Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Experience NYC Like A New Yorker

It has been just over a decade since I’d lived in New York City. Yet, once a New Yorker, you always feel like a New Yorker, as THE city has a way of seeping into every core of who you are. Even though I was born in South Korea and grew up in Texas, I always feel as if New York City is my hometown, and it will always be a part of who I am.

It’s been great being able to return to the city with my family, especially our 4-year old son, who after last trip told me that he liked NYC so much that he wanted to live there … that’s my boy! It’s not hard to see why he loves it, as NYC has a way of captivating people of all ages, and the best part is that being with my husband and our son, we’re able to discover the side of NYC that I wasn’t able to as a single 20-something who worked like crazy all day and played all night.

As a family, we’ve been able to discover and enjoy the softer and more serene side of NYC, and have learned to enjoy that in the city that never sleeps, peace and tranquility is always just around the corner.
After all the places I’ve seen in NYC, I can honestly say that the Highline (from Gansevoort St to West 34th St, btw 10/11th Ave) is my favorite. It epitomizes the city that is constantly evolving and recreating itself. Not only the design and the atmosphere of the park unique and innovative, it has transformed a neighborhood which was formally known as the “Death Avenue” into a trendy, upscale, and more importantly, family friendly area.

As the park expands from lower Manhattan to 31th Street in Midtown, it provides some of the best views of the key monuments, the Empire State building, Chrysler Building, and on a clear day, the Statue of Liberty.

There's an eclectic mix of art installations as well as tasty food carts, art vendors and musicians, and the great thing about the Highline is that it enables you to have and enjoy an urban experience in the midst of (man-made) nature.

What more can I say about Central Park that hasn’t been said. It’s FABULOUS! Immersed in lush and wild nature with a massive skyline as a backdrop, it’s truly an urban oasis that defies all logic.

For most New Yorkers, the park is a sanctuary. Especially for me, it was a place where I’d retreated to whenever my life in the city got too much, and I needed to regroup and recuperate. Also, some of the best and most memorable experiences I’ve had were in the park … like serendipitously meeting my husband.

It’s a place where we always go back to reminisce about our wonderful past lives in the city as well as creating beautiful new ones with our son who absolutely adores every corner of the park.

Our favorites in the park: Heckscher Playground, Poets Row, Bethesda Terrace, Alice in Wonderland Statue, John Lennon Imagine Memorial, and the always entertaining and eclectic street performance

Upper West Side

I love the Upper West Side! Of course, I’m a little bias since this used to be my old hood, and my husband and I try to revisit our favorites and go back to our usual hangouts whenever we’re in NYC. Also, it helps that UWS is the more residential hence the quieter area in Manhattan, and it tends to be more family-friendly than other neighborhoods. There are so many great activities for children, namely American Museum of Natural History and Children’s Museum, and one of my favorite must do's on Sunday is to go to the Green Flea Market on Columbus Avenue, which offers everything from an assortment of vintage cloths, furniture, records and memorabilia to a wide variety of crafts and tasty treats.

I always find something unique and wonderful to take home, but I enjoy just strolling around and being part of the locals.

FAO Schwarz
FAO Schwarz (767 5th Ave & 58th St) is every child’s fantasy come true, but even for parents, seeing the delight and happiness on their precious faces as soon as we walk through the door is absolutely priceless!

Like Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel across the street, FAO Schwarz is not just another store, it’s a NYC institution.

There are all kinds of toys imaginable, an entire floor full of candies and treats, custom-made hand puppets, magic tricks, cupcakes, and of course, our son’s favorite, the BIG PIANO! This is what I imagine Santa's workshop would look like, and it’s so much more fun than taking my boy to a theme park where I have to wait in line an hour just to get on a ride. It’s a place where children of all ages, and those who are still a child at heart will remember.

Everyone who has seen "Breakfast at Tiffany's" will remember the iconic scene when Audrey Hepburn gets out of a cab and stands in front of Tiffany's on 5th Avenue and 57th Street, but the place I remember the best from the movie is the NYC Public Library (5th Ave & 42nd St). Its beauty and majestic architecture was forever etched into my mind.

Then, when lived in NY, it was my secret hideout anytime I needed a moment alone, or when there was so little to do during the cold and dark days of winter, it became a place where I would spend hours reading. It was like an intellectual equivalent of Barney's, and even now, whenever we’re in NYC, I love to visit the library just to sit on those musty old chairs and absorb the grandeur of it all.

