Manhattanhenge

New York City has some pretty magical things that happen on any given day. But there are two times a year when The City really shows off!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Manhattanhenge.

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It occurs when the setting sun aligns perfectly with the Manhattan street grid, creating the most spectacular glow of light across the buildings, illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street.

For the best views, it’s recommended to go as far east as possible on 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 57th Streets. These streets have the clearest view across the avenues to New Jersey. This year, it happened on May 28th and July 13th.

So, on May 28th, close to sunset, Brian and I trucked east on 14th Street to position ourselves for the best possible view. We get to 2nd Avenue and there’s some trees really shading and blocking the view.

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At the last minute, we decide to take a gamble and try 23rd Street. Now, we’re running. It only happens twice a year and we are going to be out of town for the second one! We are hoofing it! Me, with my huge camera in one hand, phone and keys in the other, dodging everything from taxis to tourists; it’s really a sight to see.

We make it to 23rd and the view is SO MUCH better! I’m so glad we made the move. I’m also stoked to see we are not the only crazy people holding up traffic to take pictures in the middle of the street!

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Pretty amazing.

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Next year, I would love to go further uptown. The light bouncing off the high rises would really be beautiful.

Important to note: If the weather doesn’t cooperate (i.e. overcast or rainy), you won’t be able to see anything but clouds.  Such was the case for July 13th.  Our friends were in town staying at our place  while we were both gone.  Brian and I told them they HAD to make it down there and see it.  It had been overcast all day and this is the picture they sent us.  So sad.
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HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival

Tara and I lead what our church calls a “community group” (other churches call it a connect group, small group, life group, etc.).  Our particular group is for married couples. As we were going into the Summer season, we changed the format from the Spring semester to a more social and less study feel, taking advantage of all the things NY has to offer in the Summer.

We designated one night for going to the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, which is absolutely free!
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It runs from the middle of June through the middle of August and they show some classic films.  Each week it’s a different film and you can see all the options on their website.  We picked “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” because it’s a classic and frankly seemed easier to follow then most of the others.

Here’s how it works.  The green lawn is closed to the public all day until 5PM.  Unlike Shakespeare in the Park, there are NO tickets needed.  Instead, you line up on the gravel surrounding the lawn at 4PM.  Then at 5, they open the lawn and it’s a free for all to make your claim to the best view of the big screen.  People bring blankets and chairs to mark their territory.

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Once again, because of my flexible work schedule, I was designated as our group representative to grab our seats.  Surprisingly enough, with my one blanket, I got us perfect seats.  All that half marathon training paid off in the mad dash.  So cool having the cityscape as your backdrop behind the screen.

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Tara HBO Film Festival spot

The only problem is that you then have to WAIT until 8:30PMish for the sun to go down and the film to begin.  People bring books, mess around on their phones, eat dinner, etc. until the film starts.  In our case, Tara met me there after she got off work and we watched flying cameras and played a few rounds of thumb war (which I dominated..duh).

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Our group mates made their way to finding us before the film started and everything worked out perfectly.  Here are a couple tips:

#1: Try to secure a space as close to the middle of the lawn as possible.  For one, all the speakers are located in the middle so if you’re on the sides, you catch the echo and it’s hard to hear clearly.  Also, if anybody leaves, you’re less likely to have people walk over you being in the middle.  If you’re on the edges, you’re subjected to it all movie long (much like having an aisle seat on a plane).

#2: Bring 2 blankets if securing for a large group.  Looking back, I wish I would’ve brought a second one.  They don’t allow “sheets” so don’t bring those.

#3: Bring an umbrella!  Summer showers in NY are subject to happen at any time and there is no covering on the lawn.  In fact, a slight drizzle DID come down for about 2-3 minutes before the movie started. The nice thing is it cleared out a few folks who did not bring umbrellas, which allowed us to spread out a bit.

#4: You can bring your own food and drink but they do inspect bags again, so don’t bring professional cameras.  There are a couple food places outside of the park that are good and relatively cheap.

#5: Use the restrooms before the film.  It is pitch black once the films start and trying to make your way to a restroom at that point is tough.

They showed a preview and an old school Bugs Bunny cartoon before the film started.

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I forgot how good the original Willy Wonka is.  Gene Wilder is the man!  So glad we picked that one.
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We caught this on the perfect night.  The humidity was extremely low, because of the rain, the temperature actually dropped a bit and we actually had a slight breeze.  All in all, this was a total win!  Highly recommend this in your NYC summer plans!

