with lambs and horses grazing in fields by the country roads, he insists it is England's fourth largest city. There isn't a lot to do there, but we clocked in many hours wandering Meadowhall Mall and dining at Pizza Express. One of my favorite Sheffield afternoons involved following Paul down some old footpath overlooking the countryside. We viewed Sheffield's monolith (nothing remarkable, but allegedly infamous) then had ourselves a good hike.

And no trip to England is complete without spending some time in the pubs. Forthcoming: a pic from Cow and Calf, the very old local pub near Paul's parent's house. EDIT** Ok, there we are.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Spamalot, oh Spamalot, you critically acclaimed musical you... Last night, Paul and I celebrated three years together with our final Broadway show (for... at least a while). Ever since this show debuted starring Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, and Hank Azaria, and launching Sara Ramirez to her current celebrity, he's been itching to see it. So we seized this last opportunity (well, now it's spawns are in London, Vegas, and touring nationally, but you get what I mean), and were frankly a bit disappointed.

The first act was fantastic. The musical numbers were relevant and a ton of fun to watch, while still paying homage to the film which it is based off of. The introduction to the Knights of the Roundtable was delightful, as was the encounter with the Knights Who Say Ni. The best line of the play came improvised from the leader of the Knights Who Say Ni. According to the linked article, they reintroduce themselves as the "Knights Who Say (long improvised name, which this time included) I am the Father of Anna Nicole Smith's Baby". HILARIOUS. After we finally stopped laughing, the Knight turned to us and asked "Too soon?". Oh my!

The Act One finale was my favorite part of the show, when the Knights of the Roundtable encounter the French knights guarding their castle. Lines like "I fart in your general direction" followed by a musical number using creatively placed horns to... fart in their general direction... Well, that's the key to my heart. Additionally, the main French guard did this incredible, must-see thing with his head between the blocks of the castle which I can only compare to Pong. And yes, that's a great thing.

Unfortunately, the second act seemed to lose it. It just dropped the
original Grail-quest storyline, and decided to spoof Broadway instead. Sure, the first act innuendoed a poke at "Phantom of the Opera", but when Act Two's first major musical number "You'll Never Succeed on Broadway" (let me end this for you: "Without a Jew"), complete with a bottle, er, grail dance straight from "Fiddler on the Roof", I couldn't help but groan. Isn't this Forbidden Broadway's schtick, with better Production Design? (Don't get me wrong, I love "Forbidden Broadway", but I can get tickets for $30.00 from the TKTS booth). And when the Lady of the Lake character came out mid-act to sing her "Diva's Lament"... I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

Additionally, I am still trying to figure out if it was cast's lackluster performances. Just seeing two casts of mostly twenty-somethings own their respective roles, exhibiting absolute pride and enthusiasm with every word and nuance, I was comparatively disappointed. Yes, Spamalot contains stodgy, British humor - but the jokes from the film held up! I tried to envision the original cast - perhaps a flamenco bit featuring Hank Azaria would've been better - but the bizarre plot turn in Act Two just didn't do it for me. And while this is worth seeing simply for its reknown, it is probably just as good on the national tour as it is on Broadway.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Spring Awakening

Last night I was blown away by Broadway's newest sensation, Spring Awakening. Critics are referring to it as "the next Rent", due to its combining a cast of young people with an incredible rock score by Duncan Sheik (recall "I am barely breathing.. and I can't find the air.. Don't know who I'm kidding...imagining you're-") Ok, you remember who he is now.

Apparently, "Spring Awakening" has been around forever. It was written well over a century ago in Germany, and was often censored due to it's scandalous stagings. FYI: The term Spring Awakening refers to the period of emotional and sexual arousal that occurs in teenagers, and the young cast certainly held nothing back in their performances. The big difference from "Rent", though, is that this play still took place in historical Germany. It stuck to the original dialogue and costuming, but used the music and staging to relate it to the present.