Koreatown (a.k.a. Korea Way)
Manhattan has always had a reputation for being an expensive place, but there are plenty of wonderful places to see and fun things to do for little to no money. Also, you can have fantastic meals without spending big bucks, and some of the best can be found in Koreatown.

West 32nd Street between Broadway and 5th Avenue is the heart of Koreatown in the city, and being that it's barely two blocks, it is no comparison to the massive scale of the K-town in L.A. However, the two block radius of this Korean enclave in Midtown is PACKED with GREAT EATS, and it’s essentially a mini-Seoul, including multi-level karaoke bars, a book store, a massive grocery store, two bakeries that will blow your taste buds, a food court, multiple hair salons, two Korean churches, saunas, English Language Schools, Law Offices, Wholesale Import Businesses, Hotels, and even a tattoo parlor! And some of them are opened 24/7!

Also, located smack dab in Midtown, the location couldn't be better, as almost every subway line makes a stop at either 34th Street Herald Square Station or at the Penn Station just a block up, and especially if you’re staying in the area, it’s the best place to grab a tasty meal.

Our favorites: Arirang, BonChon Chicken, Cho Dang Gol, Hanbat, Mandoo Bar, Pho 32 & Shabu, Paris Baguette

Cannolis @ Veniero’s
Hands down, Veniero’s (342 E 11th St btw 1st/2nd Ave) has the best Italian pastries in town! The place is an institution … literally, as this family-owned establishment has been serving the East Village community and well beyond since 1894 … that’s older than some of the cities in the US.

The Cannolis here are perfection! It was my favorite go to dessert spot when I lived in NYC, and even now, no matter where we’re staying, we would gladly schlep half way across town for possibly the finest pastries and cakes outside of Italy.

The great thing about Veniero’s is that immediately upon entering the restaurant, there is a display case filled with a vast variety of pastries, an assortment of handmade Italian butter cookies, freshly baked biscotti, and traditional cheese cakes and specialty cakes, which are ALL available for you to take to go, and there’s nothing … I mean, nothing that makes us happier on a 5-hour flight back home than opening up a beautifully wrapped box full of miniature Cannolis from Veniero’s!

Peking Duck House
I remember when I’d arrived in NYC, and the first time a friend of mine had taken us to a restaurant in Chinatown. It was crazy crowded, intense, and there was so much going on with the vendors shouting and the smell from the food carts permeating what seemed to be the entire city. It was the polar opposite from the quiet and homogeneous suburb in which I’d grown up, and that’s when I knew my life in NYC would be so completely different.

Even now, as insanely chaotic as it is to maneuver through the narrow and crowd packed streets, we always go back our favorite dives in Chinatown. Unfortunately, some of them have been discovered and have become quite the popular places. My husband and I had dined at Peking Duck (28 Mott St btw Mosco St & Pell St) since it was just another hole-in-the-wall in an endless row of great Chinese restaurants. Although the specialty here is the Peking Duck dinner, we actually prefer the other Mandarin specialties on the menu, which are rare and harder to find in San Francisco, where the Chinese restaurants tends to gear towards Cantonese style.

By all means, the duck is fantastic … as good as those I’ve had in Beijing; however, like everything else we do while in NY, we just prefer to have the meals that bring back certain memories for us.

Uncle Nick’s

It’s no secret that NYC is full of great … and dare I say, the best restaurants in the world. You definitely don’t have to comb through the guidebooks or depend on the proverbial Michelin Guides, which is more like a book of advertisement, in order to get a great meal in the city.

However, even among the top-notched restaurants in Midtown, Uncle Nick’s (747 9th Ave btw 50th/51st St) definitely stand out as one of our favorites. My husband and I have dined at Uncle Nick’s for over two decades, and it has never disappointed us. It’s been consistently guuud, and it’s become our go to restaurant whenever we’re in town. It ain’t fancy, but we can always count on having a great meal at Nick’s while sitting among the locals.

NYC Public Transportation
NYC Public Transit is not only the best and fastest mode of transportation, it’s often the most fun way to see the city and beyond. Not only is the Staten Island Ferry one of the best freebies in town, the bus rides from one end of the island to the other are the best way to get around the city that never sleeps at any and all hours of the day.


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