Shakespeare In The Park

Since it’s been forever and a day since we last blogged, it’s time to take my friend, Lisa, up on her blog challenge and give it a shot of a full week of blogging to get some 2013 posting momentum started (better late than never).  So why so long between posts?  It’s a sad excuse but we’ve been extremely busy.  I’ve been gigging a lot recently (most of which has been out of town) and Tara has been working a ton holding things steady in NY while I’ve been on the road.

For this week of posting, I thought we’d highlight some NYC bucket list items we’ve checked off our list over the summer.  We’ve tried to make a point of doing a lot of local things this year and surprisingly enough, we’ve made a ton happen.  Living in this City sure does have its advantages and the summer gives you so many things to do.

Shakespeare in the Park was something my wife read about in an e-mail from the skint last year. So when we recently watched a DVR’d episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jessie Tyler Ferguson was a guest and he was plugging his involvement with Shakespeare in the Park and Tara remembered reading about it.

So what exactly is it? Throughout the summer, the public theatre sponsors free showings of various Shakespeare pieces with a few Holywood headliners lending their talents to them.  This has been happening for the last 60 years.  The first play (of 6) this summer was The Comedy of Errors and it starred Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Hamish Linklater. We talked our friends, Cameron and Leslee, into going with us.

This is how it works with tickets.  Every show day, they release tickets at noon at the ticket booth in Central Park.  They only allow 2 tickets per person and seating preferences is a crapshoot…first come, first serve.  With my more flexible work schedule, I got there at 11AM and held a spot for us then Cameron came down and met me at noon and we scored 4 tickets.  The line moved quickly and wasn’t too bad at all.
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You return at 8PM when the amphitheater opens and you can bring your own food/drink or buy it there.  With Leslee, we knew she would have plenty of snacks so we took care of bringing the coffee mugs 😉

The amphitheater was very intimate and there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  The set design was incredible, the lighting/production was top notch, the central park backdrop was surreal and the weather was phenomenal.
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I think our only regret was not having read up on the play ahead of time…talking in old English and in this particular play, some of the actors playing multiple roles, made it tough to follow initially.  Don’t even try to bring professional cameras in there as they don’t allow any photos to be taken and they were stopping people at the door.  Of course, being the sneaky photographer I am, I took a few stealth photos.

Added bonus was that one of our friends from Liberty Church, Adrienne Weidert, was dancing in the show.  Dancing in a Shakespeare play?  Yes!  They used it in such a creative way.
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If you get a chance to come to the City in the summer and you appreciate Shakespeare (or just enjoy live theatre in general), put this on your to do list. It is such a great experience.  And the price (free) makes it all the more worth it!
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13.1: First Half Marathon Recap

It was January 1, 2013 at about noon and I had just awoken from my NYE gig with an epiphany.  Looking to start the new year fresh, I decided to push myself to do something I thought I’d never do.  That thing…run a half marathon.  When I tell you that I’m not a runner, I’m dead serious.  I think the longest I’d ever run was 5 minutes on the treadmill and when I got off, I felt like I’d been to hell and back.  There were opportunities in the past to run 5Ks and 10Ks and fortunately for me, work always seemed to get in the way. This would be different.  Looking for support and accountability, I somehow talked the wife into doing this “fun” activity with me.

We found a date in the middle of April when I wasn’t DJ’ing and thought that would be a great time to take a break and do this.  Looking for a reward for the run, we decided to do it in SoCal (no humidity) where we could leave the City for a weekend, visit friends, possibly catch a tan, run the race and then eat some amazing food at our favorite spots afterwards.  I found a race called “The City Challenge Urban Race” in Huntington Beach, CA  on a running website.  We paid the $45/ea and signed up.

To train, we used the Couch to Half app. It was really helpful.  Our biggest training hurdle, however, was the fact that the winter weather in NYC was rainy and cold with a few snow days thrown in there for good measure.  This made running outside tough.  We ran on the treadmill for the majority of the training period but knew we needed at least a few outside runs before the big day. I luckily had a gig in CA 2 weeks prior to the race so I got to run in CA twice and then Tara and I ran twice more in the City a week prior.

About a month before the race, Tara and I were sweating bullets because both of us didn’t feel ready.  Then an e-mail came from the race organizer with a link to the actual race website.  I get so much e-mail every day that I just filed this one and thought I’d look at it closer to the race day.  Tara, however, asked me the evening it came in, “Did you go to the website and read about the race?”  She then proceeded to read me the details.
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We thought this was PERFECT!  This would be a great beginner race (Amazing Race style) with no real pressure.  We now were REALLY looking forward to it especially since we signed up as a team and could run it together.

