Monday, November 23, 2015

The Wedding Planner Disaster

I recently attended two weddings, one in Texas and the other in New Jersey. Both were beautiful and although they had entirely different themes, the outpouring of love was extraordinary. And both were great fun.

As an event planner myself, I had the opportunity to observe the difference between a fabulous wedding planner and the most incompetent, lazy event planner imaginable. It made me consider, what are the qualities of a “good” event planner? And, why was the one in Texas so awful? Why was the one in New Jersey so spectacular? Experience was certainly a factor. The one in New Jersey has been planning weddings for 40 years.

But there were far more factors than experience. Here are a few of the things I observed: The Texan was unwilling to help the bride or the mother with anything out of the ordinary. That included decorating the venue. It included delivering the goodie bags to guests staying at nearby hotel. She mistakenly had the dessert table presented with hors d’oeuvres. What was wrong?

First, she had no time line. As an event planner, I know the timeline is the single most important thing to have in your hand at all times. It keeps the caterer, the musicians, and the entire staff on schedule, working together at a reasonable pace.

Second, she was incapable of resolving issues as they arose. She broke the bridal portrait frame and instead of presenting it without the frame, she hid it. In contrast, the New Jersey planner was solving problems right and left and the bride didn't even notice that anything was amiss.

But most importantly, it was attitude. The New Jersey planner smiled with joy throughout the event. The Texan scowled and didn’t move from the bar the entire evening. She wasn’t drinking; she was just guarding the bar.  She didn’t help and as it turned out, friends of the bride’s mom stayed half the night and cleaned up with the venue owner while the event planner simply left.

Its important to have a planner but even more important to get references so you know that the planner can make the day easier for the couple and the guests. Meet with your event planner. Make sure that it is a good mix of personalities, in other words, that you get along. And lastly, read that contract and the time line. Make sure your vision is the same that is on paper.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Shopping in New York City

Everyone comes to NY to shop. And everyone thinks that the huge, most advertised sales, like Black Friday, are the time to get the super bargains. Actually, that is not true at all. The best times to shop in NY are January and August. Period! January is the beginning of the transition from Winter to Spring, August is the transition from Summer to Fall. It never changes.

Here are some shopping secrets. Every great department store has huge discounts, but always hidden in the back racks. Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s all have 70% off racks in the back corners of almost every floor. All you have to do is look. And that is where you can find bargains that are worth the effort. 

Of course, you always have Century 21, IF you can survive the hours and hours of searching through hundreds of racks. And the crowds. And the lack of salespeople. And the rudeness. And the communal dressing rooms with interminable waits. Still, I found a pair of Prada shoes for $20.00 so sometimes the torture is worth the score.

My personal favorite places to shop are the little stores like Meg for original clothes on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Annie’s Blue Ribbon for gifts on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. Yaso has the most fabulous clothes in Soho on Grand Street just east of West Broadway but you have to make an appointment in advance.

And then there are the sample sales and end of year sales at all the outlets. Westbury Commons in Harriman, about and hour and a half north of the city, even has a Frette outlet where you can buy the finest sheets for 90% off. The sample sales happen all over the city and if you are careful, you can find extraordinary discounts for quality clothing. Get yourself on the lists of the brands you love...they will inform you of their sample sales.

If you walk south on Broadway starting at Houston Street, there are shops galore...H&M, a snack at Dean and Deluca or coffee at the Nespresso store, Uniqlo (the Japanese GAP) even Bloomingdales. These few blocks have the most variety, great sales, and are far less intimidating than trying to shop on 5th Avenue. And believe it or not, the styles are quite similar, just one third of the price…sometimes even less.