And of course, I have my favorite. Probably because he is already a rock musician, John Gallagher, Jr. commanded the stage as Moritz, a sort of wired, off-balance misfit. I wish I could pinpoint exactly what was so watchable about his performance: he was nervous and awkward, and yet highly confident in everything he did.

"Spring Awakening" is 100% absolutely a must-see play. It is not "good for a laugh" or "had a good score". It's a brilliant combination of old and new, young and old, with every element thought out to perfection. The cast is insanely talented and deserves your audience! It's currently playing at "Sweeney Todd's" old haunt, The Eugene O'Neill Theater on 49th between Broadway and 8th Ave, so... watch it!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Chip Shop

Down off the F-line in Park Slope, Brooklyn (where I currently live) lurks a fantastic little English restaurant called The Chip Shop. When Paul arrived here back in August 2005, he searched Menupages for a place to get his Bangers & Mash on, and voila, a few blocks away was the real deal.

Chip Shop is a restaurant we frequent a lot: at least once every two weeks. Because this is the case, we usually mix up our menu choices, but since last night may very well be our last English meal (for a while) we went for our faves. This first pic is of a slice of fried pizza... Yes, frightening. Yes, you should probably avoid if you are on a diet. But yes, amazingly good.

And to the right are our staples. Paul got Fish & Chips, and I got "Vegetable Mac" which is a Shepherd's Pie, except instead of the beef, there's squash, zucchini, and mushrooms, and instead of potatoes, there's mac and cheese. It may sound complicated, but it is my favorite thing on the menu. The pizza slice seemed extra large, so Paul sadly decided to skip dessert (he usually gets a fried Mars Bar or a Fried Banana in Chocolate Sauce).

Yesterday, the Chip Shop also had a surprise for us. Half the restaurant was missing! Somehow they managed to close off the entire bar side, put up a new wall, and you'd never know the difference. Our waitress confessed it "was only busy on the weekends" - when we usually go - but oh well, the food is still "chuffing lovely".

I know there are English restaurants in Manhattan, but it's a 20-minute subway ride to Park Slope, and the food is eclectic and delicious, and there are also plenty of vegetarian and Indian touches on the menu. Chip Shop also imports plenty of beverages, from soft drinks (Ribena, Lilt) and ales (Monty Python's Holy Ale anyone?), so it is worth the trip. It's just so cozy and lovely, that it is pretty obvious why it is a local favorite.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Luzzo's Pizzeria

Last night, Paul and I ate at our favorite pizzeria in NYC (and possibly the world), Luzzo's Pizzeria.

About a year ago, while I was still living in Manhattan, Paul and I and my roommate, Brooke, were planning on grabbing lunch from Crooked Tree Creperie down on St. Mark's Place, but arrived to find it closed for renovations. We stared at the boarded up creperie as our stomachs growled, when a thunderstorm broke out. Crap! We dashed back up First Avenue towards my 14th Street apartment, but between the sheets of rain we saw a little glimmer of hope between 12th and 13th: was that an Italian place?

Since then, Luzzo's has become a fast favorite. As the staff let us know that first soggy day, they import fresh bufala mozzarella for their pizza from Italy (as well as a wine and beer selection). It is also only one of six coal-oven pizzerias in Manhattan, the other five of which I know nothing beyond their alleged existence.

Luzzo's is a sit-down restaurant, so it is not ideal for grabbing a slice, and they have 12- and 15-inch options depending on how many people want in on your pie. Additionally, it gets packed at dinner-time, so the best time to go is a little early. We were there before 6:00 last night, and had breathing space for the majority of our meal. And if you really hate pizza, they have pasta, salads, and other delicious Italian entrees. While living in Manhattan, they also provided a speedy delivery service, but alas, those days are behind me.

If you are in the Union Square area, Luzzo's is the perfect place to enjoy a wonderful meal.

Check out our dinner from last night:

Mmmm.. roasted peppers, onions, and bufala mozzarella. Paul says the sausage at Luzzo's is "just as good as the pepperoni", which is Paul-Speak for "little morsels of heaven".