Fast forward to race day.  We both were feeling good and were hoping to post some good times.  Neither of us had yet to run the full 13.1 miles (the furthest we’d gone was 10 miles).  So the unknown of our time was kind’ve exciting.  Anything under 2.5 hours and we’d be ecstatic.  There were probably 200 runners, which, come to find out, is a small race.  About 3/4 of them were running a 5K or 10K.  The other 1/4 of them were running the half marathon.

The race structure and rules were interesting.  When the race started, we were given an envelope that had 12 puzzles and riddles that led to 12 items.  Those items were spread throughout the city. You had to photograph your teammate with each item.  None of the 12 items were in order geographically.  So not only did you have to figure out the items, but you had to map your route to get to them.  There was a strict 4 hour time limit.  You couldn’t place if you weren’t at the finish line in 4 hours.  Also, you were judged not only on your time but also on how many items you got correct!  Lastly, there were no waters or energy packets being handled out at any of the 12 places.  It was available only at the starting and finish line.

The race started and we spent the first 45 minutes at the starting line figuring out the puzzles and mapping our run.  Considering that neither of us had great knowledge about the City, we (I mean Tara) figured them out pretty quickly.
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We found the first 2 items pretty easily.
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We got tripped up on the next 2, spending about 30-45 minutes in the vicinity of the items until we finally found them.
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What we realized was that this race was HARD!  A lot of these items were 1-2 miles apart except for 2 of them that were 3 miles apart.  In training, we started to get into a rhythm about 4-5 miles into the run.  But this race never allowed for that.  So it was definitely tough.  We got 9 items in and realized that we were NOT going to make the time limit.
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We decided to forgo the other 3 and just run to the finish line.  We finished at 4 hours and 4 minutes…just late enough not to be able to place.  They still graded our clue/item sheet anyway and we found out that we got all 9 items correct.  The “grader” said that only a few people were able to complete all 12 and even then, the majority only
got about 9 of them right.

I had started the “Map My Run” app once we solved the clues and took off running and according to that, we did the run portion in 3 hours and 17 minutes.
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But even that is misleading, because, for a few items, we were running around in circles slowly (which lead to a slow average pace) trying to locate them.  So I know we could’ve posted a better time had we just been running in a normal race.
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Also, the adrenaline you feel at most races totally dissipated after the race started because no one was running the same routes.  We saw maybe 4-5 teams in passing the entire day.  Here are some of our mile splits below. As you can see, we had moments where our splits were really low compared to the rest (at mile 6, 9 and 11) but I know we could’ve been at around 10:00/mile or so throughout the majority of the race had it been a bit more straightforward.
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13.1 miles is no joke.  Here’s a pic of us post race!
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We did end up eating some amazing sushi at the end of the race at our favorite sushi spot on the planet, Sushi Sho, which made the race and trip worth it.
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After that, we hung out with good friends and drank wine before crashing out.  We headed to the airport the next morning.  How did we feel?  We were a little sore but recovered pretty quickly.

Overall, this was not a good first race to do.  This was more like a fun adventure for a family than something to mark progress.  We probably won’t be doing this race again.

In fact, Tara and I, who, before the race, had sworn off running any other races once we finished this one (this race was as a bucket list item), decided we needed to put a real race under our belt. So we’re going to do the Wine and Dine NIGHT race in Orlando November 9th (bonus is that my mom and one of my brothers are going to run it with us).  Not only do we have confidence that we can do it, but now we have a bit of an idea of what all goes into it (both the training and the actual race), so we’re looking to train harder and post some really good times.  Stay tuned.

Brunch Tour: Freeman’s

One of the best things about NYC is the cuisine…duh.  But when there are no shortages of the best of the best in that department, that is a food connoisseur’s dream.  If you live here for any length of time, you quickly find out that NY knows how to do brunch.  So Tara and I have embarked on a brunch tour where every Saturday for the last few weeks, we’ve checked out a different place.  This post is a review of our favorite brunch spot (so far) – Freeman’s.

It was a Saturday in February, the morning of my 35th birthday to be exact, and we had a good friend of Tara’s in town.  We were going to take her to what was our favorite brunch spot in the City, Peels.  But there was something in me that just wanted to venture out and try something different and since it was my birthday, Tara had me pick the place.  So I went to Yelp, Open Table, Immaculate Infatuation and then looked to a few local friend’s blogs.  After seeing it on my friend Gracie Gordon’s blog, I decided to give Freeman’s a try.