If you are planning a trip to New York City, simply to shop, airfares are lower in mid January when freezing temperatures keep most tourists away. And remember, there are few true New Yorkers in the city in August. But keep in mind…in the midst of the horrible  January weather, there is also restaurant week where the best restaurants offer three course meals for about $23.00 per person. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Sushi & Brooklyn

Every New Yorker has a favorite sushi restaurant; Masa, Yasuda, Sushi of
Gari, Nobu, Tomoe or, like me, the local gem “Ki” in Brooklyn. I’ve been to most of the famous ones; Masa is the shrine of sushi both quiet and grand, Yasuda is fabulous but they rush you out the door precisely after 1 ½ hours, Gari was great but Gari no longer works as a sushi chef, instead spending his time opening new locations, and Nobu, of course, is a dependable staple.

After seeing the fabulous film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” I was obsessed…I had to find a place in New York that could replicate the sushi served in the movie. I have eaten at many fine sushi restaurants in New York and Japan so my standard was quite high. I searched and searched and finally found it! With Zagat ratings of 12 for décor and 29 for food (29! no one gets a 29!), I had no idea what to expect at Sasabune, particularly in light of the shockingly low rating for decor.

The place is simple, much like the setting in Jiro’s sushi bar in the Tokyo train station. Chef Kenji Takahashi’s motto, “No Spicy Tuna, No California Roll. Trust Me,” gives the diner an immediate clue that he actually has a sense of humor. But he takes his fish seriously. Really seriously! And the décor simply doesn’t matter after your first bite of the freshest fish on this planet.

Mandatory omakase (which changes every day) leaves all the decisions to the chef, although, to his credit the chef does begin by asking if there is anything the diner does not eat. Chef Takahashi buys his own fish and creates all his own sushi, makes his own rice twice daily, his own soy sauce and his own version of delicate and creamy wasabe. He also creates an assortment of very subtle sauces, which include a lime wasabi, teriyaki, ponzu and yuzu to complement, not disguise the fresh fish.

The tasting began with buttery albacore sashimi with a light ponzu sauce. It was followed with Uni (Sea Urchin) from Santa Barbara, which melted in my mouth. The abalone, also from Santa Barbara, was sliced very thinly and served elegantly in its shell. The flavor was divine. Both the Japanese and Portuguese mackerel were the freshest I have ever tasted. We tried Red Snapper and Black Snapper, Fluke & Fluke fin, Blue Fin Tuna, by far, the finest I have ever sampled, local Striped Bass, and cooked Black Cod served as sushi. The meal was perfect…the only place to eat after watching “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

Sasabune ranks with the greatest sushi bars in the world. Every morsel transcends all expectations.

On a quick note, I am having trouble keeping up with all the new restaurants in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I just tried a new little jewel of a place called Ciro’s on Smith with reasonable prices, excellent food (I had pea shoot ravioli) and super friendly service by Emily! Definitely worth a trip across the bridge!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bouley Restaurant

Bouley Restaurant

In the early 1980’s, I used to spend every weekend at the Ram’s Head Inn on Shelter Island. One Friday evening, having arrived after the restaurant’s kitchen had closed, my husband and I ordered the last of the crème brulee left in the pantry. The following evening, the amazing chef, Ray Bradley, came to our table to meet those people who ate 7 crème brulee the previous evening. And Ray began telling us about his dear friend, David Bouley, who was opening a new restaurant in Manhattan, the first to focus on local produce.

The original Bouley was a magical place, which smelled of apples and sugar. The herb infused sauces were sublime and every dish was a perfect balance of flavor and beauty. I love bread and David Bouley bakes the most fabulous bread on this planet, my personal favorite being the olive bread. We ate there often and always when my brother came to visit from California.

Later, this great chef opened Bouley Bakery around the corner and served his masterpieces in a slightly more casual atmosphere. Then came September 11th. I heard that Bouley shut down and the staff alongside David Bouley, were cooking for the volunteers who came from all over the world. I went to help and after burning myself four times in five minutes while trying to cook salmon, the Maitre D’ sent me to serve at Ground Zero.

In your wildest dreams you could not imagine the quality of the food being transported to the “green tarp.” Salmon, chicken, varieties of vegetables, many desserts and of course his signature bread. Word got around pretty quickly that the food being served for free under the green tarp was infinitely superior to the food from the MacDonald’s stand nearby. And the thanks from the volunteers made all of us know how much his food was appreciated.