The first thing I loved about this place was that it’s definitely a “locals” kind of place.  It’s not an eatery the  tourists would find…or find very easily.  The address is 191 Chrystie Street.  However, when you go to Chrystie Street, it’s not there.  The street numbers on the buildings aren’t shown, so the building where Google said it was had a “For Lease” sign and a “D” rating sheet in the window.  Tara started cursing my name as it was a rainy morning, we had to take the subway a few more stops than we usually go, and we were all pretty hungry. I couldn’t believe it was closed because the latest review was literally just a few days  ago.  I called the restaurant and of course it was an automated message but when giving directions, they said it was in “Freeman’s Alley”.  This was certainly no alley. So we went around the corner and I saw a sign for the restaurant next to the  alley. I thought there was no way a restaurant could be there but low and behold there it was.
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We got there at 10:30AM which is well before the NY’ers typically start brunch.  It gets busy around 12:30PM and stays that way until about 2 or 3PM.  It looked to be a house turned into a restaurant and was much bigger on the inside than it appeared from the outside.  They have a private room upstairs (which was actually hosting a wedding brunch when we arrived) and then plenty of little rooms throughout the downstairs area.  We got sat near the bar.  The décor was very rustic – it was a cross between a cabin feel (tons of animal heads on the wall) and a country barn.
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The brunch menu looked amazing!!  We started with mimosas/hibiscuses, coffee and then split a stack of roasted pear pancakes with whipped cream.  The pear was in the pancake dough…unbelievably good.  Loved the old school syrup bottle.
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For my entrée, I ordered the skillet eggs, bacon, spinach and gruyere buttered sourdough toast.  Pretty much anything served in a skillet is bound to be amazing.  This dish did not disappoint.  The cheese in the eggs was incredible.
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Tara went with the roasted root vegetable & mushroom that is served with two fried eggs, herbed crème fraiche and fried corn cake.  It looked scrumptious.  She had zero complaints about her dish!
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Leah (T’s friend from Alabama who was visiting) got the scrambled eggs with roasted potatoes and thick-cut bacon.  She loved it.  Unfortunately, I did not snap a pic of that one!

I had read that the stone-ground cheddar cheese grits were killer so we ordered that as a side that we all shared.  Tara and Leah were skeptical because who does grits well in the northeast?  Not many.  But these were phenomenal (and that’s coming from a guy who is not a grits fan)!  Again, the cheese they used (the same cheese used in my skillet dish) was to die for.
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The only thing we missed out on was the hot artichoke dip.  I read about how good that was after we had already eaten but there’s always next time.  I’d rank this place as my favorite brunch spot so far in NYC and we will definitely be back!

Brian Approved: Downton Abbey

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So I had been hearing about Downton Abbey for a while (especially after this year’s Golden Globes) but never had the time or really the desire to check it out.  How many tv drama series are really worth watching these days?  Well, that all changed for me after viewing the 1st episode of this show. I was actually about to start my travel/event season and wanted to start using the video feature of my Kindle Fire HD.  One of the perks of Amazon Prime is that you can stream movies and certain TV shows for free.  So after streaming the first episode, I proceeded to download the first 2 seasons before I got back from my first trip.  I just got completely caught up and finished season 3.  Even Tara is hooked.  She had a separate flight the same weekend and texted me as soon as she landed that she’s now a Downton fan.

What makes this show so compelling?  For starters (without giving away any of the storylines), the cinematography is incredible.  Based in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, the shots of England are just amazing.  Add to that multiple storylines, great twists, and phenomenal acting and you’ve got a recipe for a show that is a “can’t miss”.  I’m not a fan of the heavy accents that typical British shows seem to have.  This show has a slight accent with most of the actors/actresses (to be expected) but not enough to turn you off and/or miss funny punch lines.

I’ve been told that Sherlock (also a PBS aired show) is a great series to check out as well.  That’s next on my list.  Get on the Downton train ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.  For those that have seen all three seasons of Downton, you’ll totally understand this next statement.  My biggest takeaways so far is that you should never have kids and the way Edith feels at Downton is the way I feel at McDonald’s: Judged 😉

Movie Review: Django Unchained

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I’m a little late on this review – we actually saw this last month but life has been crazy and carving out time to blog has been tough to say the least.  This movie was absolutely AMAZING!  From the fonts to the soundtrack to the humor to the storyline – A+++.  Quentin Tarantino always finds a way to put his twist on every movie he makes and this one is up there with his finest work.  The acting was unbelievable. All the actors shined but I’d say that Christopher Waltz outshined the rest. He owned that character and was absolutely brilliant!  All of Quentin’s films are known to be on the gory side of things.  But it’s done so over the top that it becomes almost comical..especially in this film.  There is some offensive language so definitely don’t bring the family to this film but for the adults – it is definitely worthy of checking out!
FINAL RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS

What’s all the fuss with overnight oats?

What do you do when your kitchen is the size of an ice-cube and you only have one pot (which happens to be dirty because you cooked dinner in it the night before).  You start to look into this overnight oats phenomena.

Overnight oats are exactly what they sound like.  At the most basic level, you throw some oats in a bowl with equal parts milk and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight and Voila!  You have breakfast ready the next morning.  How easy is that?!

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I used 1/2 cup of oats and 1/2 cup of almond milk, (I’ve found the 60 calorie, original to  be my favorite) then topped them with some brown sugar and pecans the next morning.

You have to get past your idea of what oatmeal should be.  This is cold oatmeal, but I don’t think the texture is really any different.  I enjoyed it and it really kept me full throughout the morning and even into the afternoon.  Brian was slightly less thrilled about this new breakfast.  He’s a hot oatmeal kind of guy, but he still ate it.  He also said how full it kept him feeling throughout the day.

When I started looking into more recipes for overnight oats, there are some serious gourmet oats out there.  Pumpkin Spice Overnight OatsVanilla Walnut Overnight Oats, there are endless possibilities!

Do you have a favorite overnight oats recipe?  I’d love to hear about it and give it a try!

Restaurant Review: Cafe Habana

cafe-habanaI’m obsessed with the NYC Food App Immaculate Infatuation.  The writing is the most hilarious and wittiest food review stuff I’ve ever read.  I’m really open to any cuisine but Cuban is one of my favorites (my amazing wife actually makes a few “off the hook” Cuban dishes).  So I was looking for cheap, Cuban spots and ran across Cafe Habana.  I mentioned it one evening to our friends, Cameron and Leslie, and we made a plan to go check it out soon.  Next thing I know, I get this text a few days later from Cameron.
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I couldn’t be upset with them at all…I would have done the same if I was in town instead of traveling all the time. Here’s a close up of that food pic that he sent me.
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Needless to say, this was definitely on our “hit list”. Tara’s friend, Brady, who just moved here on Sunday for a few months, wanted to do lunch with us and when we were throwing around lunch locations, I suggested we try this place.  Located in Soho, we went at 12:15PM and we got seated as soon as we walked in (impressive considering we had heard the wait is typically 30-45 minutes).  Seating is a bit tight so not ideal if going with a large group.  The first question out of the hostesses’ mouth was, “Are you here for just corn or lunch”?  You know when they ask that, that the corn has to be pretty good.   I had read rave reviews about the corn so I had to give it a try as I don’t believe I’ve ever had grilled corn before.
cornEnter one of the most amazing pieces of corn I’ve ever had.  I have no idea what the corn is breaded with but holy cow is it amazing.  They serve 2 pieces per order so with three of us, we ended up getting 2 orders and I had an order all for myself (no complaints there). It was succulent and the seasoning had a slight kick to it.  A++++.

 

Brady got the Corn salad as her entrée (sorry no pic).

Tara got the Cuban sandwich with fries. $9 dish.Cuban sandwichI went with the steak sandwich and salad.  I must say, there was ton of STEAK!  Usually, steak sandwiches fall woefully short of my expectations.  Not only was there a ton of it, the flavor was amazing.  I don’t know what sauce they used but it was incredible…not too much, but just enough to give it even more flavor!  The salad was quality and complimented the main course really well!  All this for $9.
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We also ordered some plantains.  Just as good as the entrée.
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All of us LOVED our dishes.  The portions are pretty large…so much so, that we took half our meal home with us for leftovers.  It heated up well and was just as good a few hours later as it was eating it in the restaurant.  This place is phenomenal and we will definitely be back.  They also have a location in Brooklyn.  Highly, highly recommend!!

Best NEW Party Trick In A Long Time…

So I’m a huge Late Night with Jimmy Fallon fan. One of my bucket list items while living in NYC is to go to a taping.  Thanks to our DVR I can watch it anytime during the day so I don’t necessarily have to stay up late to watch it live. A few weeks ago, he had Paul Rudd on as a guest and Paul showed one of the best party tricks I’ve ever seen.  I’ve watched this clip a ton and it just keeps getting funnier every time I watch it.  I’ve been perfecting the trick and will post a few photos soon.  You can watch him demonstrate it below. It’s a classic.  So hilarious.  It happens about 30 seconds into the interview.

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You’re welcome.