If I had to pick one favorite restaurant in New York, it is Bouley. Always rated highly in Zagats, David Bouley is a true New York hero and an outstanding chef. And, one of his sous chefs opened the only restaurant in Brooklyn to get 3 Michelin Stars…a testament to his great ability to share his expertise.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer in the City

Summer in the City

Summertime in New York City can be brutal with temperatures in the 90’s and heat radiating off the buildings and sidewalks. But on summer weekends, the city is virtually empty; you can get into any restaurant. Restaurant week 2013 lasts from July 22nd to August 16th when you pay only $25.00 for a three course lunch and $38.00 for a three course dinner at many of the city’s finest restaurants.

Throughout the summer, Central Park and Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, Crotona Park in The Bronx, Cloves Lake Park in Staten Island, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, Metrotech and Prospect Park in Brooklyn come alive with outdoor concerts, movies and performances. The New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera stage free (yes, free!) performances where you can bring a picnic basket and a blanket and sit on the lawn to listen to extraordinary world class music. From May to August, you can attend a variety of concerts for free from Blues to opera to Indie Rock. Even the Martha Graham Company stages free performances.

On summer weekends, street fairs with every imaginable type of food pop up throughout the five boroughs, the High Line is emptied of New Yorkers, all the stores have sales, some at even 90% off to make room for incoming fall styles. Just go to the back of each floor in Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman and find that perfect outfit marked down from $1000.00 to $100.00.

There is another alternative: head to the beach. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are located in the Hamptons and Fire Island.  It’s an easy train ride to Bayshore, Long Island where you can hop on any ferry to cross the Great South Bay and walk 3 blocks to the ocean in Fair Harbor, Ocean Beach or any of the tiny towns across the Island.  Or take the train to Montauk, dine on lobsters, swim in the ocean or even go whale watching and deep-sea fishing.

If you have a car, head out to Shelter Island, located in between the North and South Forks of Long Island. You can take the car ferry from Greenport on the North Fork or North Haven (just north of Sag Harbor) and watch a glorious sunset at the famous Sunset Beach Hotel & restaurant located on Crescent Beach.  My favorite restaurant is Vine Street but there are many other fabulous ones including La Maison Blanche, which has awesome food or the Ram’s Head in where the food is mediocre but the view from the outdoor tables is spectacular.

If you go via the North Fork, there is a huge assortment of wineries and a vodka distillery on the way. Many are worth a stop and a quick taste and welcome small groups. You can continue all the way to the end of the North Fork where you can drive on to the car ferry to Block Island (which is actually part of Rhode Island) where the pace is slow and the beaches are dramatic. It is a huge boating community with sailboats, trawlers and speed boats.

Summer in the City is magical…if you can stand the heat!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

NYC in May

One of the most distressing things about New York City is our airports. JFK, LaGuardia and Newark are ranked among the worst airports in the country. I arrived back in New York, JFK airport (from Israel) last week. Because I have a Known Traveler pass and I don’t ever check any luggage, I was off the plane and out the door in about 8 minutes. Then I spent an hour and a half on the taxi line. So here is a tip which I stupidly didn’t follow myself: Book a private car to pick you up at the airport. I find Carmel ( very reliable but you need a working cell phone so they can locate you in the chaos of New York’s airports. And of course, though pricey, Uber always works!

Once you have survived the chaos of JFK, it is a joy to be in New York in May; the weather is great, the Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom all over the city and you no longer need a winter coat. The most lovely are the blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. 

Luna Park in Coney Island has reopened which is a wonderful place to spend the day with children. To get there, you can take the D, N, F or Q trains to the end. Ruby’s, the oldest bar on the boardwalk is a simple, casual place to eat. The Thunderbolt, a 115 foot tall roller coaster, opens on Memorial Day weekend. A stroll along the board walk is an experience every New Yorker should have. And for younger children, there is always the Aquarium.

In the evening, one of my favorite things to do is go to the Comedy Cellar on MacDougal Street between West 3rd Street and Bleecker. You must make reservations on line and once you arrive, stand on line to get in. Its worth it. Quite often, very famous comedians appear as an added attraction. And since the weather is so lovely, you won’t mind the wait on line. 

The neighborhood has both casual and elegant restaurants. Right above the Comedy Cellar is the Olive Tree Cafe and Bar with decent Mediterranean food. You also have Mamoun’s next door for pretty good falafel. Directly across the street is Minetta Tavern which opened in 1937 and was bought and refurbished by the famous restauranteur, Keith McNally. The food, like all of his restaurants is excellent, albeit expensive. And you can go after the show because its a late night hot spot! For coffee, a few doors down is Cafe Reggio, a crowded little cafe with excellent espresso and cappuccino. 

The night life in Manhattan really doesn’t start until about 11:00 pm and continues until 4:00 am unless you are lucky enough to find an after hours place. Max Fish at 178 Ludlow Street, a hipster dive bar is considered one of the best pick-up places in the city. 1 Oak at 415 17th Street, although difficult to get into, is full of celebrities but doesn’t really get lively until 2:00 am. Kiss and Fly in the Meatpacking District is on the wild side but can be entered by giving money to the doorman. 

One of the best dance clubs is Santo’s Party House with cheap drinks and a place to party hard.” Beatrice in on West 12th Street is probably the hardest club to get into unless you are absolutely gorgeous. Cielo on Little West 12th Street has a $25 cover charge but you can sometimes get on the guest list through their Facebook page. Le Bain at 444 West 13th Street has fabulous views of Manhattan and the Hudson River. You must be very well dressed and there are always long lines. Culture Club at 20 West 39th Street is more nostalgic with music from the 80’s and 90’s but has a $25.00 cover charge. The Sullivan Room has the best house music of any of the clubs but doesn’t get started until 1:00 am. 

If you wish to venture to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, try Bembe where women get in free and men pay a $5. to $10 cover charge. Muscially, it is culturally diverse including salsa, samba, reggae and calypso. They serve coconut drinks in real coconuts. The other Williamsburg dance club is Output at 74 Wythe Avenue. Its probably the finest dance club in the city without a VIP section.

All of these clubs are primarily for the under 40 set. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

New Yorkers are some of the most judgmental people on earth; we like to criticize everything we come across and to point out how fabulous our own experiences have been. However, when someone judges in an unfairly harsh manner, New Yorkers come out in droves in opposition. Such was the case with Guy Fieri’s new restaurant in the theatre district.

In all fairness, we know that Times Square is a culinary wasteland filled with mediocre chains that charge exorbitant prices for forgettable meals. However, it is worth our time to at least give new, original places a chance. The vicious review of Fieri’s lovely new spot, Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, located in the prime Broadway location seemed more like a personal vendetta than an objective review. I went there with no expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Yes, Fieri is a TV superstar chef but he doesn’t deserve to be vilified by Pete Wells. New Yorkers reacted by coming out in droves to support Fieri and give him another chance.

First, the tortilla soup was excellent. Go, just to try the soup. And this might be the only place in the district that doesn’t over salt the food. Ask your waiter to pace the meal according to your own schedule. If you are in a rush, getting everything at the same time makes sense. If you prefer a leisurely meal, tell your waiter that you want your dishes served accordingly. The food is certainly far superior to its ghastly neighbors and if you insist on eating near your theatre, this is the place to go. Its marvelously fun, has great attitude and has a TV charm that blows the nearby restaurants away.

And while on Broadway (really not exactly that address…the district is called “Broadway”) go see Rock of Ages. Its light, you can sing along to all of the tunes and it too is fun. I read the scathing reviews of this fabulous musical and had a grand time, as did three of my children, ages 17, 19 and 20. After being dragged to Shakespeare for years, they appreciated the humor, the cadence and the simple pleasure of music we all recognize.

On a practical note, buy your tickets from They are cheaper, don’t have ridiculous surcharges, and make it extremely easy to select your own seats.